1st Polish Armoured Division
Fighting on the north bank of the Küsten Canal was treacherous, particularly for the tanks, and maps indicated numerous ponds and bogs, with movement restricted to only a small number of safe routes vulnerable to German counter-attack. The two armoured division commanders, Vokes (4th Canadian) and Maczek (1st Polish) were nonetheless forced to push tanks, half-track troop carriers and other vehicles over this unsuitable terrain, where small, inexperienced units with a degree of determination could hold up entire divisions. The employment of infantry divisions on the flanks of the advance necessitated this dangerous advance, and on 22 April 1945, 2nd Canadian Corps directed the 1st Polish Armoured Division to move on Varel to relieve the pressure on the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division's western flank.
By 25 April, poor roads had slowed the advance of the Poles, though their 3rd Infantry Brigade Group had reached Potshausen on the upped Leda River, and even gained a small bridgehead across the water with the aid of air and artillery support. Heavy German resistance prevented the construction of a bridge and the road leading north to Stickhausen had been heavily cratered with six demolitions up to 60 feet wide. It would take until 1 May to cross the Jumme river and occupy Stickhausen.
On 30 April, the 10th Polish Armoured Brigade attacked from a Canadian bridgehead at Leer, secured Hesel on 1 May, and though poor roads were likewise a problem, assisted the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division in their operations, meeting sporadic resistance until the end of the North-West Europe campaign. A clash at Moorburg, attempting to seize the bridge there, cost five five tanks, and a link-up between the two divisions was achieved at Westerstede on 3 May.
The 1st Polish Armoured was directed to advance on Neuenburg, Jever and Wilhelmshaven in the final stage of the campaign, and a mix of infantry and armoured reconnaissance units arrived at Astederfeld, two miles south of Neuenburg, on the evening of 4 May. Polish artillery remained active on German positions until one minute before the cease fire went into effect on the morning of 5 May 1945.2
4th Canadian (Armoured) Division
As the Poles drove eastward, the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division fought to expand its bridgehead on the Küsten Canal. On 20 April, 2nd Canadian Corps had ordered the division to advance on Oldenburg.
The regimental history of The Algonquin Regiment described this period in detail. Enemy resistance was not slackening, and conditions favoured the defender:
On 21 April, the 10th Infantry Brigade forced the battle groups of the 7th Parachute Division back across the River Aue at Osterscheps, forming a bridgehead of two miles. Dead Germans lay strewn on the main road north, there being no time for the enemy to bury them, a testament to the effectiveness of Allied air and artillery support. The Algonquins in the meantime captured a road junction at Edewecht with the support of tanks from the 28th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The British Columbia Regiment), who pushed their 30-ton Shermans over a small Bailey rated for 12 tons. Edewecht itsellf fell a day later on 25 April. High ground to the south-east fell to The Lincoln and Welland Regiment, which also suffered heavy losses. In all, the 10th Brigade suffered 402 casualties among its three battalions in the period 17-25 April, the Argylls suffering the most with 146 casualties, including 41 killed. By 22 April, the Argylls' rifle companies averaged between 55 and 60 effectives, with "D" Company mustering just 47 men, though 90 reinforcements arrived a day later.5
Steady use of the roads caused rapid deterioration, and all available engineer resources and vehicles were mustered at the order of the divisional commander, Major-General Chris Vokes, to keep the supply route open. Only a single road led north from Edewechterdamm through the swamps to Bad Zwischenahn, causing further pressure.
The South Alberta Regiment had tried to cross the Aue River to beat the 2nd Division into Oldenburg, losing five Shermans, four Stuarts and an armoured ambulance in fighting between 15 and 19 April but nonetheless beating their way through scattered infantry resistance. The loss of a Valentine bridge-laying tank to a mine ended the drive on Oldenburg, an opportunity lost that was described later as the Commanding Officer's "greatest disappointment of the war." Feeling marooned, the SAR was beyond the range of friendly artillery, save that of some medium batteries, and adapted one of its squadrons to fire the 75mm guns of its Shermans indirectly in support of the other two squadrons. The C.O. organized another troop of engineers to augment the existing troop, and laid hands on a company of The Lincoln and Welland Regiment, as well as a squadron of Staghound armoured cars from the 18th Armoured Car Regiment and a troop of M-10 self-propelled guns, all in order to help make the regiment self-sufficient. When the advance continued on 17 April, the SAR had a 12-mile front to cover and a new bridge-layer got them across the Aue. Another river, the Lethe, had to be bridged on the 19th. Resistance stiffened and scattered fighting in front of Oldenburg lasted until 24 April, the last heavy day of fighting the regiment encountered during the Second World War. The attachments from the Lincoland and Welland and the Manitoba Dragoons were withdrawn, and the GOC of 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division refused an appeal by the C.O. for infantry - there was none to spare. The SAR were ordered simply to maintain contact with the enemy, which meant advancing through craters, mines and booby-traps after the Germans decided to withdraw from their positions.7
On the left of the 4th Armoured Brigade, the the 18th Armoured Car Regiment (12th Manitoba Dragoons) drove to the northwest in the direction of Godensholt. Brigadier Moncel remarked that the roads prevented more than two squadrons of tanks from deploying simultaneously, only one troop of each being able to fire directly at the enemy. Tactics revolved around finding company objectives 200 yards apart, with attacks supported by single troops of tanks, no more sophisticated than simply driving straight forward onto the objective. They were aided, however, by good coordination with air support.
German resistance on the approaches to Bad Zwischenahn remained fierce despite their own losses (3,600 prisoners were added to 4th Division POW cages in April).
Another historian described operations in this phase of the campaign:
On 30 April, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada outflanked Bad Zwischenahn with support from tanks of the Canadian Grenadier Guards, circling to the west and closing its northern exits, reaching the shore of the adjacent lake. The Lincoln and Welland Regiment fought simultaneously to the town's eastern outskirts, and the burgomaster was given an ultimatum of surrender or annihilation. No formal surrender was made, but when the town was evacuated, Major-General Vokes similarly declared the town off-limits to Canadians, save for through-traffic.
Argyll Battle Group at Bad Zwischenahn
No. 2 Squadron of the 22nd Armoured Regiment (Canadian Grenadier Guards) was under command of the Argylls for the final assault on Bad Zwischenahn. At 08:30 on 30 April, "A" Company of the Argylls passed through "B" Company of the Lake Superior Regiment in the woods on the railway line, the engineers having made a path for the tanks. No. 2 Troop of 2 Squadron proceeded across the railway tracks and followed a route northeast, on a route reconnoitred on foot by the squadron commander, Major Shaughnessy, and reached a road fork south of the windwill at Rostrup. The infantry advanced and then moved east to "firm up" a quarter of a mile further down the highway. No. 2 Troop, under Lieutenant James, made another bound to the shore of the Zwischenahner Meer. While "A" Company cleared Rostrup of German snipers, "C" Company moved to the road fork while No. 1 Troop moved, up, followed by the Argylls' "D" Company.
On 1 May, infantrymen of "D" Company cleared out the woods west of the lake, between the highway and the water, with Shermans of No. 2 Troop, 2 Squadron in support. As the infantry worked their way north along the highway, the tanks were unable to follow because of craters blown in the roadway. Despite the effects of an artillery shoot brought down on the area, deemed effective, guns and mortars continued to engage the forward positions of the CGG.
"B" Company of the Argylls, supported by two tanks of No. 4 Troop, 2 Squadron, were held up by small arms fire as they moved on the airfield across the highway from the lake. They found a bypass route after nightfall on 1 May and the squadron commander, Lieutenant Pierce, elected to move in that direction the next morning, rumours floating that the next objective would be Westerstede, five miles to the northwest.
At first light, the pair of Shermans for No. 4 Troop moved up with "B" Company again. No. 2 Troop provided smoke cover with its 75mm guns, but persistent small arms fire from the right flank, despite a heavy shelling and flame attack at about noon, prevented any forward movement. In the early afternoon No. 2 Squadron was relieved by "C" Squadron of the 28th Canadian Armoured Regiment (British Columbia Regiment).12 The "Dukes" were advised that Bad Zwischenahn was to be the headquarters of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and the tows "was to be left as intact as possible."13
Canadian Grenadier Guards' Final Phase
Contact with the enemy had been lost, so the CGG and Lake Superior battle group was led by the Stuart tanks of the CGG recce troop, each section with an infantry scout platoon. "C" Company of the LSR moved out with No. 1 Troop of 3 Squadron, "B" Company with No. 3 Troop, and 3 Wasp flame carriers and two sections of engineers accompanied them. "A" Company travelled with No. 2 Troop of 3 Squadron, ordered to take the main road to the north and clear it with the aim of making it a maintenance route.
Both recce groups left at daybreak as planned, but repair of the road craters barring the way for the tanks delayed the renewed drive until nearly midnight. At that time, an artillery bombardment was employed to divert enemy attention northward. Before daylight on 3 May, "C" Company and 1 Troop began their journey to a road junction three miles north-east of Bad Zwischenahn, arriving at 07:00hrs. "B" Company passed through them, but only one tank of their escort was with them, the other three bogging on a soft side road. At a crossroads a mile further on, "A" Company and No. 4 Troop, aided by a tank-dozer, cleared two unmanned roadblocks on the main road, took the lead for one mile, and handed over to "C" Company and No. 1 Troop. After three miles, the latter group made contact with the enemy, the first of the day. The three company battle groups were in the assigned objective area, and changed direction north, pushing on in the evening. "A" Company/4 Troop to cover the left flank at the Nutte crossroads three miles west of Rastede; "B" Company/3 Troop a mile north of Brink and east of the railway; and "C" Company/1 Troop, "firming up" at a crossroads in the centre. A combined Regimental Headquarters of both the Grenadiers and Lake Superiors was set up at the crossroads between "A" Company and Rastede in the late afternoon while the rest of the CGG closed up in the rear to assume defensive positions.
Using the civil telephone system, still in operation, the CGG's interpreter placed a call to the Burgermeister of Wilhelmshaven offering them an opportunity to send an emissary to discuss their surrender; the response was negative.
The advance continued on 5 May. At first light "C" Company with No. 1 Troop of 3 Squadron probed defences in front of them, and ran into heavy small arms, anti-tank ("bazooka") and mortar fire. "A" Company and No. 4 Troop of 3 Squadron, following behind, lost a tank to a landmine. It was decided more power was needed in the attack and No. 3 Squadron was concentrated near R.H.Q. while another attack was planned. A push on the right flank was prepared, with No. 2 Squadron and "B" Company supported by a Badger flamethrower and with a tank-dozer attached. A heavy artillery concentration went down at noon for thirty minutes on the immediate front, and 8 Platoon of "B" Company went forward to dispatch a German anti-tank gun on the left front, killing the two gunners and clearing a strip of woods behind it.
The main attack started at 13:00hrs. A section of the Scout Platoon led off, followed by No. 2 Troop of 2 Squadron, the tank-dozer, the remainder of the scouts, No. 1 Troop, 2 Squadron HQ, No. 4 Troop, 6 Platoon and 7 Platoon, both mounted in carriers. Five hundred yards down the road, a road block in the form of a felled tree was engaged by tank and carrier fire, and cleared by the dozer; no sooner was the action over than the Germans blew another tree town 400 yards ahead. Fire from a scout section and flame bursts from the Badger forced the Germans there to surrender while the dozer moved the tree out of the way. A third block was discovered three hundred yards ahead, this one abandoned, booby-trapped with mines and aerial bombs, and it was pushed aside as small arms fire from the flanks was exchanged with tank fire. The leading carrier was knocked out by an anti-tank gun, but Lieutenant James, commanding No. 2 Troop, moved forward with 7 Platoon and killed the lone gunner with accurate high explosive fire, and the assistance of the infantry platoon commander in spotting the target.
The battle group was in the heart of the defence now and No. 1 Troop moved east down the road. No. 6 Platoon cleared out Germans in buildings near the road on the left front while 7 Platoon continued on west with a single tank in support. The Recce Troop continued out on the right flank past the railway, and 6 Platoon mounted up on 4 Troop's tanks to pass through 2 Troop, having broken through the German defences, to advance with "all possible speed." The Scout Platoon followed on, with 1 Troop and Squadron H.Q. behind. No. 7 and No. 8 Platoons brought up the rear, in halftracks now, "to go even faster."
On 30 April, enemy heavy equipment began to withdraw from the front of the 4th Armoured Brigade, and on 1 May, resistance slackened on the sector west of the lake, while the 10th Brigade was still in contact to the south-east. With 2nd Division units also facing an easier time in front of Oldenburg, the 4th Division was therefore redirected on Varel, with the 10th Brigade to move through Bockhorn and Neuenburg and the 4th Armoured Brigade to cut the highway north from Oldenburg to Varel and Wilhelmshaven.
The following Canadian units were awarded the Battle Honour "Bad Zwischenahn" for participation in these actions:
II Canadian Corps
2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade
8th Canadian Infantry Brigade
4th Canadian Division
4th Canadian Armoured Brigade
10th Canadian Infantry Brigade