Battle of the Scheldt
The fighting at Arnhem, on the Rhine, resulted in the destruction of the British 1st Airborne Division and exceedingly heavy losses when relief forces from British XXX Corps failed to reach them before heavy counter-attacks by SS armoured units threatened to annihilate them. (As an aside, several Canloan officers had been part of the 1st Airborne Division.)
Had MARKET-GARDEN been successful, it was conceivable that strong pushes into German territory before the end of 1944 might have resulted in a German capitulation. By 1 October 1944 it was apparent, however, that campaigning would probably extend into 1945, and so emphasis returned to clearing a major port. Antwerp had the second largest port facilities in Europe and over 45 kilometres of docks.
German defences in the Scheldt region came under the command of LXVII Korps. The Germans had managed to solidify their defences after the panic of September 1944; had British forces thrust north from Antwerp immediately after its capture, they would have found the Scheldt poorly defended. Instead, Infanterie Division 70 had the opportunity to improve its defences on Walcheren Island.
To the south of the Scheldt, German forces belonged to Infanterie Division 64 under the command of Generalmajor Kurt Eberding. This formation was ordered to defend the south bank of the Scheldt Estuary from Zeebrugge to Terneuzen. This area would later be known as the Breskens Pocket. The division consisted of soldiers with experience from the Eastern Front, and had been raised during the summer of 1944, too late to serve in the fighting in Normandy. The division was nearly at full establishment, with 11,000 soldiers of all ranks. Hitler designated their area of responsibility Scheldt Fortress South; the 64th Division collected weapons from other units of the 15th Army as they retreated through them, eventually fielding 500 machine guns and mortars, 200 anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns of various calibres (including 23 of 8.8cm type), and 70 field guns, with access to the five batteries of coastal artillery on both sides of the Scheldt Estuary.
Up until the liberation of Ossendrecht during the intial move north from Antwerp, the Canadians faced Infanterie Division 346, a low grade unit, as well as elements of Infanterie Division 85 and Kampfgruppe Chill.
Also on South Beveland were naval personnel of the 202nd Marine Artillery Battalion. During the battle, some remnants of Infanterie Division 64 managed to escape north to South Beveland as the Breskens Pocket was reduced.
Opening the Scheldt
Orders for clearing the Scheldt had been given before MARKET-GARDEN, on 12 September 1944. First Canadian Army, with II Canadian Corps under command, also had available the Polish 1st Armoured Division, British 49th (West Riding) Division and eventually the British 52nd (Lowland) Division.
The Battle of the Scheldt consisted of four phases
On 2 October 1944 the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division moved north from Antwerp to clear the neck of the South Beveland peninsula. German troops from Kampfgruppe Chill were strongly entrenched in Woensdrecht and Hoogerheide. Several days of bloody fighting beginning on 6 October 1944 failed to dislodge the Germans; terrain was open or flooded and heavily mined. On 13 October 1944, the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada was virtually destroyed launching an attack on a feature known as "the coffin" due to the shape it described on a map.
A final attack on Woensdrecht was launched on 16 October 1944 which finally pushed the Germans out of the neck of the Peninsula. Orders from 21 Army Group made opening the Scheldt a priority, and the 2nd British Army also attacked west from their positions to assist in clearing Dutch territory south of the Maas River, helping secure the Scheldt region from German intervention. The 8th Reconnaissance Regiment also liberated North Beveland.
The 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division, previously fighting south of the Scheldt, moved past the 2nd Canadian Division, to the north, to liberate Bergen op Zoom. By 24 October 1944 German access to South Beveland had been completely cut off. The division paused in Bergen op Zoom before pushing eastwards to St. Philipsland, where it had the distinction of engaging German naval vessels in Zijpe harbour.
4th Canadian (Armoured) Division, divided into two battle groups, advanced from a hard-won bridgehead over the Ghent Canal at Moerbrugge to be faced with both the Leopold and Dérivation de la Lys Canals. An attack in the vicinity of Moerkerke on 14 September had managed to get the division across both these obstacles, but heavy German counterattacks led to loss of the bridgehead.
To the east, the 1st Polish Armoured Division had greater success moving northeast from Ghent over rough terrain and in the face of heavy resistance. They managed to reach the coast by 20 September, and occupied Terneuzen, from where they cleared the bank of the Scheldt all the way to Antwerp.
The area then defended by the Germans was known as the Breskens Pocket, which was strongly defended and extended along the bank of the Scheldt from Zeebrugge to the Braakman Inlet, then inland to the Leopold Canal.
The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, moving up from France and its assaults on the Channel Ports, set out to cross the Leopold Canal and redress the failure of the Algonquin Regiment to maintain a bridgehead. The attack opened immediately east of the junction of the Leopold and Dérivation de la Lys Canals, aimed at a narrow strip of dry ground beyond the Leopold which formed a long triangle based on the Maldegem-Aardenburg road and reaching a point near the village of Moershoofd 5000 yards to the east.
Fighting continued in the towns of Breskens, Oostburg, Zuidzande and Cadzand, and the fortifications at Fort Frederik Hendrik. Operation SWITCHBACK ended on 3 November 1944 with the final collapse of the Breskens Pocket and the liberation of Knokke and Zeebrugge. All land south of the Scheldt Estuary was in Allied hands.
The movement down the South Beveland Peninsula began on 24 October 1944 when the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division advanced westward from their hard-earned gains at Woensdrecht. Mud, mines, and strong enemy resistance dashed hopes of a quick advance, and the Beveland Canal - bisecting the peninsula - proved to be a major obstacle which had to be defeated by an amphibious landing by the British 52nd (Lowland) Division. With British troops now behind the Canal, the 6th Canadian Brigade attacked the canal head on in assault boats, and engineers managed to establish a crossing on the main west-east road. Once positions on the Beveland Canal were cleared, German resistance on South Beveland collapsed and remnants of the German forces there withdrew to Walcheren Island.
The final phase of the Battle of the Scheldt was the clearing of Walcheren Island. Canadian attempts to reach the island were severely hampered by terrain. The only land approach was a 40 yard wide causeway over the Slooe Channel, known to the Dutch as the Sloedam, and to the Allied soldiers who fought there as the Walcheren Causeway. Several attempts to form a bridgehead on the Walcheren side of the Causeway between 31 October and 2 November 1944 were thrown back by German counter-attacks.
Defences on the Island itself were formidable, and heavy coastal batteries were located on the western and southern coasts, which were fortified against amphibious assault. A landward-facing defensive perimeter had been established at Vlissingen (Flushing), defending the port facilities there in the event of a successful Allied amphibious landing on the island.
Allied heavy bombers attacked Westkapelle on 3 October 1944 in an effort to flood portions of the island and hamper German defensive efforts. On 7 October, two areas near Vlissingen were bombed and on 11 October bombs fell on dykes at Veere. German defenders were forced onto high ground near the towns.
Three different attacks were launched on the island; the Canadians optimistically hoped to "bounce" the Causeway in a lightning move as they came from the east; British troops of the Special Service Brigade and 52nd Division planned amphibious operations from the south and west.
As the Canadians and later 52nd Division fought at the eastern end of the island at Walcheren Causeway, amphibious landings in two parts were launched The amphibious landings were conducted in two parts on 1 November. Operation INFATUATE I saw infantry of the British 155th Infantry Brigade and Number 4 Commando ferried across in small landing craft from Breskens, assaulting a beach in south-east Vlissingen. Heavy street-fighting ensued.
Operation INFATUATE II, also on 1 November, was a major amphibious landing at Westkapelle by the 4th Special Service Brigade, under heavy naval bombardment by the Royal Navy and supported by the 79th Armoured Division with its special purpose armoured engineer vehicles. This forces landing on both sides of a gap in the sea dyke and heavy fighting ensued at Westkapelle.
On 6 November 1944, Middelburg was finally liberated and all fighting on the island had ceased by 8 November, bringing the Battle of the Scheldt to a close.
On 28 November 1944, the first Allied supply convoy entered Antwerp after the Scheldt was swept for mines.
The month-long battle had been a severe test for the Canadian Army, and coupled with casualties in the Battle of Normandy and the battles for the Channel Ports, exacerbated a demand for infantry reinforcements which would lead to a full blown crisis in Canada regarding conscription.
The 3rd Canadian Division was dubbed the "Water Rats" by Field Marshal Montgomery, intended as a tribute to the horrible conditions of mud and water which the Canadians had fought through. (General Crerar disliked the nickname and dissuaded others from using it).
In the course of five weeks of fighting, First Canadian Army had taken 41,043 prisoners, and suffered 12,873 casualties (killed, wounded, or missing), 6,367 of whom were Canadian nationals, the remainder from British and Polish units under command.
Antwerp remained a significant location after the Scheldt; German V-2 rockets were launched against the city to disrupt the movement of Allied supplies, and in Dec 1944 the Ardennes Offensive was aimed at recapturing the port.
Jeffery Williams described the fighting in the Scheldt as follows:
The following Battle Honours were awarded for units participating in the Battle of the Scheldt: