Canada's Liberation of the Netherlands Part 1: Mud, Shells and More Mud
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With the recent success of the D-Day landings in Operation Overlord, both Belgium and France were now in a state of celebration as the British and American forces continued their liberation of the two nations.
Allied troops parading through France and Belgium during their liberation celebrations.
To the people of France and Belgium, the situation posed as a sign of relief and a potential end to the war. And for the soldiers, it meant a well deserved and long-awaited break.
Although the same could not be said by the Dutch and Canadians as 120,000 men and women of the First Canadian army prepared themselves for a much-anticipated liberation of the still Nazi-occupied nation of the Netherlands.
The Canadians in the middle of combat and marching through the Netherlands. The aftermath of the Rotterdam bombings.
The largest problem facing the Allies was none other than simple logistics. The soldiers on the ground needed supplies and re-enforcements if they were going to have a chance at liberating the country. This starts with the Canadians having to go through Antwerp and the Netherlands to recapture coastal positions in order for the allies to dock their ships and provide much-needed supplies. Although this plan would turn out to be much more difficult than previously imagined.
The ports were located alongside the coastline and were transformed into heavily fortified positions held by elite German troops of the 15th division. They grew more disgruntled day by day as the tables were now turning in favour of the Allies.
Following the red line, one can see the route the Canadians (1st/2nd Army) took. They made their way out of Belgium (Antwerp) into the Netherlands. The route itself consisted of muddy countrysides leading to well-defended cosways, as the Canadian's made their way from island to island.
As a side note, it's worth mentioning that there were multiple Canadian divisions fighting in numerous sectors throughout the Netherlands capturing objectives just as equally important as the ones mentioned in this blog. The Canadians were also accompanied by troops from other allied nations along the way. All of which played a major role in the Liberation.
Battle of the Scheldt
The Canadians would now march towards the seaports through nightmarish terrains that they weren't previously accustomed too, but would now soon be the norm conditions of this mission. The Dutch countryside was very flat and would lay close to or below sea levels for most of the year, creating a muddy marshland environment. The soldiers would often see nothing but miles of wet tulip fields surrounded by concrete dykes and polders. [Dykes and Polders: A polder is a low-lying tract of land that forms an artificial hydrological entity, enclosed by embankments known as dykes]
The concrete dykes were above the marshy ground and would constantly taunt the Canadians to walk on top of its dry surfaces, but also stood as a reminder to the Canadians, as anyone who tried to get out of the mud would then be a target for German Snipers.
The Canadians fought valiantly as they pushed the Germans farther back into Beveland, taking strategic positions along the way. Although with each advancement meant the troops would pay heavily with a large number of causalities in what was slowly becoming an impossible task to continue. The Canadians were outnumbered by the Germans and had no way of obtaining fresh re-enforcements. The Allies attentions were now being diverted by the upcoming invasion "Operation Market Garden", therefore leaving the Canadians with the bulk of the fight and little hope of Allied support.
The Canadian troop's fighting in the heat of the summer and the cold of winter. Operating field artillery/mortars and tending the wounds of a fellow Canadian hit by a sniper.
With no sign of relief in sight, the Canadians would continue the fight in circumstances where courage wasn't the ideal strength but rather endurance. The Canadians fought from polder to polder, taking cover in quick man-made slit trenches and getting back up to continue the advancement. The strategic plan at the time required the Canadians to make a constant push. The Germans would always know the position of the Canadians due to previously defending said positions and often having each position pre dialled into their big guns. One often forgets that these young men, sometimes only 17 years of age were required to stay wet and muddy for months on end. Often having little sleep and only looked forward to a cup of coffee and a warm meal in the evening. And to make it all worse the Netherlands also experienced one of its worst recorded rainy seasons during this time of the year.
After many courageous skirmishes with the enemy, the Canadians had finally captured the North shores off Antwerp, as well as Leopold's canal also known as Breskens Pocket. There remained 2 major objectives left for the Canadians, first they must capture the remainder of South Beveland and then the final objective of taking Walcheren Island. The Canadians would now encounter their most difficult stretch of the journey. First, they would have to implement new amphibious shock tactics and defeat the remaining German forces. Second, they would have to wait to receive help from more allied nations and Thirdly work alongside the enemy German Army to bring relief to the Dutch people.
Stay tuned for Part 2: A Friendship for Life
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