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The Battle of the Scheldt

2nd Canadian Infantry Division

2nd Canadian Infantry Division

Under the circumstances, the opening of the port of Antwerp, already occupied by Allied troops, became absolutely necessary since the main supply lines still ran back to Normandy. The task went to the First Canadian Army which came under the command of Lieut.-General Guy Simonds in place of General Crerar who was ill.

Although Antwerp was already occupied by Allied troops, it was 50 miles from the sea, and the approaches to it, including both banks of the Scheldt River, the South Beveland isthmus and peninsula, as well as the island of Walcheren which commanded the river's mouth, were controlled by the Germans. Until these areas were cleared, no ship could enter.

The plan for opening the estuary involved four main operations. The first was to clear the area north of Antwerp and close the South Beveland isthmus. The second was to clear the Breskens "pocket" behind the Leopold Canal, and the third was the reduction of the Beveland peninsula. The final phase would be the capture of Walcheren Island.

Accordingly, at the beginning of October 1944, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division began its advance north of Antwerp to close the eastern end of the South Beveland isthmus. It made good progress to the isthmus itself where enemy paratroopers barred the way. Casualties were heavy as troops of the Canadian Army attacked over open flooded ground, but by October 16, they had seized Woensdrecht at the entrance to South Beveland. At this point, Field-Marshal Montgomery ordered a regrouping of all his forces to concentrate upon the opening of the Scheldt estuary. The British Second Army attacked westwards to clear the Netherlands south of the Maas and seal off the Scheldt region, while General Simonds concentrated on the area north of the Beveland isthmus. The 4th Canadian Armoured Division was moved north of the Scheldt and drove hard for Bergen-op-Zoom. By October 24 the isthmus was sealed off, and by October 31 the peninsula had fallen.

Meanwhile, there was equally fierce fighting along the Scheldt's southern shore. Here the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division encountered tenacious German resistance as they fought to cross the Leopold Canal and clear the Breskens pocket. The attack began on October 6 against fierce opposition and for three days a slender bridgehead was in constant danger of elimination. Then on October 9 an amphibious assault broke the enemy hold on the canal and the bridgehead was deepened. Troops and tanks crossed the canal and the Germans withdrew into concrete emplacements along the coast. More fighting followed, but by November 3 the south shore of the Scheldt was free.

The island of Walcheren remained the one great obstacle to the use of the port of Antwerp. Its defences were extremely strong and the only land approach was the long narrow causeway from South Beveland. To make matters worse, the flats that surrounded this causeway were too saturated for movement on foot while at the same time there was not enough water for an assault in storm boats.

The attack was to be made from three directions: across the causeway from the east; across the Scheldt from the south; and from the sea. To hamper German defence the island's dykes were breached by heavy RAF bombing to inundate the central area and thus permit the use of amphibians.

The Canadians attacked the causeway on October 31 and after a grim struggle established a precarious foothold. Then, in conjunction with the waterborne attacks, the 52nd British Division continued the advance. On November 6 Middleburg, the island's capital fell and by November 8 all resistance ended. The channel was cleared of mines and on November 28 the first convoy entered the port of Antwerp.

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