Herr Clemens Mols’ Memoir

Herr Clemens Mols lived downstream of the Möhne Dam in the town of Wickede. He was interviewed about the events of the 17 May 1943 during October 1945.

This extract from his account tells of the events he experienced with his wife in the immediate hours after the Möhne Dam was breached:

Memoir Extract

The Möhne catastrophe in the night from the 16th to the 17th of May 1943

When in the night from the 16th to the 17th of May air raid warning was given by the horn, nobody could guess what hours of terror were to come for the lower parts of Wickede. It was about 1130 hrs, the sky was clear, the air was calm.

I was with my wife on the way from Wiehagen to Wickede/Ruhr when the horn set in. When back home (post-office) my wife who manifested a strange restlessness asked me to listen where the English planes were. I could state this from a warning line which was connected with the post-office. The report I had listened to ran as follows: “Enemy air-craft flying, low above Arnsberg and the Möhne Lake.” As Arnsberg is lying not far off from Wickede, I had the inhabitants of the neighbouring house awaked. While my wife was doing this I stood in the open window in the first floor with the sight to the Möhne Lake. The humming of the planes came from the distance. Suddenly an unusually loud detonation was heard and I saw in the direction of the Möhne Lake a high column of water or smoke soaring.

The night was so clear that one could observe this very distinctly. It could have only be caused by bombs, the more so as some other less loud detonations followed. Now all remained quiet: further reports said: “Enemy aircraft low over the Eder lake. ” The Möhne lake was no more mentioned. Calmed by this information, I thought the danger to be over. I went down to the cellar of the neighbouring house where the inhabitants, mostly women and children, had gathered. They were talking and making fun, and I still told them: “I believe it to be over, we can go to bed.” On my wife’s request however, I went up again to listen what the situation was like.

When entering the post-office rooms I heard the telephone ringing. I took up the receiver and heard the well known attendant of the post-office Arnsberg who addressed me the following words: “What, Herr Mole, are you still at the post-office? The Möhne barrage is broken, the waters must have reached Vosswinkel by now.” (About 5 km away up the river from this place.) At first was giddy with fear but then I rushed back at once to the neighbour’s cellar calling. “Get out at once all of you, to the upper village, the Möhne barrage is broken, the water has reached Vosswinkel.” In the meantime the electric light went out. I still said to my wife: “you go along, I will stay here and try to wake people by means of the phone.” As she refused to leave me alone I prayed her: “So hurry to Frau Brunberg and wake her up that she might escape with her three children and give notice to FrI. Wilmes.” It was a house in our immediate vicinity where there were no men for they were in the army.

While my wife was executing this I tried to awaken people by means of the telephone, however, without success. They all seemed to sleep. I then rang up the Gemeinde office where they were already informed. In the meantime my wife came back and wanted to go to the upper village. I went out with her. When we had gone 15-20 paces I felt the air becoming damp. It seemed like a cold and damp screen of fog. “You cannot run, the water will be here in no time,” I said to my wife. We must go back to the house.” We were hardly back when the water caught us up in the hall. We slammed the entrance door and hurried upstairs. We saw the water penetrating into the house with a terrific speed, a sulphurous vapour cloud mounted from the cellar, short circuit in ‘the battery which was in the cellar. The water continued to rise in the ground floor. I counted the steps to the first floor, ten were under water – 1,80 metre approximately. When measured outside the water level was about 2,80 to 3 meter. Way down to the Ruhr it was considerably higher. I estimated 8 metres in the river valley.

A short distance from the railway bridge a goods train was standing. We could see from the window how the valve of the engine let escape steam with a loud whizzing. It ceased by and by, we heard the waters rush, cries for help of floating people, the roaring of drowning cattle. Beams boards, carriages, furniture and all sorts or things were afloat around. On the eastern side or the post-office a lorry trailer was floating. It caught itself on a beam in the yard. The later masses passing by seemed endless, and yet they continued to rise. My wife complained, wept and prayed. These were terrible hours, I tried to comfort her. I reflected how to get on the roof of the neighbouring house in case that ours should be swept away by the water masses. The other house was taller and had a flat roof. We carried our bedding, clothes and linen to the loft. We could not know what height the water would reach. I was running from one window to another in order to see if the walls were still resisting the water masses rushing past. It was as if we were standing in a big lake. And above all this terror the moon was shining brightly and was reflected by the water. An enemy aircraft was flying low up and down the river. It kept very low and we thought: “Is it going to drop bombs?” But nothing happened, it passed. All houses around were soaring above the water only with their upper storeys. Smaller buildings had disappeared in the current.

Meanwhile, I had stated that the water was no more rising. I could state this on the stair steps. When I looked again I saw the water receding. It had lowered by 2 steps already and with a great relief I called out to my wife: “The water has already lowered and continues to recede fast. She would not believe it, I had to show her. Outdoors the day was dawning and the water continued to recede. In the groundfloor remained a muddy deposit of 30 to 40 cm. We stepped through that mire and tried to open the back door of the house. The pressure of the water had pressed it in a little. Only with difficulty and with the aid of other people that had come to the place, we succeeded in opening it. Outside the ‘water was still one metre high and it would last hours until it had completely receded. Everywhere scenes of terror and destruction could be seen. The railway embankment was washed out by 1 metre. A heavy engine was completely washed away, the rails being swept into meadow on a length of 100 and more metres. Many houses were swept away together with their inhabitants. Two big factories were completely destroyed and could recommence working not until. weeks later.

Where there had lived before the war diligent people and had worked the fertile fields, now after two years is still here deserted land. Had we followed in 1933 the policy of the Chancellor of the Reich Bruning all this hardship would have been spared to the German people.

Clemens Mols, Wickede/Ruhr, Bahnhofsplatz 1