With the Falaise Gap closed, the Allied armies continued the eastward push towards Germany, the ultimate objective of the campaign. As they distanced themselves from the Normandy beachheads, keeping the troops supplied with fuel, food, ammunition, and replacement tanks and trucks became increasingly difficult. They could not maintain an intense offensive over the entire Allied front -- the beachhead harbour facilities, damaged in a major gale on 19 June, were too far from the front. The liberation of the Channel Ports -- the seaports and fortified towns of the French and Belgian coasts -- such as Le Havre, Dieppe, Boulogne, Calais, and Dunkirk -- was an interim solution and by the end of August became the priority task for 1st Canadian Army. On 1 September, 2nd Division liberated Dieppe, a port that they had raided with such great loss two years before. The 2nd British Corps invested Le Havre from 10-12 September. After crossing the Somme River, 3rd Division captured Boulogne on the 23rd. Dunkirk was besieged but did not surrender until the end of the war; Calais fell to 2nd Division on 1 October after a week of bitter fighting. In addition to gaining additional port capacity, the Allied liberation of the seaports and fortified towns along the French and Belgian coasts also neutralized the German V1 and V2 launch sites that had been harassing southern England.

Officer Removing a Land Mine from the Harbour Road, Dieppe, France, 5 September 1944.
City of Edmonton Archives (Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection, A96-72, Box 4).

Officer Removing a Land Mine from the Harbour Road, Dieppe, France, 5 September 1944.

 

The Allied advance had progressed rapidly from the Seine and, on 4 September, 2nd British Army seized Antwerp and its port facilities virtually intact. The largest port in northwest Europe, Antwerp was the ultimate solution to the Allies' supply conundrum, but, in one of the major strategic failures of the war, the Allies could not use it! Antwerp was some 50-miles inland, and the German army was allowed to keep the land on both banks of the Scheldt Estuary leading to the docks of Antwerp. The British halted at Antwerp rather than aggressively pursuing the retreating 15th German Army, and the latter quickly become fully entrenched on both banks of the Scheldt. The task of dislodging the Germans and thereby opening up Antwerp soon fell to the 1st Canadian Army.

At the very moment the British army was allowing the retreating Germans to organize themselves in the lower Scheldt Estuary, the supply conundrum precipitated a major argument over the strategic direction of the campaign. Field Marshal Montgomery, commander of the Northern Army Group, argued for a single thrust from the north into Germany. Although Montgomery's plan required slowing down the American armies to the south, General Eishenhower acceded to Monty's Operation Market-Garden. (This bold airborne/armoured attempt to cross the lower Rhein at Arnhem was the subject of one of the best Hollywood films on the Second World War, A Bridge Too Far.) The failure of Operation Market-Garden, however, settled the argument -- the war would be fought over the entire front. Opening up Antwerp to shipping was essential.

DocumentDocument
City of Edmonton Archives (Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection, A96-72, Box 4).

"When I Am L.O.B."

 

The battle for the Scheldt Estuary would prove to be a stiff challenge. Through September, while most members of the 1st Canadian Army were tied down investing the seaports and fortified towns of the French and Belgian coasts, infantrymen of the Canadian and Polish armoured divisions were slogging through the marshes and mud that encased the flooded low ground in parts of the Scheldt Estuary. On 6 October, the Battle of Beveland began and with it the main battle to open up Antwerp. From this date until the 13th, the Canadians suffered heavy losses. German defenders took advantage of the only high ground available in the area -- the top of the dykes that surrounded the estuary -- and pounded the attackers. Only by 24 October did the Canadians secure the eastern sector of the isthmus of Beveland-Walcheren. From there, their offensive continued north towards the Maas River and the Netherlands. By late October, they seized Beveland, and, on 8 November, they finally drove the Germans from Walcheren. On 3 November, the 3rd Canadian Division finally secured the south bank of the estuary, an objective that had proven elusive despite repeated attacks.

The battle for the Scheldt ended after a month of bitter fighting. The cost was high -- the Canadians suffered almost 6,400 casualties -- but the Allies had accomplished their goal. The route to Antwerp was safe, and the way was clear for the final advance into Germany. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, declared later that victory over Germany was assured "when the first ship moved unmolested up the Scheldt."

 

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