This is the third in a trio of articles Fred Rogger wrote about his battlefields and cemeteries tour in the Netherlands. He was exploring the Canadian experience there in the Second World War.
We again see geography dictate the terms of the battlefield in the Rhineland campaign. Operation Market Garden was about A Bridge Too Far (a movie too long!), and the need to secure bridges across the Rhine by dropping 35,000 troops behind enemy lines because if they had attacked head on the Germans would have blown all the bridges while retreating. No bridges? No largest airborne drop and attack in history. The failure of Market Garden did then necessitate a frontal attack across the rolling hills of eastern Holland and western Germany, the subsequent destruction of several bridges by the retreating Germans, and the use by the Allies of the longest bailey bridges in history. Huge artillery and tank battles result in the largest set piece military action in history as Operation Veritable, Blockbuster and Plunder result in the destruction of German resistance and the securing of the remaining bridges and crossings of the Rhine. Again, if you don’t control the Rhine River valley, you don’t get to the Ruhr industrial heartland and the capital Berlin.
Around the communities of Apeldoorn and Putten we learned that securing the smaller rivers and their river plains was crucial for the Canadian army’s strategy to drive northward and cut off the German garrison in north western Holland. The lessons learned in the Breskens Pocket and Walcheren are used here as buffaloes traverse the rivers, deploying infantry and gear quickly, catching the faltering and scattering Germans on their heels. The “Water Rats” were at it again!
Pressing northward with speed the Canadians find human tragedy on a massive scale when they liberate the Westerbork transit camp. Used by the Nazis to round up Jews and other “undesirables” before transferring them to the death camps in the east, Westerbork is synonymous the world over with evil. Anne Frank, and over one hundred thousand other Dutch people, were shipped like cattle to places like Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz, never to return.
The final objective for the Canadian army was Delfzijl on the North sea, which was finally taken on the 2nd of May, 1945, six days before the official end of the war. The people of the Netherlands were starving and many of their cities destroyed, but with massive food drops by the Canadian army, and renewed hope for a better world, the rebuilding began immediately. And the tight bond between the people of the Netherlands and Canada has simply grown stronger ever since.
– submitted by Fred Rogger