• Samantha Cowan

Canada's Liberation of the Netherlands: The Hunger Winter!

Did you want to go to our 75th Liberation of the Netherlands Anniversary Tour Page Click Here

With the recent success of the battle of the Scheldt, the Canadians were now able to start bringing much-needed aid to the Dutch Citizens. Cities and regions such as Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Holland were still occupied by the Germans and the civilians living there were in dire need of a food supply. Still angered by the decision of the Dutch resistance and civilians for there help to the Allies, the German forces conducted a punishing food embargo upon the innocent people of the Netherlands.

A colourized photo of the brave Dutch Resistance Forces

After being occupied for 4 years and having to survive very harsh winters with little food, the Dutch people were now starving to death by the thousands, especially in the final 6 months before their liberation now infamously known as the “Hunger Winter”.

The inhabitants of the larger Dutch cities had little to no farmland to grow crops and were eventually forced to start eating anything that they could get their hands on. Often one could see children in the streets picking scraps out of garbage bins and resorting to tulip flower bulbs for sustenance. Things were getting so bad that family pets were being consumed and individuals even started resorting to horse droppings, looking for undigested oats. Once the British forces were aware that Holland only had 1 week’s worth of supplies left, they knew something major had to be done.

By the end of the Hunger Winter, over 20,000 individuals had starved to death.

Operation Manna

The name Manna was derived from the food given to the Israelites in the book of Exodus.

The Allies knew they had to do something fast and decided to conduct two Operations. Operation Chowhound was to be carried out by the American forces, while Operation Manna was led by the British RAF units and squadrons made up of individuals from Poland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada!

The objective would be to fly over pre-designated drop zones in order to drop much-needed food supplies for Dutch civilians. The current Prince of the Netherlands, Prince Bernhard had spoken to the Allied supreme commander Dwight D. Eisenhower about a truce between themselves and the Germans, although Eisenhower wasn’t in a position where he could negotiate such plans. Prince Bernhard was finally able to negotiate a truce after speaking with British Prime Minister Churchill and the current U.S president Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Allies were able to have representatives negotiate a truce with Nazi politician Reichskommissar Arthur Seyss-Inquart. One of the representatives during the negotiations was a Canadian name Farley Mowat, who would later become a famous author and well known by Canadians everywhere today. The parties were able to negotiate designated drops zones 200 feet behind enemy lines as well as agreeing to come unarmed and fly only 120-150 meters above enemy anti-aircraft guns.

Food being loaded on Lancaster Bomber Planes.

On April 29th the first test flight known as “Bad Penny” was underway. Among the crew of 7 men flying in a Lancaster bomber plane, 5 of them were Canadian. The tensions were high as the German’s wouldn’t fully agree upon a cease-fire until the next day. The mission was a success and a day later the full Operation Manna was underway!

The name was derived from the popular phrase, "Like a bad penny, it always turns up".

The operation would last just over a week and consisted of Allied pilots dropping food over cities and towns over 3100 times. The Lancaster bombers were designed to drop bombs from 6,000 meters but were now forced to fly a mere 120 feet above the ground. This was mainly due to the fact that the crates of food had no parachutes and lower altitudes would result in less damage to the food items.

These missions would be very frightening to the crew onboard the planes as they knew by flying un-armed at that low altitude would make them an easy target for German anti-aircraft guns. It would only take one rouge Hitler youth soldier who thought It would be a perfect opportunity for them to wipe out entire squadrons with ease to bring the mission to a halt. The crew would often see the Germans locked onto their aircraft and following their positions in the sky but fortunately would never fire upon them.

Heavy and Light Anti-Aircraft Flak Guns positioned throughout the Netherlands.

The food that was dropped consisted of dried and canned food along with some chocolate, which were all items that they thought the Dutch would greatly appreciate as they may not have seen it for years.

An example of a care package dropped from an Allied American plane during this time.

As the pilots flew over the rooftops on the Dutch civilians, they could see messages written on top of houses saying “Thank You”. The roofs and streets were crowded with thankful Dutch inhabitants, waving flags and cheering as this was a sign of relief and perhaps a sign of the end of the war.

The Dutch spelt out "Many Thanks" in their tulip fields which would be able to be seen by the Allied pilots.

3600 Tons of food was dropped on the city of Rotterdam and a memorial was erected in the district of Nieuw-Terbregge to honour those apart of Operation Manna and Chowhound.

Commemorate With Us

With the 75th Anniversary of Canada’s Liberation of the Netherlands, let us join together in celebration and thanks for the Canadians who sacrificed so much for us. In their honour, we travel to Normandy and Holland for the 75th Commemorative events. Join us to remember the bravery and vigour of our boys on the battlefields during those fateful days. Embrace the Netherlands that we know and love today, and help us honour the sacrifice endured by keeping our Canadian story alive. If you would like to join us on the upcoming program commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Canadians in Holland, or if you would like more information in regards to the events taking place in France/Holland for the anniversary, Click Here


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