Case File # 3             

Case Title: Chemical Warfare in a Veghel drainage ditch

Subject: Use of hydrochloric acid against German Paratroopers in Veghel

Date: September 20th, 1944

Location: Veghel, Holland

 

Introduction: Page 256 and further of "It never Snows in September", by Robert J. Kershaw reads: "Meanwhile, Colonel Johnson's two American battalions of the 501 Regiment at Schijndel had been moved southwards in an attempt to assist the defenders of Veghel. As they advanced they caught up with the rear echelons of the Kampfgruppe Huber. Pandemonium broke out. One German soldier, Karl Marx Wietzorek, a Normandy Fallschirmjaeger veteran, was  visibly moved by the hopelessness of their situation. He despairingly recalled their plight: 'If only I could describe it properly, the close combat in the Dutch woods! I wish I had the chance to go back to this country, Holland and tell what happened there... at the hydrochloric acid factory by the canal road - a fight against parachute troops on the ground and snipers in tree-tops. That night the former General der Flieger Student himself took part in the German counter-attack. We came up against hard, bitter opposition and our desperate attempt at attack was brought to a halt. It was raining and many of our men slipped and slithered down the wet slope into the canal where they drowned. The the Americans let hydrochloric acid into the trenches, which were partly filled with water. This acid caused terrible injuries on the bodies of the soldiers; few survived the ordeal."11

 

Analysis

  1. Erwin Janssen, historian of Eerde, provided the following information: "Witnesses of the location of the factory: Mr. M. Smits, Eerde
    Mr. P. Vissers, Eerde
    Mr. Van Liempd, Veghel
    Mr. Booy Liewes, Veghel
    The latter lived close to the Willemsvaart Canal and was a 14 year-old boy at the time. He went to visit the paratroopers who where stationed near the railway track, so subsequently also the soldiers near the hydrochloric acid factory."

Map of Veghel from the late 1930's.

It shows the major industrial locations. Battledetective.com has indicated the hydrochloric acid factory with flames.

The spot where the picture of the rail road track was taken, is indicated with a red circle.

The hydrochloric acid factory in Veghel in the late 1930's.

Photograph courtesy of Erwin Janssen of Eerde.

Aerial photograph of the hydrochloric acid factory in Veghel. In the red is the drainage ditch in which the acid was poured.

Photograph courtesy of Erwin Janssen of Eerde.

Now & Then comparison picture taken from the top of the railway bridge across the Zuid Willems Vaart Canal. Of the factory only a vacant lot remains. The house on the right still stands.

 

We investigated the area and found a vacant lot on the site where the factory used to be. Also the area behind the factory, especially the site indicated by the red circle in one of the pictures above, evidently is a vacant lot. Local people informed us that a building permit can not be issued for the lot because of pollution of the soil. We discovered a drainage ditch behind the factory site that most likely is the one described in It Never Snows in September. This is an impression of the area:

 

It is our theory that the alleged use of the acid may be true. We will not conclude that the use of the acid in 1944 has led to the pollution today but it is possible that on the paratroopers' initiative acid was poured in the ditches in the perimeter around the factory for defensive purposes against an enemy attack.

 

Update

On Friday May 25th, 2007, Historian Erwin Janssen, submitted this update:

"I have new information about the Coenen and Schoenmakers Factory. It is impossible that hydrochloric acid was poured in the ditches!

Last week I spoke with Mr. L. Kerkhof of Veghel, 83 years old. [...] When I showed the picture of the factory, his wife recognized the house of her parents (the small house in the upper left corner of the aerial photograph of the factory). Mr. Kerkhof lived at the bridge in Veghel and was the son of the bridge keeper. [..] We discussed the Hydrochloric Acid Incident. Mr. Kerkhof smiled and said": "That story can be filed in the trash can." I asked him why and to my amazement he said: "I know the real story..."

The Real Story

At the time, Mr. Kerkhof was a purchaser employed by the Coenen and Schoenmakers Company. He told me that from 1940, the hydrochloric acid, or rather sulphuric acid, could not be obtained anymore, because it had to come from Africa. This was already in Allied hands at that time. The small stock that the company had, was used up fast and soon the production of artificial fertilizer had to be stopped. Sulphuric acid was an essential ingredient for the production. Therefore, in 1944 there wasn't any acid available to dump into the ditches. According to Mr. Kerkhof it is a possibility, however, that various liquids were poured in the ditch which is indicated with the red circle in the aerial photograph. In those days there wasn't any environmental legislation and often the ditch was used to dump production residues. In September 1944 it rained frequently and it is quite probable that, due to the high water mark, the stuff in the ditch mixed with water in other ditches. According to Mr. Kerkhof it is realistic if acid and other caustic liquids where in those ditches. The German soldiers with burn wounds must have stepped directly in this particular ditch as the acid or caustic liquid in the surrounding ditches must have been rather diluted by then.

 

Magnificent how this information found me rather unexpectedly!"

 

This new information takes away any belief that the acid was in the ditches on the paratroopers' initiative.

 

Back to Case Files

 
 
 
 
(c) 2007-Present Day Battledetective.com. Email: tom@battledetective.com. all rights reserved.