|On 1 July 2018 he took part in a battlefield tour of Battlefield Discovery by Edwin Popken on the theme of Operation Veritable (the British sector). Previously done with him the Canadian sector, so this was a nice addition to the whole.|
battlefield tour started at this mill in Groesbeek. In the hood of
this mill was planned the spring offensive of 1945 during which
400,000 British and Canadian soldiers under the command of the
Canadian General Harry Crerar had freed the Rhineland up to Wesel
and made it possible for the Allied Army to cross the Rhine and put
an end to the war. First, on January 21st, the Corps Commanders
Lt-Gen Simonds (2nd Canadian) and Lt-Gen Horrocks (30th UK) climbed
up the roof to compare their maps with the terrain and to set tasks
for the divisions. Then dozens of officers of division commanders
came up to the peleton leaders to study the ground situation where
from the attack would start on the 8th February under the fiercest
barrage during WW2 executed. The crucial role of this mill as the
primary observation post for artillery in the advanced area behind
Nijmegen is settled in the Guns of Victory written by George G
Blackburn who, as an artillery explorer, spent much of the winter of
1944-45 in her hood.
It was in that sense a special tour
that I was the only participant together with my wife, but that did
not detract from the quality of the tour. Our guide gave us a good
idea of the course of the battle, during which the tour started on
Dutch territory in Groesbeek, then it went to the nearby Reichswald,
Gennep (North Limburg) and finally to Goch. It can be concluded that
the scale of Operation Veritable was even larger than that of the
allied landings in Normandy. The operation started on 8 February
1945 and took place under severe conditions: rain and mud. But also
areas had been flooded by the Germans by blowing up dams in the Ruhr
and Urft, causing the rudder to move downstream for about two weeks
and in some places to become more than 2 kilometres wide. The aim of
this large-scale operation was to expel the German armies from the
west bank of the Rhine.
The operation was led by the British General Montgomery (left) and the Canadian General Crerar (right).
Operation Veritable started with the largest artillery bombardment of the campaign in North-West Europe.
This heavy artillery bombardment lasted five and a half hours.
Then the British and Canadians had to fight for every metre of land defended by the Germans. The Germans were so fanatical because there was now fighting on the territory of the Reich.
The British and Canadians often saw their toughest battles here from the whole campaign in Western Europe. Illustrious names such as Reichswald, Kleve, Goch, Gennep, Kalkar Heights, Keppeln, Hochwald, The Hochwald Gap, Veen and Xanten would be engraved in their heads forever. No fewer than 23,000 allied victims (including Americans) were saddened. The Canadians called this battle their worst on the western front and spoke of conditions and tactics reminiscent of the First World War. The Germans had lost more than 90,000 troops. For them, this battle went down in history as the largest tank battle in western Germany.
|British tanks in the Reichswald.|
|Bridge-laying tanks were used to bridge obstacles such as trenches or impassable stretches of road in order to accelerate further.|
The British second and Canadian first army were able to make progress on a narrow strip of land between the Meuse and the Waal to the east of Nijmegen as a result of fierce fighting. But the American ninth could not go any further until the water had withdrawn. In the meantime, the Canadians won the battle in the Reichswald.
|Much of the area was flooded by the Germans. The British and Canadians therefore used buffalo amphibious vehicles.n.|
During the two weeks that the
river had been flooded, Hitler did not want to allow Field Marshal
Gerd von Rundstedt to withdraw behind the Rhine. On 23 February the
water had retreated to such an extent that the ninth American army
could cross the Ruhr. Other allied troops had also approached the
west bank of the Rhine. Von Rundstedt's army was subsequently
defeated and 290,000 German soldiers were captured...
|At the beginning of February 1945, the German 1st Parachute Army under the command of General Schlemm was located behind the northern end of the Westwall. This line of defence, consisting of a network of bunkers, trenches, barbed wire blocks and dragon's teeth, was to be broken by the British 51st Highland Division. The nickname of the 51st Highland Division was "Highway Decorators". We had a look at the area where the division's positions were located and heard how they finally broke through the German lines with armoured personnel vehicles. Then we drove to the Reichswald. General Schlemm expected an attack by the Reichswald and he had positioned his troops in such a way as to absorb the allied offensive. General Schlemm realized that the forest neutralized the allied air force and mobility. It was to be an infantry fight. There were hardly any roads in the forest and moreover all roads were unpaved. From January 1945 he started the construction of three lines of defence in the Reichswald. A screen of outposts from Wyler via the Groesbeek hills to the Meuse formed the first line on the western edge of the forest. Villages and walled farms were converted into reinforced points. Such a walled farm that had been converted into a fortified point was Thomashof, who we would visit later that day.|
|Attack on the main structure Siegfriedline near Nütterden by the 15th Scottish Division|
|Our first point of discussion was at the point where we had a view of the village of Nütterden, where the spur of the Siegfriedlinie was located. There were two bunkers, barbed wire barriers and trenches. The 15th Scottish Division of the King Own's Scottish Borderers (KOSB), not to be confused with those who fought at Arnhem, had been given the task of breaking through the Siegfriedl Line here. They were selected for this because, since the invasion of Normandy, they had gained experience in bringing forward infantry in armoured personnel vehicles. A new phenomenon introduced by the Canadians. It was Shermantanks from which the dome was removed and from which the infantrymen could be transported. They did not have to walk in front of the tanks from or behind the tanks or be transported on the tanks to get to the lines quickly. This made them very vulnerable and by now there had been a shortage of troops because of the long supply lines. So this seemed to be the solution, which is still being applied today in the army.|
|We saw this system of trenches in the Reichswald.|
|When we walked into the Reichswald we saw traces of the war in the form of a parapet and a trench. We heard of heroic acts by the British soldiers, who often had to fight man to man against the German opponent, in particular Lieutenant Messenger. He was wounded several times, but nevertheless fought on and directed his men. In the end, he had to be transported away with serious injuries.|
|The Allies concentrated their attacks in the direction of Goch and Glue, but the Germans had buried themselves well. Inundations and weather conditions hampered the allied advance. Rain and thaw made the forest almost impassable. The 7th Parachute division offered fierce resistance and every bunker, farm and moat had to be conquered. The armoured grenadiers of the 15th Armoured Grenadier Division counter-attacked, but the Canadians held out. Attack and counterattack varied, but the allied dominance was too great.|
|The Canadian 1st Army had tanks specially designed for this type of fighting. With the Crab, a Sherman tank equipped with a flail, the Canadians made their way through the minefields.|
|At the same time, Churchill Crocodiles, a tank equipped with a flamethrower, stormed the German positions. Slowly the Germans were driven back to the east. On 17 February 1945 the British XXXth Corps reached Goch.|
|Visit to the Reichswald War Cemetery near Kleef and the German War Cemetery near Weeze|
What I remember most of all is the visit to two war cemeteries. The
Reichswald Forest War Cemetery near Kleve and the German cemetery
near Weeze. I was shocked by the huge contrast between the two
cemeteries. The British cemetery as we are used to: well cared for.
|BWhat is special about these graves is that it is not clear who exactly is who, so these stones are placed arbitrarily close to each other.|
At every grave there was a rose.
|In the case of a war grave in the Commonwealth, the same classification is always used: First the regimental weapon, then the ranking number, rank, name and the part to which the deceased belonged. Then the date of death and age, then a cross or a star of Jews if the deceased is of Jewish descent. Finally, a personal text from the relatives.|
|But I was shocked by the German war cemetery, which was very neglected (ugly grass, weathered gravestones). Okay, it was 'the enemy' 75 years ago, but in my opinion the often very young boys don't deserve this (many boys were less than 18 years old). I did not expect that to happen. Nevertheless, we also found the visit to the German war cemetery very impressive.|
De bevrijding van Gennep
|Luchtfoto van Gennep.|
|In Gennep we used lunch in a restaurant located at a crossroads that was an important point during the battles for the conquest of Gennep. Along Gennep the river De Niers. then flows wider than it is today. Gennep was liberated by Scottish troops during Operation Veritable. Via Groesbeek, Milsbeek and Gennep they launched an attack on the German city of Goch. This operation required a permanent supply of troops and equipment. The 51st Highland Division was responsible for the southern flank of the entire area of operations. The final objective was the purification of the Reichswald and control of the Mook-Gennep-Ottersum-Grunewald motorway. The battalions 5th Black Watch and 51st Gordon Highlanders were used alongside the Canadians. For them, the operation started on 8 February at 8.00 a.m. The Canadians fought on the Plasmolian hills. The fight to drive the fanatical Germans out of the hills lasted to the darkness. The next morning, at De Diepen, the Black Watch descended the hills to the flat land of Milsbeek, crossed by trenches. The aim was to gain possession of the national road N271. Units fought their way towards Maria Roepaan, other sections had to get from house to house to the national road at 't Töpke. The Wehrmacht has been able to prepare itself for these atrocities for months. It took the Scots two days to break the tough resistance here. And if you control it on February 10, soldiers who hid in the veranda of the then café 'Oud Buitenzicht' will see the 200 metres further up on the Niersbrug go up in front of their eyes. This entrance to Gennep was blocked. The British genius knew an answer to this by building the famous Bailey bridge between Often and Gennep.|
|British underground HQ in Gennep 14 February 1945.|
|Streetfightings in Gennep.|
|British sniper with a Lee-Enfield.|
|A sniper 'C' Company, 5th Battalion, The Black Watch, 51st (Highland) Division, in position in een destroyed building in Gennep, 14 February 1945.|
|Een Engelse enters the Picardie house.|
|Het destroyed station of Gennep.|
|German prisoners of war in the Arensbergen Spoorstraat.|
|German prisoners of war on the corner Nijmeegseweg-Ottersumseweg.|
|The people ofGennep celebrate their liberation.|
|A bailey bridge between Oeffelt and Gennep crossing the Niers.|
|Niers bridge blown by the Germans is removed by the British engineers.|
|Bailey bridge over the Niers at Gennep|
|A jeep met with the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is driving on theBailey bridge between Oeffelt and Gennep over de Niers. Also Field Marshall Montgomery can be seen.|
Schaddenhof and Yorkshire bridge
|The points of discussion were the Schaddenhof and the nearby Mühlenfleuth bridge, after the war this bridge was nicknamed the Yorkshire bridge, because it was heavily fought by the East Yorkshire division. The bridge is located over the Muhlen Fleut river near the Schaddenhof. The East Yorkshire Regiment fought hard for this bridge that ran over it. Bridges were vital in the remaining road network. After all, much of the area was under water. The bridge on the Goch-Weeze road was blown up. The Yorkshire bridge was in tact miracle above miracle. But it was attacked from all sides and had to be fiercely defended by the East Yorkshire Regiment. The attacks were carried out by fanatical fallshirmjägers who were active in that area. Because of the heroic actions of the East Yorkshire Regiment to hold the bridge in its hands, as part of a vital route, this bridge has been nicknamed the Yorkshire Bridge.|
|Churchill tanks drive along a badly damaged street in Kleve, 12 February 1945.|
|Sherman Firefly tanks move through the ruins of Kleve on their way to suport the attack on Goch, 16 February 1945.|
|A Universal carrier and Humber scout car with infantry of 43rd (Wessex) Division during the advance on Goch, 17 February 1945.|
|Vickers machine gunners of the 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment, 15th (Scottish) Division, lay down harassing fire in support of forward elements during the battle for Goch, 20 February 1945.|
|British Bren Gun Carrier driving through the demolished city of Goch|
|Maria-Magdalena kerk on the severe damaged market place of Goch.|
This city was the ultimate goal of the British offensive. The attack was launched by the 5 Black Watch. In the centre, we were reminded of the basement shutters beneath the houses from where the defenders fired fiercely. The Germans had built a defensive belt around the city to defend the north side of Goch. In the centre of Goch we went into the defense of the city and the attacks from all over the world to conquer the city. During the night of 7 to 8 February 1945 and a few days later, on 12 February 1945, the city was bombed from the air. During the battle of the Reichswald, which was fought around Kleve from 7 to 22 February 1945, the city received its share of street battles and artillery bombardment. Nearly eighty percent of the buildings were destroyed in this short period of time. The allied supreme command believed that there was a belt of bunkers around the city. This may have influenced the decision to carry out the heavy bombing. The aim of the subsequent land offensive was to cross the Rhine near Wesel in order to enter the Ruhr area.