On  Saterday 18 april 2015 we took part at Battlefield Tour Groningen Northern-Sector. 70 years ago Groningen was liberated from the German occupier by the Canadians. But the German commander Major General Karl Böttger, was not willing to surrender the city without fighting. Consequently the center was laid in ruins.

Shermantanks in the Oosterstraat

The battle lasted four days from 13 to 16 April 1945. And that was not the end of the war, because Hitler had declared Delfzijl to Fortress which meant that Delfzijl and region (Delfzijl Pocket) had to be defended to the last man. After all, every soldier of the Wehrmacht had taken an oath of allegiance to the Fuehrer.

While the Third Reich was collapsing, the Allied armies with much of Germany in his hands and the German Wehrmacht surrendered en masse, there was a battle in the north of the Netherlands to Groningen and Delfzijl. A battle that would cost many lives, towns and villages were wrecked and would last until the death of Hitler.

Only the battle was fought on 2 May 1945. Groningen and Delfzijl were finally liberated.

Canadese liberaters in Groningen converse with people

On this battlefield tour we follow the route the Canadians took from the north and the west of Groningen to liberate the city.  From the south the Canadians came into the city on Paterswoldseweg. From the north through Oranjebuurt and Noorderplantsoen. The were fightings with the German army consisting of Marine and Dutch and Belgian SS. On the side of the allies there was the 2nd Canadian infantry division. The Canadians had to conquer street by street. Therefore the fightings in Groningen were called 'Urban Warfare'. The many narrow streets were unsuitable for tanks. They had to operate with small units (sections). There were fightings with small arms and grenades, with man-to-man combat.

Een 17-pounder anti-tank gun of the Royal Canadian Artillery near the damaged Eelderbrug 15 April 1945

The Battle of Groningen was conducted by nine Canadian infantry battalions, which were led by Major-General Albert Bruce Matthews.

 

In additon to the Sherman the Canadians used Kangaroo tanks. De Kangaroo was een tank without a turret. De Kangaroo was used in the storming of the Herebrug.
 

The Canadian divisions had nice sounding names like the Regiment Le Regiment Maissonneuve from Montreal, Quebec, The Calgary Highlanders and The Black Watch of Canada.

During the fighting, there are 110 civilians died. The German losses were estimated at 300 men. However, the exact number is not known. The losses on the Canadian side were 43 male. Especially the city of Groningen with the Market was destroyed.

At the Market was the infamous Scholten House, the headquarters of the Security Service (SD). Also, it was destroyed. The east and north wall of the Market was fired by the Germans themselves on fire.

The Battlefield Tour...
Led by our guide Wybo Boersma (Society of Friends Airborne Museum) and Joel Stoppels (Battlefield Tours), both members of the Guild of Battlefield Guides we started the tour through Groningen were the Canadians ended on April 1945: The Grote Markt. We followed the route that Canadians took from the north in the city, but in the opposite direction. At various points along the route we heard the story of what had happened there.

Here we are at the monument 'Sint Joris en de draak' behind the Martinikerk. Wybo Boersma was born and raised in Groningen and he could tell us from his own experience about what happened in Groningen at the time of the liberation and the years after.

Our guide Joël Stoppels thels about the course of the war for the Canadians from the invasion in Normandy up to the liberation of Groningen.

The Martinikerkhof. Now where hikers carefree stay in the park, the Germans opened fire on the Les Fusiliers Mont Royal, at that time they purified the Grote Markt on Monday 16 April 1945. The Martinikerkhof was full of Germans retreated from the burning town.

Here we listen to the events at the gate of the Prinsenhof at Martinikerkhof. Clearly you can see the bullet impacts yet. Here the Air Protection Service was located. On Saturday afternoon, the Canadians made a telephone call from Emmasingel to the Prinsenhof. The basement was full of refugees who had fled for the fires in the city. Monday at 11 am, the Germans surrendered at the Prinsenhof.
The District Court's building to the St. Walburgstraat was placed in a state of defence by the Germans on Saterday April 14, 1945. On Sunday morning, the Germans set up a barricade in St. Walburg Street. In the window of the attic of the building a machine gun was placed. Because there was fierce shot on the courthouse by the Canadians the German commander of the armored defenses was killed on the sidewalk. He was so stupid to leave the building through the front door.
On the corner Sint Walburgstraat/Kattenhage we hear that the Germans set up a barricade in Kattenhage to stop the Canadian advance in the direction of Prinsenhof and the inner city.
In this building at the Hofstraat a girl citizen school was located. But during the years of occupation this building became a lees peacefull function. It was a barracks of the Navy. When the Canadian army invated the city, the soldiers who were stationed left and the building was brought in state of defense. We were told the story of Lloyd Daniel who began to fire on the German Navy barracks with his Bren Gun and the story of John Shaw of the C Company Calgary Highlanders, who was the first to enter the Naval barracks and stood opposite a German naval officer who wanted to surrender only to a superior in rank.
In the downtown there are traces of the war, like this wall full of bullet holes.
The CJMV building at Spilsluizen then and now on 18 April 2015, 70 years later. Left to the building a firebreak from where a Canadian soldier shoot a PIAT granate on a German gun FLAK on the opposite. At the point where I took this picture. That FLAK caused a lot of trouble. The gun was mounted in a strategic position at 1st Drift. With his incendiary and armor piercing ammunition the gun controlled the entrances of streets on the north side were soldiers of Maisonneuve took positions. The FLAK was disabled on Monday morning 16 april 2015 around 10.00 hours.
On Monday morning 16 april 1945 about 09.30 hours the BOAZ-bank on the corner of Ossemarkt was shot in fire by FLAK.
On 18 April 2015 I took this picture on the Ossemarkt. On the left the building on the place were the BOAZ bank was. This building was built in the years '50. The adjacent buildings were barely changed

Also at the Zoutstraat yet clear war damage. In this neighborhood the Canadians were confronted with 20mm FLAK from the opposite of Noorderhaven. The Canadians called this area 'Lincoln I'. After this area was occupied on Sunday evening 15 April 1945 C en D companies could invade the next area 'Lincoln II'. The area around Ossemarkt and Guyotplein. From Zoutstraat snipers of Le Regiment de Maisonneuvre took the Germans under fire at Noorderhaven. They sat in warehouses.

Liberation Oranjewijk

 

 

Canadese soldiers in Oranjewijk on 15 April 1945

Here we walk through Ernst Casimirlaan. Through this street the Canadians advanced to Noorderplantsoen.

A Canadian Firefly tank in the Ernst Casimirlaan

Overjoyed Groningers and relieved Canadian soldiers in the Ernst Casimirlaan.

During the liberation of the city of Groningen in April 1945 it was Noorderplantsoen that was used by the Germans as a defense line. Tijdens de bevrijding van de stad Groningen in april 1945 werd het Noorderplantsoen door de Duitse bezetters gebruikt als verdedigings gordel. The park was full of trenches, bunkers, landmines and snipers in the trees. Fierce fightings were made. Still today you can see traces of war. For example at this transformer house.

Music dome in the Noorderplantsoen

Around the music dome in the Noorderplantsoen there was a fierce battle. The Germans set up FLAK in the music drome. Probably so they could cover the surrounding area. But it went wrong. Because of the weight the gun sank through the floor.

This is FLAK 20mm gun, the Germans set up in the music drome in the Noorderplantsoen.
We listen to the story told by our guide about the fierce battle in and around Noorderplantsoen. Many Germans were burned by the use of flame-throwing Bren Carriers, called WASP
By the evening of 15 April 1945 the entire battalion of The Calgary Highlanders was in the Noorderplantsoen. In the storming of Noorderplantsoen one soldiers of  The Black Watch was killed. He was burried in Hoogkerk together with a soldier of the Calgary Highlanders.
Inconceivable that in this nice quite park were fierce fightings on 15 april 1945.

On Sunday 15 April 1945 dark clouds hang over the Herman Colleniusstraat.

The Germans had turned up the Herman Colleniusbridge. Later this bridge was lowered. There raged a battle of man against man, but Captain Hanna made sure the soldiers received their food, drinks and cigarettes. With a rowing boat he sailed rations in a safe place.

 

 

The water tower on the corner of Herman Colleniusstraat and Wassenberghstraat. A German sniper had taken charge of this tower. Therefore a 6-pounder anti-tank gun of the Calgary Highlanders fired a salvo at the water tower. The water tank was hit and a vast body of water flowed out of the tower.

Yet clearly the impacts are visible at the front of the water tower.

Feast of recognition: in this DAF YA-328 'Fat Daf' I drove often during my military service. It took us to the marvellous Liberation museum of Foundation Canadian Allied Forces at the Ulgersmaweg in Groningen.
Source: guide Battlefield Tours Groningen Northern-Sector