On Sunday, 29 April 2018 I participated in an impressive battlefield tour where we followed the operations of the Canadians in February 1945 during the advance towards the Rhine during Operation Veritable. The further the Allied forces entered Germany, the more violent the opposition became. The goal was the capture of Xanten. The terrain was difficult to pass and the weather was bad. We saw traces of the battle. The tour started at the Canadian cemetery in Groesbeek and went via Querdamm in the direction of Zyfflich to the Moylandse woods, Keppeln (beginning of Operation Blockbuster), the desperate defense from Veen to Xanten. We visited the Hochwald Gap. Our guide Edwin Popken of Battlefield Discovery told us a lot about this relatively unknown operation in the winter of 1945..
Operation Veritable, also known as the Battle of the Reichswald, was a military operation of the British 21st Army Group led by field marshal Bernard Montgomery during the Second World War. It was the northern half of a pincer movement to free the area between the Helm and the Rhine. The operation took place between February 8 and March 11, 1945..
Churchill tanks in the Reichswald
 
Background

The Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight Eisenhower had decided that the relatively flat northern Europe was the best route to Germany. This meant that allied troops had to advance along the entire Rhine along the entire Rhine.
The preparation of this operation was delayed by the splitting of troops to stop the German attack in the battle of the Ardennes.

 
Churchill tanks in Cleve
Churchill tank that functions as bridge layer in the Reichswald, 12 february 1945
Canadian soldier of the Calgary Highlanders in a conquered German trench in the Reichswald, 11 february 1945
Armoured Regiment (Fort Garry Horse) met infanterie van de Royal Regiment of Canada verzamelen zich ter voorbereiding van de aanval op Goch, 17 February 1945.
 
Target

The 21st Army Group at that time consisted of the British 2nd Army (formerly Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey), the Canadian 1st Army (formerly General Harry Crerar) and the American 9th Army (formerly Lieutenant General William H. Simpson). While the British second army would defend the northern flank, the fortified Canadian first army would push through the Reichswald to the Rhine. The American ninth army would carry out Operation Grenade, the southern half of the pincer movement.

Jagdpanther of the schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 655 destroyed by Canadians, Reichswald, March 1945
 
The Reichswald is a forest in the German-Dutch border region east of Nijmegen between the Rhine and the Meuse. At the time the operation was carried out, the ground had softened due to thaw, and therefore hardly suitable for vehicles..
Soldiers of the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders and Churchill tanks in the Reichswald, 10 february 1945
Bren Carriers of the  2nd Seaforth Highlanders in the Reichswald, 10 february 1945
 
The battle
 
Operation Veritable began on 8 February 1945. The next two days the Germans blew dams in the Ruhr and the Urft, causing the Ruhr downstream for about two weeks and The British second and Canadian first army were able to make progress through heavy fighting on a narrow strip of land between the Meuse and the Waal east of Nijmegen. But the American ninth could not continue until the water had withdrawn. The Canadians won the battle in the Reichswald in the meantime. During the two weeks that the river was flooded, Hitler did not want Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt to retire behind the Rhine. After all, it would only mean delaying an inevitable fight.
On February 23, 1945, the water had withdrawn so far that the American ninth army could cross the River Ruine. Other allied troops had also approached the west bank of the Rhine. The army of Von Rundstedt was subsequently defeated and 290,000 German soldiers were captured. On March 25, 1945, after heavy bombing, the liberation of the foreign forced laborers in Camp Rees followed.After the fight, the 34th armored brigade wrote an evaluation report about their own part of the battle in the forest
 

On 23 March 1945 British soldiers make use of Buffalo’s to cross the 500 meter wide river north of Xanten.

 
As the Allies advanced further on German territory, the resistance of the German defenders became heavier. But also the difficult terrain, rain and mud proved to be as heavy opponents as the Germans themselves. The British and Canadians had to fight hard for every meter of land that was fanatically defended by the Germans. The British and Canadians often saw their toughest battles here throughout the campaign in Western Europe. Illustrious names such as Reichswald, Kleve, Goch, Gennep, Kalkar Heights, Keppeln, Hochwald, The Hochwald Gap, Veen and Xanten would forever be etched into the memory.
Infantry of the North Shore Regiment climbing on a buffalo during Operation Veritable
 
The Allies lost 23,000 men during the operation. The Germans had 38,000 deaths and injuries and another 52,000 Germans were made prisoners of war.
 
The Battlefield Tour
 
We gathered in the parking place of the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek. There we got an information folder. Then we were given a tour of the cemetery where Canadian soldiers are buried who died in the places we visited during the tour during Operation Veritable.
 
Canadian War Cemetery Groesbeek
 
We started the battlefield tour with an impressive visit to the Canadian war cemetery in Groesbeek. Our guide showed us several graves of Canadians who were killed during Operation Veritable and Operation Blockbuster. I was particularly impressed by the fact that he showed us the photo of the Canadian soldier buried there at a few graves, and then the war comes very close.
Memorial wall with the names of missing Canadian soldiers..
We heard at the grave of Sergeant Janicki of the Canadian Scottish Regiment that he had been killed at the Battle of Querdamm. He was the only soldier who still actively participated in the fighting since landing at Juno Beach on 6 June 1944. All his mates had now been killed, wounded or captured.

Aubrey Cosens Because of his heroism, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, which was rarely awarded by General Montgomery.

To conclude our visit to the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek I made these two photos. Impressive to see all those graves of brave Canadian soldiers who gave their lives for our freedom.
 
Wyler
 
The first place we visited during this tour was the village of Wyler, just across the border. The village was severely damaged when it was taken by Canadian troops of the 2nd Canadian division on 8 February 1945, during Operation Veritable. 17 Canadian soldiers lost their lives. The church tower of the old church was lost but was restored after the war. The guide told about the fierce fighting on the junction of roads in the form of a pie point where we found ourselves. He showed a photo of Wyler then, with passing Canadian vehicles.
Aerial view of Wyler in 1945
 
Querdamm
 
From the Querdamm the Canadians went towards Zyfflich.
Operation Veritable started on 7 February 1945. Thirty-five thousand Allied vehicles moved into De Ooijpolder. In defense, the occupiers blew up the Erlecomsedam, Kapitteldijk and the Querdamm. The area was inundated with two meters high water. The next day from Nijmegen, two brigades from the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division with Buffalo's de Ooijpolder and Duffelt moved in and liberated Leuth. The operation would continue until 11March 1945.
Here we heard about the events at Querdamm. The Germans had blown up this dam and the Candadians, including Sergeant Janicki of the Canadian Scottish Regiment, moved away from here to Zyfflich. Unfortunately Sergeant Janicki was killed at this location. He was the only Canadian soldier who actively participated in the fighting since landing at Juno Beach on June 6, 1944. All his mates had now been killed, wounded or captured.
General H.D.G. Crerar (left) and Major-General D.C. Spry (centre) discussing with Marshal Bernard Montgomery (right) before launching Operation Blockbuster, the offensive against the Hochwald Forest, February 23rd, 1945.
The Canadians are ready to enter Germany.
Universal carriers of the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders in the Reichswald forest, 10 February 1945.
Often it is true that where the fights took place everything is in peace and beautiful nature is present. These cows showed interest in what we were doing, while we listened to the explanation of the fighting at the Querdamm.
 
Amphibian operation Niel
 
Infantrymen of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles en route from Niel to Keeken, Germany as a part of Operation Veritable, 9 February 1945
Niel is a village in the German municipality of Kranenburg. A church and a few farms. In February 1945 the village and its surroundings were flooded because the Germans had blown up the dams and the water of the Rhine had entered the area. The farms in the village stood on mounds and were fiercely defended by the Germans. Our guide said that the Canadians used their buffalo's amphibious vehicles on a large scale and even spoke of a fleet.
Canadian amphibious vehicles in Niel, where they had to fight hard for every farm in the dark and under severe weather conditions.
Here we stand in front of the church in Niel, where we got an explanation about the fighting from farm to farm. The village was under water, just like the surroundings. The farms stood on mounds and were strongly defended by the Germans.
 
Opening day Blockbuster - The Battle of Keppeln
 
After the conquest of the Reichswald, the Canadians further advanced towards Xanten. Operation Blockbuster was the sequel to Operation Veritable from the Kleef area.
 
The area where we were the battlefield tour was seen from the sky full of bomb craters.
Now the arable land with windmills.
There are hardly any monuments in this area. This is one that we see while listening to our guide about the battle of Keppeln on the opening day of Operation Blockbuster.
 
Lt-Col John William Rowley, CO, the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment, was awarded the DSO for his action at Keppeln
Major John Wilson Powell, 1st Hussars, was awarded the DSO for his action at Keppeln
Moyland castle Then and Now.
 
8-21 February 1945: Battle of Moyland Wood

The Canadian Scottish Regiment belonged to the 7th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. From Nijmegen they fought with the help of amphibious vehicles in the flooded Ooijpolder towards Kleve. After the conquest of Kleve they were used to conquer the forests around Castle Moyland, where the German troops offered strong resistance for days. This 16th century castle, once the home of Fredrik the Great (Frederick II of Prussia), was used as headquarters by the Wehrmacht.
From the castle one had a good view of the surrounding area, which was also strongly defended. The German soldiers were safely behind a moat and the meter-thick walls, so that the battle for the castle itself lasted until February 21st. Then Schloss Moyland, surprisingly enough without any resistance, was taken by the Canadians. They found an almost deserted castle until they found the Baroness (Marie von Hahn) in working spaces together with a few family members and a number of farmers and citizens of the immediate area. They had spent all the time, even during the intense artillery attacks in the cellars of the castle.
Our guide shows us an aerial view of the forests of Moyland. Frontal attacks on the enemy yielded nothing except heavy losses. Finally, a systematic conquest of the area was chosen.
Here we are in the forest of Moyland. In fact, little has changed in the forest.
 
The Canadian Scottish Regiment was drawn in the meantime (from the 18th) over the open terrain between Bedburg-Hau and Louisendorf to attack from the south. The enemy was prepared for the attack and had a well-defensible position from the forest.
This, together with violent German artillery fire from the east bank of the Rhine, made the conquest of the 'Moyland Woods' and then the achievement of the important points 'Heselerfeld' and 'Rosskamp' a very difficult task. Eventually on 21 February, with the help of 'Wasp' flamethrower tanks and the invocation of 'Typhoon' fighter planes equipped with rickets, the heavily defended forest could be taken. This allowed the road Goch-Kalkar to be opened and the offensive continued towards Xanten.
The battle for 3 kilometers of forest ultimately lasted several days and cost many victims. The '7th Infantry Brigade' alone had 485 victims in only 6 days. The Canadian Scottish Regiment had 168 victims (Regimental size was approximately 800 men). Here in the Canadian cemetery are the 37 fallen soldiers of this Regiment of this battle.
 
The Hochwald Gap
 
 
The 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Division started the Battle of the Hochwald Gap, with the aim of taking the Hochwald position and then to advance with Operation Blockbuster to Xanten. Until now General Crerar's army had been fighting for the time being with infantry divisions, but now the 4th Canadian and the British 11th Armored Division were also involved in the plans. On February 22, General Simonds presented his plan to the division commanders to attack the enemy at full strength rather than to reinforce each time on a small scale. The goal was a frontal attack over the ridge running in a south-westerly direction from Kalkar past Uedem, to advance towards Xanten and Weel after breaking the strong enemy Hochwald line. This would complete the second and third phase of operation Veritable. It was necessary to have the hill from Kalkar to Uedem firmly in hand to strike counterattacks from the east.
Not only with Operation Market Garden, but also in previous phases of Operation Veritable, the advance of the XXX Corps was delayed due to supply problems. Therefore, much attention was paid to the choice of the best approach. The most obvious was the northern axis of Moyland - Kalkar - Xanten. Also the southern route through Goch, Kervenheim and Sonsbeck should be used by the XXX Corps. In the center, the Goch - Xanten railway line ran over a strong slope, free from mines and demolitions. The genius would remove the railway and make the slope suitable for traffic as the troops advanced. The 2nd Canadian Division under the command of Major-General Bruce Mattheus, who had to start the offensive at 4.30 am on 26 February, would start the operation on the plateau immediately south of Kalkar. An important goal in itself, but the attack on this spot could deceive the enemy and arouse the expectation of an attack through the northern axis, which would cause the enemy to send reserves in that direction and thus the side of Uedem of the ridge would be more vulnerable. to make. With the support of two regiments of the 2nd Canadian Armored Brigade, the division had to use two brigades on either side of the road from Gogh to launch the attack. At the same time on Matthew's right flank a battalion of the 8th Canadian Division would occupy the higher ground north of Keppeln, a fortified village between Kalkar and Uedem. In the second phase of Operation Blockbuster, the 3rd Canadian Division of Major-General Spry would conquer Keppeln with the rest of its 8th Brigade, while two kilometers to the east would take the 4th Canadian Armored Division between the 2nd and 3rd Infantry Divisions to the south. grow up to conquer the ridge to Todthenhügel. In the third phase, the advance of the police force had to be continued in a southerly direction, whereby pry would deploy the 9th Infantry Brigade against Uedem, which would also be threatened from the Northeast by the 4th Armored Brigade. The 11th Armored Division would then simultaneously move south along Uedem to take the southern tip of the ridge, which ended northeast of Kervenheim. The final phase consisted of a brushed outbreak in the east. The infantry brigade of the 4th Armored Division had to cross the ridge to the east of Uedem and advance across the plain to take position on both sides of the railway at the location where it ran through the Hochwald opening. The 11th Armored Division was to follow its advance in the south-eastern direction, take Sonsbeck and leave a reinforcement on the plateau. The two Canadian infantry divisions had to follow directly behind the armored divisions and protect their right flank. The armored units were sent to Xanten and Wesel. The operation was supported by a huge amount of artillery. All available devices were used for blockbuster air support. Prior to Operation Blockbuster it was relatively quiet at the front of the 1st Canadian Armey. Silence before the storm. Meanwhile, the Americans began operation Grenade on February 23, 1945, which was often postponed due to flooding of the river Roer. They crossed the Roer and had a strong bridgehead on the other side of the river on 26 February 1945
 
This old tree. What has it seen in the time?
The Alonquin moves forward in the area of ​​the Hochwald on 1 March 1945, in preparation for the heavy battle in the Hochwald Opening the next day.
On the edge of the Hochwald. Canadians came over the adjacent field. In this forest, the German trenches are still clearly visible in which their positions were found.
The Canadians came to the Germans in this field. They were in the woods that are visible in the distance.
Clearly visible are the trenches built by the Germans in the defense line. The line was manned by paratroopers of the II. Bataillon of the Fallschirmjäger Regiment 18 of the 6. Fallschirmjäger Division.
View from the then German position on the Canadian positions in the opposite forest. The Canadians approached the still existing arable land.
On the way to where the actual Hochwald Opening is located. We walked through a farmland, which the farmer in question did not like. But when he learned what the reason for our stay on his land was, he became a lot friendlier and he could show understanding for our presence. We also went off from his country because of course it must all remain nice during a battlefield tour.
View of the Hochwald Gap.
Behind the woods the towers of Xanten are visible.
Nature was beautiful. Beautiful rapeseed fields.
I also saw a reminder of the time of the GDR: A trabant.
The field at the hotel served as a temporary cemetery for 26 fallen Canadians of the Essex Scottish Regiment of Tilston's company who were killed on 1 March 1945. In 1946 they were transferred to the Canadian war cemetery in Groesbeek.
Monument near the tunnel under the embankment at Uedemerbruch.
OAt the location of the Hochwald Gap we saw where the railway ran and removed by the Canadian engineers so that military traffic could use it. The whole area was full of bomb craters, mines and barriers.
Finally we were on the access road to Xanten, the target of the Canadian offensive. We saw the towers of the entrance gate.
View of the Roman museum of Xanten.

At the time of this battlefield tour, the latest issue of '40 -'45 was published. Then & Now was largely dedicated to the Battle of the Hochwald Opening.