Remembering... François-Marie Jacobs
Who Dares Wins: my year in the Belgian SAS
Born 23 November 1925, François-Marie Jacobs passed away on Friday 9th April 2021 aged 95. A brave, humble and positive character, he was always present at the Hotton and Bure commemorations. We will remember him.
François-Marie Jacobs (far left) at the Pegasus Walk in Bure on 5 January 2020
When the occupation started, I was 14 and still at school in Antwerp. It was too young to think about escaping from Belgium.
I interrupted my studies at the end of June 1944. There was no way I wanted to be sent off to work for the Army in Nazi Germany, so I had to stay underground until the liberation which came in September.
I worked with the Belgian Resistance (without being officially part of it) in the liberation of the port facilities in Antwerp and its northern suburbs. In contact with the British forces, I was able to help observers from a Royal Artillery battery, installed in the bell tower of my parish church, to locate firing targets on enemy positions. I also helped to rescue the victims of the V1 and V2 flying bombs which fell on Antwerp and its immediate surroundings.
Antwerp and its deep-sea harbour were a vital supplies and communication hub for the Allies. The first V-bomb fell on the city on 13 October 1944, killing more than 30 people and destroying many buildings. On 16 December, a V2 hit the Cinema Rex when it was packed with soldiers and civilians. More than 570 people were killed including 300 Allied servicemen and women. The flying bomb attacks on Belgium – Liège was also a major target – continued until the end of March 1945. More than 8,000 people were killed.
In mid-October I presented myself at the volunteer recruitment centre for the SAS Airborne Regiment at the Maison du Roi in Brussels.
Unfortunately, the quorum had almost been reached and they were only taking men over 19. I was still a month under age so they told me to come back at the next recruitment session in January 1945.
I was finally able to join the Regiment in February as a “volunteer enlisted in the field for the duration” by Major Eddy Blondeel at the Two Lions Barracks in Tervuren.
After my short training in weapons, communications and transport, we were given orders at the start of April to move to the north-east of the Netherlands for Operation Larkswood.
I was assigned to the first assault platoon of B Squadron of the Belgian Parachute SAS Regiment, part of the British SAS and known as the 5th SAS.
As I could drive, I was given the wheel of a 15-cwt Fordson truck, carrying 10 men, under the command of Sgt Hubert de Mûelenaere.
In order to prevent the return to the Reich of the many Nazi troops still present in the north-east pocket of the Netherlands, and to prevent the arrival of fresh forces from Germany, we took part in numerous operations – notably in Hardenberg, Hoogeveen, Oosterhesselbrug, Coevorden, Vlagtwedde, Wedde, Blijham, Winschoten, Beerta and Finsterwolde, ending up at Dollard Bay and the North Sea, which we were the first Allied troops to reach.
During all these movements, our assault sections, armoured jeeps equipped with Vickers machine guns, pioneers and mortars, our advance as the spear-head of the operation was covered at a distance by Canadian and Polish armoured units on both sides.
With the Dutch part of Operation Larkswood over, our unit headed east into Germany to Oldenburg (Lower Saxony) to force our way up through Rostrup, Westerstede and finally to Wilhelmshaven. But we didn’t need to reach our final objective because Germany surrendered on 8 May.
But our military operations were not over yet.
We were given orders to take part in a major counter-intelligence mission. Our job was to seek out and arrest high-ranking military personnel, SS, members of the Gestapo, collaborators, concentration camp torturers and other war criminals returning from Norway or Denmark or hiding among the population.
Groups of 10 to 30 of our men were scattered in a good 10 German cities, from the Russian zone to the Danish border and beyond. Our platoon had Flensburg as its destination.
In the course of these missions, members of our unit captured Joachim von Ribbentrop (Hitler’s Foreign Minister), Admiral Karl Dönitz (Hitler's successor as head of state), General Ernst Schaumburg (former commander of Paris), Klein, Fincke, Specht, Rosenberg, Triepel, Hert, Herta Meyer (spy) and several hundred others.
In July, finally back in Belgium, we continued training for a possible attack against Japan, but it surrendered in August after the US dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thus ending the Second World War.
I was made “postal orderly” and finally demobbed on 24 December 1945.
Médaille du Volontaire de Guerre 1940-1945 avec barrette « Pugnator», médaille du Combattant Militaire 1940-1945, Médaille Commémorative de la Guerre 1940-1945 avec Couronne et Sabres croisés, de la Fourragère de la Croix de Guerre à titre individuel, France and Germany Star (GB) and later on the Palmes d'Or de l'Ordre de la Couronne.
After the war
François-Marie married Gaby Deravet in Brussels 17 July 1957. They lived in Antwerp until 1994 when they settled in what had been their holiday home in Champlon-Famenne, close to Gaby’s home-town of Marche-en-Famenne.
Gaby died on 19 June 2019 after 62 happy years of marriage. The couple were blessed with two daughters, Mariette and Brigitte, with five grand-children and two great-grandchildren.
François-Marie spent his civilian career of more than 40 years in various branches of the automotive world until retiring in 1990.
He has always been “faithfully attached to patriotic values and remembrance”, regularly attending ceremonies in Bure, Bande, Hotton, Gedinne, Kortrijk, Peer-Meeuwen, St Michel, Netherlands, and Sennecey-le-Grand.
As Honorary Chairman of the Marche-en-Famenne branch of the FNC (Fédération Nationale des Combattants), he has taken part in the commemorations marking VE Day, Belgium’s National Day (21 July), Armistice Day and the King’s Day. He is also a founding member of the ANPCV (Amicale Nationale Para-Commando Vriedenkring) and a member of its Antwerp section,
He underlines that not every member of the SAS was born to end up as a hero, but every one of them did their duty.
During Operation Larkswood, his unit lost nine men and 41 wounded.
“WE WILL REMEMBER THEM,” he says.
The 5th SAS
The 5th Special Air Service consisted of Belgian volunteers. It was established as an independent parachute company in May 1942 by Henri Rolin, the Belgian government-in-exile’s undersecretary for defence. Initially based at Malvern Wells in Worcestershire (UK), the unit received parachute training at Manchester Ringway, followed by intensive training at Inverlochy Castle (Fort William) and Loudon Castle (Ayrshire). It was then integrated into the British Army’s new SAS Regiment, created by Major David Stirling in July 1941.
The primary role of the Belgian SAS was sabotage, intelligence and reconnaissance. An eight-strong team, including Lieutenant Paul Renkin and Claude de Villermont, parachuted into occupied Belgium on 15 August 1944 – the first Allied soldiers in uniform to set foot in the country after D-Day. After the liberation of Brussels, the unit set up its operational base in Tervuren barracks, just outside the capital. A key mission was to protect the 21st Army Group communications centre in Boitfort from possible airborne attacks.
During the Ardennes Counter-Offensive (Battle of the Bulge), the Belgian SAS set up its HQ in Froidfontaine, providing support for the 6th Airborne Division and with orders to establish contacts with the French SAS.
On 31 December, two units under Lt Paul Renkin and Lt Raymond Van der Heyden were deployed on recce duties to support an attack on Bure by the 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion. The Belgians surprised and captured six Germans hiding in the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Haurt in woodland between Bure and Tellin. Sadly, a jeep carrying Lt Renkin, Claude de Villermont and Émile Lorphevre was hit by a German anti-tank shell and all three were instantly killed.
On 11 January 1945, the bodies of 34 brutally murdered civilians were discovered by an SAS patrol at Bande, a village 12 kilometres south of Marche-en-Famenne. They had been shot on Christmas Eve.
In the beginning of April 1945, the three SAS reconnaissance squads deployed to the Netherlands in support of the Canadian 4th Armoured Division (see main article). On 21 September 1945, the 5th SAS was transferred to the newly reformed Belgian Army.
On 5 January 2020, members of the branch took part in a ceremony at the Belgian SAS monument during the annual Pegasus Remembrance Walk organised by branch member Michel Bourland.
A Short History of the Belgian Special Air Service in World War II
Members of the Belgian SAS
Translation and additional research conducted by Dennis Abbott.