Battle of the Scheldt

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The Battle of the Scheldt was a series of military operations by Canadian, British and Polish formations to open up the port of Antwerp so that it could be used to supply the Allies in north-west Europe. Led by Lt-Gen Guy Simonds, the battle took place in northern Belgium and southwestern Netherlands during World War II from October 2 to November 8, 1944.[1]

The well-established Wehrmacht defenders staged an effective delaying action, during which the Germans flooded the Scheldt Estuary, slowing the Allied advance. After five weeks of difficult fighting, the Canadian First Army at a cost of 12,873 Allied casualties (half of them Canadian) were successful in clearing the Scheldt after numerous amphibious assaults, obstacle crossings, and costly assaults over open ground. Both land and water were mined, and the Germans defended their line of retreat with artillery and snipers.[citation needed]

Once the German defenders were no longer a threat, it was a further three weeks before the first convoy carrying Allied supplies was able to unload in Antwerp (on November 29, 1944) due to the necessity of de-mining the harbours.

Background[edit]

By September 1944, it had become urgent for the Allies to clear both banks of the Scheldt estuary in order to open the port of Antwerp to Allied shipping, thus easing logistical burdens in their supply lines stretching hundreds of miles from Normandy eastward to the Siegfried Line.[2] Since the Allied forces had landed in Normandy (France) on D-Day, June 6, 1944, the British Second Army had pushed forward into the Low Countries and captured Brussels (3–4 September) and Antwerp, the latter with its ports still intact. Antwerp was, and still is, the third largest port in Europe, and was the only port capable of providing the necessary supplies to sustain the Allied advance into Germany. But the advance halted with the British in possession of Antwerp, while the Germans still controlled the Scheldt Estuary.

In September 1944, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery of the 21st Army Group ordered General Harry Crerar and his First Canadian Army to take the following French ports on the English Channel; Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk.[3] On 3 September 1944 Adolf Hitler ordered the 15th German Army, which had been stationed in the Pas de Calais region, and was marching north into the Low Countries to hold the mouth of the river Scheldt to deprive the Allies of the use of Antwerp, which Montgomery was aware of by 5 September 5.[4] On 4 September, Antwerp, the third largest port in Europe was taken by General Sir Brian Horrocks, with its harbour 90% intact.[5] The Witte Brigade (White Brigade) of the Belgian resistance seized the Port of Antwerp, before the Germans could blow the port as they were planning. Antwerp was a deep water inland port connected to the North Sea via the river Scheldt. The Scheldt was wide enough and dredged deep enough to allow the passage of ocean-going ships, and was close to Germany.[6] On September 5, SHAEF's naval commander, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay advised Montgomery to taking the mouth of the Schedlt his main priority, stating that as long as the mouth of the Scheldt was in German hands, it was impossible for the Royal Navy minesweepers to clear the mines in the river, and as the Scheldt was mined, the port of Antwerp was useless.[7] Only Ramsay among the Allied senior generals saw opening Antwerp as crucial to sustaining the advance into Germany.[8] On 6 September 1944, Montgomery told Crerar that "I want Boulogne badly" and that city should be taken at once without no regard to losses.[9] By this point, ports like Cherbourg, which the Americans had taken in June, were too far away from the front line, causing the Allies great logistical problems.

The importance of ports closer to Germany was highlighted with the liberation of the city of Le Havre, which was assigned to General John Crocker's I Corps.[10] To take Le Havre, the British assigned two infantry divisions, two tank brigades, most of the artillery of the Second British Army, the specialized armoured "gadgets" of Percy Hobart's 79th Armoured Division, the battleship HMS Warspite and the monitor HMS Erebus.[11] On 10 September 1944, Operation Astonia began when Bomber Command dropped 4,719 tons of bombs on Le Havre, which was then assaulted by Crocker's men, who took the city two days later.[12] The Canadian historian Terry Copp wrote that the commitment of this much firepower and men to take only one French city might "seem excessive", but by this point, the Allies desperately needed ports closer to the front line to sustain their advance.[13]

On 9 September, Montgomery wrote to Field Sir Alan Brooke of the Imperial General Staff that "one good Pas de Calais port" would be able to meet the logistical needs of the 21st Army Group only.[14] Montgomery further noted that "one good Pas de Calais port" would be insufficient for the American armies in France, which thus forced Eisenhower, if for no other reasons than logistics, to favour Montgomery's plans for an invasion of northern Germany by the 21st Army Group, whereas if Antwerp were opened up, then all of the Allied armies could be supplied.[15] Montgomery ordered that the 1st Canadian Army take Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk and clear the Scheldt, a task that Crerar stated was impossible he did not have sufficient troops to perform both operations at once.[16] Montgomery refused Crerar's request to have British XII Corps under Neil Ritchie assigned to help clear the Scheldt as Montgomery stated he needed XII Corps for Operation Market Garden.[17]

Little was done about the blocked port of Antwerp during September because Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, the commander of the 21st Army Group chose to make the ill-fated Operation Market Garden his key priority rather than clearing the Schedlt.[18] Montgomery intended with Market Garden to by-pass the West Wall and break into the north German plain in order to take Berlin, but the British defeat at the Battle of Arnhem, which proved to be the proverbial "bridge too far", left the British forming an essential buffer protecting the port of Antwerp reaching into the Netherlands.[19] In the meantime, German forces in the Scheldt were able to deploy defensively and prepare for the expected advance. The first attacks occurred on September 13.[1] After an attempt by the 4th Canadian Armored Division to storm the Leopold Canal alone had ended in bloody repulse, General Guy Simonds commanding the 2nd Canadian Corps ordered a halt to operations in the Scheldt until the French channel ports had been taken, reporting the Scheldt would need more than one division to clear.[20] The halt allowed the 15th Army ample time to dig in to its new home by the banks of the Scheldt.[21]

On the German side, holding the Scheldt was regarded as crucial. Hitler ordered planning for what became the Ardennes Offensive in September 1944, whose objective was retake Antwerp.[22] The 15th Army, which was holding the Scheldt on the far right on the German line was to be deprived of supplies as the Wehrmacht focused on building up its strength for the planned Ardennes offensive in December while a number of volksgrenadier divisions to replace the divisions lost in Normandy and in Operation Bagration on the Eastern Front.[23] Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt told General Zangen: "Enemy suples, and therefore, his ability to fight, is limited by the stubborn defense of the Harbour as intelligence report prove. The attempt of the enemy to occupy the West Scheldt in order to obtain the free use of the harbour of Antwerp must be resisted to the utmost" (emphasis in the original).[24]

Eventually in early October after Operation Market Garden, Allied forces led by the Canadian First Army set out to open the port of Antwerp to Allied by giving it access to the sea. As the Arnhem salient was his major concern, Montgomery pulled away from the 1st Canadian Army, which was under the temporary command of of Simonds as Crerar was ill, the British 51st Highland Division, 1st Polish Division, British 49th (West Riding) Division and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and sent all of these formations to help the 2nd British Army hold the Arnhem salient.[25] Simonds saw the Scheldt campaign as a test of his ability, an challenge to be overcome, and he felt he could clear the Scheldt with only three divisions of the 2nd Corps despite having to take on the entire 15th Army, which held strongly fortified positions in a landscape that favoured the defence.[26] Simonds never once registered any complaints about the lack of manpower, the fact that ammunition was being rationed as supplying the Arnhem salient was Montgomery's chief concerns and the lack of air support, which was made worse by the cloudy October weather.[27]

Plan[edit]

The Northern Front. The salient buffer of Market Garden up to Nijmegen can be seen.

On September 12 and 13, 1944, the Canadian First Army — under temporary command of Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds — was given the task of clearing the Scheldt once it had completed the clearing of the Channel ports, particularly Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk. Montgomery then decided that the importance of Antwerp was such that the actual capture of Dunkirk could be delayed.[28] Under command at that time was Canadian II Corps, with the Polish 1st Armoured Division, 49th and 52nd Divisions attached, and the British I Corps. Montgomery promised the support of RAF Bomber Command in attacking the German fortifications and that of the USAAF 8th Air Force "On the day concerned".[29] The 51st (Highland) Infantry Division was to give up its transport to enable the movement of forces into position for the battle. Abandoning the capture of Dunkirk freed the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division. The plan for opening the Scheldt estuary involved four main operations conducted over daunting geography.

  • The first task was to clear the area north of Antwerp and secure access to South Beveland.
  • Second was to clear the Breskens pocket north of the Leopold Canal ("Operation Switchback").
  • Third, dubbed "Operation Vitality", was the capture of South Beveland.
  • The final phase would be the capture of Walcheren Island ("Operation Infatuate"), which had been fortified into a powerful German stronghold. As part of the Atlantic Wall, Walcheren Island was considered to be the "strongest concentration of defences the Nazis had ever constructed."[30]

On September 21, the Canadian 4th Armoured Division moved north roughly along the line of the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal, given the task of clearing an area on the south shore of the Scheldt around the Dutch town of Breskens called the "Breskens pocket". The Polish 1st Armoured Division headed for the Dutch-Belgian border further east and the crucial area north of Antwerp.

The Canadian 4th Armoured advanced from a hard-won bridgehead over the Ghent Canal at Moerbrugge to find themselves the first Allied troops facing the formidable obstacle of the double line of the Leopold and Schipdonk Canals. An attack was mounted in the vicinity of Moerkerke, crossing the canals and establishing a bridgehead before counter-attacks forced a withdrawal with heavy casualties.

The 1st Polish Armoured Division enjoyed greater success to the east as it advanced northeast from Ghent. In country unsuitable for armour, and against stiffening resistance, the Division advanced to the coast by September 20, occupying Terneuzen and clearing the south bank of the Scheldt east toward Antwerp.

It became apparent to Simonds that any further gains in the Scheldt would come at heavy cost, as the Breskens pocket, extending from Zeebrugge to the Braakman Inlet and inland to the Leopold Canal, was strongly held by the enemy.

Campaign[edit]

On October 2, the Canadian 2nd Division began its advance north from Antwerp. Stiff fighting ensued on October 6 at Woensdrecht, the objective of the first phase. The Germans—reinforced by Battle Group Chill—saw the priority in holding there, controlling direct access to South Beveland and Walcheren Island.

Column of Alligator amphibious vehicles passing Terrapin amphibious vehicles on the Scheldt river, October 1944.

There were heavy casualties as the Canadians attacked over open, flooded land. The Canadian historians' Terry Copp and Robert Vogel wrote "the very name Woensdrecht sends shivers down the spines of veterans of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division".[31] Driving rain, booby traps and land mines made advance very difficult. Attacking on 7 October in heavy mist, the Calgary Highlanders came under heavy fire from German positions with the war diary writing "the battle thickened...the Germans forces...hit back with a pugnacity which had not been encountered in the enemy for a long time".[32] The Régiment de Maisoneuve was halted 1, 000 yards of their target while the next day the Black Watch regiment of Montreal was stopped in its attempt.[33] On 9 October, the Germans counter-attacked and pushed the Canadians back.[34] The war diary of the 85th Infantry Division reported that they were "making very slow progress" in face of tenacious Canadian resistance.[35]

Back at SHEAF headquarters, Admiral Ramsay, who was more concerned about the problems facing the Canadians than their own generals, complained to General Eisenhower that the Canadians were having to ration ammunition as Montgomery made holding the Arnhem salient his main priority.[36] After Ramsay raised the issue with Eisenhower, the latter informed Montgomery on 9 October about "the supreme importance of Antwerp. It is reported to me this morning by the Navy that the Canadian Army will not repeat not be able to attack until November 1 unless immediately supplied with ammunition."[37] Montgomery replied by writing: "Request you will ask Ramsay from me by what authority he makes wild statements to you concerning my operations about which he can know nothing repeat nothing...there is no repeat shortage of ammunition...The operations are receiving my personal attention".[38]

Field Marshal Walter Model, the "Führer's Fireman" who was commanding Army Group B ordered "the corridor to Walcheren will be kept open at any price; if necessary, it will be regained by forces ruthlessly detached from other sectors".[39] Model, a tough and ruthless National Socialist fanatic known for his devotion to Hitler, was called "the Führer's Fireman" because Hitler always gave him the toughest jobs. Model sent 256th Volksgrenadier division and assault gun companies to allow the release of Battle Group Chill, the "fire brigade" consisting of 6th Paratroop Regiment and assault gun companpies.[40] On October 10, the Royal Regiment of Canada launched a surprise attack against the German lines at Woensdrecht, but for the next days was engaged in heavy fighting against counterattacks from Battle Group Chill.[41] General Charles Foulkes of the 2nd Division decided to sent the Black Watch to support the Royal Regiment.[42] The German forces at Woensdrecht greatly outnumbered the Canadians, and had Model known of this, he might have launched a counter-offensive, instead of the attrition tactics of making piecemeal counterattacks that he.[43] During all this time, war diaries of the unit noted "many snipers in the houses and hedges" have encountered while the weather was "cold and wet with high winds. Floods rising again".[44]

On October 13, what would come to be known as "Black Friday", the Canadian 5th Infantry Brigade's Black Watch was virtually wiped out in an unsuccessful attack. The Black Watch attacked on an open fire against German positions, already known to be well defended, while the rest of the 2nd Division was not engaged suggested that neither Foulkes nor Simonds had taken seriously the problem of fighting by the Scheldt.[45] The Black Watch, whose officers had come from Montreal's Scottish elite, had billed itself as the most exclusive regiment in the Canadian Army. Despite this reputation, the Black Watch was considered to be a "jinxed" regiment which had more than its fair share of misfortune.[46] One officer of the Black Watch reported the soldiers sent to replace all of the Black Watch men and wounded in France "had little or no infantry training, and exhibited poor morale" and all men of C company had "all been killed or taken prisoner".[47] The Calgary Highlanders were to follow up with a more successful action, and their Carrier Platoon succeeded in taking the rail station at Korteven.[48] fighting at Hoogerheide[49] also ensued. On 16 October, the Royal Hamilton Heavy Infantry regiment, known as the "Rileys", under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Denis Whitaker attacked Woensdrecht at night, taking much of the village, but were unable to pass beyond the ridge to the west of Woensdrecht.[50] The "Rileys" took losses equal to that suffered by the Black Watch on "Black Friday", but as they had took Woensdrecht while the Black Watch had been thrown back, the fighting on 16 October is not remembered as "Black Monday".[51] By October 16, Woensdrecht was secured, cutting the land link to South Beveland and Walcheren. The Canadians had achieved their first objective, but suffered heavy casualties.

On 14 October Field-Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery issued "Notes on Command" that was highly critical of Eisenhower's leadership and asked he be made Land Forces commander again.[52] On the next day Eisenhower replied that that the issue was not the command arrangement, but rather the ability and willingness of Montgomery to obey orders, saying he had ordered him to clear the Scheldt and warned if he was unable to obey orders, he would be sacked.[53] Strung by Eisenhower's message, a chastised Montgomery promised "You will hear no more from me on the subject of command...Antwerp top priority in all operations of 21 Army Group".[54] On 16 October, Montgomery issued a directive that made the opening of the Scheldt estuary the top priority of 21st Army Group.[55] To the east, the British Second Army attacked westward to clear the Netherlands south of the Maas River, securing the Scheldt region from counter-attacks.

From October 23-November 5, 1944, the U.S. 104th Infantry Division experienced its first battle while attached to the British I Corps. The division succeeded in pushing through the central portion of North Brabant (51°33′08″N 4°39′10″E / 51.552313°N 4.65271°E / 51.552313; 4.65271)[56] against resistance from German snipers and artillery.

Meanwhile, Simonds concentrated forces at the neck of the South Beveland peninsula. The 4th Canadian Armoured Division moved north from the Leopold Canal and took Bergen op Zoom. By October 24, Allied lines were pushed out further from the neck of the peninsula, ensuring German counterattacks would not cut off the 2nd Canadian Division, by then moving west along it towards Walcheren Island.

Operation Switchback[edit]

The second main operation opened with fierce fighting to reduce the Breskens pocket. Here, the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division encountered tenacious German resistance as it fought to cross the Leopold Canal.[57]

An earlier failed attempt by the Canadian 4th Armoured Division at Moerbrugge had demonstrated the challenge they faced. In addition to the formidable German defences on both the Leopold Canal and the Schipdonk Canal, much of the approach area was flooded.

Members of the Canadian 4th Armoured Division demonstrating the use of flame throwers across a canal, Maldegem, October 1944.

It was decided that the best place for an assault would be immediately east of where the two canals divided: a narrow strip of dry ground only a few hundred metres wide at its base beyond the Leopold Canal (described as a long triangle with its base on the Maldegem-Aardenburg road and its apex near the village of Moershoofd some 5 km (3.1 mi) east).

A two-pronged assault commenced. The Canadian 3rd Division′s 7th Brigade made the initial assault across the Leopold Canal, while the 9th Brigade mounted an amphibious attack from the northern or coastal side of the pocket. The assault began on October 6, supported by extensive artillery and Canadian-built Wasp Universal Carriers, which were equipped with flamethrowers. The Wasps launched their barrage of flame across the Leopold Canal, allowing the 7th Brigade troops to scramble up over the steep banks and launch their assault boats. Two precarious, separate footholds were established, but the enemy recovered from the shock of the flamethrowers and counter-attacked, though they were unable to move the Canadians from their extremely vulnerable bridgeheads. By October 9, the gap between the bridgeheads was closed, and by early morning on October 12, a position had been gained across the Aardenburg road.

Corporal Kormendy, a scout from the Calgary Highlanders Scout and Sniper Platoon, in a shot from a series of staged photos by Army photographer Ken Bell, taken near Kapellen, October 1944

The Canadian 9th Brigade conducted an amphibious operation with the aid of Terrapin (the first such use of this vehicle in Europe) and Buffalo amphibious vehicles, crewed by the British 5th Assault Regiment from the Royal Engineers. The brigade planned to cross the mouth of the Braakman Inlet in amphibious vehicles and to land in the vicinity of Hoofdplaat, a tiny hamlet in the rear or coastal side of the pocket, thus exerting pressure from two directions at once. In spite of difficulties in maneuvering vehicles through the canals, and the resulting 24-hour delay, the Germans were taken by surprise and a bridgehead was established. Once again, the Germans recovered quickly and counter-attacked with ferocity; however, they were slowly forced back. The Canadian 10th Brigade—from the 4th Armoured Division—crossed the Leopold Canal and advanced at Isabella Polder. Then the 3rd Division′s 8th Brigade was called to move south from the coastal side of the pocket. This opened up a land-based supply route into the pocket.

The 3rd Division fought additional actions to clear German troops from the towns of Breskens, Oostburg, Zuidzande and Cadzand, as well as the coastal fortress Fort Frederik Hendrik. Operation "Switchback" ended on November 3, when the Canadian 1st Army liberated the Belgian towns of Knokke and Zeebrugge, officially closing the Breskens Pocket and eliminating all German forces south of the Scheldt.[note 1]

Operation Vitality[edit]

The third major operation opened on October 24, when the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division began its advance down the South Beveland peninsula. The Canadians hoped to advance rapidly, bypassing opposition and seizing bridgeheads over the Beveland Canal, but they too were slowed by mines, mud and strong enemy defences.

An amphibious attack was made across the West Scheldt by the British 52nd (Lowland) Division to get in behind the German′s Beveland Canal defensive positions. Thus this formidable defence was outflanked, and the Canadian 6th Infantry Brigade began a frontal attack in assault boats. The engineers were able to bridge the canal on the main road.

With the canal line gone, the German defence crumbled and South Beveland was cleared. The third phase of the Battle of the Scheldt was now complete.

Operation Infatuate: Capture of Walcheren Island[edit]

Map of troops at Walcheren Island

As the fourth phase of the battle opened, only the island of Walcheren at the mouth of the West Scheldt remained in German hands. The island's defences were extremely strong: heavy coastal batteries on the western and southern coasts defended both the island and the Scheldt estuary, and the coastline had been strongly fortified against amphibious assaults. Furthermore, a landward-facing defensive perimeter had been built around the town of Vlissingen (in English, Flushing) to further defend its port facilities should an Allied landing on Walcheren succeed. The only land approach was the Sloedam—a long, narrow causeway from South Beveland, little more than a raised two-lane road. To make matters more difficult, the flats that surrounded this causeway were too saturated with sea water for movement on foot, but had too little water for an assault in storm boats.

To hamper German defence, the island's dykes were breached by attacks from RAF Bomber Command: on October 3 at Westkapelle, with severe loss of civilian life (180 civilians dead); on October 7 at two places, west and east of Vlissingen; and on October 11 at Veere. This flooded the central part of the island, forcing the German defenders onto the high ground around the outside and in the towns, but it also allowed the use of amphibious vehicles. The bombings - sanctioned at the highest level - were preceded by leafleting warning the local population. The Westkapelle dyke was attacked by 240 heavy bombers resulting in a large gap but the attacks on the other dykes made certain that the flooding could not be contained.[58] Bombing against the island's actual defences had been limited by bad weather and the requirements for attacks on Germany.[59]

The island was attacked from three directions: across the causeway from the east, across the Scheldt from the south, and by sea from the west.

Royal Marines wade ashore near Vlissingen to complete the occupation of Walcheren, November 1, 1944

The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division attacked the causeway on October 31. An initial attack by the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment of Canada) was rebuffed; The Calgary Highlanders then sent a company over which was also stopped halfway across the causeway. A second attack by the Highlanders on the morning of November 1 managed to gain a precarious foothold; a day of fighting followed, and then the Highlanders were relieved by Le Regiment de Maisonneuve who struggled to maintain the bridgehead. The "Maisies" withdrew onto the Causeway on November 2, to be relieved by the 1st Battalion, Glasgow Highlanders of the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division. In conjunction with the waterborne attacks, the 52nd continued the advance.[60]

The amphibious landings were conducted in two parts on November 1. Operation Infatuate I consisted mainly of infantry of the 155th Infantry Brigade (4th and 5th battalions King's Own Scottish Borderers, 7th/9th battalion, Royal Scots) and No. 4 Commando, who were ferried across from Breskens in small landing craft to an assault beach in the south-eastern area of Vlissingen, codenamed "Uncle" Beach. During the next few days, they engaged in heavy street fighting against the German defenders.

Operation Infatuate II was the amphibious landing at Westkapelle, also conducted on the morning of November 1. Air support was limited due to the weather conditions. After a heavy naval bombardment by the Royal Navy (a battleship and two monitors plus a support squadron of landing craft carrying guns), troops of 4th Special Service Brigade (Nos. 41, 47, and 48 Royal Marines Commando and No. 10 Inter Allied Commando, consisting mainly of Belgian and Norwegian troops) supported by the specialized armoured vehicles (amphibious transports, mine-clearing tanks, bulldozers, etc.) of the 79th Armoured Division were landed on both sides of the gap in the sea dyke, using large landing craft as well as amphibious vehicles to bring men and tanks ashore. Heavy fighting ensued here as well before the ruins of the town were captured. Part of the troops moved south-east toward Vlissingen, while the main force went north-east to clear the northern half of Walcheren and link up with the Canadian troops who had established a bridgehead on the eastern part of the island. Fierce resistance was again offered by some of the German troops defending this area, so that fighting continued until November 7.

On November 6, the island′s capital (Middelburg) fell after a calculated gamble on the Allies' part when the German commander was invited to consider surrendering only to an armoured force[clarify]. Since Middelburg was impossible to reach with tanks, a force of amphibious Landing Vehicle Tracked ("Buffaloes") were driven into Middelburg, forcing an end to all German resistance on November 8.

Meanwhile, the Canadian 4th Armoured Division had pushed eastward past Bergen-op-Zoom to Sint Philipsland where it sank several German vessels in Zijpe harbor.

With the approaches to Antwerp clear, the fourth phase of the Battle of the Scheldt was complete. The Scheldt was then swept of naval mines and, on November 28—after much repair of harbour facilities——the first convoy entered the port, led by the Canadian-built freighter Fort Cataraqui.

Aftermath[edit]

Canadian vessel Fort Cataraqui is unloaded at the harbour of Antwerp

At the end of the five-week offensive, the Canadian First Army had taken 41,043 German prisoners. Complicated by the waterlogged terrain, the Battle of the Scheldt proved to be a challenging campaign in which the losses suffered by the Canadians[61] exacerbated another conscription crisis.[citation needed] After the first ship arrived on November 28, convoys started bringing a steady stream of supplies to the continent, which began to reenergize the stalled Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine. Germany recognized the importance of the Allies having a deep water port, so in an attempt to destroy it, or at least disrupt the flow of supplies, the German military fired more V-2 ballistic missiles at Antwerp than any other city. Nearly half of the V-2s launched during the war were fired at Antwerp. The port of Antwerp was so strategically vital that, during the Battle of the Bulge, one of the primary German objectives was to retake the city and its port.

Controversy[edit]

The battle of the Scheldt has later been described by historians as unnecessarily difficult as it could have been cleared earlier and more easily had the Allies given it a higher priority than Operation Market Garden. American historian Charles B. MacDonald later called the failure to immediately take the Scheldt "One of the greatest tactical mistakes of the war."[62] Because of the flawed strategic choices made by the Allies in early September the battle became one of the longest and bloodiest that the Canadian army faced over the course of the Second World War.

The (French) Channel ports were "resolutely defended" as "fortresses" and Antwerp was the only solution, but Montgomery had ignored warnings from Admirals Cunningham and Ramsay that with the estuary still in German hands this vital port was "useless". The Germans reinforced their island garrisons, and the Canadians "sustained 12,873 casualties in an operation which could have been achieved at little cost if tackled immediately after the capture of Antwerp. .... This delay was a grave blow to the Allied build-up before winter approached." [63]

Admiral Cunningham warned that Antwerp would be "as much use as Timbuctoo" unless the approaches were cleared, and Admiral Ramsay warned SHAEF and Montgomery that the Germans could block the Scheldt Estuary with ease. Beevor says that Montgomery not Horrocks was to blame for not clearing the approaches as he "was not interested in the estuary and thought that the Canadians could clear it later" . Allied commanders were looking ahead to "leaping the Rhine ... in virtually one bound.".[64]

But despite Eisenhower wanting the capture of one major port with its dock facilities intact, Montgomery insisted that the First Canadian Army should clear the German garrisons in Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk first although they had all suffered demolitions and would not be navigable for some time.[65] Boulogne (Operation Wellhit) and Calais (Operation Undergo) were captured on 22 and 29 September 1944; but Dunkirk was not captured until the end of the war on 9 May 1945, see Siege of Dunkirk (1944–45). Although Stephen Ambrose wrote that Eisenhower had to "put off the commitment of troops needed to open the port" (Antwerp) to mount Operation Market Garden, no Canadian troops were committed to it.[66]

When the Canadians eventually stopped their assaults on the northern French ports and started on the Scheldt approaches on 2 October found that German resistance was far stronger than they imagined, as the remnants of the Fifteenth Army had time to escape and reinforce the island of Walcheren and the South Beveland Peninsula [67]

Winston Churchill claimed in a telegram to Jan Smuts on October 9 that "As regards Arnhem, I think you have got the position a little out of focus. The battle was a decided victory, but the leading division, asking, quite rightly, for more, was given a chop. I have not been afflicted with any feeling of disappointment over this and am glad our commanders are capable of running this kind of risk." He said that the risks ".... were justified by the great prize so nearly in our grasp" but acknowledged that "Clearing the Scheldt estuary and opening the port of Antwerp had been delayed for the sake of the Arnhem thrust. Thereafter it was given first priority." [68]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Montgomery also bestowed the nickname "Water Rats" on the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, a play on the Desert Rats title the 7th Armoured Division had earned in the Western Desert. General Harry Crerar reportedly hated the term, though it was meant as a tribute to their success in amphibious operations in Normandy and the Scheldt. (Granatstein, Jack. The Generals: Canadian Senior Commanders in the Second World War.)
  1. ^ a b The Battle of the Scheldt, Veterans Affairs Canada., 14 April 2014, retrieved 10 August 2014 
  2. ^ MacDonald, Charles B. (1990) [1963]. "Chapter IX:The Approaches of Antwerp". The Siegfried Line Campaign. United States Army Center of Military History. CMH pub 7-7-1. Archived from the original on June 15, 2010. Retrieved February 5, 2007. 
  3. ^ Copp, Terry ""No Lack of Rational Speed": 1st Canadian Army Operations, September 1944". from The Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 16, Fall 1981 page 150.
  4. ^ Copp, Terry ""No Lack of Rational Speed": 1st Canadian Army Operations, September 1944". from The Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 16, Fall 1981 page 148.
  5. ^ Copp, Terry ""No Lack of Rational Speed": 1st Canadian Army Operations, September 1944". from The Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 16, Fall 1981 page 149.
  6. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert Maple Leaf Route: Antwerp, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1984 page 129.
  7. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 pages 16 & 42–43
  8. ^ >Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page16
  9. ^ Copp, Terry ""No Lack of Rational Speed": 1st Canadian Army Operations, September 1944". from The Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 16, Fall 1981 page 150.
  10. ^ Copp, Terry ""No Lack of Rational Speed": 1st Canadian Army Operations, September 1944". from The Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 16, Fall 1981 page 150.
  11. ^ Copp, Terry ""No Lack of Rational Speed": 1st Canadian Army Operations, September 1944". from The Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 16, Fall 1981 page 150.
  12. ^ Copp, Terry ""No Lack of Rational Speed": 1st Canadian Army Operations, September 1944". from The Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 16, Fall 1981 page 150.
  13. ^ Copp, Terry ""No Lack of Rational Speed": 1st Canadian Army Operations, September 1944". from The Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 16, Fall 1981 page 150.
  14. ^ Copp, Terry ""No Lack of Rational Speed": 1st Canadian Army Operations, September 1944". from The Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 16, Fall 1981 page 150.
  15. ^ Copp, Terry ""No Lack of Rational Speed": 1st Canadian Army Operations, September 1944". from The Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 16, Fall 1981 page 150.
  16. ^ Copp, Terry ""No Lack of Rational Speed": 1st Canadian Army Operations, September 1944". from The Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 16, Fall 1981 page 150.
  17. ^ Copp, Terry ""No Lack of Rational Speed": 1st Canadian Army Operations, September 1944". from The Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 16, Fall 1981 page 150.
  18. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 12.
  19. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 pages 7 & 12.
  20. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert Maple Leaf Route: Antwerp, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1984 page 124.
  21. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert Maple Leaf Route: Antwerp, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1984 page 124.
  22. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 10.
  23. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 10.
  24. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 11.
  25. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 18.
  26. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 pages 19-20.
  27. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 pages 19-20.
  28. ^ Official History p331, 336
  29. ^ Official History p358
  30. ^ Williams, Jeffery (1988). The Long Left Flank. London: Leo Cooper. ISBN 0-85052-880-1. 
  31. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 30.
  32. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 30.
  33. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 30.
  34. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 30.
  35. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 31
  36. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 pages 42.
  37. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 pages 42.
  38. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 pages 42.
  39. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 31.
  40. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 31.
  41. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 31.
  42. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 34.
  43. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 pages 34-35.
  44. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 40
  45. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 34.
  46. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 34.
  47. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 38
  48. ^ two kilometers northeast of Woensdrecht
  49. ^ two kilometers southeast of Woensdrecht
  50. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 34
  51. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 34
  52. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 43.
  53. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 43.
  54. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 43.
  55. ^ Copp, Terry & Vogel, Robert, Maple Leaf Route: Scheldt, Alma: Maple Leaf Route, 1985 page 43.
  56. ^ "Google maps hybrid view of North Brabant". maps.google.com. 2007. Retrieved February 5, 2007. 
  57. ^ In the Shadow of Arnhem - Ken Tout - 2003 (Paperback 2009, ISBN 9780752451947)
  58. ^ Official History p376
  59. ^ Official History p377
  60. ^ Copp, Terry. The Brigade: The 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade in the Second World War[page needed]
  61. ^ At the end of the five-week offensive, the victorious First Canadian Army had taken 41,043 prisoners, but suffered 12,873 casualties (killed, wounded, or missing), 6,367 of whom were Canadians.
  62. ^ Charles B. MacDonald, The Mighty Endeavor; American Armed Forces in the European Theater in World War II, (New York, 1969)
  63. ^ Beevor 2012, p. 634.
  64. ^ Beevor 2015, pp. 14,15.
  65. ^ Beevor 2015, p. 20.
  66. ^ Ambrose, Stephen (1992). Band of Brothers: E Company .... Simon & Schuster. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-297-84497-6. 
  67. ^ Beevor 2015, pp. 22,23.
  68. ^ Churchill, Winston (1954). The Second World War: Triumph and Tragedy (Volume VI). London: Cassell & Co. pp. 174, 175. 

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