Chapter 18: The Battle of the Rhineland, Part I: Operation VERITABLE, 8–21 February 1945
(See Map 10 and Sketches 36 and 37)
The Battle Area
As it made ready to launch its Rhineland offensive, the First Canadian Army, not for the first time, faced a difficult and disagreeable battlefield.
In the succession of directives and orders which were issued at all levels from army group down to battalion, the oft-repeated phrase “to destroy the enemy between the Maas and the Rhine” defined the battle area. At his final objective, the line Xanten–Geldern, General Crerar could contemplate a front of twenty miles between the two rivers. But 40 miles downstream, where the Army’s present front line crossed them, Mook, on the Maas, was only six miles from Nijmegen, on the Waal. To reach their forward assembly areas in the restricted space about Nijmegen, all formations of the 30th Corps except the two Canadian divisions already in position had to cross the Maas, as well as the Maas-Waal Canal two miles west of Nijmegen. The movement would require a strict schedule of traffic control over the bridges at Mook, Grave and Ravenstein.
Within these natural boundaries General Crerar faced other limitations on manoeuvre. Although both river beds had been regulated into single, navigable channels, each was flanked by a wide flood plain in which backwaters, marsh and abandoned channels provided effective obstacles to movement. These flats were subject to inundation when excessive rainfall, such as had prevailed that winter, produced an unusually high water level in the rivers. Along the Maas, rising ground restricted the flooding to about 1000 yards on each side of the main stream; but in the Rhine and Waal flats the spread of the water was contained only by the winter dykes which stretched almost without interruption from the vicinity of Wesel down to Nijmegen, in general from one to three miles back from the river. Breaching these dykes would substantially increase the inundation; when this happened, as we shall see, the water in places encroached almost halfway to the Maas.
The greater part of the country between the rivers was open and gently undulating, largely arable, with a number of small woods. In general it was well suited
to armoured warfare. But just inside the German frontier the western end of this rolling plain was blocked by a large irregular forested area, some eight miles from west to east and four miles wide. This was the Reichswald. A dozen miles to the east the approach to Xanten was barred by the Hochwald and the Balberger Wald, which together formed a smaller belt of woods from one to three miles deep, extending six miles from north to south. The trees in these state forests were mostly young pines growing from four to seven feet apart. Each wooded area was divided into rectangular blocks by narrow rides, and there were occasional clearings where cutting had not been followed by replanting. Two paved roads crossed the Reichswald from north to south, converging on Hekkens, midway along the southern edge of the forest. None ran from west to east, so that military traffic in that direction would be dependent upon one-way tracks along the sandy rides, only some of which had been roughly metalled to make them passable for heavy timber trucks. Most of the Reichswald was level or gently rolling, but a curving ridge of high ground ran from Cleve through the northern and western portions, pivoting on the Branden Berg, a 300-foot hill in the north-west corner of the forest.
On either flank of the Reichswald topography again favoured a defending force. From the south-eastern angle of the forest the River Niers flowed westward across the rolling plain to enter the Maas below Gennep. Swollen by flooding and with its bridges blown, it formed a highly defensible obstacle. To the north a corridor of cultivated land about a mile wide ran between the edge of the woods and the Nijmegen-Cleve road (which marked the southern limit of the Waal flood plain). Towards Cleve this avenue narrowed considerably and was crossed by a number of low spurs which stepped up to the main Matterhorn ridge overlooking the city. Beyond Cleve the gap opened to give space to three roads which, diverging to the south-east and south through the widening plain, led to Calcar, Üdem* and Goch. Besides the Nijmegen-Cleve highway a second axis of advance was offered by the paved Mook-Goch road, which ran along the southern edge of the Reichswald, crossing the Niers at Kessel. At Gennep a road branched off to the south to follow the right bank of the Maas to Venlo.
The Enemy’s Defences
The Germans had laid out their defences in a businesslike manner, exploiting the advantages of terrain favourable to themselves, and concentrating their strength here the country seemed most inviting to an attacker. They depended on three main fortified zones, each extending southward from their secure Rhine flank. The foremost ran across the western face of the Reichswald from Wyler on the Cleve road to the Kiekberg woods east of Mook, turning thence south-eastward to pass through Gennep and continue along the east bank of the Maas. In the first Canadian Army’s sector this formidable outpost to the main Siegfried defences as based on a double series of trenches, covered in front of the Reichswald by
* Not to be confused with Uden in the Netherlands, where General Crerar’s headquarters was located.
an anti-tank ditch. Villages and farmhouses had been converted into strongpoints, and connecting trenches from front to rear linked the whole into an elaborate defence system which extended in depth 2000 yards or more from the forward minefields to the rear field works along the edge of the forest. The strongest parts of the line were about Wyler and the Kiekberg woods, where the two main roads were defended in considerable depth with road-blocks, dug-in anti-tank guns and short stretches of anti-tank ditch. In the floodable area north of the Nijmegen-Cleve road the defences were relatively light.
About three miles to the rear of these positions the northern end of the Siegfried Line constituted the second defence. The main belt crossed the Reichswald just east of the lateral road from Kranenburg to Hekkens. It then skirted the southern edge of the forest to Goch, where it turned south again to cover the approaches to Weeze, Kevelaer and Geldern. North of the Reichswald the corridor leading to Cleve was guarded by a succession of trench systems which reached back to positions on the high ground about Materborn. These were extended to the north by a system of field works which had been constructed across the flood plain from Donsbrüggen to Duffelward on the Alter Rhein. In addition a line recently developed about two miles east of the forest linked Cleve with Bedburg and Goch and completed the circle of all-round defence about the Reichswald area.
Work on this end of the West Wall (the actual German name for what we called the Siegfried Line) had never been completed, so that instead of the formidable concrete to be found farther south there were only field fortifications—described by the German commander in that sector as “a haphazard series of earthen dugouts”.1 The only concrete works were bunkers for sheltering personnel, and these were concentrated mainly in the Materborn area. The strongest parts of the line in the Canadian sector were to be found about Goch (which was protected on three sides by anti-tank ditches) and, as might be expected, in the defile north of the Reichswald. Here a concentration of fire positions which ran from the edge of the woods at Frasselt to the main Nijmegen-Cleve road was guarded by an anti-tank ditch which continued northward through Kranenburg and crossed the flood plain between Mehr and Niel to end at the Alter Rhein.
The enemy’s third major barrier in the Canadian Army’s path began at the Rhine* opposite Rees and ran southward in front of the Hochwald and Balberger Wald to Geldern and beyond. This “Hochwald Layback” consisted of two and sometimes three lines of entrenchments, from 600 to 1000 yards apart. Between these lines (except west of the Hochwald) ran an anti-tank ditch; and each trench system was further protected by a continuous belt of wire.
In recent months the Germans had attempted to bind these various defence positions into a single network in which a penetration at any point could be effectively sealed off. This aim had been best achieved in the Reichswald area, which had been split into a series of self-contained boxes enclosed by stretches of trench, ditch or river. Farther east, the emphasis had been on transforming the towns and
* The main stream of the Rhine retains this name to the area below Emmerich where it becomes the international boundary and is called the Bijlandsche Kanaal; below Millingen, where the Pannerdensche Kanaal (which shortly becomes the Neder Rijn) flows off to the north-west, the main stream is called the Waal.
villages between the West Wall and the Hochwald Layback into individual islands of resistance, each encircled by elaborate trenchworks and anti-tank ditches.2
At the beginning of February the Reichswald sector of the German front was held by Major-General Heinz Fiebig’s 84th Infantry Division, which formed the right wing of the 86th Corps (under General of Infantry Erich Straube) and indeed of General Schlemm’s First Parachute Army. Straube’s left wing was the 180th Infantry Division which was deployed along the Maas. Across the Rhine was the 88th Corps, of the Twenty-Fifth Army, with the 2nd Parachute Division as Fiebig’s immediate neighbour.3
The 84th Division brought no brilliant record with it into the Reichswald defences. Formed in Poland early in 1944 from the remnants of worn-out infantry divisions and large replacement units, it had been virtually destroyed in the Falaise Pocket. It was reconstructed in September, and at the beginning of February its strength was 10,000, the majority green troops inadequately armed and equipped.4 This would have allowed Fiebig to man his forward line with seven battalions only, but on 6 February he was given the 2nd Parachute Regiment from the 2nd Parachute Division. This well-equipped formation of 2000 men recently drafted from the Luftwaffe he placed between the western tip of the Reichswald and the Maas. Next to them came the three regiments of the 84th Division: across the face of the forest the 1062nd Grenadier Regiment; the 1051st Grenadier Regiment covering the corridor to the north, and the 1052nd guarding the Rhine flats on the extreme right. Fiebig held in the rear area the Sicherungs Battalion Münster (a small unit of elderly men normally employed on guarding static installations), and the 276th Magen (Stomach) Battalion, composed of personnel whose chronic digestive ailments ill fitted them for any active part in the defence. (Fiebig told interrogators that he had chosen the Magen Battalion in preference to an Ohren (Ear) Battalion, who were too deaf to hear “even the opening barrage of an attack”.) The only German armour in the Reichswald area was some 36 self-propelled assault guns of the 655th Heavy Anti-Tank Battalion. Fiebig’s total artillery resources numbered about 100 guns.5
Allied appreciations of these dispositions proved remarkably accurate. As to reserves available at short notice to the First Parachute Army, General Crerar’s headquarters foresaw the possibility of the 7th Parachute Division being east of the Reichswald, and farther afield the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, or its equivalent, which might be on hand within six hours of the assault.6 Actually part of the 7th Parachute Division was at Geldern, having been gradually edged that far north by General Schlemm, who claims to have vigorously opposed Army Group’s view at the Allied attack would be made in the Venlo area. General Blaskowitz was holding his armoured reserve, the 47th Panzer Corps, at Dulken, a dozen miles south-east of Venlo. Its two divisions, the 116th Panzer and the 15th Panzer Grenadier, had been badly mauled in the Ardennes battle and according to the Corps Commander, General Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz, were at little better than 50 per cent strength and could jointly muster no more than 90 tanks.7 As possible reinforcements for the whole front facing the three northern Allied armies,
Field-Marshal Montgomery’s intelligence staff estimated on 4 February that von Rundstedt might be able to assemble up to eleven Panzer and Panzer Grenadier divisions. Most of these, however, he would be forced to retain in the south to meet the American threat between Roermond and the Ardennes, or to send eastward to the Russian front.8
The Pattern of VERITABLE
As we have seen (above, page 457), the number and the expected strength of the enemy’s lines of organized defences had led General Crerar to plan Operation VERITABLE in distinct phases, with intervening pauses to allow him to regroup his assault forces and move forward his supporting artillery. His instructions to his Corps Commanders on 25 January9 confirmed that the operation would be carried out as originally outlined in his directive of 14 December. Naming the target date as 8 February, he laid down as a basis for planning the following principal phases and objectives:
Phase 1 The clearing of the Reichswald and the securing of the line Gennep–Asperden–Cleve.
Phase 2 The breaching of the enemy’s second defensive system east and south-east of the Reichswald, the capture of the localities Weeze–Üdem–Calcar–Emmerich and the securing of the communications between them.
Phase 3 The ‘break-through’ of the Hochwald ‘lay-back’ defence lines and the advance to secure the general line Geldern-Xanten.
The initial assault and the completion of the first phase would be the responsibility of Lieut.-General Horrocks’ 30th British Corps; thereafter, at a time to be settled by the Army Commander in consultation with Generals Horrocks and Simonds, the 2nd Canadian Corps would be committed on the left. Lieut.-General Sir John Crocker’s 1st British Corps, strung out along the lower Maas, had, we have seen, the task of keeping the enemy deluded into expecting an offensive against northern Holland.
Horrocks was faced with the necessity of blasting his way through three strong German defence lines. “There was”, he said later, “no room for manoeuvre and no scope for cleverness.” With the low-lying area on his left flank flooded by the Germans, and the Mook-Goch road on his right completely dominated from the southern edge of the Reichswald, his only promising axis of advance lay north of the forest, along the road through Kranenburg. The key to a successful breakthrough was the Materborn Gap—the narrow neck of high ground between the Reichswald and the town of Cleve. Given favourable going over frozen ground, the Corps Commander hoped to break through this gap before it could be closed by German reserves and to flood the plain east of the Reichswald with troops before enemy reinforcements arrived. It might even be possible “with any luck ... to seize the bridge over the Rhine at Wesel intact”.10 As we shall see, however, the Wesel bridges were among the targets of the Allied air forces.
The Corps plan provided for the initial assault to be delivered on the seven-mile front between the Maas and the Waal by five infantry divisions—from right
to left the 51st (Highland), the 53rd (Welsh), the 15th (Scottish) and the 2nd and 3rd Canadian. The first four would attack simultaneously at 10:30 a.m. on D Day; the 3rd Canadian Division’s operations on the northern flank would not start before evening. When the Scottish Division in the centre had secured the Materborn feature it was Horrocks’ intention to bring forward the 43rd (Wessex) Division and the Guards Armoured Division from corps reserve and pass them through the gap to debouch into the open country south of Cleve—the 43rd directed on Goch and the Guards on Üdem.11
The assaulting formations would be supported by unusually large artillery resources, for the Corps Commander was determined to blast a way into the German defences with gunfire. However, the guns, in the interest of surprise, would not fire until the morning of the attack. The fire plan was required to provide for an immense though brief artillery preparation programme which would prevent any enemy interference with the initial assault; complete saturation of the German defences and the destruction or neutralization of their concrete emplacements; then immediate supporting fire for the attacking infantry and armour, and the employment of the medium and heavy guns in such a way as to cover the deep penetration to the Materborn feature without involving the batteries in any major moves.12
Weather permitting, VERITABLE was to benefit by air support on the maximum scale. Planning for the air operations was carried out by Headquarters No. 84 Group RAF in conjunction with Army and Corps Headquarters. Because of the unreliability of the weather and the impossibility of forecasting conditions more than twenty-four hours ahead, it was originally agreed that D Day might be postponed one day to allow for the provision of air support.13 On 1 February however, as we have seen, a decision of SHAEF that VERITABLE would definitely commence on the 8th (above, page 457) ended the possibility of waiting for good flying weather.14
The air forces assigned to the operation included heavy bombers of the RAF Bomber Command and the United States Eighth Air Force, medium bombers of No. 2 Group of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, and fighter bombers of Nos. 83 and 84 Groups and the US Ninth Air Force. To achieve the close coordination essential to the gigantic effort a representative authorized to make decisions on behalf of Bomber Command was attached to No. 84 Group during the planning and execution of the operation. Requests to SHAEF for the support of the Eighth Air Force were channelled through HQ 2nd Tactical Air Force.
The air plan provided for both pre-planned and impromptu air support. Before the VERITABLE D Day railways, bridges and ferries leading to the battle area and elected enemy supply dumps would be bombed, care being taken not to indicate the actual point of attack. Heavy bombers of the Eighth Air Force would attempt to put out of action the rail and road bridges across the Rhine at Wesel. On the Might of 7-8 February the towns of Cleve and Goch were to be completely destroyed by Bomber Command. Cratering in these cities was to be accepted as unavoidable; but this was not the case in a number of villages and small towns in forward as which were selected for attack by night intruders using incendiary and anti-personnel bombs.
On D Day itself the main air task was the destruction and demoralization of the enemy in the defences barring the northern corridor. The question of whether to accept cratering here posed a special problem. The military plan demanded that the bombing of these positions be followed by rapid exploitation by mechanized forces, but the RAF warned that cratering was inevitable if a type of bomb was used sufficiently heavy to deal effectively with the concrete installations on the Materborn Ridge. Horrocks agreed to accept the possibility of shallow cratering on the Materborn feature, but not at Nutterden; there enemy troops in the open would be attacked with airburst bombs.15 In submitting the air plan to the 2nd Tactical Air Force the commander of No. 84 Group, Air Vice-Marshal E. C. Hudleston, stressed the significance of the Nutterden and Materborn targets. He defended the apparently uneconomical employment of medium and heavy bombers against these defences, pointing out that fighter-bombers were heavily committed on other tasks, and that “any effort which demoralizes the enemy and at the same time raises the spirits of our own assaulting troops” would not be wasted.16 As the battle developed it would be the task of No. 83 Group to deal with any counter-effort by the Luftwaffe and to isolate the battlefield by maintaining the programme of interdiction in the enemy’s rear areas across the Rhine. No. 84 Group would operate over the battlefield itself, providing reconnaissance, close support, and “protection of ground forces”, and striking pre-arranged targets—enemy headquarters, communications and ammunition reserves.17
Great care was taken to ensure the 30th Corps effective impromptu air support once the battle had begun. Since No. 84 Group was operating with General Horrocks’ Corps for the first time, machinery had to be set up for submitting targets and obtaining prompt and appropriate action. Staffs of ground formations were briefed in the procedure for submitting targets by the wireless and line communications of the 1st Canadian Air Support Signal Unit. At Corps Headquarters a Forward Control Post would operate a “cab rank” of fighter-bombers overhead, sending these in succession against accepted targets. It would be supplemented by a Mobile Radar Control Post, to be used for directing aircraft in bad weather. Because of the large number of formations that would be participating in Operation VERITABLE, arrangements were made for contact cars to be deployed to headquarters of divisions. These mobile wireless links would serve as visual control posts and might be allotted aircraft by the Forward Control Post against specific targets, and in special circumstances given a small cab rank of their own.18
Since VERITABLE had to be a frontal attack, it was imperative that every effort be made to gain surprise. The cover plan, as we have seen, was calculated to keep the enemy’s eyes on the 1st British Corps over in the west. To be effective it required the most careful concealment on the real battlefront. Here security measures had been stringently enforced during the vast administrative build-up (above, page 458). No daylight movement was permitted east of the ‘s-Hertogenbosch-Helmond Canal except for reconnaissance parties, and these, with formation patches removed from battledress, had to cross the Maas in Canadian vehicles accompanied by Canadian liaison officers. As the assaulting formations moved from their places of concentration to the forward assembly
area a Special Traffic Office employing 1600 men maintained rigid controls along all roads.19 To keep the roads clear for the arriving formations, no 2nd Canadian Division vehicle was allowed to move during darkness without the signature of a brigadier.20 An elaborate camouflage programme was devised to hide from hostile eyes the large concentration of artillery in the areas east and south of Nijmegen, and the huge quantities of stores, ammunition and petrol involved in the pre-battle dumping programme. Obviously dummy gun-positions were erected, the dummies being quietly replaced by real pieces as the build-up proceeded. A camouflage pool of specialist officers from Headquarters 21st Army Group directed the siting of ammunition in unrecognizable groupings which simulated hedgerows, kitchen garden plots and irregular patches of scrub. The Allied air forces were warned that the area about Arnhem and Nijmegen was closed to all aircraft up to 16,000 feet and that violations would draw intense anti-aircraft fire.21
Such were the infinite pains taken to deceive the enemy. “Odd though it may seem”, remarked General Horrocks afterwards, “we did achieve surprise.”22
First Canadian Army Goes Into Germany
The offensive opened early on 8 February. Luckily, the weather was favourable to air support. During the night the waiting troops had heard up to 769 heavies of Bomber Command roaring overhead on their missions of destruction against Cleve and Goch.* Then 95 Stirlings and Halifaxes from No. 38 Group RAF unloaded more than 400 tons of bombs on Weeze, Üdem and Calcar. The flashes of the explosions and the fires which they started could be plainly seen by the soldiers in their assembly areas west of the Reichswald.23 At five in the morning the artillery preparation began.
As we have noted, the artillery support for Operation VERITABLE had been planned as a major battle-winning factor. The concentration of fire which fell on the German 84th Division that day was probably not equalled on a similar front during the entire war in the west. It was calculated that 1034 guns—one-third of them mediums, heavies and super-heavies—were engaged in the bombardment.24 Seven divisional artilleries, five Army Groups Royal Artillery, and two anti-aircraft brigades struck this massive blow, which was designed to harass the enemy’s headquarters and communications, silence his batteries and mortars and smash his troop positions, destroying his forces and demoralizing survivors. In five bombardments during the day an average weight of more than nine tons of shells was to burst on each of 268 targets. The cannonade was augmented by four divisional “Pepper Pot” groups, which swept the front continuously with the coordinated fire, at relatively short range, of all available tank guns, anti-tank guns, light antiaircraft guns, medium machine-guns and heavy mortars.25 Rocket salvoes from the 12 projectors of the 1st Canadian Rocket Battery saturated thirteen targets in and about the German forward positions.26
* Only 434 actually bombed, evidently as the result of weather. Goch was hit considerably less heavily than had been intended.
At 7:40 a.m., after a smoke-screen had been laid down across the whole front, there was a brief lull in the firing. As expected, these combined warnings lured the enemy into manning his guns and bringing down his defensive fire against an expected attack. The virtual silence that covered the battlefield for ten minutes enabled sound-rangers to locate one hostile battery and nineteen mortar areas.27 Then the bombardment thundered out anew, and it seemed as though every hostile position must be completely smothered. “It was good to see and hear”, wrote The Calgary Highlanders’ diarist, “especially to any of the old timers, as so many times we have gone in and would like more support than we got.” The preparatory programme reached its climax as the barrage opened, and new notes were added by the sounds of armour grinding forward and aircraft roaring overhead.28 Afterwards dazed German prisoners told interrogators a grim story of disorganization—communications totally disrupted and gun-crews unable to man their guns until the barrage ceased. They said that the prolonged strain of the bombardment had created “an impression of overwhelming force opposed to them, which, in their isolated state, with no communications, it was useless to resist”.29
H Hour was 10:30 a.m. The covering barrage was to begin slowly on the opening line at 9:20, thickening up to its full intensity from 10 o’clock onwards. At H Hour it would begin to move. Smoke-shells mixed with the high explosive built up a protective white screen which blanketed the north-western edge of the Reichswald and effectively concealed the assault battalions of four divisions as they emerged from the woods behind Groesbeek and advanced down the forward slopes to their start-lines. If the enemy took this smoke as prelude to an attack, after his earlier experience he was reluctant to retaliate. As a deception measure the start lines across the front were being held by all the battalions of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division except the two taking part in the attack. At 10:29, as a line of yellow smoke-shells indicated the final minute before the barrage lifted, infantry and tanks began passing through the 2nd Division’s positions to advance into Germany.*30 Except on the right flank (where the 51st Division was supported by prearranged concentrations on the estimated main enemy localities in that sector) the barrage, which was 500 yards in depth, advanced in blocks of 300 yards every twelve minutes. The same yellow smoke-signal one minute before the end of each block enabled the attacking troops to move with confidence immediately behind the curtain of fire and thereby reap the maximum advantage.31
The guns had done their work so well, and so completely was the enemy surprised, that the initial attack met only light opposition. The stiffest resistance was on the right, where in the opening phase the 51st Highland Division (commanded by Major-General T. G. Rennie) had the mission of capturing the southwest corner of the Reichswald and opening the Mook-Goch road. The 154th Highland Brigade had varying success. On its left a Black Watch battalion had taken
* Although it was at this moment that First Canadian Army made its first important move across the German frontier, some Canadians had been on German soil for some time past, in the little salient formed by the frontier between Nijmegen and Wyler. The 2nd Survey Regiment RCA claims to have been the first Canadian unit to have men in Germany, a troop having crossed the border in this area on 8 November 1944; and The North Nova Scotia Highlanders took over positions on the German side here from US troops on 11 November.
its objective, the northern end of the Freuden Berg ridge, by two o’clock, but other troops were held up at Bruuk, 500 yards short of the frontier. The unexpected opposition came from a battalion of the 1222nd Grenadier Regiment (of the 180th Infantry Division), hurriedly thrown in on the previous evening.32 The momentum of the advance was restored only when a battalion from the 153rd Brigade was passed through and drove forward into the forest. On the Division’s right flank, the 153rd Brigade captured the Pyramide height and St. Jansberg at the edge of the Kiekberg woods. By four next morning, the whole of the Freuden Berg was secure, and Highland infantry had penetrated a further 200 yards south-eastward into the Reichswald.33
In the adjacent 53rd Division sector the mud which was hampering the advance across the entire corps front bogged at the start-line the Flails detailed to clear the mines ahead of the assaulting tanks and infantry. But the commander of the 34th Armoured Brigade had already resolved to expend up to a squadron of tanks, if necessary, in getting the infantry to the edge of the Reichswald; and fortunately the extent of the minefields proved to have been greatly overestimated. Churchill tanks mastered the heavy going where others with narrower tracks had failed, and supported the 71st Brigade’s attack across the open valley in the face of virtually no opposition. The armour found the antitank ditch narrow enough in places to negotiate unaided, and by two o’clock the 1st Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry had seized the commanding Branden Berg and the 71st Brigade was in control of the north-west angle of the forest. From this base the 160th Brigade sent two battalions forward through soaking rain which emphasized the unreality of the artificial moonlight. With meagre support—for of all the supporting arms only one tank squadron had survived the sodden tracks forward—the infantry steadily worked through the northern edge of the woods. There were few enemy checks. By shortly after midnight both battalions had crossed the Kranenburg-Hekkens road and were astride the Siegfried defences.34
The 15th (Scottish) Division in the centre of the corps front was charged with breaching the Siegfried Line north of the Reichswald and capturing the high ground overlooking Cleve—the “Materborn feature”. Assaulting side by side, each with one battalion up, the 46th and 227th Highland Brigades had trouble with mines; only one Flail reached the start line. Yet by keeping well up to the barrage, by 6:30 p.m. the infantry had taken their initial objectives—Kranenburg, on the Nijmegen-Cleve highway, and the Galgensteeg ridge, which projected from the north-west corner of the Reichswald and overlooked the main Siegfried defences. By this time the 46th Brigade’s route forward from Groesbeek was all but impassable, for it had had to take the weight of both brigades when the 227th’s axis farther north broke down completely early in the afternoon. Thus a special armoured breaching force from the 44th Lowland Brigade was delayed several hours, struggling in the darkness and rain with a miserable track jammed with traffic stranded along its entire length. The force was finally turned on to the main Nijmegen-Cleve road after a passage had been bulldozed through Kranenburg. The attack, which was to have started at 9:00 p.m., did not get under way until four next morning.35
On the Scottish Division’s left the 2nd Canadian Division had the tasks of capturing Den Heuvel and Wyler and opening the Nijmegen-Cleve road to just short of Kranenburg. With the bulk of his forces spread across the Corps front to screen the impending attack from the enemy, General Matthews gave this assignment to two battalions of the 5th Brigade. A small triangular area south of the highway about Wyler was regarded as the northern anchor of the enemy’s front line, and its early seizure was essential to the rapid advance of the 15th Division beyond Kranenburg. In order to surprise and seal off the force defending Wyler, Brigadier Megill avoided the direct approach from the northwest, and instead ordered his left battalion to by-pass the town and cut the highway beyond, thence attacking Wyler from the rear.36
So effective was the counter-battery and counter-mortar preparation on the 5th Brigade’s front that there was virtually no reply from the enemy, and the two assaulting battalions formed up without a single casualty. Keeping well up to the barrage The Calgary Highlanders struck eastward through Vossendaal to the main highway, about half a mile beyond Wyler. Mines were the chief obstacle; the Highlanders suffered 24 casualties from Schü-mines, which the enemy had cunningly laid in visible rows on the ground interspersed with others hidden below the surface. A Company now advanced down the road and by midday had made contact with a battalion of the 15th Scottish Division on the outskirts of Kranenburg.37 On The Calgary Highlanders’ right Le Régiment de Maisonneuve found that the bombardment had greatly simplified their task. They occupied with little difficulty the shattered remains of Den Heuvel (where an officer counted 46 enemy dead
While sappers of the 7th Field Company RCE began work on the highway west of Kranenburg, The Calgary Highlanders C” and D Companies turned back towards Wyler. The former, on the left of the road, ran into stiff fighting in which the company commander and a platoon commander were killed. To keep the operation moving the Commanding Officer committed B Company, and after supporting fire had been called down on the objective, B and D pressed on into Wyler, reporting it clear by 6:30 p.m. Early plans had called for the roads forward to be open for traffic by four o’clock, but with the delay in taking Wyler it was nine before the sappers could report all routes free of mines. The operation had cost the battalion 67 casualties, including 15 killed. The Maisonneuves lost two killed and 20 wounded. The brigade had taken 322 prisoners, most of them having been trapped in Wyler.40
On the 30th Corps’ watery northern flank the 3rd Canadian Division’s part in VERITABLE did not begin until 6:00 p.m. General Spry’s task was to secure the left flank of the 2nd Canadian and 15th Scottish Divisions and clear the area between the Nijmegen-Cleve road and the river. This would be done by the 7th Brigade on the right and the 8th on the left as far as the anti-tank ditch from Donsbruggen to Duffelward, at the edge of the main Siegfried Line. The 9th Brigade was then to break through these defences and advance east to the Spoy Canal, which led from Cleve to the Alter Rhein.41
The effects of the sudden thaw and the heavy rains were more apparent on the 3rd Division’s low-lying sector, the Waal Flats, than anywhere else on the whole Corps front. Drainage ditches that would normally have carried off the excess water were too badly damaged by gunfire to function effectively. The Waal had been rising steadily since 3 February. Records covering 34 years showed that only six times in that period had the February peak level at Nijmegen exceeded twelve metres.* Yet on D plus 1 of VERITABLE the river was to pass this height, and to continue to rise to a top of 12.69 metres on 17 February.42 Earlier in the winter the Germans had breached the main dyke at Erlekom, four miles east of Nijmegen, and on the 6th water began pouring through this gap. Two days later the mile-long Quer Damm just inside the German frontier, weakened by the enemy’s digging of defence positions, collapsed before the pressure of the rising floods. Through the break water began pouring eastward towards the villages of Zyfflich and Niel.43 By D Day most of the 3rd Division’s area of operations was submerged. On 3 February “soft-going” plans had been substituted for those previously made. This meant principally that the infantry would ride to their objectives in amphibious vehicles (the 79th Armoured Division provided 114 Buffaloes), and would be largely deprived of armoured support.44
Only in the initial stages of the 7th Brigade’s attack could the advance be made on dry ground. The Regina Rifle Regiment, attacking under artificial moonlight,
* Water levels in Holland are measured in relationship to NAP (Normaal Amsterdams Peil)—the mean level at Amsterdam.
and supported by tanks of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary’s Own), seized the south end of the Quer Damm, and by eight o’clock had cleared Zyfflich, a mile to the east, digging about 100 prisoners out of its cellars.45 B Company of the Canadian Scottish, after two unsuccessful attempts to capture a strongpoint at the north end of the Quer Damm, finally took it at first light on the 9th. The battalion’s remaining rifle companies, embarking in Buffaloes from the Wyler Meer, set course by compass through the darkness for Niel, two miles east of Zyfflich. Communications failed, and shortly after midnight the CO, Lt.-Col. D. G. Crofton, headed towards the objective with his command group in two amphibians. But Niel was still in German hands, for the Scottish A and D Companies through faulty navigation had become engaged with a group of houses 1500 yards to the south-west. Crofton’s party ran into point-blank fire from houses on the western outskirts. Two officers and two men were killed, and the CO and his Intelligence Officer were among the wounded. Day was breaking when A and D Companies arrived to clear the village.46
On the division’s left flank two Buffalo-borne companies of the North Shore Regiment, leading the 8th Brigade’s attack, quickly secured the main dyke west of Zandpol and by 9:00 p.m. had reported the village itself free of enemy. Farther south Le Régiment de la Chaudière, forced at times to wade through three feet of water, occupied Leuth early on the 9th, opening the way for the brigade’s next phase of operations.47
VERITABLE had made a good beginning. On the first day of the battle the 30th Corps had broken through the enemy’s strong outpost screen and closed to the main Siegfried defences. It had inflicted severe losses upon the ill-fated 84th Infantry Division. Taking more than 1200 prisoners and killing a good many men besides, it had virtually destroyed six German battalions. There was encouraging news from prisoners who had helped to dig trenches in the Reichswald that the main defence line contained no concrete works. The problem now was how to exploit our gains before enemy reinforcements arrived in strength. The rapid deterioration of the maintenance routes forward was seriously impeding deployment of General Horrocks’ formations. Particularly disturbing was the flood situation; between 1:00 p.m. and midnight of the 8th the water level north of the Nijmegen-Cleve road had risen eighteen inches.48
The Siegfried Line is Breached
On 9 February low-hanging clouds and heavy rain which persisted well into the afternoon put a stop to our hitherto excellent air support* and indicated still worse going across the waterlogged fields and along the churned-up tracks of the Reichswald. The 2nd Canadian Division, having completed its limited task, had been pinched out of the battle, leaving four divisions to continue the advance during the next 24 hours.
* The Canadian Typhoon and Spitfire wings in No. 83 Group were actively employed on rail interdiction east of the battle zone and also flew armed reconnaissances over roads.
Pursuing its sweeping manoeuvres over the flooded Waal Flats, the 3rd Canadian Division, whose sector now covered more than half the Corps front, took its village objectives one by one. In the 8th Brigade’s advance next to the river the North Shore Regiment found that enemy resistance lessened as the flood waters deepened. The New Brunswickers met little opposition in capturing Kekerdom, and from there Brigadier Roberts sent the previously uncommitted Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada forward to establish themselves without difficulty in Millingen.49
The capture of Niel had given The Royal Winnipeg Rifles a base from which to extend the 7th Brigade’s operations eastward. During the afternoon A and B Companies occupied Keeken and C pushed on to the Customs House on the Alter Rhein, an operation which the Brigade diary termed “quite sticky with a good bag of PWs”. In Brigadier Spragge’s right sector the Regina Rifles found Mehr free of enemy troops. Its capture ended the 7th and 8th Brigade’s tasks. Indeed, the rising water virtually cut off the battalions on their objectives, where they had to exist as best they might until Buffaloes became available to evacuate them.50 It remained for the 9th Brigade to complete the 3rd Division’s role in the first phase of VERITABLE.
But while the northern tip of the Siegfried Line had still to be overcome, before the second day of the battle ended the main defences had been penetrated by two of the divisions attacking south of the Nijmegen-Cleve road, and on the Corps’ right flank the Highland Division’s 153rd Brigade had cut the important Goch road at two points between Mook and Gennep. Units of the 6th Canadian Brigade could see the 1st Gordon Highlanders working southward across their front clearing out the area between the Kiekberg woods and the Maas, and on several occasions were able to assist with information about enemy movements.51 Meanwhile the 152nd Brigade, passing through the 154th, had fought forward through the southern half of the Reichswald as far as the Kranenburg-Hekkens road, just short of the main entrenchments.52 Farther north the 53rd Division had measured off substantial gains. Attacking at 8:30 a.m. from the positions gained during the night, two Welsh battalions of the 160th Brigade, supported by the 9th Royal Tanks, pushed two miles eastward to the Stoppel-Berg, a circular mound 300 feet above sea-level and the highest point in the Reichswald. The 2nd Battalion The Monmouthshire Regiment* captured the hill after sharp fighting. The stiffening enemy resistance was evidence of the arrival of strong reinforcements, as were the determined counter-attacks launched against the East Lancashires holding the Kranenburg equines road. These were beaten off with the aid of eight tanks of the 147th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps which had mastered the almost impossible roads forward.53 Before the day ended the 6th Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers, exploit beyond the Stoppel-Berg, had reached the north-eastern edge of the Reichswald overlooking Materborn, whence supporting tanks found attractive targets in traffic on the Cleve-Hekkens road, now the enemy’s main lateral communication through the forest.54
But it was in the corridor between the northern edge of the Reichswald and
* A Territorial component of The South Wales Borderers.
the flooded Canadian sector that the most spectacular progress had been made. The 15th (Scottish) Division’s original plan to advance by leapfrogging its brigades and battalions in successive phases was frustrated by the appalling conditions of mud and traffic congestion on the routes forward. Day had broken by the time the 44th Brigade’s Special Breaching Force had bridged the anti-tank ditch at three of five planned crossing places east of Frasselt. At 6:15 the 6th Battalion The King’s Own Scottish Borderers, borne in Kangaroos of the 1st Canadian Armoured Personnel Carrier Regiment, began to cross. (Their eight-hour journey forward from Nijmegen was afterwards described by the KOSB battalion commander as “a remarkable display of skill and endurance by the drivers of the APCs”.)55 By eight o’clock the KOSB had cleared Schottheide, 500 yards to the east; shortly afterwards the 2nd Battalion The Gordon Highlanders, advancing along the main road from Kranenburg, were on the outskirts of Nutterden.56 There was no sign of the battalion which had been detailed to exploit these gains. Accordingly, the Borderers went forward again in Kangaroos to capture the Wolfs-Berg and the HingstBerg—a pair of knolls between Nutterden and the forest. These were taken about midmorning with the assistance of a squadron of Grenadier Guards tanks; and the clearing of Nutterden by the Gordons completed the second phase of the Division’s attack. The operation was now eleven hours behind schedule and it was imperative to carry out the final phase—the capture of the Materborn heights overlooking Cleve—before the Germans further reinforced these key positions. Since there was no hope of bringing the 46th and 227th Brigades forward in time as planned, the GOC, Major-General C. M. Barber, was compelled to order the Lowland Brigade to push on still further.57 The 8th Battalion Royal Scots seized the Esperance hill, the nearer of the brigade objectives, with little difficulty. The KOSB, climbing once more into their Kangaroos, headed along the muddy tracks for the Bresserberg feature, less than half a mile from the city. They reached their goal with a scant half-hour to spare; at 5:00 p.m. they had to fight off elements of the 7th Parachute Division moving up to occupy the position. In the evening the 15th Division’s reconnaissance regiment reported that the Germans in Cleve seemed disorganized and unlikely to offer resistance. But south of Cleve its patrols seeking a route eastward found their way blocked by a coordinated defence in Materborn village.58
Through the Materborn Gap
The 30th Corps had done well in taking virtually all its objectives for Phase One of VERITABLE in the first two days. The vaunted strength of the West Wall was found to have been much exaggerated, but this was discounted by the atrocious conditions of mud and flood with which the attackers had to contend. Yet they had struck the enemy a telling blow. It was estimated that the 84th Division had at best only six battalions left out of fourteen. By the second night the count of German prisoners stood at more than 2700.59
The tasks for Phase Two were to capture Goch, Üdem and Calcar and open
the Mook-Gennep-Goch road. It was imperative that Goch and Cleve should be secured with the least possible delay, for both were vital to our communications, as the enemy must recognize. On the 9th our Intelligence forecast his intentions thus: Cleve being “all but lost”, “If he has forces available either from the Hochwald or from across the Rhine, he will be tempted to try to regain Cleve or at least seal it off. If he cannot do so then he must hold Goch, and also cover the nearest crossings of the Rhine.”60
It was an accurate appreciation. As late as 12:30 p.m. on 10 February General Blaskowitz received from the C-in-C West a signal emphasizing the incalculable consequences of a break-through to the Rhine and the necessity of holding Cleve at all costs.61 For the first time the German High Command now appears to have recognized the First Canadian Army’s offensive as a strategic move demanding the commitment of all available reserves of men and equipment. Our security measures had been effective. Von Rundstedt’s Daily Intelligence Reports reveal that up to now the main Allied attack had been expected at the bend of the Maas north of Roermond,*62 where the Second British and Ninth US Armies were believed to be preparing a strong two-pronged offensive against the Duisburg-Dusseldorf sector.63 Three days before VERITABLE was launched a memorandum from Rundstedt’s Chief Intelligence Officer to key staff officers at Headquarters Army Group H (who had perhaps questioned this interpretation) suggested that Allied activities west of the Reichswald were intended “to deceive us regarding the real centre of gravity of the attack”. A subsidiary offensive by Canadian formations in the Reichswald area might precede the main effort. With impressive assurance the memorandum concluded, “The appreciation that the main British attack will come from the big bend of the Maas is being maintained now as before.”64 In the German intelligence picture the 30th British Corps was labelled “whereabouts unknown”.65
The opening of the offensive on 8 February brought no change of mind. It was thought that evening that the attack had probably been carried out by the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions, supported by the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. The main blow was still expected to fall south of Venlo. Even when the 51st and 53rd Divisions were identified in the Reichswald on the 9th, German Intelligence clung to the belief that the bulk of the British forces was earmarked for the main assault from the Maas bend.66 The enemy had already taken steps to delay the start of this operation, steps which in fact were to hamper us severely. On 9 February units of the First US Army, having captured some of the Roer dams intact, reached the important Schwammenauel Dam to find that the Germans had jammed open a sluice gate.†67 There followed a rise of from three to four feet in the level of the Roer, which caused the river to overflow its banks across the
* General Schlemm later claimed that he personally expected the big blow to come through the Reichswald, but was assured by his senior that there was no evidence of large Allied concentrations in the Nijmegen area.
† The facts were thus reported on 11 February: “Situation at dam 3 [MR 085272]-inlet gate to tunnel (5 metres in diameter) destroyed and outlet gate completely jammed open through which water flows at maximum capacity—elsewhere no water passing through, over or under this dam.” At this time the dam was still under German fire.
whole of the Ninth US Army’s front and produced a lesser rise along the Maas in the First Canadian Army sector.68
The timing and scale of this action could not have been better from the enemy’s point of view. Complete demolition of the dam would have released an uncontrollable, but brief-enduring, tide to sweep down the Roer valley. As it was, the flood level, which was high enough to stop the Ninth Army’s assault, was to maintain itself for two weeks. Operation GRENADE, originally scheduled for 10 February, had to be repeatedly postponed, and von Rundstedt was free for the time being to concentrate upon the operations developing on his north-eastern flank. On the evening of the 8th Army Group had given Schlemm permission to commit the 7th Parachute Division. Arriving piecemeal by battalions it had taken up positions on the left of the 84th Division between Asperden and the Maas. Late on the 10th von Rundstedt decided to move up his armoured reserve and to place Headquarters 47th Panzer Corps in control of the battle.69
On our side divisional tasks for the third day of VERITABLE were as follows. While the 51st Division continued to mop up east of the Maas, and to free the southern route to Goch, in the north the 43rd Wessex Division would be brought forward to pass through the 15th Division and capture Goch, Üdem and Weeze. The Scottish Division would then clear Cleve and push mobile columns eastward to Emmerich and Calcar.70
For the next forty-eight hours the focal point of the battle was to lie in the narrow Materborn Gap between the Reichswald and the heavily bombed city of Cleve. The 30th Corps plan had contemplated a quick breakout into the plain east of the forest by the 43rd Division. To this end Phase One of the Corps operation had included with the “capture of the Materborn feature” the opening of exits through which the 2nd Household Cavalry Regiment*71 might pass. As we have seen, however, the 15th Scottish Reconnaissance Regiment had made little headway with this assignment. The Materborn Gap, in spite of the 44th Lowland Brigade’s notable advance, was by no means under control. Yet the need of debouching quickly into the open country while the enemy was off balance was so pressing that when General Horrocks heard that the Materborn feature had been seized he at once ordered the 43rd Division into the battle. “In point of fact”, he said afterwards, “this was a mistake on my part because 15 (S) Div had only just got their claws on to the Materborn feature and had not succeeded in dominating the complete gap. ... It would have been much better if I had held back 43 (W) Div, but I did not want to lose the opportunity of breaking through the gap.”72
Since the afternoon of the 8th the Wessex Division had been waiting in the southern outskirts of Nijmegen on one hour’s notice to move, and at 6:00 p.m. on the 9th its 129th Brigade took the road to Kranenburg and Cleve. General Thomas’ plan was to advance eastward from Nutterden through the neck of the Reichswald, bypassing Cleve and pushing forward to Hau and Bedburg in order
* This armoured car regiment of the Guards Armoured Division would come temporarily under the command of the 15th Division.
to secure the fork of the roads to Goch and Üdem. The 214th Brigade followed the 129th, with instructions to pull off the main road at Nutterden between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. on the 10th, to enable the 15th Division’s 227th Brigade to move up and carry out its original task of securing the wooded area north-west of Cleve and clearing the city itself.73 But events were to emphasize the impossibility of successfully operating two divisions on a single axis—particularly an axis which in places was under water. About daybreak the 129th Brigade, leaving the impassable Bresserberg route, swung north to the south-west edge of Cleve, where it became heavily involved with the 1 6th Parachute Regiment, newly arrived from the 6th Parachute Division’s area west of Arnhem. Under pressure from three sides the brigade adopted a posture of all-round defence and fought on through the whole day and the following night.74
Meanwhile the inevitable traffic jam had occurred when the 227th Brigade attempted to pass through the 214th at Nutterden. The congestion lasted till dusk, so that once again the 44th Lowland Brigade was the Scottish Division’s only formation in action that day. By capturing the prominent Clever Berg the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers extended the brigade’s hold on the Materborn feature northward to the road from Nutterden; but a planned advance into Cleve was abandoned when the 129th Brigade’s unexpected presence on part of the objective prevented the 15th Division’s artillery from giving the necessary support.75
At the end of a frustrating day there was promise of confusion giving place to order on the morrow. Relieving the 129th Brigade, the Scottish Division would clear Cleve with two brigades, while the 43rd Division resumed its delayed advance to the south-east. Early on 11 February the Lowland Brigade took over the southern suburbs of Cleve from the 129th and began working northward through the rubble of the town, encountering determined opposition. By late evening the 227th Brigade had come in on the road from Kranenburg and was clearing the north-eastern half of Cleve.76 The capture of Materborn village that afternoon by the 214th Brigade had finally opened the gap. Fighting forward against sternly resisting paratroopers, this brigade took Hau by daybreak on the 12th.77
Here however the advance was checked. To bar the way to the south the .enemy had established a defensive line along the Esels-Berg ridge which linked the woods about Moyland with the detached Forest of Cleve, east of the Reichswald. This was less than he had hoped to do. As the 47th Panzer Corps moved westward during the night of 11-12 February to its assembly area at Üdem, its commander, General von Lüttwitz, carried orders from General Schlemm to launch a counter-attack through the 84th Division to recover Cleve and the heights west of the city. But by the morning of the 12th, when the attack was to have been launched, British forces had advanced south-east from Cleve as far as Hau and in the eastern Reichswald were threatening the Cleve-Goch road. In these circumstances, and because of his shortage of tanks (not more than 50 actually on the ground) von Lüttwitz decided to attack westward into the Reichswald, where the Allied superiority in armour and artillery would be less effective. The assault would be made with the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division on the left and the
116th Panzer Division on the right. Von Lüttwitz planned that after reaching the Cleve-Hekkens road he would concentrate all his forces in a drive northward towards the Materborn heights.78
The effort had failed. Scheduled to begin at 6:00 a.m., the German attack did not get under way until half-past nine. By that time units of the 43rd Wessex Division were pushing south-eastward towards Bedburg and southward along the Goch road. The German blows could not halt the momentum of the British drive. The Wessex Division’s historian reports three counter-attacks launched against the 7th Somerset Light Infantry, “only to wither away in the fire of the infantry, the tanks and the guns”. By evening the 47th Panzer Corps counter-attack had collapsed. Both its divisions had suffered heavily, and of the 84th Infantry Division only the 1052nd Grenadier Regiment could now muster any appreciable strength. Striving to put together a defensive line which would halt us, von Lüttwitz hurried in from across the Rhine a regiment of the 346th Infantry Division, committing it east of Bedburg under Fiebig. An operation order of the 116th Panzer Division dated 13 February reveals that this division now had the remnant of the 84th under command; and that it was to “break off the attack south of Cleve” and take up a defensive line running from Erfgen through Hasselt to the west edge of the Tannenbusch (the Forest of Cleve).79 The assault on this new position by the 129th Brigade on 13 February was the beginning of a bitter five days’ struggle by the Wessex Division to gain control of the relatively high ground overlooking Goch from the north-east.
While progress in the centre of the 30th Corps front was thus bitterly contested, things had been going better on the wings. The most significant advance was on the right, where the 51st Division was endeavouring to open up the Mook-Goch road, now to be the main Corps axis. On 10 February the 153rd Highland Brigade, clearing the widening triangle between the Reichswald and the Maas, entered Ottersum, and during the night sent the 5th Black Watch across the Niers River in assault boats to capture Gennep. The town was a valuable acquisition, for the Second British Army was now able to begin bridging the Maas here* in order to relieve the traffic bottleneck downstream at Grave.80 On the 11th Hekkens, the troublesome southern anchor of the main Reichswald defences, was taken in fierce fighting by the 154th Brigade, supported by the full Corps artillery.81 Two nights later the same brigade, crossing the swollen Niers south of Hekkens in Buffaloes, established a bridgehead west of Kessel, capturing high ground from which the enemy had been directing fire upon the new Corps axis. On the night of the 14th–15th Kessel was taken.82 In the Reichswald itself the 53rd Division continued mopping up pockets of resistance. The worst opposition came from German self-propelled guns firing down the open rides, for there was no way of approaching these with armour. On the 12th the Welshmen successfully fought off the vigorous counter-attacks launched against them by the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division as the main blow of the 47th Panzer Corps’ mistimed effort.83
* The flood from the Roer dams (above, p. 475) seriously delayed the work.
Advance Through the Floods
On the inundated flats beside the Rhine preparations for the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade’s attack on 10 February were prolonged into the afternoon as new transport difficulties arose hourly. Supporting artillery could not get forward, and at 4:30 the two assaulting battalions crossed the start-line in Buffaloes without the prearranged barrage. On the right The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders had slight opposition. In little more than an hour they were in Donsbruggen, where they met the 2nd Gordon Highlanders, who had had to force their way forward through barricades of tree-trunks which the enemy had skilfully felled across the main Cleve road. Pushing on towards the Spoy Canal, by midnight the SD & Gs. had a company in Rindern, where fighting continued until daylight. Farther north The Highland Light Infantry of Canada were stopped outside Duffelward by machine-gun fire from pillboxes which covered the only approach. Next morning they took the town without loss and headed for the Canal.84 By mid-afternoon of the 11th the Glengarrians, having mopped up Rindern, had reached the west bank. At its northern end the Highland Light Infantry occupied Wardhausen in the early evening, and before midnight the two battalions held the whole line of the Canal.85
An early-morning message from the 3rd Canadian Division on 11 February reported that water was still the “greatest enemy”.86 The human antagonist here was the much-reduced 1052nd Grenadier Regiment, whose parent 84th Division could now muster fewer than 1000 fighting men.87 With Cleve lost there was no great incentive for a sacrificial defence of the scattered “island” villages in the flooded river flats. There were withdrawals in the dark, and although General Fiebig’s post-war recollections include the establishment of a temporary line through Griethausen and Kellen on the west bank of the Alter Rhein, both these places were in fact taken on the 12th without opposition—the former by The Highland Light Infantry of Canada and the latter by Brigadier Rockingham’s reserve battalion, The North Nova Scotia Highlanders.88
The 9th Brigade was now the only formation of General Spry’s “Water Rats” to remain fully committed in the flooded area. Because of the reduced enemy resistance and the increasing difficulties of maintenance the 7th Brigade had been withdrawn to Beek on the 11th, and the positions held by the 8th were being turned over to a single battalion.89 On the afternoon of the 12th the 7th Brigade relieved the Scottish Division’s 227th Brigade in Cleve, which was now free of any organized resistance. Although, in the words of one unit diarist, “Cleve had been ‘Caenned’ almost into oblivion”, the deep cellars beneath nearly every house had survived the attentions of Bomber Command, and gave the Canadians comfortable billets adequate protection from the occasional shell which the enemy still dropped into the city.90
Now that General Crerar’s left flank was pushed well ahead of the projected limit of VERITABLE’s first phase, the 9th Brigade’s activities were restricted to holding the line of the Alter Rhein and probing forward with not more than one company group from each battalion. During the night of the 12th–13th two Glengarry
platoons entered Warbeyen on the main Cleve-Emmerich road, and when they withdrew to Kellen carried 13 prisoners with them. Next day The Highland Light Infantry of Canada patrolled eastward from Griethausen along the Rhine bank to within 2500 yards of the Emmerich ferries.91 At midday on the 14th, acting under revised instructions from Division to free the Cleve-Emmerich road and clear eastward to the Kalflach Canal, Brigadier Rockingham sent The North Nova Scotia Highlanders forward in Buffaloes. They had little trouble in clearing Warbeyen and Hurendeich in turn, but there was some stiff fighting before the Rhine bank was secured. The enemy’s losses included a number who attempted to escape across the river.92
The entire area between the Rhine and the Cleve-Calcar railway was now under water, for on 11 February German engineers, acting on instructions from the First Parachute Army, had blown the sluice-gates of the Spoy Canal and breached the western dyke of the Kalflach Canal near Huisberden. This action nullified efforts by the engineers of the 3rd Canadian Division to reduce the flooding by piercing the main dyke at Nijmegen, where the level of the Waal was now below that of the water imprisoned within. On 12 February the 16th Field Company blasted a 100-foot gap which they subsequently enlarged to 300 yards.93 The flow into the river began at a rate of some 13 knots, and on the 15th our engineers reported a general decrease in the flood level as far east as Kranenburg.94 But there was to be no large-scale relief. The new breach east of Cleve was letting in as much water as was being drained off, and outside the dyke the river was rising towards its highest level of the winter (page 471, above). The Nijmegen-Cleve road was under water; but since the evening of 10 February four ferries, built by the 2nd Field Company RCE, had been carrying priority traffic around the flooded portion from Wyler to a point 300 yards east of Kranenburg.95 When Field-Marshal Montgomery visited the 3rd Canadian Division on the 15th, he toured the area in a convoy of amphibious vehicles.96
From the beginning of VERITABLE an unusual smoke-screen had concealed the operations of the 3rd Canadian Division from enemy watchers north of the Rhine. Potentially excellent observation posts provided by the tall chimneys of the numerous factories along the river bank and by the 270-foot Hoch Elten hill northwest of Emmerich were effectively blinded, so that not only the division’s tactical movements but the heavy maintenance traffic along the road between Wyler and Kranenburg were hidden from enemy view. As the 3rd Division advanced, its left flank was masked by a curtain of dense smoke which extended from the river bend north-east of Nijmegen along the south bank to within 2000 yards of its successive forward positions. By early March this was to grow to an almost continuous screen 30,000 yards long.
Employed in these measures were four British smoke companies of the Pioneer Corps, totalling 1350 all ranks, under the direction of Headquarters Smoke Control—an ad hoc headquarters, set up by First Canadian Army, comprising chemical warfare, meteorological and other technical personnel. The 3500 tons of smoke stores expended included 8500 No. 24 (zinc chloride) generators, and
about 450,000 gallons of fog oil. In the early stages the screen was built up from a line of smoke-points, from 100 to 300 yards apart, along roads and dykes paralleling the river. But flooding and demolitions made it impossible to maintain or extend this type of screen, even with the use of twelve Buffaloes allotted by the division. On 15 February, taking advantage of the constancy of the prevailing west and south-west winds in the battle area, Smoke Control began “beaming” smoke from two large point sources, each consisting of a battery of twelve fog oil generators—one north-east of Nijmegen and one near Wyler; a third and fourth were added later north and east of Cleve. The results were highly satisfactory. The smoke staff subsequently recorded, “Formations were more than pleased with the results and value of properly controlled and planned tactical screening.”97
The 2nd Canadian Corps Enters the Battle
By the end of the first week’s fighting the gains south of the Reichswald made it possible for General Crerar to deploy First Canadian Army on a two-corps front. Until now the restricted lines of advance had limited the role of the 2nd Canadian Corps to protecting General Horrocks’ left flank.98 An appreciation by Crerar’s headquarters on 1 February had foreseen the capture of Goch and the opening of adequate maintenance routes for the 30th Corps south of the Reichswald as “an essential prelude to any take over by 2 Cdn Corps”. If there were a likelihood of the battle becoming “loose” at this stage, the appreciation went on, the 30th Corps should continue to drive from Cleve on Calcar and Üdem until it was possible to switch the maintenance of the thrusting division (the Guards Armoured) from the northern to the southern axis. However, should things become “sticky”, the route through Cleve and the responsibility for the advance to the south-east ought to be turned over to the 2nd Canadian Corps.99
As we have seen operations had definitely been “sticky”, and so far there had been no opening for the armoured division, which was still in corps reserve at Nijmegen. Goch had not yet fallen, and the important bridge over the Maas at Gennep which was to provide General Horrocks with a new maintenance route was still under construction. (It was finally opened for traffic on the 20th.)100 On 14 February the Army Commander lunched with Lieut.-General Simonds and instructed him to take over the 30th Corps’ left sector at noon next day. He ruled out for the time being a proposal by Simonds that his Corps might be given the task of securing a crossing over the Neder Rijn just west of Arnhem and exploiting up the Rhine’s right bank, judging such a project, attractive though it might seem, “of secondary importance to the immediate responsibility of completing what we have set out to do in Operation VERITABLE”.101 Thus maximum pressure upon the enemy would be maintained on a wide front by employing formations not hitherto committed in the battle. General Simonds was given as his main axis the road running south-eastward from Cleve to Üdem, while the 30th Corps, shifting to its right, would operate along a centre line Cleve-Goch-Weeze-Kevelaer.102
General Horrocks now carried out some necessary regrouping. He was
reinforced on his southern flank by the 52nd (Lowland) Division, which arrived from the 8th British Corps in the Venlo area and took over the 51st Division’s right front, leaving the 51st to concentrate on attacking Goch from the north-west.103 Farther to the left the 43rd Division, in heavy fighting by each of its brigades in turn, broke through the German defences east and south of the Forest of Cleve, completely overrunning the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. By the evening of 16 February an armoured column of the 214th Brigade had cut the Goch-Calcar road, and a brilliant night attack without reconnaissance by the 4th Somerset Light Infantry gained a 1000-yard front on the ridge overlooking Goch. When the drive ended the brigade had captured 1000 prisoners.104 The advance had outflanked the Forest of Cleve, from which the enemy had been largely driven by a carefully coordinated fire-plan to which the 1st Canadian Rocket Battery contributed.105 On the 17th the 130th Brigade cleared the forest without difficulty. The way was now open for the 15th Scottish Division to pass through the 43rd and assault Goch from the north-east.106
Clearing Moyland Wood
In the meantime, on the Wessex Division’s left troops of the 15th (Scottish) Division had been meeting stubborn opposition in the woods west of Moyland. On the 13th the 46th Brigade, advancing along the Cleve-Calcar road, had reached Hasselt, a village north-east of Bedburg. Moyland, two miles to the southeast, was the objective for the 14th, but because the ground on either side of the highway was flooded, the brigade commander had shifted his axis 1000 yards to the right. He sent one battalion along a secondary road nearly a mile south of the highway, and another along the pine-covered ridge between.107 This forested area, consisting mainly of small conifers which formed no real obstacle to armour, extended for three miles from Bedburg to a point south-east of Moyland, from which village the wood derived its name. After a promising beginning the brigade’s attack slowed under heavy artillery and mortar fire, and the two battalions became involved in close and bitter fighting in the woods. By the morning of the 16th they were holding positions as far forward as the lateral road which crossed the ridge at a neck of the forest south-west of Moyland.108 The brigade’s bitter struggle for Moyland, which all were to agree (writes the divisional historian), “had been the worst experience they had endured since the campaign began”, was to last for three more days.
On 15 February the 3rd Canadian Division took over the 15th Division’s front, at the same time reverting under the command of the 2nd Canadian Corps. The 46th Brigade came under General Spry that evening as the rest of the Scottish Division went into 30th Corps reserve to prepare for the assault on Goch.109 On the narrow front between the inter-corps boundary and the flooded Rhine flats, General Simonds had little room for deployment. Canadian formations could at first be fed in only one brigade at a time, and on the afternoon of 16 February the 7th Brigade entered the battle. Its task was to pass through the 46th Brigade and open the way to Calcar. The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, supported by two
squadrons of the 3rd (Armoured) Battalion Scots Guards, was directed to seize hilly ground in the Louisendorf area three miles south of Moyland; while on its left The Regina Rifle Regiment, with one tank squadron, was to clear the woods closer to Moyland-those lying east of the lateral road, and forming a kind of peninsula to the main wooded area.110
The attack on the right went well. Kangaroos carried the Winnipeg Rifles through heavy shelling and rocket-fire to their objective, which they consolidated by five o’clock. Suffering remarkably few casualties, the battalion took 240 prisoners.111 On the left, however, the Reginas quickly ran into difficulties. Close to their start-line they came under heavy flanking fire from the left, although that part of the forest had been reported cleared by the 46th Brigade. The Reginas spent the rest of the day securing the woods west of the lateral road, ousting members of the 346th Fusilier Battalion and of the 60th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of the 116th Panzer Division. These fell back to the “peninsula”, whence their machine-gun fire effectively barred any crossing of the lateral road. As the Reginas C Company pushed forward along the southern fringe of the wood one of its platoons was counter-attacked and cut off.112
A renewal of the attack on the morning of the 17th achieved little. Heavy artillery and mortar fire disorganized the Regina companies at the edge of the wood. The enemy’s shells were being detonated by the treetops, resulting in a particularly deadly airburst. During the day, however, the 7th Brigade’s reserve battalion, the 1st Canadian Scottish, advanced under heavy fire across the open country on the right flank to capture high ground overlooking Heselerfeld and Rosskamp—farmsteads about half a mile south of the Calcar end of Moyland Wood.113 A junior NCO, Acting Corporal P. P. Katchanoski, took charge when his platoon officer and sergeant became casualties, and directed the platoon’s defence against the many counter-attacks that developed in the next three days. His bold leadership won him the DCM114
With the 7th Brigade’s southern flank thus secured General Spry decided to seal off the eastern end of the woods and then clear north-westward to the Moyland lateral road. Brigadier Spragge ordered an attack from the south, and at 12:30 p.m. on the 18th The Regina Rifle Regiment moved northward across the Bedburg road. Using Wasp flamethrowers B Company gained a footing among the trees, throwing the enemy back 200 yards, but D, trying to pass through, was halted by vigorous counter-attacks from the right flank. The Germans in the woods kept up a devastating machine-gun fire, and from across the Rhine their heavy artillery shelled the Canadian positions continuously. Nevertheless one of D Company’s platoons, commanded by Lieut. W. L. Keating, seized the central crest, and A Company, working north-westward, reached its objective on the lateral road. There the attack stayed, for the Reginas were too exhausted to exploit in the face of the terrific enemy fire.115 For five hours, until reinforced by the rest of D Company, Keating’s handful fought off repeated counter-attacks in hand-to-hand combat. The successful defence of the company objective brought Keating a well-deserved MC116 At the end of the third day of the battle for the woods the battalion’s casualties totalled more than 100.
The Germans were continuing to move in fresh troops. The stern resistance encountered by the Regina Rifles came from a battalion of the 6th Parachute Division newly from North Holland. The 4th Canadian Armoured Division had had a sample of this formation’s quality at Kapelsche Veer. On 16 February Lieut.-General Hermann Plocher’s divisional headquarters had relieved the 84th Infantry Division between the Cleve-Calcar road and the Rhine. At first Plocher had only the remnants of his 16th Parachute Regiment (which, we have noted, had been fighting hard since 10 February), elements of the 346th Infantry and some companies of the 7th Parachute Division; but he was temporarily reinforced shortly by the strong 19th and 21st Parachute Regiments of the last-named division. Then, on the night of 17-18 February, his own 18th Parachute Regiment began arriving at Calcar, to be followed shortly by the 17th.117 On Plocher’s left flank the 116th Panzer Division was being slowly pushed back, leaving the Moyland area as a stubborn salient on which for several more, days the waves of our attacks were to break in vain.
The failure to drive the enemy from Moyland Wood was seriously delaying the 2nd Canadian Corps’ planned advance. The 2nd Canadian Division was still uncommitted; its 4th Brigade had been in the Cleve area since the evening of 16 February, waiting to relieve the 7th Brigade. Accordingly the Corps intentions for the 19th were for the 4th Brigade to pass through the 7th’s battalions and seize objectives beyond the Goch-Calcar road, which, it will be recalled, the 43rd Division had cut near Goch on the 16th. While the 5th Brigade relieved the 46th Scottish Brigade in the western part of Moyland Wood, the 7th was to complete clearing the eastern end.118
The strength of the German defenders still holding the wood seems to have been seriously underestimated. The brigade commander gave the 7th Brigade’s task to the Canadian Scottish, who were directed at the same time to improve their positions to the east and south by gaining more of the high ground overlooking Calcar. In these circumstances the attack against the wood was made by one weak company. Since its advance on the 17th the battalion had suffered heavily from the enemy’s shelling and mortaring, and C Company attacked northward on the morning of the 19th with only 68 men. These crossed the Bedburg road and reached their objective near the wood’s south-eastern tip with few casualties, but immediately came under a holocaust of fire followed by a counterattack which virtually wiped out the company. Only nine men escaped. The battalion’s northern flank, left open by this disaster to C Company, was quickly sealed by the regimental carriers and a troop of tanks from the Fort Garry Horse. The remaining Canadian Scottish companies made little headway towards Calcar, and during the evening had to beat off six counter-attacks by Plocher’s paratroopers. A Scottish outpost established south of Heselerfeld was overrun. The battalion’s casualties for 18 and 19 February totalled 140, including 53 taken prisoner.119
Meanwhile the advance of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade on the right (below, page 487) had improved the 7th Brigade’s chances against Moyland Wood, where the crust of the enemy’s defences had so far shown no sign of cracking. There was a change in the command of the brigade on the 20th, Lt.-Col. A. S.
Gregory, the Reginas’ CO, taking it over temporarily. A very carefully coordinated attack by The Royal Winnipeg Rifles was planned for 21 February. The whole wooded area east of the Moyland lateral road was divided into belts 300 yards wide, each to be successively saturated from west to east by a timed programme of fire from divisional artillery and mortars, while from the southern flank the battalions’ anti-tank guns and medium machine-guns of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa provided close support over open sights. At ten a.m., as fire over the first sector lifted, A and C Companies, each accompanied by two tanks of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment, moved through the Regina Rifles and entered the angle of the wood south-west of Moyland. The flamethrowers with the infantry (a well-planned system of refuelling kept three Wasps continually with each forward company) terrified the Germans and bolstered the morale of the attackers. In spite of mounting casualties, both from machine-gun fire and from the shells bursting among the treetops, the Winnipegs pressed forward, methodically clearing the woods sector by sector, aided by the tanks. In the final stage C Company had been reduced to a strength of 42, while A had no officers and only 25 men left. D Company, coming in with three tanks, completed the task, clearing the eastern end of the wood. This company’s success owed much to the skill and inspiration of its commander, Major L. H. Denison, who went from one platoon to another, keeping his men moving in spite of increasing casualties, and led the assault on the final enemy position. Throughout the Winnipegs’ advance low-flying rocket-firing Typhoons of No. 84 Group, taking advantage of the first good flying weather in five days, gave valuable aid by strafing enemy positions. Mines laid across the eastern exits from the wood prevented our tanks from supporting further infantry advance, but Denison, whose efforts were to win him the DSO, organized D Company’s defences at the edge of the trees; they repelled two sharp counter-attacks during the night.120
Thus the obstacle of Moyland Wood had been overcome at last. The 3rd Division’s fighting there recalls the 2nd Division’s bitter battle in the Forêt de la Londe, and indicates once more what an unpleasant task the capture of a forest area held by a determined enemy can be. It had been very costly; the 7th Brigade’s three battalions had suffered 485 casualties during the six days 16–21 February. The heaviest toll fell upon The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, with 183; of these, 105 (26 of them fatal) were in the final victorious attack of the 21st. The Canadian Scottish had 168 casualties, The Regina Rifle Regiment 134.121 But the 6th Parachute Division had pulled its front back to the line Calcar-Hönnepel. Early on the 22nd the 5th Brigade’s Régiment de Maisonneuve entered Moyland village unopposed.122 The road to Calcar was open.
The Goch–Calcar Road
During the past three days Brigadier F. N. Cabeldu’s 4th Brigade had also been engaged in one of the most bitterly fought actions of Operation VERITABLE.
It had been intended that the brigade should launch the 2nd Division’s re-entry into the battle with the capture of a prominent hill a mile south-east of Calcar,
but this target had been successively replaced by more limited objectives as the flanking threat from Moyland Wood persisted. Finally on 18 February (above, page 484) General Simonds ordered an attack for noon next day to seize a zone of high ground, 1000 yards deep, extending north-east along the Goch-Calcar road for 3000 yards from its intersection with the Bedburg-Üdem road. The operation would be on a two-battalion front, Brigadier Cabeldu placing The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry on the left and The Essex Scottish Regiment on the right, with The Royal Regiment of Canada in reserve. Each assaulting unit would be supported by a squadron of the Fort Garry Horse, who thus established their claim of being the first Canadian armour to fight in Germany. Because the attack was to be made across open country, the 1st Canadian Armoured Personnel Carrier Regiment provided enough Kangaroos to lift two rifle companies from each battalion.123 The fire-plan included support by the machine-guns and mortars of the Toronto Scottish Regiment and by fourteen field and seven medium regiments, plus two heavy batteries.
[Reference to the * footnote is missing124]
Rain during the night of 18–19 February further softened the sodden fields over which the advance had to be made. By mid-morning the 4th Brigade units were forming up in The Royal Winnipeg Rifles’ battalion area. The start-line was the road running north-east through the Louisendorf crossroads; the other axis of the crossroads formed the inter-battalion boundary.125 Promptly at midday the guns opened fire, taking the enemy by surprise. The barrage rolled forward at armoured pace as the Kangaroos, led by the tanks, headed straight for their initial objectives, 2500 yards away. But the heavy going took its toll, and on each sector several personnel-carriers and Shermans bogged down close to the start-line, while on the left flank a number of tanks fell victims to mines. Heavy fire from a screen of 88-mm. guns along the Goch-Calcar road forced the Kangaroos to drop their troops short of their goal. The Carrier Regiment in all had seven vehicles knocked out, although three of these were later recovered.126
The leading RHLI companies, though suffering heavy casualties, managed to fight across the road to within 200 yards of their objectives—the Schwanenhof and Ebben farmsteads. On the right the Essex Scottish, whose targets were the buildings at Göttern and Brunshof, had some elements there at 1:45 p.m. But half an hour later they reported a counter-attack coming in.127 It was the first of a series of heavy blows launched by infantry and armour against their front and southern flank. The Essex fought back grimly and by half-past four had put A and D Companies on their objectives. The Royal Regiment of Canada had now reached their reserve positions, 1500 yards to the rear of the main road. By six o’clock more than 100 prisoners had been sent back, most of them from the 12th Parachute Reconnaissance Battalion (an independent unit formed the previous October !or duty with the 2nd Parachute Corps).128
Then the enemy’s effort redoubled as the 47th Panzer Corps sent a fresh formation into the fight. Most opportunely for General von Lüttwitz, the Panzer Lehr Division had arrived the previous evening at Marienbaum, midway between
* These were from the divisional artilleries of the 2nd and 3rd Canadian, and the 15th, 43rd and 53rd Divisions, and the 5th Army Group Royal Artillery.
Calcar and Xanten. Badly mauled in the Ardennes, its ranks had since been filled with young replacements of little training; nevertheless, as it was about to show, it was still capable of fierce fighting. It seems to have had only 22 tanks actually ready for action on 19 February. Higher authority had decreed that it might be used for short counter-attacks, but not for holding a line of defence. The situation seemed made to order, and about 8:00 p.m. on the 19th it was committed against the Canadians holding the farms along the Goch-Calcar road.129 It appears that a battle-group of Lehr attacked on the RHLI sector, and 116th Panzer Division units against the Essex. Since the Fort Garry tanks had withdrawn at nightfall to re-arm and re-fuel, for the moment our infantry was without armoured support.
Throughout the night successive waves of Germans, supported by heavy artillery and mortar fire, drove against the 4th Brigade’s positions, inflicting severe losses. Towards midnight the Essex CO, Lt.-Col. J. E. C. Pangman, who had previously been out of communication for some time, reported that the situation around his tactical headquarters on the road north of Verkält was “touch and go”, with “enemy tanks and infantry all about”.*130 About the same time the RHLI reported, “Heavy infiltration of enemy infantry and tanks around B and C Companies.”131 At this critical juncture the GOC 2nd Canadian Division, General Matthews, released the 6th Brigade’s Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada to Brigadier Cabeldu, who was thus able to use the Royal Regiment, strengthened by one and later two companies of the Camerons, to maintain his forward line. Cabeldu ordered the Royals to reinforce the Essex Scottish. D Company went forward, but returned on finding the Essex headquarters “held by enemy tanks and infantry”.132 At 1:35 Lt.-Col. Whitaker of the RHLI sent word that his C Company had been overrun and that he was mounting a counter-attack.133 All the men “left out of battle” were called forward to bolster the defences; and by morning the battalion’s counter-effort had restored its positions. Aid came with the arrival of a company of the Camerons, and a troop of Fort Garry tanks moved up in time to help beat off a strong daylight counter-attack.134
Meanwhile Brigadier Cabeldu had been organizing an attempt by the Royal Regiment (Lt.-Col. R. M. Lendrum) to recover the lost positions of the Essex Scottish and rally B and C Companies’ survivors, who were sheltering in scattered slit trenches. Preceded by heavy artillery fire, the attack went in at 9:30 a.m. After an hour’s stiff fighting contact was established with Lt.-Col. Pangman, who was holding out with the remnant of his headquarters in a farmhouse cellar. But so deadly was the enemy fire that it was 2:00 p.m., after a second Royal attack had been mounted, before carriers could reach the spot to evacuate the wounded and the weary headquarters staff.135 During the afternoon stragglers from the Essex trickled back; but it was not until next morning that A Company, which had been written off as lost, reappeared, having held its ground for 36 hours with
* Among the Canadians captured here was the commander of A Squadron, Fort Garry Horse, Major B. F. Macdonald, who, though wounded, continued to assist the infantry when his tank was knocked out on the objective. Concealing his rank from his captors, he escaped some ten miles behind the enemy’s lines, and the information he brought back was of great value in planning the Corps’ subsequent advance. He was awarded the DSO.
only 35 fit men and some wounded.136 Altogether the two-day battle cost the Essex Scottish 51 killed, 99 wounded and 54 taken prisoner. The Royal Regiment had had 64 casualties.137 Pangman won an immediate DSO, as did Major K. W. MacIntyre, commander of the “lost A” Company. Six other members of the Essex Scottish received awards for bravery. One of them was CSM F. L. Dixon, who got a second bar to his Military Medal from Dieppe. He was the only Canadian soldier to win the decoration three times in this war.
Panzer Lehr’s effort was almost spent. Shortly before 6:00 p.m. on the 20th a final attack came in on the RHLI from the north-east. Cabeldu at once sent forward the reserve Fort Garry squadron and previously uncommitted elements of the Cameron Highlanders, and within two hours the Germans were beaten back.138 The important Goch-Calcar road was now secure, the 2nd Division had a firm base from which to mount further operations and, as we have seen, the success here helped the 7th Brigade to win Moyland Wood. In seizing their objective and then holding it so doggedly against the enemy’s best efforts, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry had suffered 125 casualties. With the aid of their supporting weapons they had accounted for a good share of the. brigade’s estimated toll of 11 German tanks and six 88-mm. SP guns.139 (No less than seven tanks were credited to the 18th Canadian Anti-Tank Battery’s C Troop, whose commander, Lieut. David Heaps, won the Military Cross.)140 Recognition of the RHLI’s prowess came in the award of a bar to Lt.-Col. Whitaker’s DSO (won at Dieppe), and six decorations to other officers and men of his battalion. The Panzer Lehr Division, having lost 46 men captured and evidently a considerably larger number killed and wounded,141 was withdrawn on the night of 21-22 February to the area west of Üdem, and shortly sent to the München-Gladbach sector to oppose the American Ninth Army.142
The 4th Brigade had had sad losses (the combined casualties of its own three battalions and The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada for 19 and 20 February numbered just 400),143 but it was pleased with itself, and it had reason to be. The brigade diarist wrote:
All units have done an exceptionally fine job of fighting, and the RHLI “fortress” is an outstanding example of a well planned and executed operation and of the ability of our troops under good leadership and by sheer guts and determination to take and hold difficult ground against the enemy’s best.
The Capture of Goch
Operation VERITABLE was drawing to a close, although not more than half its second phase had been completed. A new offensive effort was now being organized. On the 30th Corps front the final act of VERITABLE had been the struggle for Goch, which, as we have seen, was a bulwark of the German defence system east of the Reichswald.
Divided in two by the River Niers, the town of 10,000 inhabitants was guarded in all sides except the south-east by an inner and an outer anti-tank ditch, about 1000 yards apart. By 17 February, as noted above (page 482) three divisions
were closing in on Goch—the 53rd Welsh and the 43rd Wessex from the north and northeast, and the 51st Highland from the north-west. General Horrocks planned a full corps operation to take the town. Using crossings over the outer ditch seized by the Wessex Division’s 214th Brigade, the 44th Lowland Brigade (15th Division), moving up from Cleve by KANGAROO, was to assault on the 18th between the Goch-Cleve railway and the Calcar road, while the 51st Division cleared that part of Goch lying south of the Niers. West of the railway the 53rd Division would mark time on the high ground, ready to commit one or more brigades at short notice.144
The operation went on as planned. During the night of 17-18 February the 214th Brigade established nine crossings over the outer ditch, about 2500 yards from the heart of the town. The 44th Brigade’s assault began early next afternoon with two battalions, aided by special equipment of the 79th Armoured Division, advancing on separate axes. They met heavy machine-gun fire, but by midnight both had consolidated bridgeheads over the inner ditch. On the other side of the Niers the Highland Division’s 153rd Brigade, attacking as planned at 11:00 p.m. on the 18th, had entered the southern part of the town. Rubble from bombing having stopped the tanks, the infantry had close street-fighting all next day and the following night. By then. the 44th Brigade had cleared its sector as far as the river and taken 600 prisoners; while the 71st Brigade (of the 53rd Division) had moved up to secure the factory area in the north-west corner of the town.145
The garrison commander surrendered on the 19th, but confused fighting was to continue south of the Niers for another 48 hours. Early on the 19th, HQ 2nd Parachute Corps, commanded by General of Parachute Troops Eugen Meindl, had taken over the front on both sides of Goch, with the 7th Parachute Division and what was left of the 84th Infantry Division under command. But Meindl’s attempts to strengthen the garrison by moving the 21st Parachute Regiment over from the Moyland sector to rejoin its parent formation south of Goch came too late to be effective. By the evening of 21 February the battered town was free of German troops.146 East of Goch the Scottish Division’s 227th Brigade had captured Buchholt on 20 February. Farther north, in the Wessex Division’s sector, the 214th Brigade kept pace by seizing the village of Halvenboom, some 1000 yards south of the Calcar road, thereby helping to shield the right flank of the hard-pressed 4th Canadian Brigade.147
The 30th Corps “intentions” for 21 February in general required formations only to “maintain present positions”.148 The 51st Highland Division was mopping up south-west of Goch to link up with the Afferden area, which the 52nd Lowland Division, moving along the right bank of the Maas from Gennep, had finished clearing on the 18th after some bloody fighting for the strong Kasteel Blijenbeek, ancient guardian of the frontier.149 The weight of the First Canadian Army’s effort was now to be shifted to the left, and the primary responsibility of General Horrocks’ northern wing was to protect the flank of the 2nd Canadian Corps as it launched the offensive designed to complete the clearing of the Rhineland.150