Battle of the Scheldt | World War II

Battle of the Scheldt | World War II

Overview

During World War II, the Battle of the Scheldt was a series of military operations directed by the First Canadian Army, with Polish, Canadian, and British soldiers attached, to free up the maritime channel to Antwerp so that its port could feed the Allies in north-western Europe. After numerous obstacle crossings, amphibious assaults, and costly assaults over open ground, the Canadian First Army successfully cleared the Scheldt after five weeks of brutal fighting at the cost of 12,873 Allied casualties (half of whom were Canadian). However, it took another three weeks to de-mine the harbours after the German defences were no longer dangerous.

Background

Captured ports like Cherbourg were far from the front lines by the fall of 1944, extending Allied supply lines and presenting major logistical issues. Antwerp is a German-controlled deep-water inland port. It is associated with the North Sea by the river Scheldt, which permits ocean-going ships to pass through. Antwerp was the most significant surviving port in Western Europe after the devastation of Rotterdam in 1940 and the logical choice to assist an invasion of Germany. Antwerp was seized by the 11th Armoured Division on September 4th, with 90% of its harbour intact.

On the other hand, the Germans had extensively fortified Walcheren island at the mouth of the Western Scheldt, erecting well-dug-in artillery that was immune to air bombardment and restricting river access. Allied minesweepers were unable to clear the river and open the Antwerp port as a result. Walcheren Island was defined as the "strongest concentration of defences the Nazis had ever constructed" as part of the Atlantic Wall.

Allied Preparations

On September 5, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, SHAEF's naval commander, instructed General Bernard Montgomery, Commander of the 21st Army Group, to make the Scheldt his top priority, noting that the port of Antwerp was useless as long as the river's mouth was in German hands. Montgomery learned of Hitler's intention to hold the Scheldt at all costs the same day, thanks to Ultra intelligence. On the other hand, Montgomery was preoccupied with the ill-fated Operation Market Garden, which would occur later that month. Only Admiral Ramsay, among the senior Allied leaders, considered the opening of Antwerp as critical to sustaining the drive into Germany. Montgomery had another reason to put Antwerp last: his apparent desire for the 21st Army Group to lead the invasion of Germany and take Berlin. Montgomery inscribed to Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke (the Chief of the Imperial General Staff) on September 9th, stating that "one decent Pas de Calais port" could cover the supply needs of the 21st Army Group, but not the American armies in France. On the 6th of September, Montgomery had ordered Canadian General Harry Crerar to make the capture of Boulogne-sur-Mer a top priority. Montgomery's ideas compelled Eisenhower to endorse a plan for a 21st-century invasion of Germany.

In contrast, the use of Antwerp would permit all of the armies for such an invasion to be supplied. Because of these considerations, little was done in September concerning Antwerp. General Crerar indicated that he could not do so because he lacked the necessary men. Because he required XII Corps for Operation Market Garden, Montgomery turned down Crerar's request to have the British XII Corps under General Neil Ritchie assigned to help clear the Scheldt. If Montgomery had followed Admiral Ramsay's advice and controlled the Scheldt estuary, Antwerp would have been opened to Allied trade far sooner than it was, and the German 15th Army's retreat from France may have been halted. The German 15th Army, on the other hand, was able to deploy defensively and prepare for the anticipated advance.

German Positions

General Wilhelm Daser's Kriegsmarine (German navy) and Heer (German army) held Walcheren island. The enemy's attempt to take the Western Scheldt to gain unfettered access to Antwerp's harbour must be fought to the fullest extent possible. So von Zangen proclaimed to his men in his orders:

As a result, he orders all commanders and National Socialist indoctrination officers to train the troops in the following points most transparently and truthfully possible: ANTWERP is Europe's largest port, second only to HAMBURG. Captain Tony Pugsley of the Royal Navy was assigned to the First Canadian Army headquarters to begin preparations after landing the 7th Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division on D-Day.

Plan of Attack

After ordering the Channel ports to be evacuated first, Montgomery determined that the capture of Dunkirk could be postponed because of the importance of Antwerp. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, British I Corps, and II Canadian Corps, along with the British 49th and 52nd Divisions, Polish 1st Armoured Division, were added to the First Canadian Army, which Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds temporarily led. The plan to open the Scheldt estuary consisted of four major activities carried out over rugged terrain:

  • Securing access to the South Beveland peninsula by clearing the area north of Antwerp.
  • As part of Operation Switchback, clear the Breskens pocket north of the Leopold Canal and south of the Western Scheldt.
  • Operation Vitality, which involved the capture of the South Beveland peninsula, which is located north of the Scheldt and east of the island of Walcheren.
  • The capture of Walcheren as part of Operation Infatuate.

The first attacks took place on September 13th. Following the failure of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division's attempt to storm the Leopold Canal on its own, General Guy Simonds, commanding the II Canadian Corps, ordered a halt to operations in the Scheldt until the French channel ports were taken, claiming the Scheldt would require more than one division to clear. The suspension gave the German 15th Army plenty of time to settle into its new digs along the Scheldt's banks.

The 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division was assigned to clear an area on the south shore of the Scheldt surrounding the Dutch town of Breskens known as the "Breskens Pocket" on September 21, roughly along the line of the Ghent Terneuzen Canal. The division moved to the shore on 20 September, seizing Terneuzen and clearing the south bank of the Scheldt east toward Antwerp, in terrain unsuitable for armour and against intensifying resistance. Simonds realized that any more successes in the Scheldt would be costly, as the Germans held the Breskens Pocket, which stretched from Zeebrugge to the Braakman Inlet and inland to the Leopold Canal. Consequently, the British 51st Highland Division, 1st Polish Division, British 49th (West Riding) Division, and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade were detached from the First Canadian Army in October to assist the 2nd British Army in Operation Pheasant, an offensive to liberate North Brabant and expand the Arnhem salient. Despite taking on the entire 15th Army, which held highly defended positions in geography that favoured the defensive, Simonds believed he could clear the Scheldt with only three divisions of the second corps. Simonds never voiced any dissatisfaction with his lack of men, ammunition, or air support.

Battle

Securing Access to South Beveland

Ramsay, who was more concerned about the Canadians' concerns than their generals, protested to Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight Eisenhower that the Canadians had to ration ammunition because Montgomery had made holding the Arnhem salient his top priority. After Ramsay discussed the problem with Eisenhower, the latter told Montgomery of "the utmost importance of Antwerp" on or around October 9th. Model dispatched the 256th Volksgrenadier division and assault gun companies to free Battle Group Chill, the "fire brigade" comprising the 6th Parachute Regiment and assault gun companies. The Royal Regiment of Canada hurled a surprise attack on German lines at Woensdrecht on 10 October but spent the next few days fighting off counterattacks from Battle Group Chill. The 2nd Division's Major-General Charles Foulkes dispatched the Black Watch to assist the Royal Regiment. The German forces at Woensdrecht outnumbered the Canadians by a large margin, and Model may have launched a counter-offensive if he had known about it. Unfortunately, floodwaters are rising once more."

Simonds had intended to commit the 4th division to assist the 3rd division in clearing the Breskens Pocket, but the 2nd division's issues led him to begin pulling off units from the 4th division. The South Alberta Regiment was assigned the mission of "protecting the right flank of 2 Division and preventing infiltration between 2 Div and 1 Polish Armd" on October 9, 1944. On the 16th of October, the "Rileys" incurred losses comparable to the Black Watch on "Black Friday." Nevertheless, the Canadians successfully achieved their first objective, albeit at a high casualty.

Montgomery released "Notes on Command" on 14 October, criticizing Eisenhower's leadership and requesting that he be reassigned as commander of the Land Forces. The next day, Eisenhower responded that the problem was not with the command structure but with Montgomery's capacity and willingness to follow orders, claiming he had instructed him to clear the Scheldt and told him that if he did not, he would be dismissed. "You will get no more from me on the topic of command...Antwerp utmost importance in all operations of 21 Army Group," a chastised Montgomery promised, stung by Eisenhower's telegram. Nevertheless, Montgomery issued an order along those lines on October 16th. During Operation Pheasant, the British Second Army pushed westward from the east to clear the Netherlands south of the Meuse (Maas), safeguarding the Scheldt region from counterattacks.

Montgomery deployed the British 52nd Lowland Division to the First Canadian Army as part of his newly focused attempts to aid Simonds. The 52nd Division, formed in the Lowlands of Scotland, was a mountain division that required men of exceptional strength and stamina to fight in the mountains, making it a British Army elite division. Simonds was ecstatic to have the Lowlanders under his leadership, and he notified Major-General Edmund Hakewill-Smith that the 52nd was going to be crucial in capturing Walcheren Island. As a result, Simonds directed Hakewill-Smith to begin planning an amphibious landing on Walcheren while the Canadians attacked the island.

Meanwhile, Simonds positioned his men towards the peninsula's southern tip. Major-General Harry Forster stated on October 17 that the 4th division would attack on October 20 to take the Wouwsche Plantage. The Argyll and Lake Superior regiments led the offensive, starting early October 20th. The Lincoln and Welland Regiment, sometimes known as the "Lincs" in the Canadian Army, and the Algonquin Regiment launched a surprise attack on Esschen on October 22. The German 85th division attempted a counterattack on October 23rd, led by some self-propelled (SP) weapons. The German SP guns devastated the Sherman tanks of the Governor General's Foot Guards and the Lake Superior Regiments. The following days saw "very severe fighting," according to the 85th Division's battle diary. The Canadian Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders' war diary described "nightmarish fighting" at Wouwsche Plantage. Montgomery reached the headquarters of the 4th Canadian Division to press Forster for speed, but Forster protested, claiming that the flat polder country made speed impossible. In a single day of fighting, one Lincoln and Welland Regiment company lost half of its men. In contrast, an advance company of the Algonquin Regiment was cut off and besieged by the Wehrmacht, necessitating fierce fighting. The Canadians were now making their way towards Bergen op Zoom, where they would take part in Operation Pheasant, an attempt to seize the city.

Operation Switchback

The 7th Brigade was known as the "Western Brigade" in the Canadian Army because its three units were all from western Canada, with the Canadian Scottish Regiment hailing from Victoria, the Regina Rifles ordering from Regina, and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles hailing from Winnipeg, and the 9th Brigade was identified as the "Highland Brigade" because its three regiments were all Highland regiments, with two hailing from Ontario and one hailing from Nova Scotia. The North Shore Regiment carried a diversionary attack across the Leopold Canal, while the Regina Rifles and the Canadian Scottish Regiment carried the direct assault. The Royal Montreal Regiment, which had never experienced combat before, was eager to join the war, so the Regina Rifles' B company, known as the "Johns," consented to step aside. One of the Royal Montreal Regiment's companies could take their place.

The 9th Highland Brigade, on the other hand, was unable to land at the predicted time due to their lack of experience with amphibious vehicles. The assault began on October 6, backed by heavy artillery and flamethrower-equipped Wasp Universal Carriers developed in Canada. Only a few Montrealers got it to the other side as the Germans opened fire with machine guns and mortars. The Regina Rifles' A company did not attempt to cross the canal because the volume of machine-gun fire convinced the experienced "Johns" that crossing the channel in daylight was too dangerous. When D company of the Regina Rifles intersected the canal three hours later, the Royal Montreal Regiment company held its prized "bridgehead" for several hours before being joined by the "Johns." Spraggree became concerned that the Germans' furious defence would destroy the Regina Rifles, so he ordered his standby, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, to cross the Canadian Scottish Regiment's bridgehead and join the Regina Rifles. As the Germans focused their fire along the few raised roadways, the polderland, which limited lines of progress, proved to be a severe challenge. However, the Regina Rifles were facing powerful counterattacks and were hanging on. Because of the high number of Canadian casualties, a squadron of tankers from the 17th Hussars Regiment was issued firearms and dispatched to fight as infantrymen. "These anti-tank guns are extremely useful small house-breakers!" said Canadian historians Terry Copp and Robert Vogel of the conflict. The distance between the bridgeheads had been narrowed by the 9th of October, and by the 12th of October, a position had been established over the Aardenburg road.

With the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, the men of the 7th Brigade seized, lost, and then retook a complex of houses known as Graaf Jan on the 10th and 12th of October, while the Regina Rifles were trapped down by a series of well-dug-in pillboxes that seemed to be resistant to artillery. However, the Germans had plenty of artillery and an enormous amount of artillery ammunition, and they rained down severe artillery fire on every Canadian advance. The torrential rain that began the day following the Leopold canal crossing made fighting considerably more complicated, with a post-operation assessment on Operation Switchback remarking, "In parts, the bridgehead was barely bigger than the northern canal bank." Even the defences were inadequate: slit holes quickly filled with water and had to be dug out many times a day." The Canadians were unable to advance beyond their Leopold canal bridgehead, so Eberding decided to "annihilate" the 7th Brigade by launching a series of counterattacks that cost the German 64th division incredibly, as Canadian artillerymen killed German infantrymen as proficiently as German artillerymen killed Canadians. When the 9th Brigade hardly landed at a similar time as the 7th Brigade crossed the Leopold Canal, the 64th Division decisively stopped the 7th Brigade's advance. "Where the names of deserters are determined, their names will be made known to the civilian population at home, and they are next of kin will be looked upon as enemies of the German people," Simonds concluded.

The Buffalo amphibious vehicles and Terrapin (the first use of the vehicle in Europe), staff by Royal Engineers from the British 5th Assault Regiment, assisted the Canadian 9th Brigade in an amphibious operation. The Brigade planned to use these trucks to traverse the Braakman Inlet and land near Hoofdplaat, a small hamlet on the pocket's back or coastline side, putting pressure from two directions at the same time. Model reacted quickly after learning of the landing at the Braakman Inlet, telling Hitler, "Today, the enemy threw a decision-seeking attack on the Breskens bridgehead." Model, known as the "Führer's Fireman," ordered Eberding to "annihilate" the Highland Brigade right away.

The Highland Brigade came under counterattack on 10 October, with the Dundas, Glengary Highland, and Stormont regiment, known as the "Glens" in the Canadian Army, fighting for the village of Hoofdplaat for two days, losing 17 men killed and 44 wounded. According to the regimental war diary, the North Nova Scotia Highlanders required three days to capture Driewegen: "The artillery is kept busy, and this dike to dyke warfare is very different from what we have been doing." The opponent appears to be a considerably better sort than we have been dealing with recently." The Canadian Army was recognized for its high-quality artillery, which took a severe toll on German counterattacks during the day, as the 15th Field Regiment's war diary for October 12th noted: "Today we were the hardest we have been since Cormelles and Falaise pocket days." The Germans were more successful at night, with the Highland Light Infantry losing and then retaking Biervliet following a complicated night struggle. The original plan for the 8th Brigade to reinforce the 7th Brigade was revised by Canadian Major-General Daniel Spry of the 3rd Division, who instead sent the 8th Brigade to link up with the 4th division before coming to the support of the 9th Brigade.

After crossing the Leopold Canal, the Canadian 10th Brigade of the 4th Armoured Division advanced at Isabella Polder. Eberding employed his reserves in his counterattacks and claimed to the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht that some troops of the 64th Division had been "cut in half." Between 10 and 15 October, Eberding's 64th Division launched a "fighting retreat" to a new pocket aimed to shorten his lines because so many of his units were now under-strength. The Canadian Scottish Regiment arrived at Eede to find it deserted and empty. They approached the settlement and were immediately bombarded by artillery. On 15 October, the Queen's Rifles regiment, which was leading the 8th Brigade's advance, found the village of IJzendijke "well-defended" but abandoned it the next day. The Highland Light Infantry and the "Glens" pushed through the main German line, but General Spry, ignorant of this, ordered a retreat to concentrate more forces.

The German officers claimed that tanks were surrounding them, but just four, belonging to the British Columbia Regiment, functioning north of the Leopold canal. The supposed tanks were the 3rd Canadian Anti-Tank Regiment's M10 self-propelled anti-tank guns, which gave fire support to the Canadian troops. From 52nd Division, the 157th Highland Light Infantry Brigade joined the Canadians on October 20, allowing Spry to unite the three brigades of the 3rd division for the final drive.

Because of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie-policies, King's the Canadian Army had a severe shortage of infantrymen starting in the summer of 1944. As a result, even though Montgomery chose to fight the Battle of Arnhem rather than clear the Scheldt in September 1944, allowing the Germans to dig in, he chastised the 3rd Canadian Division for its slow advance, claiming the Breskens Pocket should have been cleared weeks ago and calling the Canadian officers cowards for refusing to take heavy losses. As a result, the 157th Brigade was ordered to be removed as a punishment, while the 3rd division was commanded to continue at "full speed."

Despite Canadians ' inability to afford significant losses, the 3rd division began an "intense battle" to clear out the Breskens Pocket. On the 24th of October, the Régiment de la Chaudière stormed Oostburg, losing an entire company. Still, because they had been instructed to seize Oostburg "at any cost," the "Chads" dug in to grip their ground while the Queen's Rifles arrived to assist them. According to their war journal, the Queen's Rifles captured Oostburg on October 25th following a "wild bayonet charge" with "quite significant" fatalities. Lieutenant Boos of the Queen's Own Rifles' A company was awarded the Military Cross to direct the Oostburg town gates with a suicidal bayonet charge that ended with him and his men seizing the gates. Despite strong German resistance, the Canadians pushed the Germans back methodically, aided in Eberding's habit of killing men who retreated without instructions. German morale deteriorated in the final days of the fight, and the number of "deserters" executed grew as many German soldiers preferred to surrender rather than perish in what was a lost battle. The Régiment de la Chaudière, unable to afford the casualties, seized a bridgehead on the Afleidingskanaal van de Lije (Lys Derivation Canal), which the engineers constructed a bridge over.

Spry stated that after losing 700 troops in two "aggressive" operations in five days, he favoured a gradual approach to saving his men's lives. Embedding said that this demonstrated "weakness" on the part of the Canadians, pointing out that Wehrmacht generals were solely concerned with winning and never let concerns about losses get in the way of achieving victory.

On November 3, the Canadian 1st Army seized the Belgian cities of Knokke and Zeebrugge, effectively closing the Breskens Pocket and destroying all German forces south of the Scheldt.

Operation Vitality

On the afternoon of October 22nd, Major-General Foulkes, acting commander of the 2nd Canadian Corps, informed the 2nd Canadian Division that the start of Operation Vitality, the operation to take the South Beveland peninsula, had been strapped forward by two days due to "express orders from Field Marshal Montgomery who had engaged this operation at priority for the British and Canadian forces in this area." The Calgary Highlanders' Major Ross Ellis told Foulkes that the men were exhausted after the hard fighting earlier in October, only to be said that the operation would go ahead. Only the Royal Regiment of Canada, the Cameron Highland Regiment, the Essex Scottish Regiment, and the Calgary Highlanders could put together anything close to four rifle companies in the 2nd division. The 6th Brigade, which included the Cameron Highlanders, the shattered South Saskatchewan Regiment, and the much more beaten Fusiliers Mont-Royal, was tasked to attack the centre despite being severely attacked under-strength. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division began its push down the South Beveland peninsula on October 24, marking the start of the third major operation. The Canadians wanted to advance quickly, avoiding opposition and establishing bridgeheads across the Kanaal door Zuid-Beveland (Canal through South Beveland). Still, they were hindered by mines, mud, and strong enemy defences.

The Fusiliers Mont-war Royal's diary states that the Regiment suffered "heavy casualties," the Cameron Highlanders reported, "stiff opposition" from the 6th Parachute Regiment. The South Saskatchewan Regiment said: "The county over which we had derived was not the kind you dream about attacking in as it was partly open, partly wooded, and it had many buildings, ditches." The 5th Brigade joined the 6th Brigade later that day, with the Calgary Highlanders spearheading the assault and reporting "remnants" of two platoons who had advanced across the dyke and were joined by the Black Watch when night fell. The Royal Regiment had taken its starting position throughout the night. It was combined by the Fort Garry Horse Regiment and the Essex Scottish Regiment in the early morning to commence a sluggish approach supported by heavy artillery fire. The Essex Scottish Regiment reported on October 25 that 120 Germans had surrendered and that the "tough shell of defences at the peninsula's narrowest point had been broken." General Wilhelm Daser, commander of the 70th Infantry Division, started on October 26 that the situation was untenable and that withdrawal was necessary.

Operation Infatuate

The British 52nd (Lowland) Division launched an amphibious assault over the Western Scheldt to reach the German Canal through South Beveland defensive fortifications. The island was then confronted from three directions: from the east across the Sloedam causeway, from the south across the Scheldt, and the west by the sea.

Battle of Walcheren Causeway: On October 31, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division attacked the Sloedam causeway in the Battle of Walcheren Causeway. In the authorized history of the Canadian Army, Stacey wrote about "race," an allegation that Copp and Vogel in the Maple Leaf Route vigorously refuted. The 2nd division's 4th Brigade had pushed quickly up to the causeway, prompting Brigadier Keefler to issue orders to take the causeway, while the 52nd Division was tasked with taking the Beveland end. In a nocturnal attack, the Royal Regiment grabbed the eastern end of the causeway. The 5th Brigade of the 2nd Division was ordered to attack, led by the "jinxed" Black Watch, who marched down the causeway while the Calgary Highlanders and Le Régiment de Maisonneuve were to proceed by boat. The Black Watch launched an initial attack but were repelled because the channel was too shallow for the 2nd division to cross, leaving a company of the Black Watch stranded on the causeway under intense German fire. The Calgary Highlanders then sent a company across the causeway and stopped halfway. The Highlanders obtained a tenuous foothold during a second attack on November 1st. After a day of action, the Highlanders were relieved by the Régiment de Maisonneuve, struggling to keep the bridgehead open. After securing the bridgehead, the Régiment de Maisonneuve discovered that it was worthless for progress since the German defences in the polderland were too embedded to advance. Major-General Hakewill-Smith protested when Foulkes ordered the 52nd Division to conduct a frontal attack on Walcheren. On November 2, the "Maisies" withdrew onto the causeway, to be replaced by the 52nd Division's 1st Battalion, Glasgow Highlanders. As Foulkes had instructed, instead of attacking from the front, Hakewill-Smith outflanked the Germans by landing the Cameronian regiment at Nieuwdorp, 2 miles (3.2 km) south of the causeway and linking up with the Glasgow Highlanders at the next day.

The 52nd continued to advance in tandem with the waterborne assaults. The struggle for the causeway claimed the lives of 135 2nd Division soldiers in one of the division's most aggressive actions, with much of the blame falling on Foulkes' judgments. Even though Lieutenant-General Simonds and Foulkes were British immigrants to Canada, the two despised each other. Simonds frequently expressed his desire to fire Foulkes because he believed inept. Captain Pugsley from the Royal Navy had to create considerably due to a port scarcity to provide the essential shipping for the landings on Walcheren island. Despite Bomber Command's rejection to attack several German positions on Walcheren, opening up the Scheldt was deemed so critical that the docks on Walcheren were approved at a meeting between Simonds, Foulkes, and Admiral Ramsay on October 31. Pugsley, commanding the HMS Kingsmill, was given the last say, with orders to call off the mission if he considered it was too dangerous. Simultaneously, Simonds ordered the concentration of 300 guns from two Canadian artillery regiments on the mainland to offer fire support for the landings. On November 1, the amphibious landings were split into two halves.

Operation Infatuate I: The 155th Infantry Brigade (fourth and fifth battalions King's Own Scottish Borderers, seventh and ninth battalions, Royal Scots) and No. The 4th Commando was put ashore in twenty Landing Craft Assaults as the Canadian artillery opened fire, followed by the King's Own Scottish Borderers regiment, which attacked Flushing. They fought in fierce street warfare against the German forces over the next few days, destroying most of Flushing. The German 1019th Regiment held Flushing, and the Hotel Britannia, which had served to British tourists before the war, became the site of "spectacular battle" described as "worthy of an action film" when the Royal Scots regiment engaged in seizing the hotel, which fell after three days.

Operation Infatuate II: The amphibious landing at Westkapelle on November 1st was also known as Operation Infatuate II.

Aftermath

The Battle put much strain on the soldiers. Soldiers suffering from battle exhaustion frequently complained that the Army attempted to "extract blood from a stone," with under-strength battalions being urged to keep fighting despite the lack of reinforcements and no opportunity to recuperate. The II Canadian Corps proceeded to the Nijmegen area after the fight to take over from the XXX British Corps. The German 15th Army had delayed the opening of Antwerp to Allied commerce from 4 September to 28 November 1944, which was extended than Hitler had intended for, justifying the German choice to retain the river Scheldt. Even earlier in the Battle of the Scheldt, the Canadian Army knew it needed troops to replace its losses, and the fighting's losses contributed to the Conscription Crisis. Colonel John Ralston, the Canadian Defence Minister, was forced to report to Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King that the existing policy of only sending volunteers overseas was no longer viable, as the damages in the Battle of the Scheldt far outnumbered the number of volunteers, and conscripts would be required. Simonds' leadership of the 1st Canadian Army was lauded by Copp and Vogel, who wrote that his operations "were brilliantly strategic and sometimes brilliantly executed." "The Canadian Army had, over October, the toughest and important task of all the Allied armies, it had conceded through a series of complex operations to an efficacious conclusion, and it had done this with vitality and skill despite the growing manpower shortage now apparent on all the Allied fronts," Copp and Vogel wrote, defending the Canadians from accusations of incompetence and cowardice levelled by American and British historians. Convoys began sending a continuous stream of supplies to the continent after the first ship arrived in Antwerp on November 28th, but little changed. The bad autumn weather hampered the Canadians in the Battle of Scheldt and the operations of the First US Army in the Hurtgen forest, the Third US Army in Lorraine, and the Ninth, Seventh, and First French Armies further south. On November 5, 1944, Eisenhower estimated that the offensives into Germany's western borderlands would require two million mortar shells, 6 million artillery shells, 400 additional tanks, 1,500 jeeps, and 150,000 spare tires to replace worn-out ones over the next month, none of which would be readily available until the Scheldt was cleared. Only the US Seventh Army had reached the Rhine by taking Strasbourg by the 15th of December, while the US Third Army had advanced into Germany and come up against one of the West Wall's most substantial sections. The lack of infantry replacements was at least part of the reason for the Allied offensives' failure, with the Americans coming dangerously close to running out of infantry substitutes. At the same time, the British were required to break up divisions to provide reinforcements. In an attempt to destroy it or at the very least disrupt the flow of supplies – Germany fired more V-2 rockets at Antwerp than at any other city.

Controversy

Montgomery, on the other hand, disregarded Admiral Cunningham's warning that Antwerp would be "as useless as Timbuctoo" unless the approaches were freed and Ramsay's warning that the Germans might easily block the Scheldt estuary. Early in September, the city and port of Antwerp fell to the XXX Corps, which Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks led. Montgomery halted the XXX Corps for replenishment just north of the city's Albert Canal, which remained in German hands as a result. Horrocks later regretted this, feeling that his corps could have marched another 100 miles (160 km) with the fuel available. Unbeknownst to the Allies, XXX Corps was facing only a single German division at the moment. The break allowed the Germans to regroup around the Scheldt River. When the Allies began their advance, General Kurt Student's 1st Parachute Army had arrived and established strong defensive positions along the Albert Canal and Scheldt River on the opposite side. In the month-long, expensive Battle of the Scheldt, the First Canadian Army would be tasked with breaking the fortified German line that spanned from Antwerp to the North Sea along the Scheldt River. "The Allies suffered 12,873 casualties in an operation that might have been carried out at a low cost if launched promptly after the fall of Antwerp," according to the report. "Leaping the Rhine...in nearly one bound," Allied leaders predicted. Despite Eisenhower's desire to capture an important port with intact dock facilities, Montgomery insisted that the First Canadian Army clear the German garrisons in Boulogne, Calais, and Dunkirk first, even though these ports had all been destroyed and would be impassable for some time. On 22 and 29 September 1944, the Canadians captured Boulogne (Operation Wellhit) and Calais (Operation Undergo); when they finally stopped attacking northern French ports and began attacking the Scheldt approaches on 2 October, they discovered that German resistance was far more substantial than they had anticipated, as the remnants of the Fifteenth Army had time to escape and support the island of Walcheren and the South Beveland peninsula. "As regards Arnhem, I believe you have got the position a little out of focus," Winston Churchill requested in a telegram to Jan Smuts on October 9.

Last updated: 2022-January-13
Tags: History World War II
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