History

Wars & Campaigns

Boer War
First World War

►►Western Front

►►►Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

►►Allied Offensive: 1916

►►►Allied Offensives: 1917

►►►German Offensive: 1918

►►►Advance to Victory: 1918

►►Siberia
Second World War
►►War Against Japan

►►Italian Campaign

►►►Sicily

►►►Southern Italy

►►►The Sangro and Moro

►►►Battles of the FSSF

►►►Cassino

►►►Liri Valley

►►►Advance to Florence

►►►Gothic Line

►►►Winter Lines
►►North-West Europe

►►►Normandy
►►►Southern France
►►►Channel Ports

►►►Scheldt
►►►Nijmegen Salient

►►►Rhineland

►►►Final Phase
Korean War
Cold War
Gulf War

Operations 

GAUNTLET Aug 1941

(Spitsbergen)

HUSKY Jul 1943

 (Sicily)

COTTAGE Aug 1943

 (Kiska)

TIMBERWOLF Oct 1943

(Italy)

OVERLORD Jun 1944

(Normandy)

MARKET-GARDEN Sep 44

(Arnhem)

BERLIN Nov 1944

(Nijmegen)

VERITABLE Feb 1945

(Rhineland)

Battle Honours

Boer War

►Paardeberg

18 Feb 00

First World War
Western Front
Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

Ypres, 1915

22 Apr-25 May 15

Gravenstafel

22-23 Apr 15

St. Julien

24 Apr-4 May 15

Frezenberg

8-13 May 15

Bellewaarde

24-25 May 15

Festubert, 1915

15-25 May 15

Mount Sorrel

2-13 Jun 16

Allied Offensive: 1916

►Somme, 1916

1 Jul-18 Nov 16

►Albert

.1-13 Jul 16

►Bazentin

.14-17 Jul 16

►Pozieres

.23 Jul-3 Sep 16

►Guillemont

.3-6 Sep 16

►Ginchy

.9 Sep 16

Flers-Courcelette

15-22 Sep 16

Thiepval

26-29 Sep 16

►Le Transloy

. 1-18 Oct 16

Ancre Heights

1 Oct-11 Nov 16

Ancre, 1916

13-18 Nov 16

Allied Offensives: 1917

►Arras 1917

8 Apr-4 May 17

Vimy, 1917

.9-14 Apr 17

Arleux

28-29 Apr 17

►Scarpe, 1917

.3-4 May17

►Hill 70

.15-25 Aug 17

►Messines, 1917

.7-14 Jun 17

►Ypres, 1917

..31 Jul-10 Nov 17

►Pilckem

31 Jul-2 Aug 17

►Langemarck, 1917

.16-18 Aug 17

►Menin Road

.20-25 Sep 17

►Polygon Wood

26 Sep-3 Oct 17

►Broodseinde

.4 Oct 17

►Poelcapelle

.9 Oct 17

►Passchendaele

.12 Oct 17

►Cambrai, 1917

20 Nov-3 Dec 17

German Offensive: 1918

►Somme, 1918

.21 Mar-5 Apr 18

►St. Quentin

.21-23 Mar 18

►Bapaume, 1918

.24-25 Mar 18

►Rosieres

.26-27 Mar 18

►Avre

.4 Apr 18

►Lys

.9-29 Apr 18

►Estaires

.9-11 Apr 18

►Messines, 1918

.10-11 Apr 18

►Bailleul

.13-15 Apr 18

►Kemmel

.17-19 Apr 18

Advance to Victory: 1918

Amiens

8-11 Aug 18

►Arras, 1918

.26 Aug-3 Sep 18

►Scarpe, 1918

26-30 Aug 18.

►Drocourt-Queant

.2-3 Sep 18

►Hindenburg Line

.12 Sep-9 Oct 18

►Canal du Nord

.27 Sep-2 Oct 18

►St. Quentin Canal .29 Sep-2 Oct 18
►Epehy

3-5 Oct 18

►Cambrai, 1918

.8-9 Oct 18

►Valenciennes

.1-2 Nov 18

►Sambre

.4 Nov 18

►Pursuit to Mons .28 Sep-11Nov

Second World War

War Against Japan

South-East Asia

Hong Kong

 8-25 Dec 41

Italian Campaign

Battle of Sicily

Landing in Sicily 

   9-12 Jul 43

Grammichele 

15 Jul 43

Piazza Armerina

16-17 Jul 43

Valguarnera

17-19 Jul 43

Assoro 

  20-22 Jul 43

Leonforte

 21-22 Jul 43

Agira

24-28 Jul 43

Adrano 

29 Jul-7 Aug 43

Catenanuova

29-30 Jul 43

Regalbuto

29 Jul-3 Aug 43

Centuripe

  31 Jul-3 Aug 43

Troina Valley

 2-6 Aug 43

Pursuit to Messina

 2-17 Aug 43

 Southern Italy

Landing at Reggio

 3 Sep 43

Potenza 19-20 Sep 43
Motta Montecorvino 1-3 Oct 43
Termoli 3-6 Oct 43
Monte San Marco 6-7 Oct 43
Gambatesa 7-8 Oct 43
Campobasso 11-14 Oct 43
Baranello 17-18 Oct 43
Colle d'Anchise 22-24 Oct 43
Torella 24-27 Oct 43

The Sangro and Moro

The Sangro

19 Nov-3 Dec 43

Castel di Sangro

.23-24 Nov 43

The Moro

5-7 Dec 43

San Leonardo

8-9 Dec 43

The Gully

..10-19 Dec 43

Casa Berardi

 ..14-15 Dec 43

Ortona

20-28 Dec 43

San Nicola-San

.31 Dec 43

Tommaso

.
Point 59/ 29 Dec 43-

Torre Mucchia

4 Jan 44

Battles of the FSSF
Monte Camino

.5 Nov-9 Dec 43

Monte la Difensa-

2-8 Dec 43

 Monte la Remetanea

.
Hill 720

25 Dec 43

Monte Majo

3-8 Jan 44.

Radicosa

4 Jan 44

Monte Vischiataro

8 Jan 44

Anzio

22 Jan-22 May 44

Rome

.22 May-4 Jun 44

Advance

.22 May-22 Jun 44

to the Tiber

.
►Monte Arrestino

25 May 44

►Rocca Massima

27 May 44

►Colle Ferro

2 Jun 44

Cassino
►Cassino II

11-18 May 44

►Gustav Line

11-18 May 44

►Sant' Angelo in

13 May 44

Teodice

.
►Pignataro

14-15 May 44

Liri Valley
Liri Valley

18-30 May 44

►Hitler Line

18-24 May 44

►Aquino

18-24 May 44

►Melfa Crossing

24-25 May 44

►Ceprano

26-27 May 44

►Torrice Crossroads

30 May 44

Advance to Florence
Advance

17 Jul-10 Aug 44

to Florence

.
Trasimene Line

20-30 Jun 44

Sanfatucchio

20-21 Jun 44

Arezzo

4-17 Jul 44

Cerrone

25 - 31 Aug 44

Gothic Line
►Gothic Line

25 Aug-22 Sep 44

►Monteciccardo

27-28 Aug 44

►Montecchio

30-31 Aug 44

►Point 204 (Pozzo Alto)

31 Aug 44

►Monte Luro

1 Sep 44

►Borgo Santa Maria

1 Sep 44

►Tomba di Pesaro

1-2 Sep 44

►Coriano

3-15 Sep 44

►Lamone Crossing

2-13 Sep 44

Winter Lines
►Rimini Line

14-21 Sep 44

►San Martino-

14-18 Sep 44

San Lorenzo

.
►San Fortunato

18-20 Sep 44

►Casale

23-25 Sep 44

►Sant' Angelo

11-15 Sep 44

 in Salute

.
►Bulgaria Village

13-14 Sep 44

►Cesena

15-20 Sep 44

►Pisciatello

16-19 Sep 44

►Savio Bridgehead

20-23 Sep 44

►Monte La Pieve

13-19 Oct 44

►Monte Spaduro

19-24 Oct 44

►Monte San Bartolo

11-14 Nov 44

►Capture of Ravenna

3-4 Dec 44

►Naviglio Canal

12-15 Dec 44

►Fosso Vecchio

16-18 Dec 44

►Fosso Munio

19-21 Dec 44

►Conventello-

2-6 Jan 45

Comacchio

.
►Granarolo

3-5 Jan 44

Northwest Europe
Dieppe

19 Aug 42

Battle of Normandy
Normandy Landing

6 Jun 44

Authie

7 Jun 44

Putot-en-Bessin

8 Jun 44

Bretteville

8-9 Jun 44

       -l'Orgueilleuse .
Le Mesnil-Patry

11 Jun 44

Carpiquet

4-5 Jul 44

Caen

4-18 Jul 44

The Orne (Buron)

8-9 Jul 44

Bourguébus Ridge

18-23 Jul 44

Faubourg-de-

18-19 Jul 44

       Vaucelles .
St. André-sur-Orne

19-23 Jul 44

Maltôt

22-23 Jul 44

Verrières Ridge-Tilly--

25 Jul 44

         la-Campagne .
Falaise

7-22 Aug 44

►Falaise Road

7-9 Aug 44

►Quesnay Road

10-11 Aug 44

Clair Tizon

11-13 Aug 44

►The Laison

14-17 Aug 44

►Chambois

18-22 Aug 44

►St. Lambert-sur-

19-22 Aug 44

       Dives

.

Dives Crossing

17-20 Aug 44

Forêt de la Londe

27-29 Aug 44

The Seine, 1944

25-28 Aug 44

Southern France
Southern France

15-28 Aug 44

Channel Ports
Dunkirk, 1944

8-15 Sep 44

Le Havre

1-12 Sep 44

Moerbrugge

8-10 Sep 44

Moerkerke

13-14 Sep 44

Boulogne, 1944

17-22 Sep 44

Calais, 1944

25 Sep-1 Oct 44

Wyneghem

21-22 Sep 44

Antwerp-Turnhout

   24-29 Sep 44

Canal

.

The Scheldt

The Scheldt

1 Oct-8 Nov 44

Leopold Canal

6-16 Oct-44

►Woensdrecht

1-27 Oct 44

Savojaards Platt

9-10 Oct 44

Breskens Pocket

11 Oct -3 Nov 44

►The Lower Maas

20 Oct -7 Nov 44

►South Beveland

 24-31 Oct 44

Walcheren

31 Oct -4 Nov 44

Causeway

.

Nijmegen Salient
Ardennes

Dec 44-Jan 45

Kapelsche Veer

31 Dec 44-

.

21Jan 45

The Roer

16-31 Jan 45

Rhineland
The Rhineland

8 Feb-10 Mar 45

►The Reichswald

8-13 Feb 45

►Waal Flats

8-15 Feb 45

►Moyland Wood

14-21 Feb 45

►Goch-Calcar Road

19-21 Feb 45

►The Hochwald

26 Feb-

.

4 Mar 45

►Veen

6-10 Mar 45

►Xanten

8-9 Mar 45

Final Phase
The Rhine

23 Mar-1 Apr 45

►Emmerich-Hoch

28 Mar-1 Apr 45

Elten

.
►Twente Canal

2-4 Apr 45

Zutphen

6-8 Apr 45

Deventer

8-11 Apr 45

Arnhem, 1945

12-14 Apr 45

Apeldoorn

11-17 Apr 45

Groningen

13-16 Apr 45

Friesoythe

14 Apr 45

►Ijselmeer

15-18 Apr 45

Küsten Canal

17-24 Apr 45

Wagenborgen

21-23 Apr 45

Delfzijl Pocket

23 Apr-2 May 45

Leer

28-29 Apr 45

Bad Zwischenahn

23 Apr-4 May 45

Oldenburg

27 Apr-5 May 45

Korean War
Kapyong

21-25 Apr 51

Domestic Missions

FLQ Crisis

International Missions

ICCS            Vietnam 1973

MFO                 Sinai 1986-

Peacekeeping

UNMOGIP

India 1948-1979

UNTSO

 Israel 1948-    ....

UNEF

Egypt 1956-1967

UNOGIL

Lebanon 1958    ....

ONUC

 Congo 1960-1964

UNYOM

Yemen 1963-1964

UNTEA

W. N. Guinea 1963-1964

UNIFCYP

 Cyprus 1964-    ....

DOMREP

D. Republic 1965-1966

UNIPOM

Kashmir 1965-1966

UNEFME

Egypt 1973-1979

UNDOF

Golan 1974-    ....

UNIFIL

 Lebanon 1978    ....

UNGOMAP

Afghanistan 1988-90

UNIIMOG

Iran-Iraq 1988-1991

UNTAG

Namibia 1989-1990

ONUCA

C. America 1989-1992

UNIKOM

Kuwait 1991    ....

MINURSO

W. Sahara 1991    ....

ONUSAL

El Salvador 1991    ....

UNAMIC

Cambodia 1991-1992

UNAVEM II

Angola 1991-1997

UNPROFOR

Yugosla. 1992-1995

UNTAC

Cambodia 1992-1993

UNOSOM

Somalia 1992-1993

ONUMOZ

Mozambiq. 1993-1994

UNOMUR

 Rwanda 1993    ....

UNAMIR

Rwanda 1993-1996

UNMIH

Haiti 1993-1996

UNMIBH

Bosnia/Herz.1993-1996

UNMOP

Prevlaka 1996-2001

UNSMIH

Haiti 1996-1997

MINUGUA

Guatemala 1994-1997

UNTMIH

Haiti 1997    ....

MIPONUH

 Haiti 1997    ....

MINURCA

C.Afr.Rep. 1998-1999

INTERFET

E. Timor 1999-2000

UNAMSIL

Sie. Leone 1999-2005

UNTAET

E. Timor 1999-2000

Exercises

 

Leopold Canal

Leopold Canal was a Battle Honour granted to Canadian units participating in actions fought to cross this obstacle during the Battle of the Scheldt in the North-West Europe Campaign of the Second World War. It was one of the opening moves in the battle of the Breskens Pocket, south of the Scheldt Estuary.

Background

The 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division patrolled the line of the Leopold Canal for several weeks following the capture of Antwerp in September 1944. They had made one attempt to force a bridgehead over the canal, at Moerkerke a month previously, and been rebuffed. With insufficient infantry to launch a full-scale attack across the canal, they patrolled the canal front until the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division was finally relieved of its duties on the channel coast at the start of October. When priority was given to the First Canadian Army to clear the lands north and south of the Scheldt Estuary in order to open the port of Antwerp, the 3rd Division moved up to clear what became known as the Breskens Pocket by launching Operation SWITCHBACK.

Battle of the Scheldt

The ScheldtLeopold Canal – Woensdrecht – Savojaards PlaatBreskens Pocket – South Beveland – Walcheren Causeway – The Lower Maas

Prelude

After the training of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division for the Normandy landings, there was an association with the formation with assault roles and a belief it was especially suited for attacks across water obstacles, a belief fostered by language used in the press such as "assault division."

In fact, as with other D-Day Divisions, its concentration on preparing for amphibious operations meant that training for other types of warfare had sometimes suffered. It was no better prepared than any other division of First Canadian Army for fighting in polder country.1

Not only had the The Algonquin Regiment met failure at Moerkerke, but even routine patrols since then came under accurate mortar and machine gun fire; all possible crossing places were defended.2

There was only one place along the entire front of the 64th Division that was not impeded by a deep water barrier; a small (but well-fortified) gap between the eastward end of the Leopold Canal and the south-west angle of the Braakman Inlet. Here, too, The Algonquin Regiment had struggled, and once again been rebuffed, with a full-scale attack on 22 September, and further efforts meeting similar failure. They made another attempt on 5 October as a diversion to the 3rd Division's crossing further west.3 An example of some of the division's activities in the patrolling period was when The Lincoln and Welland Regiment launched Operation STYX, a well-planned and rehearsed company-sized raid, on 27 September and netted 15 prisoners.4

The deep water barriers were not a natural part of the terrain; Oberkommando der Werhmacht (OKW), the high command of the German Armed Forces, had ordered northern Belgium "put under water" by the blowing of locks and dykes in order to cover their withdrawal. These demolitions had been very successful, and much of the terrain on the front of the Leopold Canal was under water; not deep enough for boats but deep enough to impede movement by vehicles and men. The western half of what became the Breskens Pocket was in fact covered by two parallel canals, as the Canal de Dérivation de la Lys ran side-by-side with the Leopold Canal there. The double canal system required the operation to be launched east of the divergence, but the concentration of flooded terrain made it difficult to pick a suitable assault point. The final choice was directly east of this divergence, where a narrow dry strip of ground a few hundred yards wide at its broadest made the crossing possible. The 3rd Division, still mopping up the Channel Ports on 1 October, were hurried some 90 miles from the coast to make the assault on the 6th.5

The 52-mile journey from Calais was completed when the convoy rolled into Cleit, a small town about 10 miles east of Bruges, and about three miles from the front line. In this location the last hopes of a five-day rest after the Calais battle were definitely washed out. The 4th Canadian Armoured Division had been patrolling along the Leopold canal for several weeks. Too weak in infantry to launch a full-scale attack itself, the armoured division had to wait for the 3rd Division to come up from its siege of the Channel ports.

That it would have to be an infantry attack was obvious just by looking at the country. Flat as a pancake, the low-lying land was interlaced with canals and drainage ditches, each a natural anti-tank obstacle. The ground itself, much of it reclaimed from the sea, was so close to the water level that to dig a slit trench was almost to dig a well. The roads were mined, most of the bridges over the canals and drainage ditches were blown, and the earth was so sodden that the tanks were almost completely confined to roads.6

The Plan

While the 7th Brigade assaulted across the Leopold Canal from the south, the 9th Brigade was intended to assault the Breskens Pocket from the east, from an area around Terneuzen earlier cleared by the 1st Polish Armoured Division. That attack was scheduled to come two days after the Leopold Canal assault, and would be made by amphibious vehicles crossing the Braakman Inlet.

The 7th Brigade, with The North Shore Regiment of the 8th Brigade under command, was to make the initial assault. The Canadian Scottish Regiment planned their assault on the right with the Regina Rifles on the left, each with two companies up. The canal itself was only 100 feet wide, and Wasp flamethrowers were concentrated to "flame" the far bank while the assault companies crossed in boats. The divisional plan called for the 8th Brigade to then pass through the 7th Brigade. Artillery support was heavy, including the 2nd Canadian AGRA, 9th British AGRA, and the divisional artilleries of the 3rd and 4th Canadian Divisions. Two Canadian field regiments (15th and 19th) were deployed south-west of Terneuzen to support the amphibious operation across the Inlet.

The general principle was, "The maximum amount of artillery that can bear will support each operation in turn." Along the whole divisional front a total of 327 guns of all calibres would be deployed. The Commander Corps Royal Artillery, 2nd Canadian Corps (Brigadier A. B. Matthews) coordinated the fire requirements. But in the hope of achieving surprise in the first attack preliminary bombardment was wisely omitted from the plan.7

The objective of the Canadian Scottish was to seize Moershoofde and Oosthoek, villages just a few hundred yards across the canal. The Regina Rifles had further to go into enemy territory, to take Biezen. The second phase of the attack would see the brigade wheel to the north-west with the Regina Rifles aiming for Eede and Middelburg and the Canadian Scottish taking Aardenburg, approximately three miles from the crossing point.8

Operation SWITCHBACK, which encompassed both the Leopold Canal crossing and the assault across the Braakman Inlet, was not finalized until 5 October when the operational order for the Canal crossing was finally issued.

Did the responsible commanders - Simonds, Foulkes, Spry and Spragge (respectively, the acting commanders of 1st Canadian Army, II Canadian Corps, 3rd Canadian Division and 7th Infantry Brigade) - actually believe that a single infantry brigade without armoured support could cross a canal, overcome large enemy forces in well-prepared defences, advance beyond flooded and saturated ground along a single elevated road, and then clear and defend a 10-kilometre bridghead? Surely not.9

The effectiveness of flame weapons against entrenched enemy positions had been demonstrated at Boulogne and Calais, and even die-hard defenders resolved to fight against the last bomb, bullet or shell (as prisoners had revealed the 64th Division was) were "quite unable to function when threatened with flame." The Germans deployed in slit trenches and pillboxes along the northern bank of the canal.10

Staff at 3rd Div. headquarters prepared a plan that would involve Wasp flamethrowers in support of the attack. Experiments demonstrated that when the reverse slope of the dike was used to angle the Wasp, the flame could reach the other side of the canal. Spry decided to use this method instead of an artillery barrage in the hope of achieving both suppression and tactical surprise. He also approved the use of a sound effects troop that was to simulate the noise of bridge building and troop movement at a potential crossing point well to the east of the real objective. Those who witnessed the trials of the flamethrowers were impressed and there was some hope that the shock effect would stun the enemy during the early stages of the attack.11


Area where the 7th Brigade made their assault crossing on 6 October, photographed in 1946, looking east.
 The bridge in the background is near Oosthoek. (From the Official History of the Canadian Army)

A major problem in the attack was in the timing; the Leopold and Braakman Inlet assaults were originally intended to be simultaneous, to prevent the Germans from reacting to each successively, and to divide their forces to fight on two frontages. Delays at Calais and Cap Gris Nez prevented the 9th Brigade from completing its necessary assault training in time for a 6 October start, and their H-Hour was set for 01:30hrs on 8 October. No written explanation has come down for the decision to continue with the Leopold attack, though one historian notes "there is no doubt that Simonds understood the consequences" of "committing 7th Brigade to an action that would leave the assaulting battalions on their own for at least forty-eight hours." One rationale presented by the historian was that the attack, even if a costly one, "would focus the enemy's attention on the canal and greatly improve the prospects for 9th Brigade's risky amphibious landing."12


Tactical map of the area (click to enlarge) with overprint showing flooding and known German defences. (Canadian Battlefields Foundation website)

The Initial Attack

The assault began at 05:30 on 6 October; 27 massed Wasp flamethrowers shot across the Leopold Canal, opening the battle.13  Men of the North Shore Regiment had spent the day before training with folding assault boats, and were now tasked with carrying the boats to the canal bank, launching the craft, and maintaining a shuttle service back and forth across the water. "A" Company worked with the Royal Canadian Engineers supporting the assault, "B" Company stood by to reinforce any successes across the water, "C" Company worked with the Winnipeg Rifles and "D" Company supported The Regina Rifle Regiment. The regimental history notes that "Our memories of that affair are not pleasant and the 7th Brigade never gave the North Shore proper credit for their share in the Operation. "C" and "D" Companies manned the assault boats all the first day, which was the most dangerous and exposed task in the whole affair."14

Also fighting with the assault battalions was the First Canadian Army Headquarters Defence Company (Royal Montreal Regiment). This company-sized defence unit, normally employed as their name suggested at the HQ of 1st Canadian Army, had just successfully seen action during the fighting at Calais, attached to the Regina Rifles. The company remained attached to the Rifles when they departed Calais for the Canal. They attacked on the left, under Captain R. Schwob. "A" Company of the Regina Rifles went across to their right. "C" and "D" Companies of the Regina Rifles were tasked to pass through once the leading companies had crossed over and taken the initial objectives south of Eede.

After a five minute flame preparation, the RMR moved out, with No. 1 Platoon (Sergeant H.T. Murray), No. 3 Platoon (Sergeant W. Craddock) crossing initially; Captain Schwob crossed with No. 3 Platoon to provide immediate leadership.

From the moment the boats hit the water, it was clear that the crossing of the Canal and the seizure of the opposite bank would not be effected without great difficulty. Fires were burning in the area where the flame-throwers had struck and the defences there had been beaten down, but from pill-boxes on the flanks and from isolated posts which had escaped the blast, machine-gun fire was instantaneous.15

The official history described the initial crossing:

At about 5:30 on the cold morning of 6 October, 27 Wasps went into action along the 7th Brigade front east of Strooibrug. As the first bursts of flame shot across the water, the assault companies picked up the boats, clambered over the steep poplarlined bank and launched them. The flame did its work, temporarily demoralizing those of the enemy whom it did not kill. On the right, both companies of the Canadian Scottish crossed successfully near Oosthoek without coming under fire. To the west, north of Moerhuizen, the Reginas' left company likewise got across
before the Germans recovered. This company was in fact the First Canadian Army Headquarters Defence Company (Royal Montreal Regiment), which had lately exchanged duties with "B" Company of the Reginas in order to gain battle experience. The right company of the Reginas, however, got into difficulties (one version is that it "hesitated" for a moment) and the enemy had time to reoccupy his positions and bring down machine-gun fire which made the open strip of water quite impassable.

Eventually this company, and the Reginas' other two rifle companies, had to be ferried over on the left. We now had two separate narrow bridgeheads on the north bank. Though the enemy seems to have had no advance warning of the attack, his reaction was violent. He poured in mortar, machine-gun and small arms fire from the front and flanks, and immediately began to counter-attack. Rifleman S. J. Letendre of the Reginas took command of his section "without hesitation and without orders" when the section leader was killed in one of these attacks, reorganized it and set an example of initiative and fighting spirit that made an important contribution to preserving the position and won Letendre the D.C.M. By afternoon only a handful of the Royal Montreal Regiment company survived. It was impossible to link up the two precarious footholds. However, the Canadian Scottish on the right, where there was slightly more freedom of movement than on the left, established themselves in Moershoofd. A kapok foot-bridge had been put across the canal in their area by the 16th Field Company R.C.E., and after an initial failure another was made good on the Reginas' front that evening. The bridgeheads, though desperately constricted, held in spite of all the enemy could do, and Brigadier Spragge decided to pass The Royal Winnipeg Rifles across on the Scottish front during the night of the 6th-7th.16

 

The attack on the Canadian Scottish Regiment's front is described in detail in their regimental history:

The Leopold Canal is about 75 feet wide where the assault battalions were to cross. On either side are earthen, tree-lined banks between eight and ten feet high. As a defensive obstacle it had much to commend it, and the enemy was well dug in on the other side ready to bring their fire on any troops attempting to cross. With the bridges blown, the only way to cross the canal was by using assault boats and a kapok bridge - the same narrow, floating footbridge the Canadian Scottish had tried to use at Calais. To assist the brigade, the North Shore Regiment was attached to it to carry and later paddle the canvas assault boats filled with infantry, and to help the engineers to carry the kapok bridging equipment and get it in place.

In order to provide as much protection as possible to the troops during the first minutes of crossing the water when they would be extremely vulnerable, it was decided to use massed flame-throwers, collected from the 3rd Infantry and 4th Armoured Divisions, which would shoot their liquid fire across the canal five minutes before zero hour. Captain E.M. Fraser's carrier platoon had been given three "Wasps" - carriers equipped with flamethrowers - and these, plus eleven others from the 4th Armoured Division, would sear the enemy machine gun posts in the opposite banks of the canal while approximately the same number would be used on the Reginas' front. Experiments with the flame-throwers had been conducted with great success across the Canal de Derivation de la Lys on the 4th...

To add to the variety of vehicles and equipment used...the Canadian Scottish was given several "Weasels", a sort of amphibious carrier, while the Commanding Officer was given the use of a "DUKW", a larger...amphibious vehicle capable of carrying a platoon...

"B" Company on the left would cross at Oosthoek and capture that village with the help of "C" Company. "D" Company, crossing between Oosthoek and Moershoofde, would swing right and take out the latter village. "A" Company was in reserve. The preliminary mortar and artillery bombardment was already whistling overhead when at 5:25a.am "the flames shot across the canal in very good co-ordination and the sky lit up in a scarlet glow which was visible for miles." Quickly scrambling into the assault boats, the leading companies followed the last flames to the enemy-held bank. The liquid fire was still burning whatever it struck, and some houses 30 yards north of the canal were set on fire. Flaming gobs of liquid fire were even burning on the water. Any enemy in the trenches immediately opposite the "Wasps" was put out of action, and many who escaped were terrified. Within minutes all the leading platoons were across. By this time enemy machine gunners who were beyond the range or outside the target area of the "Wasps" were coming to life and bringing their fire to bear on the area.17

Deadlock

Once across, the assault companies found themselves with little room to maneuver:

The scene in the bridgeheads was one of unparalleled violence and misery. For much of their length, troops were confined to the Canal bank. Except in the walls of the dykes, slit trenches could be dug little more than a foot deep - in the waterlogged ground, they filled with water and their walls collapsed. Men were soaking wet and coated with mud, matches and cigarettes unusable. So intense was the enemy fire that it was virtually impossible to organize co-ordinated actions even within platoons. So many counterattacks were launched against them that the defenders lost count. The German lines of advance toward the bridgeheads were confined to a few narrow approaches and were accurately registered by the Canadian guns which took a heavy toll in casualties. To the almost incessant artillery fire was added the noise of more than 200 fighter-bomber sorties flown that day.

But artillery and air support could not break the deadlock. For five days the Reginas were pinned to the Canal bank, separated in places by only ten yards from the enemy. It became almost a grenade war, with each rifleman throwing as many as twenty-five No. 36 grenades every night.

The Germans replied in kind.18

The North Shores were reduced to spectators; the Regina Rifles had forged a bridgehead just 50 yards deep and 400 yards wide. When a footbridge was established on the first day, "D" Company of the North Shores were re-tasked to defend the Rifles' battalion headquarters on the near side of the canal.

The next day it appeared the 7th Brigade had reached a stalemate and (the North Shore's Commanding Officer) Lt.-Col. Anderson came up at noon with the news that the Brigadier had ordered him to attack the village of Eede, which was 1,000 yards from the Canal. And 'Uncle Ernie' had Bill Parker (the officer commanding "B" Company) with him and wanted Bill and me (Major Corbett, commanding "D" Company) to do the job. He wasn't happy about it, though, and when I explained to him that the entire battalion of the Reginas had only gained 200 yards in 36 hours, that the Jerries were counter-attacking every two hours, and that I estimated at least four enemy battalions in the area, he began to do some thinking. Both Major Parker and I said we felt we could get to Eede with proper fire support but the 800-yard lines of communication couldn't be held open and we'd only last until our ammo ran out.

That was enough for 'Uncle Ernie.' He hadn't liked the idea to start with, so he gave us orders to hold everything...I understand he had a stormy session (at Brigade Headquarters) but who should walk in...but Major-General D.C. Spry - the new (General Officer Commanding) of the 3rd Division. Just then came the report that the enemy had destroyed the footbridge. Major-General Spry then cancelled the operation and advised that the plan would now call for attack in a new sector. This cancellation was lucky for 'D' and 'B' companies as the German order of battle for that day showed, in the vicinity of Eede - seven German infantry battalions!

This finished the Leopold Canal operations for the North Shore. The next day, the 8th, we moved back ...under command of the 8th Brigade.19

The battle had begun optimistically for the Canadian Scottish; the assault companies had gained the far bank in just twelve minutes and the kapok footbridge was installed with out delay (its first use was by four Germans, eager to surrender, who sprang forward to give themselves up). The reserve company, "C",  was across the bridge by 06:00hrs. By now "B" Company had advanced on to positions commanding the main east-west road between Oosthoek and Vulipan, and they were stopped by heavy fire late in the morning a few hundred yards outside the latter.20 Moershoofd was still held in strength by the enemy, and so "D" Company pulled back 500 yards in order that 25-pounder gunfire could be brought to bear. "The village was 'Caenned' by repeated artillery concentrations, so that when the Canadians secured it that evening there was little left standing." By dawn of the 7th, the Canadian Scottish had two companies clinging to a cluster of houses on the Graaf Jan dyke, surrounded by Germans, having forged a bridgehead approximately 1,000 yards wide and pushing "B" and "C" Companies 700 yards into enemy terrain. "C" Company's headquarters section had been cut off, however, and forced to surrender. With casualties in the first 36 hours for the battalion totalling 14 killed, 48 wounded 15 missing and 9 captured, the brigadier began sending in reinforcements, first men from a squadron of the 7th Reconnaissance Regiment, and then the entire reserve battalion, The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, who were intended to consolidate the two widely separated bridgeheads into one and find an alternative to the main road.21

The initial attack of the Winnipeg Rifles was successful; they crossed the canal before first light on the morning of 7 October and advanced 600 yards before hitting enemy resistance. With one of their companies attacking frontally, the other worked to the flank under cover a dyke, reaching within 100 yards of the enemy and firing all available weapons, including PIATs and 2-inch mortars. In this way, an entire company of the 2nd Battalion, 1038th Grenadier Regiment was eliminated, with 64 prisoners being taken. A cut-off platoon of the Canadian Scottish had also been rescued in the process. The gap between the bridgeheads, however, remained.22

The bridgehead was not secure, as vehicles could not cross over the single bridge remaining, and wounded, ammunition and food could only be ferried in darkness. Enemy counter-attacks on "C" Company had been heavy, beginning at 03:00hrs on the 7th when a brief artillery barrage heralded a fierce attack from the west by an estimated 150 Germans. What followed was a confused fight in Oosthoek, where the remnants of the "C" Company were outnumbered. Wireless contact with the Canadian Scottish's battalion HQ broke down at this critical junction, as No. 15 Platoon was forced to withdraw and enemy troops were streaming toward the positions of No. 14 Platoon, east into the "battalion fortress" which was then guarding the only bridge over the Leopold Canal.23

The...platoon under Sgt A. Gri and Company HQ under Capt R. Schjelderup fought back from farm buildings killing many enemy before they were overwhelmed. Schjelderup and Gri were captured but later made a daring escape in mid-winter and rejoined their regiment. Both were decorated for their conduct.24

It was estimated that 60 Germans were killed or wounded in the attack, but "C" Company had been left with 2 officers and 35 to 40 men of approximately 105 that had made the initial crossing. Nonetheless, No. 14 Platoon and Company Headquarters were forced to surrender, and men in other platoons watched as the men were formed up by the Germans and led away. By this time, "A" and "B" Company of the Winnipeg Rifles had reached the southern approaches of Oosthoek and as described above, routed a company of the 1038th Grenadier Regiment, also enabling them to relieve the battered remnants of "C" Company of the Canadian Scottish.25

During the day on 7 October, "B" Company, which had been on the edge of the fighting during the previous night, shifted to the west to take over ground formerly occupied by "C" Company while "D" Company was reinforced by the battalion Scout Platoon and dismounted squadron of the 7th Recce Regiment. The Winnipeg Rifles continued to try to move forward towards the Regina Rifles' positions. Artillery was used mainly for harrassing fire on the roads being used to bring up supplies, as the fighting was primarily at close quarters; PIATs and anti-tank guns were used to hole buildings, and German artillery and mortars fired constantly in retaliation, not just throughout the small bridgeheads, but the roads and bridges leading into them. By 8 October, the two assault battalions were depleted to three companies each. It was decided to shift the attack west, in hopes of securing a bridgehead where the Maldegem-Aardenburg road spanned the Leopold Canal, permitting the erection of a Class 40 Bailey bridge and the introduction of armoured vehicles into the mostly unequal contest currently unbalanced in the Germans' favour.26

Competing Plans

German plans were for heavy counter-attacks in the bridgehead areas. Generalmajor Eberding confidently reported initially that the western bridgehead held by the Regina Rifles had been eliminated. Forming up for a major counter-attack, Canadian artillerymen dropped heavy volumes of fire on their assembly area, which coincided with a pre-registered target.27 Nonetheless, the Germans heavily outnumbered the Canadians in the bridgehead, defending the Breskens Pocket with the equivalent of three brigades, and with no one else to employ them against. "Even with two of the enemy's brigades responsible for other sectors of the area, the 7th Brigade could do little more than slug its way forward yard by yard and accept the casualties in an unequal contest."28 The 1038th Regiment in fact was to carry our a series of counter-attacks, and was reinforced by the divisional reserve, the 1st Para Training Regiment, as well as a battle group from the 1037th Grenadier Regiment. Even so, the immediate deployment of his best reserves resulted in stalemate.29

Eberding would see the consequences of his hasty deployment of his reserve when the landings at Braakman Inlet began, leaving him only two companies of infantry as a reserve to deal with the situation, but in the meantime, he resolved to overwhelm the 7th Brigade bridgehead with additional counter-attacks on the 9th and 10th of October. These were met with Canadian shell and mortar fire.30

The War Diary of the Regina Rifles noted:

Artillery laid 2000 shells on our own front alone in 90 minutes on the evening of 10 Oct and our own Mortar Platoon expended 1064 rounds of HE in 3 hours. But we feel it has turned the trick. We have been able to cut enemy's ammunition route out of Eede and prisoners of war have that lean and hungry look.31

The gap between the bridgeheads was sealed in the early hours of 9 October by the Winnipeg Rifles, but attempts to secure Graaf Jan/Biezen failed. When Graaf Jan finally fell on 12 October, the enemy counter-attacked violently.32 During the early morning the Canadian Scottish had also pushed a company through the Regina Rifles and the Canadians were astride the main road to Aardenburg. The next day they pushed into the southern edge of Eede, and by evening the 8th and 9th Field Squadrons, Royal Canadian Engineers (from the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division) had bridged both the Leopold and the Dérivation canals at Strooibrug. Canadians were across the Braakman Inlet and easing pressure on the bridgehead as well.

(T)he worst was over. It had been an exhausting ordeal for the 7th Brigade. In seven days' fighting, through 12 October, the three battalions had had a total of 533 casualties. Of these 111 were fatal. The Regina Rifle Regiment had suffered by far the most heavily; including the company attached from the Royal Montreal Regiment, it had 280 casualties, 51 men losing their lives.33

The 1038th Grenadier Regiment and 1st Para Training Regiment had lost 400 prisoners, many wounded, and suffered "several hundred fatal casualties." 34

Aftermath

The refusal of the enemy to fight the expected staged withdrawal was viewed by Canadian higher commanders as "a great success." By employing nearly his entire reserve early in the battle for the Breskens Pocket, the German divisional commander had helped ensure that the Canadian amphibious landings were not as costly as they could have been. The second in command of the Regina Rifles expressed the opinion, in an interview with a Canadian Army Historical Officer, that had the enemy withdrawn slowly, adopting a defensive posture, Canadian losses would have been higher. He also noted that the Germans used their "best troops" in "costly counterattacks" which left the later actions of the Breskens Pocket in the hands of less capable soldiers.35

Battle Honours

The following Canadian units were awarded the Battle Honour "Leopold Canal" for participation in these actions:

Image:1armygif.gif 1st Canadian Army

  • The Royal Montreal Regiment

Image:3gif7bde.gif 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade

  • The Royal Winnipeg Rifles

  • The Regina Rifle Regiment

  • The Canadian Scottish Regiment

Notes

  1. Williams, Jeffery The Long Left Flank: The Hard Fought Way to the Reich, 1944-1945 (Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd., Toronto, ON, 1988) ISBN 0-7737-2194-0 pp.115-116
  2. Ibid, p.116
  3. Stacey, C.P. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War: Volume III: The Victory Campaign: The Operations in North-west Europe 1944-45 (Queen's Printer, Ottawa, ON, 1960) p.392
  4. Copp, Terry Cinderella Army: The Canadians in Northwest Europe 1944-1945 (Toronto Press, Inc., Toronto, ON, 2006) ISBN 978-0-6522-0 p.89
  5. Ibid, pp.392-393
  6. Roy, Reginald H. Ready for the Fray (Deas gu Cath): The History of The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary's) (Bunker to Bunker Publishing, Calgary, AB, 2002) ISBN 1-894255-11-9 pp.334-335
  7. Stacey, Ibid, p.393
  8. Roy, Ibid, p.335
  9. Copp, Ibid, pp.90-91
  10. Ibid
  11. Copp, Terry "Crossing The Leopold: Army, Part 34" in Legion Magazine, January 1, 2001
  12. Copp, Cinderella Army, p.94
  13. Stacey, Ibid, p.393
  14. Bird, Will R. North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment (Brunswick Press, 1963) pp.436-440
  15. Fetherstonhaugh, R.C. The Royal Montreal Regiment 1925-1945 (Gazette Printing Company Ltd., Montreal, PQ, 1949) pp.180-184
  16. Stacey, Ibid, pp.393-395
  17. Roy, Ibid, pp.335-337
  18. Williams, Ibid, p.118
  19. Bird, Ibid, pp.439-440
  20. Roy, Ibid, pp.337-338
  21. Copp, Ibid, p.98
  22. Ibid
  23. Roy, Ibid, pp.343-344
  24. McKay, A. Donald Gaudeamus Igitur "Therefore Rejoice" (Bunker to Bunker Books, Calgary, AB, 2005) ISBN 1894255534 p.198
  25. Roy, Ibid, p.345
  26. Ibid, p.348
  27. Copp, Ibid, p.100
  28. Roy, Ibid, p.348
  29. Copp, Ibid, p.100
  30. Ibid
  31. Stacey, Ibid, p. 395
  32. Roy, Ibid, p. 100
  33. Stacey, Ibid, p.395
  34. Copp, Ibid, p.101
  35. Ibid, p.103

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