Walcheren was part of Hitler’s Atlantic wall and was one big fortress with 35 gun batteries imbedded in concrete, protected by land mines and anti-tank obstacles
Lieutenant General Guy Simons planned to take Walcheren Island, on the north banks of the Scheldt, by first breaching the dykes to flood the land which lay below sea level. At first the RAF said it would be impossible to do. After being told it would save thousands of allied lives, they agreed to give it a go and breached the dykes in three places.
2 October 1944. The RAF dropped leaflets over Walcheren warning local people to leave.
3rd October 1944, 247 RAF Lancaster’s dropped four thousand 1,000 pound and 500 pound bombs on Walcheren, breaching the dykes and flooding the land. This impede the movements of enemy reserves, severed German communications and reduced supplies getting through to the enemy.
Early in the afternoon of the 31st October 1944. The Canadian Third Division attack Walcheren Island from the land side along the Walcheren causeway. It was an impossible task. The enemy were well dug in and could concentrated all of their fire on the narrow causeway over which the Canadians must attack.
The Canadians attacked time and again, against lethal fire to establishing a bridge head on Walcheren. The Canadian Army had achieved the impossible, accomplished by sheer determination, endurance and courage beyond human ability. The cost was high!
The British 52nd Division relieve the shattered and exhausted Canadians and were alarmed to find the causeway over which they must approach was a killing field of concentrated enemy fire. They looked for and found a second crossing. Only accessible when the tide is out, the approaches are mines, it is narrow and through deep mud. Under cover of darkness troops cross to establish a second bridgehead.
Dawn the 1st November 1944. British No 4 Army Commandoes attacked the city of Flushing. After a massive artillery barrage by 314 guns, Commandoes landed at Flushing with the 4th Kings Own Scottish Borderers and 52nd (Lowland) Division close behind and after two days of heavy fighting take the town. During their assault, they disassembling light artillery guns and carried them to the upper stories of buildings to fire on the enemy.
The morning of 1st November 1944, The main assault force embarked at the Belgium port of Ostende for an amphibious attack on the gap in the sea defences at Westkapelle on the island of Walcheren.
Force T, a specially formed naval group of 182 craft escorted the Marine Commandoes to the newly formed beaches on each side of the gap blasted through the dyke.
Three heavy war ships the Warspite, Erebus and Roberts pounded enemy strong points during the assault, but with their spotter planes grounded by fog, made little impact. SSEF (Support Squadron Eastern Flank from the Normandy landings) directly engaged the enemy batteries drawing fire and protecting the landing craft. When the Germans switched targets from the ships to the landing craft the SSEF ships moved in closer forcing the German Batteries to fire on them instead of the landing craft.
With German guns on either side of the main assault beaches having not been disabled by bombing or naval guns, they wreak terrible destruction on the men and landing craft of the initial assault group. The guns are eventually taken, but the cost is high.
The Canadians were undermanned. Replacements for casualties were raw recruits with insufficient combat training who were sent into battle with little chance of surviving.
The conditions under which the Canadians fought were abysmal. The nature of the surrounding area, known as polders, was appalling. The ground was low lying and flooded. It was too boggy for land vehicles and too shallow for amphibious vehicles. The land was flat and with very little cover. The Germans were well dug in, held all the high position and had their machine guns trained along all the built-up roads and canal banks.
The Canadians push northwards from Antwerp fighting numerous individual battles against German strongpoints. They find they are fighting a large well equipped force many times their number, which included a crack German parachute division. The German strategy was to withdraw to prepared rear defensives, before they are overwhelmed and then counter attack.
The Canadians attack into the Breskin Pocket and are taken aback by the ferocity of the enemy resistance. They faced the German 64th Infantry Division under the command of General Eberding. Intelligence had estimated there were 4000 Germans in the pocket, while in fact the German 64th infantry division alone totalled well over 10,000 committed, first class professional soldiers with 489 machine guns, numerous mortars and more than 300 field guns from 22mm, to 150mm including twenty-three 88’s. They also had six coastal batteries with long range guns imbedded in concrete. Crossing ditches and canals the Canadians hang on desperately for reinforcements to arrive and engineers to build bridges. The Canadians are fought to a standstill, but using Buffaloes (LVT’s, Landing Vehicle Tracked) attacked along the Scheldt through the back door.
The assault on the Breskin Pocket lasted a nightmarish 29 days and is eventually cleared by November 3rd 1944. In all, over twelve thousand German prisoners were taken.
Now, only the stronghold of Walcheren Island remained.
BATTLE OF THE SCHELDT
(How the Wildfire III, Queenborough, minesweepers fitted into the Battle of the Scheldt.)
To see the webpage, Sweeping the Scheldt, GO HERE.
Watch these short videos about the Wildfire III Minesweepers.
Clearing the Scheldt: https://youtu.be/8ELsc9T3Lbw
The Relief of Holland: https://youtu.be/GghYEFHmOfY
3 September 1944, the BBC broadcasts the message “Pour Francois la lune est Claire” (For Francis the Moon is Claire) and 3500 Belgium resistance fighters responded to the call. They capture and held the vital Port of Antwerp.
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS, BATTLE OF THE SCHELDT.
The British 11th Armoured Division arrives in Antwerp with little enemy opposition to be greeted by wildly jubilant crowds. Having no further orders other than to take Antwerp, they stop.
Some historians argue that should they have continued; the war would have been over in 1944 instead of 1945. These historians were not amongst the fighting men on the front line.
The men of the 11th Armoured Division were battle weary and completely exhausted. They had out run their supply lines and supplies would remain very scarce until the opening up of the Scheldt and the Port of Antwerp. They had very little fuel and ammunition left. They had moved much faster than the planners had expected and didn’t even have maps for the area ahead of them. They had no orders to continue advancing.
The British army was slow to realize the vital importance of securing the docks and initially the Belgium resistance fighters protected it alone.
On the 10 September 1944 Himmler delivered the following proclamation to the fleeing German troops.
“Every deserter will be prosecuted and will find his punishment. Furthermore, his ignominious behaviour will entail the most severe consequences for his family. Upon examination of the circumstances they will be shot."
15th September 1944. Germans fleeing in disarray to the west of the First Canadian Army are crossing the Scheldt at Flushing in commandeered Ferry boats.
The German rear guard dig in and fanatically hold the south bank of the Scheldt.
The allied pause allows the German Army to stop and consolidate. In the days that follow a strong German force of seasoned and experienced soldiers reinforce all strategic points. They are entrenched behind canals and positioned so their machine guns can rake the length of the canals. Their mortars are ranged on strategic points such as cross roads.
The Battle of the Bulge.
16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945. Such was the importance of Antwerp that 6500 V1 and V2 Rockets were fired at the city and the Germans launched an offensive which was intended to capture the port and deny the Allied the use of in. The Battle of the Bulge as it came to be known was the last major German offensive of World War II. For the second time the German Army surprised the Allies by launching an attack through the densely-forested Ardennes and punched its way into Belgium to within eighty miles of Antwerp.
Facilitated by the clearing of the mines from the Scheldt by the Queenborough minesweepers, 152 ships carrying cargos of supplies, fuel, ammunition, guns, tanks and troops arrived at Antwerp before the Battle of the Bulge commenced.
On the 16 December 1944, the 6th Panzer Army group punched through the Allied front lines its objective was to capture the Port of Antwerp. Likewise, the 5th Panzer Army Group raced towards Antwerp, via Brussels. To the south of the 5th and 6th Panzer groups, 7th Army, Infantry engaging the US 3rd Army with the objective of tying down these forces. The German Army Group B consisted of 25 Divisions, 275,000 men, 2,600 armoured vehicles and 2,000 artillery pieces.
As the Americans fell back under the German onslaught, they blew up bridges and emptied fuel dumps which delayed the German advance.
This area was only lightly defended by the Allies with troops which had not been in battle before and units that were “resting” having recently been in heavy fighting.
As the German Army raced towards Antwerp, the American and British Armies rushed to intercept them. American reinforcements from the 3rd Army, under the command of General George Pattern attacked from the south. British reinforcements under Montgomery rushed down from the north. Firstly, to hold the Meuse River crossing which was one of the German objective and which they must cross to capture Antwerp.
The British reinforcements under Montgomery, then count attacked, driving into the German lines to link up with the American Army.
31st October 1944. The Canadian Third Division attacks from the east along the Walcheren causeway.
Dawn 1st November 1944. British commandoes attacked Flushing across the Scheldt from the south.
Four hours later British Commandoes attacked the Westkapelle strong point through the breach in the sea defenses from the North Sea.
Red Arrow, the Allied Armies. Black Arrows, the German army.
The failure of Market Garden, (if gaining a corridor of enemy territory fifty miles long and fifteen wide can be called a failure,) worsened the supply situation. With an end to Market Garden and with Eisenhower’s insistence that every possible effort be put into opening up the Port of Antwerp, the Canadian Army got priority on equipment and supplies and can at last begin to push forward. They are supported by the 1st Polish Armoured Division under Canadian command.
The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was order north from Antwerp to block off the South Beveland Isthmus. The task of clearing the Breskins Pocket (on the south bank of the Scheldt) is given to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division.
Supplies are slow to arrive at the front from the distant D-day Mulberry Harbour. The Canadian are rationed to three rounds per field gun per day. (In battle, a field gun will fire five shells per minute.
The First Canadian Army are ordered to take the banks of the Scheldt. Undermanned for such a task, with many raw recruits and low on supplies, they can only probe the enemy lines.
The Allied Armies had advanced so fast that their supply lines had become seriously strained. General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote
“Further movement, even against very weak opposition is almost impossible.”
Eisenhower’s commanders, Montgomery, Bradly and Patton all submit planes to put an early end to the war. Although they were all short of supplies and squabbling over the available supplies, none included the capturing of the banks of the Scheldt and opening up the Port of Antwerp.
Montgomery’s plan to seize the Rhine bridges by land and air is implemented.
Red Arrow, the Allied Armies.
Black Arrows, the German army.
Red Arrow, the Allied Armies. Curved red arrow, the Canadian attack in Buffaloes. Black Arrows, the German army.
Dawn, 4 September 1944, the British 11th Armoured Division is approaching the Belgium village of Boom, south of Antwerp.
To the west and ahead of them the German army is in full retreat.
Of the 200 tanks in the 11th Armoured Division which had set out, six days before, only 120 remain.
They are met by a Belgium Resistance Fighter who tells them the bridge ahead will be blown up as they attempt to cross and there are 88mm anti- tank guns waiting to ambush them.
He leads them to a second bridge where the defenders are taken by surprise and the wires to the explosives are cut. They also take the first bridge by surprise from the rear, but a third bridge is destroyed.
6 October 1944. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division supported by the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and the 1st Polished Armoured were ordered to attack northwards form Antwerp.
They faced the 6th German Parachute Regiment of over 4000 experienced, well trained fighting men. With the 6th German Parachute Regiment are Mark IV tanks and Self-propelled guns.
The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division press on into the Breskens Pocket and using Buffaloes (LVT’s, Landing Vehicle Tracked) attacked along the Scheldt through the back door.
Red Arrow, the Allied Armies. Large red arrow, the Allied push towards Arnhem. Black Arrows, the German army.
17 to 25 September. Operation Market Garden.
Using airborne troops and ground forces, Operation Market Garden is a daring but unsuccessful attempt to seize the Rhine Bridges.
Most of the bridges are captured but they fail to take the Bridge at Arnhem. It is a “Bridge to Far”.
WILDFIRE III, Queenborough, Minesweepers begin sweeping the Scheldt.
1st November 1944. While the battle rages on Walcheren Island, Nore Command Minesweepers commence clearing the approaches to the Scheldt.
Mine Sweepers of Force “B” from Harwich, swept towards the Scheldt clearing the way for Minesweeper Force “A” from Wildfire III, Queenborough. Force “A” proceeded directly from Sheerness and passing through Force “B” sweep into the mouth of the Scheldt.
Almost immediately Force “A” from Queenborough came under heavy fire from the guns at Knocke, one of the last remaining German Strongholds on the south bank of the estuary.
Four of the eight BYMS (British Yard Mine Sweepers.) in 165 Flotilla being hit by shell fire and BYMS 2252 losing one of its crew, Signalman Arthur C Martin who was later buried at Holy Trinity Churchyard, Frogmore. near St Albans . Even so, several of the BYMS successfully swept into the entrance of the Scheldt sweeping 70 mines on the first day.
At night, under cover of darkness many of the Wildfire III minesweepers slipped by the guns on Walcheren Island to begin sweeping the Scheldt.
In all some 267 mines were swept from the Scheldt with the loss of one minesweeper and one motor launch with all but two crew members. The task was completed on the 26 November 1944 a week less than estimated.
28 November 1944. Led by the Canadian ship the Fort Cataraqui, the first convoy of 19 liberty ships arrived at Antwerp to discharge their urgently needs cargoes. When the allies crossed the Rhine into Germany in April 1945, 1,341,610 tons of supplies had been landed at Antwerp during that month thanks to the efforts of Queenborough minesweepers.
28 November 1944. The Scheldt was declared free of mines and supplies and munitions flooded into Antwerp.
The Canadian Army had repulsed the enemy from the banks of the Scheldt and the British Marines from Walcheren Island overcoming insurmountable odds, punishing terrain and a fierce enemy.
In an incredible feat of endurance and at great risk to themselves the Queenborough minesweepers had cleared the Scheldt, opening up Antwerp to shipping just in time, as two weeks later the Germans launched a massive offensive which would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.
At Malmedy, American prisoners were shot by German SS troops, and later there were two more massacres of American prisoners of War. At the Chenogne massacre, this time the Americans killed sixty German Prisoners of War.
Several pockets of Americans, completely surrounded by the enemy held on heroically until reinforcements arrived. One of these was at the town of Bastogne. When the Germans demanded the surrender of the encircled Americans, Brigadier General McAuliffe, replied famously “Nuts”.
The Battle of the Bulge was a close run race. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the Canadian Army, the British Commandoes and the Queenborough Minesweepers whose epic feat of endurance and courage cleared the Scheldt of mines and opened up the port of Antwerp supplying the Allies with guns, ammunition, fuel and supplies which otherwise would not have been available, it was an Allied victory.
Certainly, the Queenborough minesweepers influenced the outcome of the battle of the bulge. In those critical two weeks between the clearing of mines from the Scheldt by the Queenborough minesweepers and the commencement of the Battle of the Bulge, 152 ships had landed thousands of tons of supplies, fuel, guns and ammunition at Antwerp, right on the front line.
In the weeks during the Battle of the Bulge a further 376 ships disgorged their precious cargoes in easy reach of the defending Allied Armies.
WELL DONE, THE MEN OF THE CANADIAN AND BRITISH ARMY AND OF THE MINESWEEPER OF WILDFIRE III, QUEENBOROUGH.