The Allies Had the Germans Cornered, But the Battle for This Dutch Island Was Nevertheless Brutal

Look at a map of Holland. At the intense southwest corner, linked to the mainland by a slender causeway, is a peninsula acknowledged as Walcheren Island jutting into the North Sea. Consider of Walcheren Island as a bowl, with lifted edges and a frustrated heart (in this circumstance, below sea level).

Flowing south of Walcheren Island is the estuary of the River Scheldt that qualified prospects to the big, deep-drinking water port of Antwerp, Belgium. The port of Antwerp is and was a person of Europe’s biggest, with 10 sq. miles of docks, 20 miles of waterfront, 600 cranes, and the ability to handle 1,000 ships at weighing up to 19,000 tons every at a time. Ever considering that overrunning Holland in the spring of 1940, and recognizing the island’s importance, the Germans experienced held Walcheren Island. And they experienced had a good deal of time to greatly fortify it.

THE GERMAN FORCES

At the finish of August 1944, after the calamity of Normandy, the Falaise Pocket, and the
disintegration of the German Western Entrance, Hitler relieved Typical Helmuth von Salmuth of command of the Fifteenth Military, changing him with Common Gustav-Adolf von Zangen.

Wehrmacht headquarters on Walcheren were in Middelburg, the island’s money, even though the navy’s (Kriegsmarine) command center was in Flushing. The remaining German protection in Walcheren consisted of the next-class 210th and 810th Battalions of the 70th Infantry Division, commanded by Generalleutnant Wilhelm Dasser, a 60-calendar year-old static coastal division commander in Normandy prior to the invasion there, together with different naval and antiaircraft models manning casemated batteries and other weapons. Components of the 1019th and 1020th Regiments were being headquartered in Flushing and Oostkapelle, respectively.

Walcheren’s west coast defenses were a formidable chain of seriously produced coastal batteries encased in concrete casemates at the rear of the sea wall to reduce a compelled naval assault into the Western Scheldt. All had been sited for direct seaward fire even so, Battery W17, found northeast of Westkapelle in the vicinity of Domburg, was in open casemates and could also fireplace throughout the island.

The batteries comprised up to 50 artillery items ranging from 75mm to 220mm and manned by associates of the Kriegsmarine. These guns ended up supported by infantry trenches, antiaircraft guns, flamethrowers, rocket projectors, searchlights, thick belts of barbed wire and antipersonnel minefields, and beach obstructions very similar to those people at Normandy which exploded on effect, making just about every battery a self-contained strongpoint and giving an virtually continual line of defenses along the dunes. The Kriegsmarine officers were being perfectly knowledgeable of the absence of important infantry support models for the shore batteries, which was the weak link in the protection.

Between May well and June 1944, the Germans laid in excess of 1,700 make contact with mines at the mouth of the Scheldt and its seaward approaches. Yet another 600 have been laid in the Western Scheldt as much east as Antwerp. A flotilla of explosive motorboats was docked in Flushing to assault any Allied transport in the Western Scheldt. Significantly of Walcheren is underneath sea level with many sand dunes alongside its shores the intervening gaps are closed by dikes, the most significant and oldest of which runs together the island’s western coastline for 3 miles and is 200-250 toes wide at Westkapelle.

Flushing, on the southern coastline of Walcheren Island, experienced been remodeled into a fortress bristling with many unique kinds of artillery parts, pillboxes, concrete bunkers, gun positions, avenue hurdles, and land mines all-around its perimeter. The port’s streets were manned by 8,000 Germans in tenacious defensive will work.

However, Dasser’s division was disorganized by recurrent troop redeployments, triggering “the gentlemen [to be] completely apathetic, an undisciplined mob.” The German sea commandant of South Holland wrote, “If this is not established correct by energetic leadership, I foresee a black upcoming for the defense of Walcheren.”

The German significant command knew the peril Walcheren was in from an infantry manpower standpoint since Hitler, by scattering his infantry to garrison innumerable factors together the Channel coast somewhat than concentrating them on main ports, had squandered any chance of reinforcing the 70th Infantry Division.

THE Require FOR ANTWERP

After the Normandy invasion and in the course of the autumn of 1944, as the British and American armies state-of-the-art eastward across France and Belgium toward Germany, the Allies’ source strains were being stretched to the breaking place as they tried out to continue to keep up with the fighting forces. The overworked, short term Mulberry harbor that experienced been put in at Sword Beach at Arromanches, was now too considerably to the rear.

The Germans, in their withdrawal from Upper Normandy, had wrecked or continued to keep the ports of Le Havre, Dunkirk, Boulogne, and Calais, rendering them unusable by the Allies. Thus, the seizure of the port of Antwerp was vital if the British and American force was to keep on at some thing a lot quicker than a snail’s pace.

Devoid of Antwerp, the victors of Normandy experienced to be provided above ever-lengthening truck routes jogging to Belgium and jap France (See “Red Ball Specific,” WWII Quarterly, Summer months 2010). Substitution formations of up to five Allied divisions nonetheless remained in Normandy as their motor transport was confiscated and turned into provide convoys.

On September 3, Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery purchased the 2nd British Army, beneath Lt. Gen. Sir Miles Dempsey, to exploit the hole between the German Fifteenth and Seventh Armies. At the time, the Second British Army held positions alongside the Albert Canal, jogging southeastward from Antwerp.

The British 11th Armoured Division reached Antwerp on September 4, and quickly Allied troops controlled the port with many of the docks and substantial wharves intact. Opening the Scheldt so that Allied ships could essentially access the port was now the up coming purchase of company.

If, as an alternative of turning eastward toward the Ruhr, the Next British Military had continued its progress 20 miles to the northwest, it would have lower the German Fifteenth Army’s escape route to the east at the South Beveland isthmus, which separates the Western from the Japanese Scheldt. But the Allies skipped a great option to strangle the escape route and seize the isthmus.

Soon after Antwerp fell, von Zangen understood he was trapped by the Western Scheldt and drew up options on September 5 for an escape route amongst Antwerp to the north and Brussels right to the south, to attain the Rhine River north of Cologne.

But Hitler countermanded individuals orders and directed von Zangen to enhance the ports and set up a bridgehead south of the Western Scheldt covering the port of Breskens, safe Walcheren and South Beveland Islands, and carry the most important human body of his army in northern France and Belgium throughout the Western Scheldt to Flushing (known as Vlissingen in Dutch) on Walcheren Island.

Von Zangen tried out to comply. Making use of his 245th, 711th, and 70th Infantry Divisions, alongside with the contemporary 64th Infantry Division from Germany, he built a defensive bridgehead functioning from Zeebrugge on the North Sea to the Western Scheldt at Terneuzen, amongst Breskens and Antwerp.

On top of that, von Zangen appointed Lt. Gen. Eugen-Felix Schwalbe to command the escape across the Western Scheldt from Breskens to Walcheren working with Dutch service provider ships and river barges. Even with sturdy antiaircraft batteries at Breskens and Flushing, Allied fighter bombers ended up ready to partly interdict the 45-minute crossing involving the two ports. However, German antiaircraft batteries shot down more than 40 Allied plane.

Even with the Allied air attacks, von Zangen and Schwalbe were being equipped to transport 86,000 gentlemen, 600 guns, extra than 6,000 autos, and 4,000 horses across the Western Scheldt from September 4-26.

With Antwerp in Allied hands, and with the need to open up it to sea visitors, Montgomery directed the Very first Canadian Military to advance to the northwest of the metropolis and apparent the Western Scheldt estuary of enemy forces.

The To start with Canadian Military intelligence officers concluded that by September 24, “His [German] withdrawal throughout the [Western] Scheldt … was a remarkable feat for a defeated and trapped enemy.”

On September 9, Canadian intelligence also presciently forecast that the Germans would block the seaward ways to the freshly obtained prize of Antwerp by holding Walcheren and South Beveland. Quite a few of the Germans who had escaped from Breskens to Flushing, primarily the 70th Infantry Division, would contest the coming Allied assault on Walcheren.

Area Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, main of the Imperial Typical Personnel, would generate in his diary, “I sense that Monty’s system for as soon as is at fault. As an alternative of carrying out the advance on Arnhem, he should to have built specified of Antwerp.”

Operation INFATUATE

To open the Scheldt, the Allies devised Operation Infatuate, which was divided into two phases. Infatuate I would be the landing at Flushing on Walcheren Island’s southern tip, even though Infatuate II would be a landing at Westkapelle on Walcheren’s west coast. The procedure was scheduled for late October 1944.

Walcheren Island was like the cork in the neck of a bottle. As prolonged as the Germans held it, the mouth of the River Scheldt was closed to the Allies’ supply ships. The cork experienced to be taken out. And the II Canadian Corps, together with British Royal Marine and Commando units, was chosen by Mongomery to be the corkscrew.