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After the events of Operation Market Garden and the success of the Battle of the Scheldt’s, the Canadian’s were ready to embark on one of there final missions. The Canadian 1st Infantry who were led by the British 49th Infantry and supported by the 5th Armoured Division would be tasked with taking the city of Arnhem once and for all!
The Canadian push for the liberation of Arnhem wasn’t the Allies first attempt. At the beginning of September 1944, the Allies had conducted Operation Market Garden, where forces of primarily British and American paratroopers were parachuted into the Netherlands. This Operation was thought up by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery with assistance from Generals Brereton and Williams. Once dropped from the planes the troops were to then advance their way across to the River Rhine for a later offensive into Germany. They would be capturing and liberating many Dutch towns along the way, including the city of Arnhem. During this time, 9 bridges were to be captured including the John Frost bridge which is where the infamous Battle of Arnhem Bridge took place.
A 14-second clip of soldiers dropping into the Netherlands for Operation Market Garden
Throughout the days to come, the Allied troops were met with countless logistical problems and heavy German opposition and were forced to retreat and halt operations. This eventually led to Operation Market Garden being deemed a failure. The Allies suffered heavy casualties but fought bravely and made a name for their units and their experiences in Market Garden will be touched upon in upcoming blogs.
Canadian Campaign Leading up to the Battle of Arnhem
With the recent disaster of Operation Market Garden, new plans would have to be drafted to continue the Allied push into Germany as well as liberating the rest of the Netherlands. At the beginning of February 1945, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was to conduct Operation Veritable using the Canadian 21st Army Group to secure strategic positions and later link up with U.S troops in Operation Grenade. These Operations would make up the overall Operation known as BlockBuster.
During Operation Veritable, or “The Battle of Reichswald” the first Canadian Army would fight alongside the British XXX Corps and would need to secure the Rhine’s flood plains in order for the American’s to advance with lesser opposition. The Canadian’s and British would be met with heavy German Resistance in the Riechswald forest and would be hindered by water as the German would constantly open up the dams further up the line. With an early arrival of Spring weather, the melting snow water accompanied by river overflows would submerge the fields underwater and make it impossible for the Canadians to advance. The troops would resort to moving along dry roads which made them a large target for the Germans. The 3rd Canadian Armoured Division was brought in to be used to take the Rhine flood plains as the environment was perfect for their amphibious vehicles. The objective was broken down into 3 main phases where each advancement meant capturing lines and connecting solid communication between towns. The troops were to break through the German’s second line of defence from the south and east and eventually capture Xanten Bridge. Once Xanten was captured, the American's could continue their way into Germany and the Canadians could liberate Arnhem.
In this Map, you can see the River Rhine with the two main objectives mention in the blog, "Calcar Ridge" and "Udem". Once they have been captured by the Allies, the tanks can move pass Reichswald Forrest and toward Hochwald. Between the two forests of Hochwald is a narrow path known as Hochwald's Gap and is the last passage between the Allies and Xanten Bridge.
The German's fighting style was a lot different now as they were protecting their own country and would defend the Fatherlands by any means necessary. By this time, most of the German's had lost their homes and were ready to fight to the death as they had nothing else to live for. One German tank commander put it as "our men wanted to bring a few more enemies to their graves".
Operation Grenade was heavily delayed, but eventually, the Canadians were able to secure the area and link up with the U.S troops. But not before fighting one last battle to bring a completion of Operation Blockbuster. The last fight would entail the battle of Hochwald Ridge and would become one of the greatest tank battles of WW2.
Into The Reichswald Forest
With the success of Operation Veritable, the Canadian's had one mission left! They would be required to capture a few more objectives until they managed to make it to Xantan Bridge. Once at Xantan Bridge, the objective of having the Rhine river under Allie control would be complete and would allow the Canadians to move North to Liberate Arnhem.
Allied troops as they make their way thought the Reichswald Forest and open farmland with their Churchill Tanks.
Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds would break up the remaining Canadian Tank battalions into 2 groups. The first group would have to take the German town of Udem while the second group was to capture Calcar Ridge. Once Successful, the two Tank Battalions would then join back together and push through the Hochwald Gap, leaving the town of Xanten just a short distance away.
The 10th Canadian Armoured Division along with some Canadian Infantry Soldiers.
The Canadians would be driving a medium variant of the Sherman V Tank that supported less dense armour and a shorter gun than its larger counterpart. Although by weighing less, the Canadians had faster maneuverability on their sides and were supported by at least 1 Sherman V Firefly for every 5 regular Shermans.
A regular Sherman V used by the Canadians as well as a longer barrelled Sherman Firefly being commanded by British Soldiers.
The environment that the tanks were trecking through was of thick muddy fields slowly becoming impossible terrains to move through, sometimes taking a couple of hours to traverse 1 mile. It poured heavy rain throughout the night on the first offensive on February 26th, 1945. Accounts from a 20 unit tank squad as it approaches its first objective at Calcar Ridge was that of horrid conditions and heavy opposition. It was very dark and it had been raining while the tank maneuvered between the farmlands and lightly wooded areas. The Germans were determined to stop any advancements into their home country and scattered the ground with land mines. The 3 leading tanks were completely destroyed as their tank treads and flooring became victim to some mines early into the assault. It was only until a narrow path was found that allowed the tanks able to move on without worry of landmines. It was almost as if the enemy wanted them to take that route. Soon the Canadians found themselves in a farm field with a couple of barns just in front of the ridge. A few enemy tanks were spotted and lured the Canadians up the ridge. As they approached, the Canadians were met with complete enemy fire that lit up the night sky and came as a surprise. The Canadians were under heavy fire and weren't positioned favourably on the Ridge, with a little line of sight of the enemy. The unit suffered another causality by a German 88mm Flak gun that was positioned in the barn that the Canadians were backing towards to avoid any more fire. As more units came in, the heavily outnumbered Germans retreated back closer into the Rhineland, allowing the Canadians entry to Hochwald. The original 20 unit battalion mentioned earlier was reduced to 6 remaining tanks...
German 88mm Flak Gun, A.K.A The Tank Killer
The second tank wave sent to the town of Udem wasn't so successful with their first mission that same night. As the Canadians approached the town, there were already major issues happening due to tanks falling into ditches/traps that were impossible to get out of as the vehicles just sunk into the mud. The units finally found a narrow path just above the muddy ground on a dyke and soon all of the tanks were on top of it side by side. This wasn't a favourable position to be in because once they got on top of the dyke, they couldn't get off. The Canadian Tank unit was soon heading towards the town of Udem where they would see a trap of Tiger and Panther tanks waiting for them. Soon the unit was being fired upon at point-blank range and any shells shot back at a Tiger Tank would just bounce off, as its only weak zone was where the turret mount met the body of the tank. In typical German Tank tactic fashion, they picked off the leading tank and last tank, leaving the rest of the tanks stuck in the middle. All Canadian tanks were as good as destroyed and the remaining tank units surrendered and were taken as prisoners.
The German Panther V Tank, as well as the German Tiger Tank which was widely regarded as the Superior Tank of WW2.
The remaining tanks were to join the surviving tanks at Calcar Ridge and continue the push into the Hochwald Gap. The Canadians still needed to capture Xanten Bridge and the surrounding town before they could reach Arnhem. As the Tank units made their way through the Hochwald Gap they were soon about to find themself in some of the most intense tank fightings of the war.
Stay tuned in for Part 2 of Arnhem Mayhem!
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