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Coat of arms of Friesoythe
Coat of arms
Friesoythe is located in Germany
Coordinates: 53°01′14″N 07°51′31″E / 53.02056°N 7.85861°E / 53.02056; 7.85861Coordinates: 53°01′14″N 07°51′31″E / 53.02056°N 7.85861°E / 53.02056; 7.85861
Country Germany
State Lower Saxony
District Cloppenburg
 • Mayor Johann Wimberg
 • Total 247.14 km2 (95.42 sq mi)
Elevation 6 m (20 ft)
Population (2012-12-31)[1]
 • Total 20,960
 • Density 85/km2 (220/sq mi)
Time zone CET/CEST (UTC+1/+2)
Postal codes 26169
Dialling codes 0 44 91
Vehicle registration CLP

Friesoythe, in Saterland Frisian language Ait or Äit, is a town in the district of Cloppenburg, in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated on the river Soeste, approximately 25 km northwest of Cloppenburg, and 30 km southwest of Oldenburg.

Destruction of Friesoythe[edit]

In April, 1945, the ancient and medieval town of Friesoythe felt the full force of an attack by General Christopher (Chris) Vokes of the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division. Most of the town’s 4,000 population moved out to the surrounding countryside on about April 11–12, 1945.[2]

The town was defended by some 200 paratroopers of Battalion Raabe of the 7th German Parachute Division.[3] These paratroopers repelled the first attack by the Lake Superior Regiment (Motor) on April 13. The Lake Superior Regiment suffered two dead and nineteen wounded. German casualties are not known.

Vokes then ordered the resumption of the attack the next day by The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada commanded by Lt. Col. Frederick E. Wigle. Wigle decided on a night march on April 13 to position his battalion of some 800 men south of the town and to attack at dawn on April 14. The aim was to gain the element of surprise. The night march was undetected and hence a success. All seemed to be going well.

Col. Wigle himself, along with a group of some twenty heavily armed men also provided with radio communication, remained behind in his Tactical Headquarters south of the town. Four other Argyll companies resumed the battle on the morning of April 14, 1945. They made good progress, and the paratroopers either retreated north to the Coastal Canal or were captured during the engagement.

Against all odds, Wigle’s Tactical Headquarters south of the main action then came under attack. In the dawn’s early light, a small detachment of German paratroopers, possibly a returning patrol, stumbled on Wigle’s Tactical Headquarters. Gunshots rang out; it is not known who fired first.

In the resulting firefight, Col. Wigle was killed instantly by a burst of fire from a machine pistol. Privates John Brown and Cecil (Cec) French, a sharpshooter, were also killed by a grenade hurled through the upstairs bedroom of the isolated farmhouse that served as the Argyll Tactical Headquarters. Lieutenant Alan Earp survived a direct shot through the head.[4]

In the course of this local infantry engagement, Lance Corporal Fraser continued to man the Wireless Set No. 19. Fraser urgently broadcast the fact of Colonel Wigle’s death in coded form, and requested immediate reinforcements. This help arrived in short order, and beat off the attack by the German paratroopers surrounding the Tactical Headquarters.

Despite this radio message, some members of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division informed General Vokes that Wigle had been killed by a German civilian. Vokes determined on an immediate reprisal. “A first-rate officer of mine, for whom I had a special regard and affection, and in whom I had a particular professional interest because of his talent for command, was killed. Not merely killed, it was reported to me, but sniped in the back.” [5] Vokes then announced his draconian decision. “I summoned my GSO1 . . ‘Mac,’ I roared at him, ‘I’m going to raze that goddam town.’” [6] Individual units and soldiers of the Argylls had spontaneously begun the arson of Friesoythe by way of revenge for the death of their Colonel,[7] but after Vokes issued his direct order, the town was systematically set on fire by means of flamethrowers mounted on Wasp Carriers. The flames were clearly visible far and wide during the night of April 14/15th, 1945. When the fire was burned out, armoured bulldozers razed the remaining walls, and the resulting rubble was loaded on trucks to reinforce the local roads to permit them to bear the weight of the Canadian 28 ton Sherman tanks.

The destruction was massive. According to German estimates, 85% to 90% of the town was destroyed in the course of this reprisal, making it one of the most devastated towns in all of Germany at the time.[8]

C.P. Stacey, the official historian of the Canadian Army in World War II, was in the Friesoythe area at the time these events occurred, and he wrote an account of his impressions given the documentation available to him. “. . . at Friesoythe, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada of this division lost their popular commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Freddie Wigle. Apparently a rumour was going round that Colonel Wigle had been killed by a civilian sniper; as a result a great part of the town of Friesoythe was set on fire in a mistaken reprisal. This unfortunate episode only came to my notice and thus got into the pages of history because I was in Friesoythe at the time and saw people being turned out of their houses and the houses burned. How painfully easy it is for the business of ‘reprisals’ to get out of hand! I am glad to say that I never heard of another such case.” [9]

The virtually complete destruction of Friesoythe took place within hours after the fighting. G. L. Cassidy gave an early summary of these events when he wrote: “In this town the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had a desperate night battle and counter-attack, in which their popular C.O. [Commanding Officer], Lt. Col. Fred Wigle, had been killed. The raging Highlanders cleared the remainder of that town as no town has been cleared for centuries, we venture to say.” [10] As the narrative has demonstrated, there was no night-battle as such but rather a localized and fierce firefight at the miserable sharp end of war in the early hours of the morning of April 14, 1945, but the remainder of Cassidy’s memorable passage is devastatingly accurate.


G. L. Cassidy, Warpath; the Story of the Algonquin Regiment, 1939-1945. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1948.

Ferdinand Cloppenburg, Die Stadt Friesoythe im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert. Friesoythe: Cloppenburg, 2003. Limited to 1,000 copies.

Tony Foster, Meeting of Generals. Toronto; New York: Methuen, c1986.

Robert L. Fraser, ed. Black Yesterdays; the Argylls’ War. Hamilton, ON: Argyll Regimental Foundation, 1996. A work of 608 pp., numerous photographs, many illustrations, (some col.) limited to 1,000 copies. A lavish, massive, even monumental history of the Canadian Argylls during World War II and a model of its kind.

Friesoythe 25 Jahre danach: 1945-1970. Friesoythe: Stadt Friesoythe, 1970.

Landkreis Emsland. Wege aus dem Chaos; Das Emsland und Niedersachsen 1945-1949. Begleitbuch zur Ausstellung. 2. Aufl. Hrsg. vom Landkreis Emsland. Meppen: 1988.

C.P. Stacey, A Date with History; Memoirs of a Canadian Historian. Ottawa, ON: Deneau, c1983?

C.P. Stacey, Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War. Vol. III. The Victory Campaign; the Operation in North-West Europe, 1944-1945. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1960.

Chris Vokes, Vokes, My Story. By Major General Chris Vokes with John P. Maclean. Memorial Edition. Ottawa, ON: Gallery Books, 1985.

War Diary, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, April 14, 1945, pp. 10–11. Ottawa, ON, Canada. National Archives of Canada, RG 24, v. 15,005

War Diary, 1st Battalion, The Lake Superior Regiment (Motor), April 12, 1945, sheet 15. Ottawa, ON, Canada. National Archives of Canada, RG 24, Vol. 15,099.

War Diary, General Staff, 4th Canadian Armoured Division, April 14, 1945, p. 15. Ottawa, ON, Canada. National Archives of Canada, RG 24, no. 13,794.

August Wöhrmann, “Die Kämpfe 1945 in und um Friesoythe,” IN Friesoythe 25 Jahre danach: 1945-1970 (Friesoythe: Stadt Friesoythe, 1970) 8-29. Wöhrmann was the first to make a serious examination of the issue, and this work is a ground-breaking study of great value which identifies many of the relevant sources. Unfortunately Wöhrmann, a former soldier himself, reports he was unable to make any contact with the German paratroopers who defended Friesoythe.


  1. ^ Landesbetrieb für Statistik und Kommunikationstechnologie Niedersachsen, Fortgeschriebene Einwohnerzahlen zum 31. Dezember 2012
  2. ^ The Friesoythe Amtsgericht, or District Court, was closed on April 11th. If the District Court ceased to function on April 11, 1945, the evacuation of the bulk of the civilian population probably took place between April 11th through April 12th 1945. It was clearly a German and not a Canadian initiative. Ferdinand Cloppenburg, Die Stadt Friesoythe im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert, 173.
  3. ^ War Diary, General Staff, 4th Canadian Armoured Division, 1 April 1945-30 April 1945. Appendix 38; dated April 14th, 1945. National Archives of Canada, Ottawa, ON, RG 24, vol. no. 13794. Intelligence report signed: E. Sirluck, Capt.
  4. ^ War Diary, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, April 14, 1945, pp. 10-11. Ottawa, ON, Canada. National Archives of Canada, RG 24, v. 15,005. The same entry for April 14th, 1945, is also reprinted in Robert L. Fraser’s Black Yesterdays; the Argylls’s War, p. 431. Interview with Alan Earp.
  5. ^ All the published accounts relate that Col. Wigle was shot in the back. However, Dr. Doug Bryce, the Medical Officer of the Argylls, said that he was shot in the head. Dr. Bryce thought very highly of Wigle (“the most wonderful man I have ever met”) so his version has to be given credence on various grounds. Interview with Dr. Bryce, May 11, 1998.
  6. ^ Chris Vokes, Vokes: My Story, 194-195. A substantially identical account of Vokes and his role in the destruction of Friesoythe is found in Tony Foster’s Meeting of Generals, 437.
  7. ^ Robert L. Fraser, Black Yesterdays; the Argylls’ War. See the section entitled “The Burning of Friesoythe?” on pp. 435-437.
  8. ^ Ferdinand Cloppenburg, Die Stadt Friesoythe im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert, pp. 165, 189; Brockhaus. Die Enzyklopädie. Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1996. 20. Aufl. V. 7, p. 730.
  9. ^ C.P. Stacey, A Date with History; Memoirs of a Canadian Historian, 163-164.
  10. ^ G.L Cassidy, Warpath; the Story of the Algonquin Regiment, 1939-1945, p. 307. [Emphasis supplied.]

External links[edit]