This Week in History
The Battle of the Scheldt – Victory on the Dykes
For the week of Monday November 5, 2007
On November 9, 1944, the Battle of the Scheldt ended. This Second World War victory by the Canadian First Army opened the port of Antwerp, Belgium, allowing the Allies to shorten their supply lines by several hundred kilometres and to continue their liberation of Europe.
The 1st Canadian Army, consisting of Canadian, British, and Polish divisions, achieved their objectives after eight weeks of constant battle waged through towns and countryside, across canals, flooded plains, dykes, rivers, and the open sea, against territory strongly and fiercely defended by a determined enemy. Canada suffered a staggering 6,367 casualties (killed, wounded, missing) so it was befitting that the first supply ship to reach Antwerp was the Canadian-built Fort Cataraqui.
Opening the Scheldt Estuary involved several major operations. Operation Switchback cleared the Breskens pocket north of the Leopold Canal. Operation Vitality secured South Beveland Island. Operation Infatuate captured Walcheren Island, and Operation Calendar cleared mines from the estuary. While operations are intrinsic components of any battle, they are successful only through the combined efforts of many military personnel.
Individuals such as Lance Corporal P.C. Thibeau (North Nova Scotia Highlanders), three times wounded in Europe, who was one of the ‘water rats’ that made the first amphibious landing on the Breskens Pocket and cleared the south shore of the estuary. Sergeant “Moe” Hurwitz (Canadian Grenadier Guards, Montréal), twice decorated for valour and one of five brothers serving in the war, fought, was injured and captured near Bergen-op-Zoom, and later died in a German POW camp. Sergeant G.R. Crockett (Calgary Highlanders) won the Distinguished Conduct Medal for leading a group of eight volunteers that captured and held the first Allied bridgehead across the Albert Canal. Downed Canadian RAF pilot Douglas Jennings, remained hidden in Belgium for 37 days, until rescued by the Lincoln and Welland Regiment of St. Catherines. Lieutenant R.H. Goepel’s company (British Columbia Regiment) attacked and was credited with sinking several fleeing German ships at Zipje harbour.
These five stories are taken from the more than 100,000 Canadians that served in the Canadian First Army during the Scheldt campaign. They represent the contributions of all fighting soldiers along with that of the padres, doctors, nurses, drivers, signalmen, photographers, cooks, butchers, mechanics, paymasters, foresters, and engineers that supported them. For their sacrifices and efforts in opening the port of Antwerp and commencing the liberation of the Netherlands, the Battle of the Scheldt was designated a National Historic Event in 2005.
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