World War II: Liberation of the Netherlands--South of the Rhine (September-December 1944)


Figure 1.--The Polish First Armored Division fighting with the British helped liberate the Netherlands. Here aolish sholdier shares his food with two veery happy little Dutch boys. The press caption read, "The Boys Who Came to Dinner: This good-naturedPolish soldier sits gamly by at these two little Dutch boys make short work of his chow. Judging from the expressions on their faces , the Allied food agrees with them." The photograph was taken November 5, 1944.

Market Garden failed in its objective to cross the Rhine before winter weather set in. The Rhine was the only significant natural barrier which could be used to defend the Reich. Market Garden did, however, suceed in beginning the liberation of most of the Netherlnds south and east of the Rhine. The Allies did get across the Meuse and Waal liberating large areas of the Netherlands. After the failure of Market Garden, the British launched Operation Pheasant (October 20). This was the beginning of the liberation of central and western Noord-Barbant Province. The first Canadian Army attacked from Belgium and the British Second Army attacked from the eastern Netherlands. The 51st Highland Division drove to Schijndel village (October 23). The British, Canadians, and Poles liberated souheastern Metherlands (Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, Walcheren and Noord– and Zuid-Beveland) (September through November). The 2nd British Army liberated northwestern Limburg (November-December). This largely completed the liberation of the Netherlands south of the Rhine. The final step was Canadian and American operations after the Buldge which succeeded in liberating northeast Limburg and the German Rhineland. Nijmegen and much of North Brabant, were liberated. Parts of the southern Netherlands were not immediately liberated by Operation Market Garden, which was designed to open a narrow salient between Eindhoven and Nijmegen. British and American forces in Operation Aintree managed to defeat the remaining German forces west of the Meuse (east of North Brabant and in Limburg) (late-September and early-December 1944). They destroyed the German bridgehead between the Meuse and the Peel marshes. The only tank battle ever fought in the Netherlands occurred at Overloon. The Allies also drove into Zeeland. The Germans continue to hold Walcheren and the Scheldt estuary. This was a serious error on Montgomery's part. The Scheldt estuary controlled the approaches to the all important port of Antwerp, vitally needed to supply the advancing Allied armies. Fixated on Market Garden, Montgmery allowed the disorganized Germans to consolidated their position in the Scheldt estuary. Thus after Market Garden, Canadian units were forced to fight the Battle of the Scheldt. The Poles played an important role in liberating the Dutch. Tthe Polish 1st Armoured Division after the Mormandy breakout (July 1944) pursued the retreating Germans along the Channel coast. The Poles liberated, the towns of Ypres, Ghent and Passchendaele. General Maczek then outflanked the Germans suceede in liberating Breda in thesouthern Netherlands without any civilian casualties (October 29, 1944). The Netherlands is a tiny country that at the time of World War II hd only a small army. The coyntry's principal defense is opening the dikes and with the resulting flood, would slow an invading army. The Dutch government when Hitler invaded dcided not to do this (May 1940). This would essentially turn Holland into an island by flooding the polders. And he resulting island contains the main Dutch cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht). The Government decided that the flooding would be disaterous for the Dutch people which given NZI policy of reserving availabke food for the German people was probably the case. Hitler had no such cruples. He ordered the creation of Fortress Holland (Festung Holland) and for it to be held at any price. The creation of such Festugen was a degensive tactic adopted by the Germans in both the East and West as the Allied armies closed in on the Reich. It is at this point that the Germans struck in the south of the Netherlands in the Ardennes launching the Battle of thev Bulge (December 16). Hitler's goal was to seize the port of Antwerp to deny the Allies the ability to supply its northen wing and to cut off the British and Canadian forces in the Netherlands from the Americans further south.

Liberation of Belgium (September)

The Allies after Paris pressed north into Belgium. The British reached d Brussels (September 2) and Antwerp (September 3). They were met by jubilant civilians realizing that the dark years of NAZIdom were finally over. There was hope in the Allied camp that with the German collapse in France that the NAZIs could be defeated in 1944. Antwep was the key to the Allied thrust on into Germany. The Allies reqired a deep water port in Belgium. Supplies were still being landed in Normandy and trucked through France via the Red Ball Express. This was creating enormous logistical problems and the Allies needed to shorten its supply lines. While the Allies after taking Brussels reached Antwerp the next day. Opening the port proved to be a much more difficult undertaking. The Germans had fortified islands in the Scheldt estuary. Montgomery did not initially grasp the importance. The Germans evem though cut off by the advancing Allies held out recognizing the importance of keeping the port closed. The Belgian Resistance played an important role in the costly effort to clear the Scheldt. [Moulton] Once in Allied hands, Antwerp and its harbor became a target for NAZI V-2 attacks.

Dutch Begin Celebrating -- Dolle Dinsdag (September 1944)

The Allied D-Day opened the way for the liberation of Western Europe (June 6, 1944). The Germans managed to bottle the Allies up in Normandy, but could not dislodge the beachhead or prevent an enormous build-up. The Allies found it difficult to fight in the Bockage country, but finally Operartion Cobra succeeded in breaking out led by Patton's 3rd Army (July). The German 7th Army was largely destroyed. The Allies liberated Paris and crossed the Seine. The Germans retreated to the West Wall and prepared to defend the Rhine while the Allies raced for the Rhine. Unfortunately for the Dutch, much of the country was north of the Rhine and the NAZIs decided to use the Rhine as the major defensive line in the West. After the Allies liberated France (August 1944) they reached the Belgian border (early-September). The Dutch, including those north of the Rhine knew of the Allied drive through Belgium. Many seeing how rapidly Nelgium was liberated assumed that they would also be quickly liberated. Then the Allies reached the Dutch border. As a result, September 5 is now known as Dolle dinsdag (mad Tuesday). A reconnaissance-patrol of the U.S. 113th Cavalry Group Red Horse crossed the Dutch border in the west near Maastricht (September 9). The American 30th Infantry Division "Old Hickory", entered the southern Netherlands in force at Zuid-Limburg (September 12). The British and Canadians also moved toward the Netherlands. The British 11th Armored Division charged north toward the Netherlands. Making a night move and advancing 60 miles in one day, the Division liberated Amiens in northern France(September 1). On that same day it also captured General Eberbach, commander of the German 7th Army. The Division reached Lens and then Tournai with little opposition (Belgium). At this point the Division was committed to the fight further north for Antwerp near the Dutch border. Antwerp was liberated (September 4). The Division then attempted to cross the Albert Canal, but was beaten back by the Germans. The Division was forced to cross further east at Beringen in northern Belgium. It then liberated Helchteren, Peer, and Bree close to the Dutch border. This essentially cleared the area between the Albert Canal and the Meuse (September 12). Thus by the middle of September the allies were well established in Belgium and on the border of the Nerherlands. Thet also possessed the vital port of Antwerp. The Dutch at this time concluded that their long-awaited liberation was at hand.

Dutch Railroad Strike (September 1944)

The Dutch Government in London ordered a railway strike (September 17, 1944). The intention was to support Market Garden--a plan to secure seven bridges and transport lines to the rail bridge across the Rhine at Arnhem. The Allies believed that shutting down the Dutch rail lines would slow the German reaction and delay troop and supply transports. The Wehrmacht was heavily dependent on rail transport. The Allies and the Dutch thought the Germans were on the run and could not stop a Rhine crossing. Unfortunarely the Germans were sucessfully regrouping, including a SS Divison near Arnhem. The Allies make considerable porogress toward Srnhem and a Rhine crossing, nuth Arnhem proved to be the bridge too far. The Germans held on the area of the Netherlands beyond the Rhine. The Railway strike succeed in bringing Dutch rail traffic to a halt. Knowing that the Gestapo would arrest striking eworkers, 30,000 railway employees went into hiding. The Allies attempted to support the strikers. The strike, however, failed in its main goal. The Germans used their own trains for transporting troops and supplies. This complicated German operations, but did not stop them. The Germans claimed that the strike would harm vivilands by preventing food shipments. This was partially true and the Germans refused to transport food for civilians on their trains. The result was the 'Hunger winter'--the Dutch famine of 1944. The Germans did nore than just not transport food. They set up road blocks on roads leading into the cities which prevented food from the country reaching the city. The Germans retaliated by rounding up 120,000 men. Some were rail workers, but most were not. They were deported to labor camps in Germany. The railroad workers held frirm and the strike continued until the Allies crossed the Rhine and liberated the rest of the Netherlands. By this time the people in the cities were starving.

Market Garden (September 17-26)

Montgomery had been pressuring Eisenhower to order one big push into Germany which of course he thought he should direct rather than Patton. Eisenhower kept insisting on a broad front advance. At this stage of the campaign. Most of the Allied supplies were still coming in over the Normandy beaches. Ports like Brest, Boulogne and Calais were still in German hands. The German V-2 attacks while not a real military threat, were terrifying civilians and it was Montgomery who was best placed to seize the launching sites in the Netherlands which could still be used to hit London. Eisenhower as a result, acceeded to Montgomery's plan to seize the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem and cross the Rhine through the Netherlands Market Garden failed in its objective to cross the Rhine before winter weather set in. The Rhine was the only significant natural barrier which could be used to defend the Reich. Market Garden did, however, suceed in beginning the liberation of most of the Netherlnds south and east of the Rhine. The Allies did get across the Meuse and Waal liberating large areas of the Netherlands.

Southern Netherlands

The Netherland proved a tougher nut for the Allies than Belgium. The Americans and British dash to the Rhine as part of Market Garden was on a very narrow front. Significnt parts of the southern Netherlands were thus not immediately liberated. Market Garden was designed to open a narrow salient between Eindhoven and Nijmegen. The units not directly in Market Garden began widening the Allied salient to begin the libertion of towns and villages in the south. British 11th Armoured was not committed to Market Garden push. It was ordered to protect th right flank of the Operation. It was attached to VIII Corps and began moving the day after Mrket Garden was launched (September 18). They advancing in two columns and linked up with the American 101st Airborne Division at Nuenen. Then 11th Armoured engineers established a bridge over the Willemsvaart Canal (September 22). The Division threaten to encircle Helmond, forcing the Germans to withdraw (September 25). With the failure of Market Garden, the Allied forces in the Netherlands focused on routing out the Germans still south of the Rhine. The southern Netherlands included an uusal projection into norther Belgium --Masstruct. This also separated Belgium from Germany, significantly reducing the length of the Belgian German border. It was an artifact of the Dutch War of Independence. The Spanish Catholic armies that retook the southern Netherlands and reinstituted Catholocism, were unable to take Maastricht.

Operation Aintree

British and American forces in managed to defeat the remaining German forces west of the Meuse (east of North Brabant and in Limburg) (late-September and early-December 1944). They destroyed the German bridgehead between the Meuse and the Peel marshes. The only tank battle ever fought in the Netherlands occurred at Overloon. The Allies also drove into Zeeland.

Battle of the Scheldt (October)

While the Germans retreated north and west leavig Belgium to the Allies, they did leave behind a nasty surprise in the Scheldt estuary, The Scheldt (Schelde/Escaut) is a 350 km long river flowing from from northern France into western Belgium and the southwestern Netherlands. Its name is derived from an adjective corresponding to Old English sceald meaning 'shallow' leafing to the Modern English 'shoal'. The Germans as the Allies rushed north continued to hold Walcheren and the Scheldt Estuary. This was a serious error on Montgomery's part. The Scheldt estuary controlled the approaches to the all important port of Antwerp, vitally needed to supply the advancing Allied armies. Fixated on Market Garden, Montgmery allowed the disorganized Germans to consolidated their position in the Scheldt estuary. Thus after Market Garden, Canadian units were forced to fight the Battle of the Scheldt. The First Canadian Army fought on both sides of the Estuary during the month to clear the waterways leading from the North Sea to Antwerp. Battles raged to clear the Breskens Pocket, Woensdrecht and the Zuid-Beveland Peninsula where the German forces fought on knowing the importnce of Antwerp. The German force was composed of 'stomach' units and the elite German paratroopers of Battle Group Chill. The German stomache units were convalescents and medically unfit men. The units were named for their medical problems. German resistance south of the Scheldt finally collapsed (end of October). The Canadian 2nd Infantry Division, British 52nd (Lowland) Division and 4th Special Service Brigade all attacked on Walcheren Island. Strong German defenses made a landing very difficult, and the Allies responded by bombing the dikes of Walcheren at Westkapelle, Vlissingen and Veere to flood the island. Though the Allies attemoted to warn residents with pamphlets, 180 inhabitants of Westkappelle wee killed. The German coastal guns on Walcheren were finally destroyed (warly November), ending the Scheldt battle, opening the 64 mi (103 km) passage to Antwerp.

The Coast

The Poles played an important role in liberating the Dutch. The Polish 1st Armoured Division after the Mormandy breakout (July 1944) pursued the retreating Germans along the Channel coast. The Poles liberated, the towns of Ypres, Ghent and Passchendaele. General Maczek then outflanked the Germans suceede in liberating Breda in thesouthern Netherlands without any civilian casualties (October 29, 1944).

Opening the Dikes

The Netherlands is a tiny country that at the time of World War II had only a small army. The country's principal defense is opening the dikes and with the resulting flood, would slow an invading army. The Dutch government when Hitler invaded dcided not to do this (May 1940). This would essentially turn Holland into an island by flooding the polders. And he resulting island contains the main Dutch cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht). The Government decided that the flooding would be disaterous for the Dutch people which given NAZI policy of reserving available food for the German people was probably the case. Hitler had no such cruples.

Festung Holland

Hitler He ordered the creation of Fortress Holland (Festung Holland) in the area of the Netherlnds Germany still held north of the Rhine. And be ordered tht it be held at any price. The creation of such Festugen was a defensive tactic adopted by the Germans in both the East and West as the Allied armies closed in on the Reich. It is at this point that the Germans struck in south of the Netherlands in the Ardennes, launching the Battle of the Bulge (December 16).

The Bulge (December 1944-January 1945)

Unhapilly, Hitler was not finished with Belgians. Only 3 months after liberation, Hitler launched the last important German offensive of the War. He chose a weak section of the Allied line in the Belgian Ardennes. The Wacht am Rhein ('Watch on the Rhine') was the second German World War II offensive through the Ardennes. The resulting Battle of the Bulge was the largest ground battle ever fought by the American Army. Almost all of it was fought in Belgium at great cost to Belgian civilians. The Germns secretly ammassed tactical superority in the Ardennes and broke through Allied lines. Unlike 1940, however, they did not have the military capacity to exploit the breakout. And the offensive exposed Germany's last remaining reserves to the superior Allied firepower. Hitler's goal in the last desperate German offensive of the War was to seize the port of Antwerp and deny the Allies the ability to supply its northen wing and to cut off the British and Canadian forces in the Netherlands from the Americans to the south.

Eastern North-Brabant and Limburg

Much of he southern Netherlands is North (Noord) Brabant. All but the far eastern area of North-Brabant was liberatred before and during Market Garden. North of North Brabant is Gelderland. The Rhine cuts across Gelderland. The goal of Market Garden was to seize the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem. Nijmegen on the Waal River and the biggest bridge in Europe was road to Arnhem. Nijmegen is the oldest city in the Netherlands, the first to be recognized in Roman times. The Allies reached Nijmegen on the Rhine during Market Garden. A major Market Garden battle was fought there. The Germans slowed the Allies at Nijmegen and the Allies could not get across the Rhine to Arnhem. The cities and bridge were very close to the German border. After the failure of Market Garden, the British launched Operation Pheasant (October 20). This was the beginning of the liberation of central and western Noord-Barbant Province. The first Canadian Army attacked from Belgium and the British Second Army attacked from the eastern Netherlands. The 51st Highland Division drove to Schijndel village (October 23). The British, Canadians, and Poles liberated souheastern Metherlands (Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, Walcheren and North– and Zuid-Beveland) (September through November). The 2nd British Army liberated northwestern Limburg (November-December). This largely completed the liberation of the Netherlands south of the Rhine. Eastern North Brabant was liberated after the Bulge. East of North Brbant was Limburg. The final step in liberating the Netherland south of the Rhine was Canadian and American operations which succeeded in entering northeast Limburg and then finally the Reich--the German Rhineland.

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Created: 7:27 PM 3/25/2013
Last updated: 12:10 AM 7/18/2017