Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Scheldt, Battles (October–November 1944)

A series of battles waged by British forces against German troops to gain control of the Scheldt estuary and open the port of Antwerp. On 4 September, after the German Fifteenth Army escaped from the Breskens pocket (formed on the mainland north of the Leopold Canal and west of Antwerp), it was disposed to hold the Scheldt estuary and prevent the Allies from opening Antwerp. German commander General Gustav von Zagen left only a rearguard on the mainland and concentrated his strength on the South Beveland and Walcheren Island, both of which formed the northern boundary of the estuary. In late September, Montgomery assigned clearing the Scheldt to the First Canadian Army, which was already engaged in taking the Channel ports, including Boulogne and Calais.

The British attacks to clear the Scheldt began in October. Canadian Lieutenant General Guy Simonds, commanding the First Canadian Army, designed the plan. Simonds had been temporarily elevated from command of the II Canadian Corps because of the illness of lieutenant general (promoted to general on 14 November) Henry Crerar. A key element in Simonds's plan was the destruction of dikes that protected Walcheren from the North Sea. This action flooded most of the island and restricted German movement and communications. Also important to the plan was the use of special equipment, including flamethrower "wasps" (converted universal carriers) and "buffaloes" (amphibious vehicles).

Simonds's plan had three phases. The first called for the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division to seal off South Beveland while the I British Corps drove northeast to cover the flanks of the II Canadian Corps and the Second British Army. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division cleared the Breskens pocket in nearly a month of tough fighting. In the second phase, the 2nd Canadian Division and the Scottish 52nd Lowland Division took South Beveland, reaching the causeway to Walcheren at the end of October. Three attempts by the Canadians to cross the causeway ended in failure, although one did gain the other side. The Scottish Division then relieved the exhausted Canadians. In the final phase that began on 1 November, commandos amphibiously assaulted the south and west ends of Walcheren, supported by the 52nd Division in the south, which also attacked from the east. It took a week to clear all pockets of German resistance, but the parts of the island that commanded the Scheldt were taken on 3 November. Throughout the campaign, the Germans were both ably led and entrenched, providing a tough fight for the Canadians and British.

The battles to clear the Scheldt estuary cost the Allies 13,000 casualties. The first oceangoing ships arrived on 29 November. Denying the Allies use of the port for nearly three months delayed the defeat of Germany considerably. The Germans also harassed Antwerp with V-1 buzz bombs and V-2 rockets, which, however, had little effect on port operations beyond the decision to transfer ammunition resupply to other ports. The terror weapons killed many civilians and caused much damage to the city, however. Montgomery admitted after the war that delaying redirecting the full weight of his forces to clear the Scheldt until 16 October had been a mistake.

Britton W. MacDonald


Further Reading
Hart, Stephen Ashley. Montgomery and "Colossal Cracks": The 21st Army Group in Northwest Europe, 1944–1945. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000.; Levine, Alan J. From the Normandy Beaches to the Baltic Sea: The Northwest Europe Campaign, 1944–1945. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000.
 

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