With the British in control of Antwerp the Allied advance halted. The capture of Antwerp was a remarkable success but it was not a complete success as the port of Antwerp lies 55 miles up the Scheldt Estuary much of which was under control of the German Army. With the German army in control of the Scheldt Estuary the Minesweepers were prevented from doing their job and Antwerp was useless as a port from which to supply the Allied Armies.

The nature of the surrounding area, was abysmal.  The ground was low lying and flooded. It was too boggy for land vehicles and too shallow for amphibious vehicles. The Germans held a strong position on the South bank of the Scheldt and even stronger positions on the North side.

On the north side the island of Walcheren was very strongly fortified with around thirty batteries. To add to this the north side of the Scheldt could only be approach along a narrow causeway and island of Walcheren was approachable only over water which was heavily mined.

The job of clearing the German from the South bank of the Scheldt fell to the First Canadian Army. By the end of October 1944 the Canadian’s had captured the south bank.

The British Second Army had moved north against German positions successfully isolating the Scheldt Estuary from reinforcements or counterattacks by the Germans.

It was planned that the heavily fortified island of Walcheren would be attacked in three thrusts with all three assaults being launched simultaneously.

                1, The Canadian First Army would attack along the causeway linking Walcheren Island to South Beveland.

                2, British Army Commandoes would attack across the Scheldt from Breskens directed at Flushing.

                3, The Royal Marine Commandoes would attack from the sea at Westkapella.

The Royal Navy would give support from the sea.

BATTLE OF THE SCHELDT.
MINESWEEPERS FROM WILDFIRE III, QUEENBOROUGH, AT THE BATTLE OF THE SCHELDT.

THEIR FINEST HOUR.

The Royal Navy’s finest hour was Trafalgar, the Royal Air Force’s finest hour was the Battle of Britain, the Minesweepers of HMS Wildfire III's finest hour was at the Battle of the Scheldt.

At the Battle of the Scheldt, Queenborough Minesweepers made it possible for the swift relief of Holland and the shortening of the war.

HMS Wildfire III, Queenborough, Minesweepers at the Battle of the Scheldt, their crews demonstrated extreme gallantry by clearing mines in the Scheldt Estuary.


THE EVE OF THE BATTLE OF THE SCHELDT.

Headquarters First Canadian Army, 4.11.44

Lieutenant-General G. G. Simonds.

TO ALL SOLDIERS SERVING IN THE FIRST CANADIAN ARMY.
The following are Captured Orders issued by the German Army Commander.

“The defence of the approaches to Antwerp represents a task which is decisive for the further conduct of the war.  After over-running the Scheldt fortifications the English would finally be in a position to land great masses of materials in a large and completely protected harbour. With these they might deliver a death-blow to the North German Plateau and at Berlin before the onset of winter. For this reason, we must hold the Scheldt fortifications to the end, The German people are watching us.

D-DAY TO ANTWERP

Following the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944, after initial delays and under fierce resistance from the enemy, the Allies (the British, Canadian and American armed forces) broke out of the Normandy beach head and fought its way towards Germany.

The British Second Army pushed quickly northwards capturing Brussels and Antwerp. The speed of the British armoured columns advance and the activities of the Belgium “underground” found the Port of Antwerp, the third largest port in the World at that time, largely intact. Seven large ships, some as large as eleven thousand tons and twenty smaller vessels blocked the port. These weren’t “block ships” sunk there by the Germans. These were bombed and sunk by the RAF in 1940 when an invasion fleet was being assembled by the Germans for the assault on Britain.

Admiral Bertram Ramsey, now “Sir” Admiral Bertram Ramsey of the Dunkirk Evacuations fame, warned “In the general rejoicing at the fall of Antwerp it is not sufficiently realised that before the facilities of the port could be used the enemy have to be cleared from both banks of the Scheldt and that thereafter a considerable minesweeping effort would be necessary before the waterway to the port was navigable by allied shipping.”

The Allied advance from the Normandy Landing Beaches towards Germany had became bogged down, as with longer and longer supple lines, now over 300 hundred miles from the Mulberry harbours at the D-day beaches, munitions, fuel, equipment and supplies were not reaching the front lines in sufficient quantities.

The Allies desperately needed a port closer to the front line.

Oil being unloaded from the SS Fort Cataraqui in the Belgian port of Antwerp, 30 Nov 1944; this was the first ship to berth at the port following the opening of the Scheldt Estuary

The German navy prepared for a desperate last offensive to cut this vital route.

In December 1944 Bibers (German for "beaver") midget submarines were sent out to attack Allied shipping in the Scheldt Estuary.  Only one of the Eighteen Biber survived.

USAT Y-17 a US Army Tanker was sunk in the Scheldt by a Seehund midget submarins.

Even before the estuary had been cleared of mines the Germans fired V-2 rockets at Antwerp causing considerable damage to the city but mainly missing the port. Such was the importance of Antwerp as a port for the Allied forces that Hitler fired more V-2’s at Antwerp than were fired at London. Half of all the V-2’s made were targeted at the Port of Antwerp

For their bravery many of the men on the Queenborough  minesweepers received commendations.

 
COMMENDATIONS.

( MID: Mention in Despatches. DSC: Distinguished Service Cross. DSM: Distinguished Service Medal.)

 

 BALL, (Lt) Charles Edward, HMS Wildfire, (Sheerness), MID awarded for bravery, skill and enterprise in minesweeping operations off the coasts of Holland, Belgium and France.

BARRETT, (Coder) Gordon, C/JX260440. HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). MID awarded for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the Scheldt estuary of mine

BOX, (Lt)John William, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). MID awarded for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the Scheldt estuary of mines

BOYCE,  (Electrical Lt Cdr) Herbert, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). DSC awarded for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the Scheldt estuary of mines.

CRANMER, (Electrical Sub Lt) John Michael, HMS Wildfire (Sheerness). MID awarded for minesweeping ops Belgium, Holland and French coasts. Commendation awarded for brave conduct and devotion to duty (mine disposal).

DALBY, (Lt Cdr) Ernest Robert, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). Two MID awarded for courage and determination while serving in HM Minesweepers in clearing a passage into Rotterdam, Yjmuiden and Den Helder thereby making possible the swift relief of Holland.

EACOTT,  (PO Wireman) Francis James, C/MX71389, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ).DSM awarded for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the estuary of the Scheldt of mines

FORBES, (Lt) David Kenneth, HMS Wildfire (Sheerness), Minesweeping - MID awarded for bravery, skill and enterprise in Minesweeping operations off the Coasts of Holland, Belgium and France.

GILLING, (Lt Cdr) John Phillips, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). Two MID and DSC awarded for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the estuary of the Scheldt of mines during the period of October to November 1944.

GILROY (Lt Cdr)  Frederick William, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). Two MID awarded for courage and skill in minesweeping operations during the landing of Allied Forces in Normandy - Operation Neptune.

GREEN, ( Lt Cdr) John,HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). DSC and MID awarded for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the estuary of the Scheldt of mines.

HOPPER, (Captain) Humphrey Greenwood, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). DSO and MID. DSO awarded for distinguished service in hazardous minesweeping operations in the mouth of the Scheldt.MID awarded for courage and determination clearing a passage into Rotterdam, Yjmuiden and Den Helder thereby making possible the swift relief of Holland

JESSHOPE,  (CPO Steward) Amos Wilfred, C/LX20966, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). MID awarded for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the estuary of the Scheldt of mines.

JOHNSON (Telegraphist), George Stanley, LT/JX194152, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). MID awarded for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the estuary of the Scheldt of mines.

JOLLY (Lt Cdr.) Leonard, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). DSC awarded for courage, skill and devotion to duty in HM Minesweepers in clearing the German Skaggerak mine barrier.

LOVELOCK (Lt) Pearce Trewhella, HMS Wildfire (Sheerness). DSC awarded for bravery, skill and enterprise in Minesweeping operations off the Coasts of Holland, Belgium and France.

LUFF (Leading Wireman), William Henry, C/MX97188, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). DSM awarded for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the estuary of the Scheldt of mines

MOTSON (Lt Cdr) Norman Wingfield, HMT Ben Glas, MMS 29, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). Four MID and DSC for Op Neptune (Normandy Landings) and for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the estuary of the Scheldt of mines. Also for courage and determination in clearing a passage into Rotterdam, Yjmuiden and Den Helder thereby making possible the swift relief of Holland.

 
PARKINSON (Lt) Arthur Douglas, HMS Wildfire (Sheerness). DSC and Bar awarded for bravery, skill and enterprise in minesweeping operations off the Coasts of Holland, Belgium and France.

 
PETERSON (Cdr) Jack, HMS Wildfire (Sheerness). DSO awarded for bravery, skill and enterprise in minesweeping operations.

POWELL (Yeoman of Signals) Calvert William, C/J113341, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). DSM awarded for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the estuary of the Scheldt of mines.

ROE (Cdr) John Stanley, HMY Aronia, HMS St Tudno , HMS Liberty. Three MID and DSC awarded for devotion to duty and outstanding endurance during mine clearance operations in the Elbe and Weser rivers.

SLATER (CPO Writer)Owen George, C/MX52808, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). DSM awarded for courage and determination in clearing a passage into Rotterdam, Yjmuiden and Den Helder thereby making possible the swift relief of Holland.

TURNER (Yeoman of Signal) Douglas Harry, C/LDX4739, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ).MID awarded for courage and in clearing a passage into Rotterdam, Yjmuiden and Den Helder thereby making possible the swift relief of Holland.

WHITE (Skipper) James Thomson, WS2780, HMT Larch, HMS St Tudno. Two MID and DSC for distinguished service and for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the estuary of the Scheldt of mines.

WILLIAMS(Coder) Ernest, C/JX216194, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). DSM awarded for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the estuary of the Scheldt of mines.

WOODS (Chief Mechanic) Cecil Giffard, P/MX67527, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). MID awarded for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the estuary of the Scheldt of mines.

WRIGHT (Lt Cdr) Bernard Joseph Maxwell, HMS St Tudno, (Wildfire III ). DSC awarded for great gallantry and endurance in clearing the estuary of the Scheldt of mines

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From Pathe News

ANTWERP RE-OPENED.

"The great port of Antwerp is now open to Allied shipping. Thanks to the RAF, the Germans could make little use of it while it was in their hands. And until the Royal Navy cleared the estuary of German mines we could not use it either.

Now the last obstructions are swept from the entrance.

Forerunners of the great armadas to come the Fort Cataraqui the first ship of the first convoy to reach the port pulls in. Soon Antwerp will be receiving the large bulk of the supplies and munitions and stores the Allied armies need for their final onslaught on Germany."

A column of Canadian Alligator amphibious vehicles passing 'Terrapin' amphibious vehicles on the Scheldt River near Terneuzen, the Netherlands, 13 Oct 1944

At the D-Day landing beaches and elsewhere it had been found that the German Land Batteries would always directly fire at any ships which were firing at them. Knowing this the Royal Navy drew fire from the shore batteries and away from the landing craft as they stormed the Walcheren beaches. This resulted in only 28 troops killed and wounded in the assault craft, while 297 officers and men were killed or wounded in the supporting squadrons. The LCG’s (Landing Craft Guns) engaging the enemy at point blank range, had a particularly bad time of it while demonstrating extreme courage. Lieutenant Falmank reported “I regret to report the loss of my ship (LCG 101) after being in action with a German pillbox at a range of 40 to 50 yards.”

So close to their homeland (Germany is only 80 miles from the Scheldt Estuary) The Germans fought fiercely. There were more Allied casualties at the Battle of the Scheldt than on D-Day.

Even before the fighting stopped some Queenborough Minesweeper had slipped by the Walcheren Batteries at night to begin clearing the approaches to Antwerp of mines.

With time of critical importance in opening the Port of Antwerp and the scale and complexity being overwhelming the British Minesweepers, including those from Queenborough, proved worthy of the task.

In the first sweep alone seventy mines were destroyed. Under the command of Captain H.G. Hopper RN, the minesweepers accounted for a total of 267 mines being swept.

Only then could Allied shipping enter the Port of Antwerp and unload their much needed cargoes.

Map of northern Belgium and Southern Holland. Antwerp has been taken by the British and the Canadians, (the area in blue) the Germans hold the area to the north (in red) including the Scheldt Estuary. Although the Port of Antwerp has been taken it can not be used until the Germans have been driven from the banks of the Scheldt and the mines are cleared.