History of the 64 Infanteriedivision June-November 1944

Festung Schelde-Süd - Operation Switchback

 

 

The 64 Infanteriedivision was established as a static division of the 27. Welle on the Truppenübungsplatz Wahn near Cologne on 26 June 1944 for deployment to France. The soldiers for the division were largely recruited from those on leave from the Russian front (mostly from supply and administrative units), as well as those having recovered from injuries suffered on the Russian front and, finally, ordinary recruits. The result of this process was that relatively inexperienced combat troops were led by relatively experienced platoon and company commanding officers. Nevertheless, the average age of the soldiers, 38 years, and the shortage of infantry soldiers and equipment did not bode well for the combat-efficiency of the division. Still, the division managed to put up  fierce resistance in the Breskens pocket. In fact, the division was the best in the entire AOK 15 and was deliberately sacrificed in an attempt to stall the Allies as long as possible, as we shall see later.

Originally, the division, commanded by Generalmajor Knut Eberding, consisted of 3 infantry regiments, each with 2 battalions:

  • Grenadierregiment 1037, commanded by Oberst Erich Schmidt, with 2 battalions

  • Grenadierregiment 1038, commanded by Oberstleutnant Siegfried Erfurth, with 2 battalions

  • Grenadierregiment 1039, commanded by Oberstleutnant Wilhelm Boffer, with 2 battalions

At the time of his appointment Eberding was 48 years old and widely recognized as a very competent and intelligent officer. Eberding was given command of the division on 5 July 1944.

An additional infantry unit was the Füselierbataillon 164, which was actually an ordinary infantry battalion, though the soldiers used bicycles to be more mobile. The artillery of the division was grouped in the Artillerieregiment 164, commanded by Major Flamme. The III. Abteilung of the regiment was fully motorized. However, the latter unit (with its 15cm guns) had to be left behind in the fortress Boulogne, As a replacement, the division received the II/AR 147 whid had been left behind by the 47 ID due to lack of the necessary horses. A further reinforcemùent was the  II. Abteilung/Artillerieregiment 1245 (see below)

 

so that the regiment had to be reinforced with other units:

  • Artilleriegruppe Kuhlmann with 4 batteries (12x 15cm French guns)

  • Artilleriegruppe von Roeder with 3 batteries (9x 10,5cm leichte FH42)

  • Artilleriegruppe Beeri with 3 batteries (9 guns of varied types)

  • 5 separate batteries (15 guns?)

In all then, the division possessed just over 50 artillery guns.

 

Further units of the division were:

  • Pionierbataillon 164, commanded by Hauptmann Lasse. All but the 3. Kompanie of this unit had to be left behind in the Fortress Boulogne

  • Panzerjägerkompanie 164, with 12x 7.5cm Pak

  • Nachrichtenabteilung 164

  • Kommandeur der Divisionsnachschubtruppen 164 with the Divisionseinheiten

Despite the fact that the 64 Infanteriedivision was a static or bodenständige division, it was allocated more troops than normal. Thus, each of the 3 regiments had an extra Sturmkompanie with younger infantry soldiers. Instead of the normal strength of some 12,500 men, the divisuon was allocated some 14,000 men.

 

Stellenbesetzung 64ID
Divisionskommander Generalmajor Knut Eberding 05.07.44-02.11.44
Ia Oberstleutnant Anselm Bosch 01.07.44-25.10.44
  Major Hans-Joachim Täubrich 25.10.44-02.11.44
1b Major Hans-Joachim Täubrich 00.07.44-02.11.44
Ic Leutnant Oswald Freiherr von Fürstenberg 00.00.00-01.11.44
Adjudant Hauptmann Hugo Hassebrauck 00.06.44-00.08.44
  Major Werner Hundt 00.08.44-28.10.44
Kommandeur GR 1037 Oberst Erich-Otto Schmidt 07.07.44-12.09.44
  Major Hermann-Heinrich Rothert 12.09.44-18.10.44
  Major Wilhelm Krüppel 18.10.44-20.10.44
Kommandeur GR 1038 Oberstleutnant Siegfried Erfurth 00.07.44-31.11.44
Kommandeur GR 1039 Oberstleutnant Wilhelm Boffer 00.07.44-01.11.44
Kommandeur AR 164 Oberstleutnant Flamme 00.00.00-00.00.00

 

Originally, the division was to have been fully operational on 1 September 1944. However, due to the rapid allied advance the division was transported to the AOK 15 as early as 20 August 1944, where it occupied a crucial stretch of coastline between Calais and Boulogne, taking over the strongpoints from the 47 Infanteriedivision.

 

1. Retreat (1-8 September 1944)

 

However, by the end of the month of August, the situation at the front had changed to such an extent that the division was transferred to St-Omer and Hesdin in an attempt to halt the advancing Allies. It was the intention to take up a blicking position on the river Somme. Together with other units of the AOK 15 the division moved to the southeast. The main element of the division left the French coast on 1 September 1944.

Meanwhile, however, the British had crossed the Somme near Amiens. In order to avoid being encircled the Germans withdrew. On 2 September 1944 units of the division clashed with British recce troops of the 7 Armoured Division, suffereing heavy casualties. Some days later the division unsuccessfully tried to stop the Allies at  Kortrijk, after which they huried north

On 3 September 1944 Eberdring received orders to withdraw during the night.

On 4 September 1944 the division took up a blocking position near Auvin

On 5 September 1944 the division took up a blocking position near Aire. On the same day the division received orders to move that night to Oudenaarde in an attempt to force a breakthrough across the river Schelde, in order to prevent an encirclement.

In the evening of 6 September 1944 the division arrived on foor in Ieper, having retreated via Hazebrouck and Bailleul.

On 7 September 1944 the division reached the line Kortrijk-Ingelmunster. During the retreat the infantry had to conduct several fighting withdrawals against the advance units of the 1st Polish Armoured Division. However, this division verred towards Ursel and Gent, so that the Germans were no longer being chased.

During the chaotic withdrawal several other units joined the division, more specifically the I. and III./Fallschirmjägerersatz- und Ausbildingsregiment, commanded by Major Strothmnn and Major Bieber, respectiely This training unit had been based in Bar-le-Duc in the Champagne region of France Also joining the 64 D during the withdraal was the II. Abteilung/Artillerieregiment 1245 under the command of Major Beeri, which had retreated from the Dieppe region. These units were to play an important role in later fighting.

During the night of 7-8 September the 245 Infanteriedivision fell back on the city of Brugge.

On 8 September 1944 the division was located to the southeast of Bruges, behind the Gent-Brugge canal near Knesselare, where it functioned as a reserve behind the front line. Its new adversary, the 4th Canadian Armoured Division had followed only slowly so that the Germans had managed to position themselves behind the canal without problems. In fact, the Canadian division had all but halted in order to avoid destruction of the historical city. After negotiations with Genealleutnant Sander of the 245 Infanteriedivision, during which both sides expressed their willingness to prevent damage to the historical city, a Canadian attack was no longer planned as the defenders had indicated that Bruges would not be defended.

On this day the German defensive line behind the Zeebrugge-Bruges-Gent canal and the area to the east of it was commanded by the Armeeoberkommando 15 and ran as follows:

  • Generalkommando LXVII Armeekorps (Maldegem)

    • Between Zeebrugge and Brugge the Kampfgruppe von Hertlein

    • Between Brugge and Moerbrugge the 245 Infanteriedivision

    • Between Moerbrugge and Beernem the 711 Infanteriedvision

    • Between Beernem and Aalter (bridge) the 64 Infanteriedivision

  • Generalkommando LXXXVI Armeekorps (Boeikhoute)

    • Between Aalter (bridge) and the Mariakerke the 59 Infanteriedivision

    • Between Mariakerke and Zaffelare parts of the 70 Infanteriedivision

    • Between Zaffelare and Moerbeke (strongpoints only) 346 Infanteriedivision (including 17 Luftwaffenfelddivision)

    • Between Moerbeke and Stekene (strongpoints only) the 331 Infanteriedivision

    • Between Stekene and the left Schelde bank (strongpoints ony) the units having retreated from Antwerp

    • Defence of the assembly area Eeklo the 712 Infanteriedivision

  • Generalkommando LXXXIX Armeekorps (Hoofdplaat)

    • Crossing sites at Breskens and Terneuzen with the 344 Infanteriedivision

The above defence line can be visualised with the GE animation below:

 

 

2.The Bruges-Gent Canal: the fighting at Moerbrugge (8-11 September 1944)

 

On 8 September 1944, however, the Canadians mounted a successful operation to cross the canal near Moerbrugge (Oostkamp). Here, the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade was tasked with crossing the canal and building a bridgehead from where the attack could be continued. The attacking battalion was to be the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada. In a second stage, the Lincoln and Welland Regiment would expand the bridgehead.

After an insifficient artillery preparatuion soldiers of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada began crossing the canal at 5.30 pm, in 2 boats which they had come across. After several crossings with these 2 boats, a small bridgehead was indeed formed. Soon, however, a german anti-tank gun started firing at the crossing site, causing numerous casualties and sinking one boat.

Unknowingly, the Canadians had chosen a good location for the crossing, right on the boundary between the 711 Infantariedivision and the 245 Infanteriedivision., explaining the initial success for the Canadians. The 245 Infanteriedivision, however, had been reinforced with the Flak guns of the Flakregiment 129. The well-aimed fire of these guns initially made it impossible for the Canadian attackers to construct a Bailey bridge. To make matters worse, the German defenders were determined to hold their positions and both divisions carried out numerous counterattcks. Even though the Canadians maned to hold on, conditions inside the bridgehead worsened hoour by hour with shortages of ammunition, wound dressings and food. In the afternoon of 9 September 1944 the situation was so bad that the cartridges of the individual soldiers had to be collected to provide the machine gunners with ammunition.

Also on this day the AOK 15 was ordered to allocate the 64 Infanteriedivision for the defence of the Brückenkopf Breskens. However, Generalmajor Eberding was not informed.

 

On 9 September 1944 the Germans were still determined to destroy the bridgehead. In addition to the 5 batteries of the Flakregiment 129, the 245 Infanteriedivision was again able to resupply its artillery, so that the Canadian positions and the bridge under constructions were heavily shelled.

Nevertheless, in the night of 9-10 September 1944 the Canadians managed to finish their bridge.

 

In the early hours of 10 September 1944 tanks of the South Alberta Regiment crossed the bridge only just in time to stop a German counterattack. Gradually, the Canadians were able to expand the bridgehead, but it was only in the afternoon that the town of Moerbrugge was liberated, though only with heavy casualties.

Also on this day the Germans formed an Auffangslinie, following the run of the Leopold canal with the purpose of collecting and reintegrating loose units and individual soldiers. More importantly perhaps, the German also started to prepare a new defensive line here, under the temporary command of Oberst Koch, the commander of the  Flakregiment 129.

 

On 11 September 1944 Brigadier James Jefferson, commanding the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade, gave orders to continue the attack from the bridgehead. However, the combined infantry and tank attack towards Lekkerhoek (1.5km north of the canal) was slowed down by fierce German resistance, which only decreased in the afternoon. In the evening an unxpected high numer of German soldiers surrendered to a motorized company of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment At the hamlet of Velldkapel German resistance also appeared o wane when the Germand appeared to be withdrawing.

What the Canadians did not know is that the 711 Infanterieidvision had received orders to withraw during the night, as it was to be ferried across the Westerschelde. The division was relieved by the Grenadierregiment 1037of the 64 Infanteriedivision. Soon after, however, the division was ordered to retreat an take up new positions behind the Leopold canal. However, even before this new order could be carried out the battalion headquarters of II/GR 1037 was surrounded, causing the commander Hauptman Erich Heinkele to commit suicide, while his adjudant  was killed in an attempt to destroy a tank with a Panzerfaust. The comander of I/GR 1037, Major Hermann Rothert, who was on his ay to the Leopold Canal was ordered to turn around in order to help the encircled troops break out. Just before dark, a counterattack managed to rescue the surrounded battalion and both battalions withdraw to the Leopold canal, where the regiment wasin reserve near Sluis.

Also on 11 September 1944 General Eberding moved into the fomer headquarters of the 712 Infanteriedivision in Oostburg, which now became the divisional headquarters of the 64 Infanteriedivision. The headquarters were located at the lyceum in the Bredestraat. More importantly, though, the headquarters would be protected by the many bunkers present. Eberding was appointed Festungskommandant with the mission of defending the Festung Schelde-Süd to the last man. In Oostburg, Eberding also met Hauptmann Timm, the commander of the Nachkommando KVA A2. As Sachbearbeiter für Wasserbau Timm was the specialist on all defensive matters in the sector.

 

During the night of 11-12 September 1944 the 245, 64 and 59 Infanteriedivisionen withdrew across the Schipdonk and Leopold canals and took up positions as follows:

  • Between Zeebrugge and Moerkerke (Leopold canal) the 245 Infnteriedivision

  • Between Moerkerke and Sint-Laureins (Leopold canal) the Grenadierregiment 1038 of the 64 Infanteredivision

  • Between Stroobrugge and Eeklo (Schipdonk canal) the Grenadierregiment 1039 of the 64 Infanteriedivision

  • East of Eeklo the 59 Infanteriedivision

 

2.The Leopold Canal: the fighting at Moerkerke (12-14 September 1944)

 

On 12 September 1944 the Algonquin Regiment of the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division was located near Sijsele, while the other two battalions, which had suffered greatly in the fighting at Moerbrugge were resting and reorganizing. On this day, the Algonquin Regiment was given new orders. It was to prepare to cross both the Schipdonk canal and the Leopold Canal near Moerkerke by 10pm that night. In the second exploitation phase the other 2 battalions were to break out of the bridgehead and advance towards Breskens.

Present-day historians usually agree that this was a very bold and optimistic, even foolish order.. At Moerkerke the two canals ran parallel with a dyke in the middle, presenting a considerable obstacle. The Canadians, however, again underestimated the German defences, believing to be weakl in numbers and of an inferior quality.

The German defenders behind the canals at this location were part of the Grenadierregiment 936 of the 245 Infanteriedivision, which was defending from Oostkerke (Damme area) to Middelburg. This divion had suffered greatly in recent days. It could only muster some 5000 men and had lost much of its equipment, including most of its anti-tank guns.

It was planned that the Algonquin Regiment would receive new troops for the attack, would reconnoitre the assault area and would pracise with the large 18-man boats. In reality, though, there was little or no preparation time. The new troops arrived so late that only their names could be registered and they could be distributedover the 4 companies so that each company counted approximately 90 men. Also, reconnaissance would found to e impossible as the dyke between the canals effectively blocked views across the canal. Finally, there was no time to practise using the asault boats.

At around 9.30 pm a detachment of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment pushed the boats into the water of the Schipdonk canal. Immediately, the who operation went trriby wrong: soldiers fell into the water and lost time getting into the wobbly boats. In fact, by the time that the attack was to start the preparatory artillery barrage had already stopped, effectively leaving the troops to fend for themselves. Further problems occurred when the large boats had to be pulled across the dyke between the two canals, causing numerous boats to tear their hulls as a result of barbed wire. Meanwhile, Canadian engineers had started to builld a 100-meter long bridge across the two canals.

To make matters worse the German defenders had installed observation and listening posts on the dyke between the canals. This resulted in the defenders behind the Leopold canal being alerted and openingfire straightaway. Especialy effective was flanking fire from machine guns and a 2cm Flak gun. Nevertheless, Canadian losses remained small as the Germans were only few in number. Exhausted the Canadian companies eventuall made it to the norhern bank of the Leopold canal. In the dark the Canadian attackets established positions near the hamlet of 't Molentje. German resistance was intially light but intensified duirng the night, when the Algonquins tried to expand the bridgehead.

Also on this day the 64 Infanteriedivision arrived in West-Zeeuws-Vlaanderen

Finally on his day, the Germans evacuated Brugge, after having blown up its bridges.

 

At dawn on 13 September 1944 the attackers found the Germans had infiltrated in their positions,, which was the start of a series of bitter fights. To make matters worse a persistent ground mist meant supporting artillery fire was ineffective and radio contact was lost with two companies.

On the German side, meanwhile, the commander of the LXXXIX Armeekorps, General der Infanterie von und zu Gilsa had decided that the Canadian bridgehead had to be destroyed, as the operation to cross the Schelde was still in progress and could not be endangered.  He therefore ordered the commander of the 245 Infanteriedivision, Generallautnant Sander, who had his heaquarters at Lapscheure, to break up the bridgehead, promising the help of the corps reserve if required. With the frontline of the division considerably shortened, the German artillery reinforced, the guns finding their ranges better all the time, and the very effective use for the first time of the one pivoting 15cm gun of the 2/MAA 203 near Cadzand, the planned counterattack had every chance of success

Also on 13 September 1944 the Grenadierregiment 1037 withdraw behind the Leopold canal and was stationed near Sluis as reserve. The move, however, was not without problems. Desiring to cross the bridges at Stroobrugge, part of the regiment was attacked by tanks of the 28th Canadian Armoured Regiment (the British Columbia Regiment) near Maldegem. The tanks managed to reach the bridge across the Schipdonk canal and tried to cross it. As the Germans were forced to blow up the bridge, the remainder of the regiment was forced to take the bridge at Middelburg to cross the canal.

 

Towards 9am on 14 September 1944  German troops of the reserve unit, the Grenadierregiment 935, carried out the first attacks. Also the corps reserve, the Grenadierregiment 1037 of the 64 Infanteriedivision near Sluis, recently reinforced with a Fallschimjäger battalion, was ordered to prepare a counteracttack.

Insidd the bridgehead meanwhile the Canadians were suffering from ammunition shortages, as was the supporting artillery. In the course of the morning the gound mist also lifted, as a result of which the Germans started shelling the location where the Bailey bridge was under construction, causing several casualties and effectively putting an end to construction work.

As the situation became increasingly desparate during the morning, the withdrawal order was effectively issued towards noon. With the help of a smoke screen laid by the artillery, the Algoquins left their position, being covered by by the wounded who could not be transported and by soldiers who had nor received the order to withdraw. Due to the effective use of arrtillery support most able soldiers managed to escape bac across the Canals, from where the disorganized battalion was sent to the sanatorium in Donk to recover.

The toll for both Canadians and Germans had been very heavy. In less than a day 35 Canadian soldiers had been killed, 53 wounded and 60 missing (most of whom made prisoner). The Germans suffered about 100 killed. One of those killed was Major Hermann Drill, the commander of the 936 Grenadierregiment..Some 800 wounded Germans were treated during the operation. A simple operating theatre had been established in the Hotel Sanders-de Pauw in Sluis. Wound were also housed in the customs office, while the dying were put in a garage.

The Canadians quickly drew lessons from the debacle, with General Simonds of the 2nd Canadian Corps ordering that future operations cound not take place unless reinforcements were fully available. Also, it was decided not to fight any more offensive actions for as long as the bulk of the German forces had not escaped across the Schelde.

Also on 14 September 1944 the 59 Infanteriedivision started withdrawing (in order to be ferried across the Westerschelde via Terneuzen). The Grenadierregiment 1039 and the Füselierbataillon 164 took over part of their positions.

 

After beating back the Canadian attempt to cross the Leopold and Schipdonk canals, in which the Grenadierregiment 1037 played a small role as we have seen, the 64 Infanteriedivision prepared to cross the Schelde. Orders given to the divison to destroy its equipment were fiercely protested by Eberding and Eberding had to be explicitly ordered to carry out the orders. In fact, Eberding's protests turned out to be completely justified, as on 15 September 1944 the division received orders to defend the Festung Schelde-Süd. Immediately, Eberding demanded extra equipment as copensation for the suffered losses and shortages, in addition to extra troops.

 

3. Advance alongside the Schipdonk canal (14-22 September 1944)

 

On 14 September 1944 the 4th Canadian Armoured Brigade of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division was ordered to proceed in an early direction. The brigade consisted of three armoured regiments (21st, 22nd, 28th) and a motorized infantry battalion (the Lake Superior Regiment). The recce battalion of the division, the South Alberta Regiment, which was to have broken through at Moerkerke, remained there.

The 21st Canadian Armoured Regiment (the Governor General's Foot Guards) followed the Sijsele-Maldegem-Eeeklo road. The unit liberated Maldegem on this day. Even though patrols came close to Eeklo, the city could not be liberated because all the bridges across the Schipdonk canal had been blown and a Bailey bridge first had to be built near Balgerhoeke, northwest of Eeklo

Once the bridge had been built, the 22nd Canadian Armoured Regiment (the Canadian Grenadier Guards), together with the the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada from the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade would veak out of this bridgehead towards Waarschoot in the southeast.

The 28th Canadian Armoured Regiment (the British Columbia Regiment) operated more to the north, using the roads just south of the Schipdonk canal.

 

When the battalion reached the bridges at Stroobruggein the early morning of 15 September 1944, these were blown up by the German defenders.

The Lake Superior Regiment initially operated on the southern flankof the brigade using the Brugge-Gent road as its main axis of advance

 

In this period the 4th Canadian Armoured Division radically changed its battle tactics. In the past the tank units had been able to operate independently. However, the recent introduction by the Germans of the Panzerschreck had resulted in tanks without infantry support becoming very vulnerable. The ensuing losses had prompted commanders to orders that, from now on, tanks and infantry were to operate closely together. More specifically, a tank brigade was allocatezd 2 infantry battlaions for close protection.

This expains why the infantry battalions Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada and Lincoln and Welland Regiment of the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade were redeployed to support the 4th Canadian Armoured Brigade, for which purpose they were also suboedinated to it on 15 September.

Once the Bailey bridge at Balgerhoeke had been constructed and recce had shown that the German forces were wothdrawing in an easterly direction, the Loncoln and Walland Regiment was tasked with the liberation of Eeklo. On the German side the defenders were part of the Füslierbataillon 164. This was the mobile divisional reserve of the 64 Infanteriedivision, which had received orders to delay the Canadian advance for as long as possible. The Lincoln and Welland Regiment, however, managed to push back this unit, liberating Eeklo in the late afternoon of 15 September.

 

Also on 15 September 1944 the Grenadierregiment 1039 and the Füselierbataillon 164 withdrew behind the Leopold canal, taking up positions east of Sint-Laureins.

 

In the evening of 16 September 1944  a company of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment had been able to reach Moerhizen, just a few hundred metres south of the Leopold canal. Following this move, the entire battalion assumed defensive positions south of the Leopold canl

 

On 17 September 1944 the Lincoln and Welland Regiment were relieved by the Lake Superior Regiment in their defensive positions south of the Leopold canal.

Also on this day, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, supported by the tanks of the 22nd Canadian Armoured egiment (the Canadian Grenadier Guards), reached Waarachoot, after which it took up positions on the western side of the Gent-Terneuzen canal.

 

On 18 September 1944 the Lincoln and Welland Regiment had restarted their advance east in the direction of Bassevelde, supported by the tanks of the 28th Canadian Armoured Regiment (British Columba Regiment). After initial good progress, fierce resistance was encountered near Bassevelde.

Also on this day the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada liberated Zelzate. Further on this day the Algonquin Regiment performed mopping-up operations in Ertvelde.

Finally on this day, the Greadierregiment 1037 of the 64 Infanteriedivision, which had been lying in reserve near Sluis, relieved the 245 Infanteriedivision in the sector Oostkerke-Middelburg. The latter was marched to Breskens to be ferried across the Westerschelde.

 

After this resistance had been overcome, the 2 battalions took up new positions on 19 September 1944, prepairng to attack Philippine via Boekhoute. Ths action was planned as an attempt to cross into Zeeuws-Vlaanderen at the place where the by now infamous Leopold canal ended.

Also on this day the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada liberated Sas van Gent. Further on this day the Algonquin Regiment performed mopping-up operations in Ertvelde.

 

The attack by the two battalions started on 20 September 1944. However, resistance was so fierce near Boukhoute that no further progress could be made. Also, tank support was ineffective diue to the terrain being inundated.. Th reason for the strong German resistance was that the 712 Infanteriedivision was trying to escape via Isabellasluis and was covering this escape.

Also on this day the German 712 Infanteriedivsion evacuated Philippine and the last units of th division passed through the lines of the 64 Infaneriedivision.It was also to be ferried across the Westerschelde. From then on the Festung Schelde-Süd was completely cut off and the 64. Infanteriedivision could only rely on itself.

Finally on this day, Hitler declared that the Brückenkopf Breskens would now be called Festungs Schelde-Sud and Eberding made Festungskommandant. No doubt emboldened by his new status Eberding wastes no time demanding extra resources, both material and human. He also forbade any units in the pocket from then on to leave it, but was forced to give in on this point to higher headqurters. Thus, he was unable to keep the 2. Kompanie/Marinefestungspionierbataillon 312 from leaving the pocket, as well as several motorized vehicles of the Kriegsmarine.

 

It was only in the course of  21 September 1944 that Boekhoute could be taken after an attack from Assenede. Also on this day, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada was given a defensive task near Boekhoute. Furtrher on this day, the Algonquin Regiment approached Philippine in combat formation, only to find that the Germans had gone.

 

On 22 September 1944 the Lincoln and Welland Regiment was relieved by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada and moved back to Maldegem, where they relieved the Lake Superior Regiment, enabling the latter to again be subordinated to the 4th Canadian Armoured Brigade. For the following three or so weeks the Lincoln and Welland Regiment would patrol the dangerous aea south of the Leopold canal

 

We have already mentioned above that the Canadian were forced to adapt their combat tactics, due to the German shoulder-launched AT-weapons. In addition, the inundated terrain meant that the Canadian tanks could only advance via the exposed dike roads, where they were easy targets. It was therefore decided to withdraw all four tank battalions in concenration areas, from which they would only carry out motorized recce operations.

 

The Canadian advance parallel to the Leopold canal effectivel ended on 21 September. From then on the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade had to be content with a security role in a large area between Stroobrugge and the Braakman. The idea of attacking across the Leopold canal had been given up. The new plan was to attack between the end of that canal and the Braakman. On 22 September 1944 the Algonquin Regiment made a first unsuccessful attempt, in which it lost one complete platoon (also see section 6 below).

 

4. Reinforcements

 

In mid-September the strength of the 64 Infanteriedivision had been reduced to 8888 troops, only 2350 of which were actual infantry. Not surprisingly, Generalmajor Eberding asked for personnel as well as material reinforcements. He was not alone. The commander of the AOK 15, General der Infanterie von Zangen was also aware of the problem and contacted his superior in the West, Generalfeldmarschall Model. Helped by the fact that the defence of the southern Schelde bank was ordered by Hitler himself, Model happily obliged. Artillery, flak and AT-guns, but also ammunition and provisions were allocated to the division, often taken from retreating units.

To perform the task of defending the Festungs Schelde-Süd the 64 Infanteriedivision was heavily reinforced in terms of troops. In addition to the enormous quantities of supplies and weapons left behind by retreating units of the AOK15, several units also stayed behind, bolstering the defensive strength of the division. These additional units are mentioned below:

  • I+III/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment (600 men). This elite unit consisted of veterans, complemented with young but eager recruits. Commanded by Oberst von Kummer the unit had withdrawn from northern France, where it had performed guard duties at V1-launching bases. As a result of the many losses during the withdrawal, the II. Bataillon had been disbanded and its troops distributed over the other two battalions. The battalion commanders were Major Strothmann (I. Bataillon) and Major Bieber (III. Bataillon). Initially, the 64 ID and the 59 ID had received one battalion each. After the 59 ID had withdrawn to cross the Westerschelde both units were subordinated to the 64 ID.

  • Kampfgruppe Kuhn (2500 men at the start of October): This unit consisted of the personnel of the navy and army coastal batteries along the Belgian and French coasts that had destroyed their guns and retreated, but it also included alarm units. Oberst Kuhn had been the commander of the Heeresküstenartillerieregiment 1240 with HQ in De Haan. With these troops Kuhn was able to form 3 battalions.

    • a battalion based on Kuhn's own unit, which had manned the coastal batteries along the Belgian coast, complemented by the personnel of the MAA 204, commanded by Hauptmann Aretz

    • a battalion based on the I/HKAR 1252, commanded by Major Wastl

    • a battalion based on the HKAA 1253, commanded by Major Benz. The latter 2 units had been based in the Le Havre-Le Tréport area

    • The above units were without guns and meant to be used as infantry. However, to bolster their defensive strength the unit was equipped with 5 Flak batteries and 3 guns of the 6/MAA 203 of Heist, which had been taken out of their bunkers.

  • Sicherungsbataillon  627 (300 men), commanded by Oberstleutnant Rülmann. This unit had been located in the Gent area and had been subordinated to the AOK15 on 18 November 1943 to assist with the construction of the 2. Stellung in the area near to the Dutch border to the north of Gent. It is not known at the moment whether or not the unit was thereafter again subordinated to the Militärbefehlshaber. In any case, it initially withdrew with the 712 ID. After this unit had left the pocket, it was subordinated to the 64 ID.

  • Marineartillerieabteilung 203 (800 men + at least 200 in ommand and supporting functions), commanded by Korvettenkapitän Immo Hopman . This unit manned the guns in the naval batteries in Heist, Knokke and Cadzand and had not retreated. Even though the Marineküstenbatterien Hamilton in Heist  (6/MAA203) (but see above) and Schütte in Zeebrugge (7/MAA203) had been evacuated and the guns destroyed, 3 batteries still remained operational:

    • MKB Cadzand (4/MAA203),  with 1 (later 2) guns in oen emplacements and 3 (later 2) guns in bunkers

    • MKB Nieuwe-Sluis (3MAA 203), with 5 guns in open emplcements

    • MKB Breskens (2/MAA203)

  • 5. Batterie/Marineflakabteilung 810 in Breskens (150 men), comanded by Oberleunant Kötschau. This naval Flak battery was located at the fort Frederik Hendrik. The 4 guns were placed in steel cupola which would turn 360°.

  • Flakscheinwerferabteilung 649 (700 men), commanded by Major Brune, with some 100 2cm Flak guns divided over 4 batteries. This unit had been a part of the Flakregiment 431 and had retreated from the Lille area in France, after having been deployed in an air defence role in the Somme area. The unit had the advantage of being fully motorized and its strength had been bolstered by equipment and troops from other retreating units (notably the Flakabteilung 552 and the Flakabteilung 252. The unit was subordinated to the 64 ID on 11 September.

    • Note: this unit is sometimes referred to as the Flakabteilung 649. However, such a unit did not exist in the Luftwaffe. The name change, however, may indicate the role change, with the battalion having given up its searchlight role.

    • The unit was deployed as follows:

      • 1. Batterie in support of the Landeschützenbatallion 627

      • 2. Batterie behind the Leopold canal

      • 3. Batterie along the Belgian coast

      • 4. Batterie behind the Leopold canal

  • Heeresflakartillerieabteilung 301 (? men) with an undetermined number of 88mm guns

  • Panzerjägerkompanie of the Festungsstamtruppen LXXXIX (? men). This unit was subordinated to the 64 ID on 10 September and integrated int the Panzerjägerkompanie 164.

  • Nachkommando Küstenverteidigungsabschnitt A2. This unit, commanded bu Hauptmann Timm, had been left behind by the 712 Infanteriedivision on order to assist any future coastal defence unit by passing on the knowledge and experience of years of coastal defence, especially regarding inundations. The unit was subordinated to the 64 ID upon the arrival of general Eberding in Oostburg on 11 September. The unit, which was attached to the weakened Pionierkompanie 164,  consisted of::

    • Wasserbaupioniere (tasked to maintain the inundations)

    • Kabelbauzug (tasked to main the telephone and power grids)

    • Landespionierkompanie 529 (tasked to maintain obstacles, minefields and defensive positions. The unit, consisting of men aged over 50, numbering over 100 and commanded by Hauptmann Schäfer, had been stationed in Brugge.tasked with guarding locks and bridges and maintaining canals so that ships could use them. They had also overseen inundiations in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen

    • 4. Kompanie/Marinefestungspionierbataillon 312. This unit had recently been operating in Cadzand, among other things pouring the base for a 15cm gun of the 4/MAA 203. Initially, Festungskommandant Eberding forbade the withdrawal of the unit. After some discussion it was decided to leave 2 platoons in the Festung.

With all of the above units included the overal estimated strength of the division was some 17,000 men. This strength was heavily underestimated by the Canadians, who only expected some 5,000 soldiers to be in the Breskens pocket.

 

Interestingly, there is an archival document documenting both the strength and the available weapons is the Festung Schelde-Süd.  On 17 September 1944 the commander of the Heeresgruppe B, Generalfeldmarschal Model informed his superior, the Oberbefehlshaber West, Generalfeldmarschall von Rundstedt the the forces in the pocket were sufficiently strong, but too small to stop a large-scale attack. We have see, above that, after Hitler had created the Festung Schelde-Süd on 20 September, Eberding had demanded more forces. On 23 September 1944 the Heeresgruppe B reported the strength and equipment present at that time in the fortress in much details, as can be seen below:

 

 

The following logistics organization was set up:

  • Weapons, clothes and equipment would not be resupplied

  • Ammuntion (bulk delivery of 4000ton + 20ton for both the 64ID and the 70ID every 2 days) would be stored in Sluis, Retrachement, Nieuwvliet, Zuidzande and Ijzendijke

  • Bread would be produced in cilvil bakeries in Cadzand, Nieuwvliet and Zuidzande

  • Wounded soldiers could be transport to a dressing station in Groede and/or to Walcheren with hospital ships.

  • Supplies would be delivered on a daily basis in Breskens (later Cadzand). Units would use their own transport to pick up supplies in the depots

5. Defensive organization of the 64 Infanteriedivision behind the Leopold canal (from 18 September)

 

The German defensive organization behind the Leopold canal from 18 September 1944 onwards is visualized in the GE animation and explained below:

 

  • Between Zeebrugge and the so-called Sifon on the Brugge-Sluis canal the Kampfgruppe Kuhn (see above) stood guard (red colour)

  • Between the Sifon and Middelburg the front was being held by the Grenadierregiment 1037 (green colour)

  • Between Middelburg and Sint-Laureins the Grenadierregiment 1038 was in defence (blue colour)

  • In between the 2 battalions of the GR 1038 (thus along the Strrobrugge-Aardenburg road) the Füselierbataillon 164 was inserted, after it dad become clear to Eberding that this sector was most likely to be attacked, for exampe on the basis of a map found on a Canadian officer, which contained the ful details of operation Switchback.

  • Between Sint-Laureins and to an area east of Boekhoute the Grenadieregiment 1039 defended the Leopold canal (yellow colour)

  • While the areas above wrre not onlyprotected by the presence of the Leopold canal but also often by inundations, the area arourd Boekhoute and Isabellasluis was particularly vulnerable, as it was here that the Leopold canal stopped and a land connection and a land conection with Zeeuws-Vlaanderen existed. Consequntly, general Eberding put his best troops here, namely a battalion of paratroopers, the III. Bataillon/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment commanded by Major Bieber (purple colour)

  • The Braakman area and the coast from the Braakman until Hoofdplaat was defended by probably the weakest unit, namely the Sicherungsbataillon 627. In this area, general Eberding did not expect an attack, due to the many sand bans and mud fields. In addition, the area was covered by the German artillery on Walcheren and South-Beveland (orange colour). Acting in support was the 1. Batterie/649 with 16x 2cm guns

  • Finally (not shown on the GE map) the North Sea coast was guarded by the naval batteries at Knokke, Cadzand and Breskens, making an attack here unlikely.

  • The only large reserve units available were stationed further back: the Füselierbataillon 164 (see above) and the I. Bataillon/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment commanded by Major Strothmann, which was kept in reserve near Sluis.

  • However, other sources claim that the reserve consisted of 2 infantry companies behind the Leopold Canal and the Sturmkompanie of the Grenadierregiment 1039 in Watervliet. In case of an emergency, these units were to be deployed as a battalion under the command of Hauptmann Koppenberg, the commander of II/GR 1039.

  • Apparently, 2 companies of the HKAR 1240 (see above) under the command of Hauptmann Aretz were also kept in reserve in Heist (Marinebatallion Aretz)

  • The divisional headquarters were located in Oostburg, regimental headquarters in Heist (Kampgruppe Kuhn), Lapscheure (GR 1037), Aardenburg (GR 1038) and Ijzendijke (GR 1039) and battalion headquarters in Heist  (Marinebatallion Aretz), Sluis (I. Bataillon/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment) and Driewegen (Sicherungsbataillon 627)

Let's also discuss the artillery organization at this point in time. This was a rather complex situation. To begin with, the original Artillerieregiment 164 no longer existed. In early September 1944, Eberding had been ordered to leave the II. Abteilung/AR 164 behind in the Festung Boulogne. Then, in early October 1944, Eberding was ordered to hand over the I. Abteilung/AR 164 to the 712 ID, an order he heavily protested. Theoretically, this left only the II. Abteilung. However, Eberding confiscated artillery pieces from withdrawing units so that the division was eventually well-equipped in terms of artillery and well-supplied in terms of ammunition.

In addition, some guns from the naval batteries were being removed from their bunkers: Involved were:

  • 2 guns of the 2/MAA 203 (Breskens)

  • 1 gun of the 4/MAA 203 (Cadzand)

  • 3 guns of the 6/MAA 203 (Heist). These guns were specifically intended to support the Kampfgruppe Kuhn.

  • In addition, steps were being take to deploy the 3/MAA 203 (Nieuwe Sluis) elsewhere and to make mobile the Alarmflakbatterie Nieuwe Sluis, equipped with 7,5cm Flak

With the above naval forces included, the artillery at the disposal of the 64 ID was made up as follows:

  • Gruppe von Roeder (II/AR 164)

    • 4+5/AR 164 (10,5cm leichte Feldhaubitze 18/40

    • 9/AR 164 (15cm schwere Feldhaubitze 42)

  • Gruppe Kuhlmann (II/AR 147)

    • 4+5+6+10/AR 147 (15,5cm schwere Feldhaubitze 414 (f))

    • 7/HKAR 1245 (15,5cm schwere Feldhaubitze 414 (f))

  • Gruppe Beeri (II/HKAR 1245)

    • 1/Reserveartillerieabteilung 70 (10cm leichte Feldhaubitze 14/19 (t))

    • 2/Reserveartillerieabteilung 105 (7,62cm leichte Feldkanone 39 (r)

    • ? (10cm Kanone 18/15cm schwere Feldhaubitze

  • Verfügungsgruppe

    • Alarmflakbatterie 203 (7,5cm Flak (f))

    • Alarmflakbatterie 266 (7,5cm Flak (f))

    • 2/HKAR 1240 (8,35cm Flak (t)

    • Batterie Hafenkommando Zeebrügge (15,5cm)

    • Heeresflakartillerieabteilung 301 (8,8cm Flak)

  • MAA 203

    • 2/MAA 203 (Breskens)(7,62cm Mounting (e))

    • 3/MAA 203 (Nieuwe Sluis)(12cm K370 (b), 15cm SK l/45

    • 4/MAA 203 (Cadzand)(15cm SJK C/28

    • 6/MAA (Heist)(9,4cm Vickers (e)

  • MFlA 810

    • 5/MFlA 810 (Breskens)(10,5cm SK C/32)

The line sketched above was the primary defensive line. However, Canadian intelligence reports also mention a secondary defensive line (Inner Defence Line). This defensive ran as follows: Breskens-Schoondijke-Oostburg-Sluis-Damsevaart-Leopold canal-Heist. This defensive line included the fortress Breskens, the regimental headquarters at Schoondjke and the divisonal headquarters at Oostburg as strongpoints. The areas between these strongpoints contained various defensive works, including the many farms which had been fortified. Large minefields between Breskens and Schoondijke and between Oostburg and Sluis were part of the defence. Interestingly, some some experts have observed that this Inner Defence Line might well have been that the of the planned Landfront.

 

6. Canadian reorganisation, planning and skirmishes along the Leopold canal (mid -september - 5 October 1944)

 

On 16 September 1944 the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division started moving to Antwerp. This only left the 4th Canadian Armoured Division as a major formation. to secure the territory south of the Leopold canal. This was an impossible task for only one unit. Thus, the division was reinforced with other corps units. the 18th Armoured Car Regiment (12th Manitoba Dragoons), which had liberated part of the Belgian coast, and the 6th Armoured Regiment. The 18th Armoured Car Regiment was directly subordinated to 2nd Canadian Corps, while the 6th Armoured Regiment was a unit of the 2nd Armoured Brigade, also directly subordinated to the same corps. While the former was to secure the terrain south of the Leopold canal with patrols, together with the 4th Canadian Armoured Division (the 18th Armoured Car Regiment between Zeebrugge and Stroobrugge and the 4th Canadian Armoured Division between Strobrugge and Boekhoute, the latter was ordered to secure the area east of the Braakman, in which role it was tactically subordinated to the British 30th Armoured Brigade, itself a part of the British 79th Armoured Division. That British brigade was equipped with armoured amphibious vehicles of the types Buffalo and Terrapin, which would be used to support a Canadian amphibious assault.

 

Especialy the stretch betwen Zeebrugge and Stroobrugge ws much too long to be guarded effectively by the 18th Armoured Car Regiment. For that reason, several other units which could be missed elsewhere were sent to the sector and subordnated to the regiment from 16 September:

  • 8th Anti-aircaft Regiment (4th Candian Armoured Division)(only infantry)

  • 5th Anti-tank Regiment (4th Canadian Infantry Division(only infantry)

  • 76th Anti-aircraft Brigade (parts)

  • RAF units: 2717th Rifle Squadron, 2757th Armoured Squadron and a mortar platoon. These units were known as Snake Force and deployed near Damme and Moerkerke.

During the entire period both the Canadians and the Germans undertook multiple small-scale crossings of the Leopold canal in order to acquire information as to the opposing forces and to bring back captured enemy soldiers or defectors.. The most substantial operation o this effect was Operation Styx, conducted on 27 September 1944, just to the east od Sint-Laureins. The Canadian unit involved was a company of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment wich would cross the canal supported by the enfilading fire of another company as well as other units. The raid was a success and totally surprised the German troops of the I/GR 1038, of which unit 15 soldiers were captured.

 

For the attack on West-Zeeuws-Vlaanderen the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had been earmarked. However, in late September thus init was still fighting was still fighting along the Channel coast in the Boulogne-Calais area. This, however, didn't stop the Canadians from planning their next move.

After it had been riushed north from the Pas-de-Calais, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division arrived in the area on 4 October 1944: the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade south of Maldegem, the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade near Eeklo and the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade near Oostakker.

 

The plan to attack West-Zeeuws-Vlaanderen and the Breskens Pocket (Festung Schelde-Sü) on 6 October 1944 involved all brigades of the division:

  • 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade was to cross the Leopold canal near Stroobrugge. This location had ben chosen for 2 reasons. Firstly, being situated just east of the bifurcation of the two canals, it meantthat only the Leopold canal would have to be crossed. Secondly, aerial reconnaissance had shown that only in this sector there was a smll stretch of land of a few kilometres that hd not been inundated. Interestiingly, the Germans expected the main assount precisely here for the same reasons, hence the extra reinforcements here (see above). After a successful crossing the brigade was to push on in a westerly and northerly direction.

  • 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade, initially in reserve, would eventually pass through 7th CIB and continue the attack in the direction of Draaibrug and Sluis. In a later, final phase, the brigade was to occupy the Belgian coastal area Knokke-Heist-Zeebrugge.

  • 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade was to carry out a bold but diversionary amphibious landing on the west bank of the Braakman east of Hoofdplaat. From there it was to move in a westerly direction towards Breskens, Schoondijke and Oostburg. Thereafter, it would have to push forward to the Uitwateringskanaal between Cadzand and Sluis.

  • The recce unit of the division, the 7th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment was to advance on Ijzendijke.

In all, some 19,000 troops were to participate in the operation, in eality facing some 17,000 Germans. In addition, there had been no tie for reconnaiisance or proper training for the operation. With this knowledge no Canadian general would have agreed to such an attack. The fact of the matter is, though, that the Canadians had heavily underestimated the number of Germans in the pocket, believing there to be only 5,000.

 

In section 3 above we had left the fighting along the Leopold canal on 22 September 1944 with the failed attempt by the Algonquin Regiment of the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade, supported by Sherman tanks of the British Columbia Regiment to break through in the area of Isabellahaven, in an attemt to free the road from Philippine to Ijzendijke in the Isabellapolder. However, staunch reistance and a counterattack by paratroopers of the III/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment foiled the attack, which ended on 23 September, with 10 Canadians killed, 13 wounded and 20 missing.

On 25 September the low-spirited Algonquins were relieved by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, only to return to the sector on 1 October 1944.

 

On 5 October 1944 the Algonquin Regiment again suffered losses., when three companies attacked simultaneously, but unsuccessfully, with a loss of 28 soldiers.The attack had been the diversion for the attack at Stroobrugge.

 

7. The attack across the Leopold canal

 

As mentioned above, 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade was to cross the Leopold canal near Stroobrugge. This attack started in the early hours of 6 October 1944 and consisted of two main attacks and one diversionary attack:

  • Main attack 1 near Oosthoek, carried out by the Canadian Scottish Regiment

  • Main attack 2 near De Biezen, carried out by the Regina Rifles

  • Diversionary attack between the end of the Leopold canal and the Braakman by the Algonquin Regiment (see above)

Main attacks 1 and 2 would take place in the sector of the German I. Bataillon/Grenadierregiment 1038, commanded by Hauptmann Bollmann; precisely where Eberding had expected them.

 

Main attack 1: Oosthoek (eastern sector)

 

After the Wasp-carrier flamethrowers had sprayed their deadly fire onto the enemy canal bank, two companies crossed the canal in boats. After some initial terrain gains, the two companies were bogged down, suffereing casualties from light weapns and artillery. For this reason a third company was sent across the canal using a foot bridge which the Canadian engineers had managed to construct. This did not improve the situation and the companies were fired at from all directions by machine guns, mortars and artillery. The German even staged some counterattacks to try to dislodge the Canadian Scottish Regiment. At the end of the day the Canadian bridgehead at Oosthoek was 2km wide and 700m deep.

The German commander, Oberstleutnant Erfurth, had a a considerable number of units at his disposal to deal with the Canadian bridgehead. Suspecting that the Canadians would attack here (plans to this effect were discovered on a wounded Canadian officer) the 2 battalions of the GR 1038 had been reinforced by the Füselierbataillon 164. In addition, Erfurth could also call upon the reserve stationed in Sluis, the I. Bataillon/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment. All day long the bridgehead of the Canadian Scottish was pounded by the artillery commanded by Major Beeri. In the evening a company of the I. Bataillon/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment arrived with the mission of destroying the bridgehead.

During the night of 6-7 October 1944, shortly after 3am the Germans mounted a counterattack, capturing an entire Canadian platoon of the Canadian Scottish in the process. In the early hours two companies of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles were sent across to reinforce the bridgehead..Also, units of the 7th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment crossed the canal to full up holes in the Canadian lines. The Royal Winnipeg Rifles were given the mission to establish contact with the Regina Rifles in the western bridgehead.

Around 11am on 7 October 1944 the Royal Winnipeg Rifles started their attack, first towards the north. This attack managed to surprise a German unit along the Eede-Sint-Laureins road, which resulted in the capture of 64 Germans, as well as  the released of the Canadian platoon captured earlier.After that, the bridgehead was slowly expanded to the west, albeit with high casualties.

Also on this day, the commander of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, Major-General Spry, realised he would not be able to get the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade across the Leopold canal in this way. He, therefore, changed his plan. The first priority now was to clear a through road to enable further progress as well the insertion of further troops. This also involved a bridging operation at Strrobrugge, so that also vehicles, primarily tanks, would be able to cross. Even though the existing bridge at Stroobrugge had been blown up, the Germans still held the northern side of the bridge. It was thus of paramount importance that the Germans were dislodged there. The bridge at Strrobrugge was in the sector of the Regina Rifles.  However, these had been unable to advance after having crossed the canal. The plan was now to relieve the Canadian Scottish Regiment  at their crossing site by troops of the 7th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment, so that the former could be move to the western sector to support the Regina Rifles and to take the canal berm near the destroyed bridge from the Füselierbataillon 164.

In the afternoon of 8 October 1944 the Royal Winnipeg Rifles lauched an attack to the west, but in the face of heavy resistance, they were forced to withdraw. One company and two platoon commanders were among the wounded.

During the night of 8-9 October 1944 the exhausted companies of the I. Bataillon/Grenadierregiment 1038 were relieved in the front line by those of the I. Bataillon/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment. Also the Sturmkompanie of the regiment was deployed.

In the early morning of 9 October 1944 the Royal Winnipeg Rifles eventually succeeeded in establishing contact with the Regina Rifles.

On 10 October 1944 the Royal Winnipeg Rifles participated in an attack on a German strongpoint near the destroyed bridge at Stroobrugge. Also, the battalion sent out patrols to the houses near the Graaf Jansdijk.and even staged an attack on the Graaf Jansdijk (which formed the Belgian-Dutch border and was located some 500 metres north of the Leopold canal. The attack, however, failed, as did 5 more in the following days.

Onlly on 12 October 1944 did the battalion succeed in reaching the houses on the border. This part of the front line was now being defended by the Füselierbataillon 164, which had relieved the  I. Bataillon/Grenadierregiment 1038, but also suffered heavy casualties. In an attempt to dislodge the Royal Winnpeg Rifles and to stop them from advancing towards De Biezen, the Pionierzug of he Grenadierregiment 1038 was used in a counterattack. Desite initial success, the attack failed when the platoon commander was wounded and drowned.

From this moment on, the German infantry and artillery eased their pressure on the bridgehead, restricting themselves to ombat patrols, as dd the Canadians.

On 13 October 1944 the I. Bataillon/Grenadierregiment 1038, commanded by Hauptmann Bollmann, was disbanded, as its strength had been reduced to some 100 men as a result of the heavy fighting in the bridgehead. The four deplated companies of the battalion were combined into the Einheit Korsch and subordinated to the II. Bataillon/Grenadierregiment 1038, commanded Hauptmann Hascher, who thus became the new local commander.

On 15 October 1944 the Royal Winnipeg Rifles attacked again. This time they succeeded n reaching the Sint-Laureins - Eede road, about 1 km north of the Leopold canal, capturing some 60 Germans.

On 16 October 1944 Canadian patrols reported little more resistance. Apparently, the Germans had fallen back onto another defensive line.

 

Main attack 2: de Biezen (western sector)

 

After the Wasp-carrier flamethrowers had sprayed their deadly fire onto the enemy canal bank here as well, two companies crossed the canal in boats on 6 October 1944: one company from the Regina Rifles on the right and the Royal Montreal Regiment (company-sized unit temporarily attached to the Reginas) on the left. While the attack of the former failed, that of the Royal Montreal Regiment was initially successful, albeit with heavy casualties, mainly caused by 1 heavy machine gun, well-placed in a WWI bunker. However, as soon as the platoons turned west to try to clear the terrain, they were stopped by heavy fire. Losses were so high that the Royal Montreal Regiment had in fact ceased to exist as a company by noon, and the surviving soldiers were added to the Regine Rifles. By that time all companies of the Regina Rifles had been feriied across, but no further progess could be made and the entire battalion was dangerously pinned down on the canal berm over e distance of 1km. Here, too, the Germans launched counterattacks. Even German naval artillery was called upon with both the 4/MAA 203 in Cadzand and the 6/MAA 203 in Heist being used. However, a German counterattack during the night of 6-7 October 1944 was beaten back with great loss on the German side.

On 7 October 1944 he commander of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, Major-General Spry, realised he would not be able to get the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade across the Leopold canal in this way. He, therefore, changed his plan. The first priority now was to clear a through road to enable further progress as well the insertion of further troops. This also involved a bridging operation at Strrobrugge, so that also vehicles, primarily tanks, would be able to cross. Even though the existing bridge at Stroobrugge had been blown up, the Germans still held the northern side of the bridge. It was thus of paramount importance that the Germans were dislodged there. The bridge at Strrobrugge was in the sector of the Regina Rifles.  However, these had been unable to advance after having crossed the canal. The plan was now to relieve the Canadian Scottish Regiment  at their crossing site by troops of the 7th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment, so that the former could be move to the western sector to support the Regina Rifles and to take the canal berm near the destroyed bridge from the Füselierbataillon 164.

The Regina Rifles, meanwhile, had suffered heavily in the past few days. Of the 100 or so replacements sent on 8 October 1944, many were killed or injured ue to their lack of battle experience. Also, 2 Sherman tanks, which had supported the battalionin an attempt to recapture the bunker (see above) which had been lost again due to a German counterattack, had been destroyed. The attempt to recapture the bunker was unsuccessful and resulted in heay casualties. To aggravate matters, the small size and ensuing vulnerability of the bridgehead had meant that it had been impossible to evacuate the dead, whom had been left lying on the canal berm in full view of the other Canadian soldiers. This prompted the Canadians to request a ceasefire to evacuate the dead and the wounded. Since the opposing Germans of the Grenadierregiment had also suffered greatly, the request was met.

In the early morning of 9 October 1944 the Royal Winnipeg Rifles eventually succeeeded in establishing contact with the Regina Rifles. This made it possible for the Regina Rifles to again try to recapture the bunker. Supported by artillery and Wasp flamethrowers the bunker was eventually recaptured on 10 October 1944.

No further German counterattacks took place on 11 October 1944.

During the night of 11-12 October 1944 Canadian troops succeeded in crossing the Maldegem-Eede road and securing the canal berm to some 200m west of the road. This took the pressure off the Regina Rifles, who were finally able to get a moment of rest. Plans were made to offer the soldiers (in shifts) the chance to shower and sleep in Maldegem. The Regina Rifles remained inactive in their positions until 16 October.

The resulting German counterattack by the Einheit Korsch on 12 October 1944, which managed to reach the canal berm, forced theCanadians to use the former German positions on the southern ide of the berm. Only separated by the berm the resulting grenade-throwing action caused so many casualties, especially among the Germans, that the latter requested and got a cease-fire to evacuate the wounded.

Around 2 am on 13 October 1944 two other companies of the Canadian Scottish Regiment untertook a surprise attack near the destroyed bridge and made 95 German prisoners. This action enabled the constrution of a bridge to be started. To protect the construction activities, the companies of the Canadian Scottish Regiment were given the following missions:

  • one company was to block the main road to Eede-Aardenburg

  • one company was to block the secndary road to Eede

  • two companies were to protect te western flank of the area.

In the afternoon, the Canadians started the construction of 2 bridges, one for the Schipdonk and one for the Leopold canal. Despite being hindered by enemy fire, both bridges were operational around 6pm.

On 14 October 1944 the first tanks of the British Columbia Regimenti crossed the bridges and looked for good positions to support the attack on Eede the following day.

On 16 October 1944 the Regina Rifles were again deployed as a battalion and given the mission of clearing Eede, after a captured German order had indicated that the Germans were to wthdraw the Grenadierregiment 1038. Despite the fact that the town had been reduced to rubble by artillery and air bombardment, the Regina Rifles still had to conductt bitter streetfighting and required various attacks to dislodge the paratroopers of the I. Bataillon/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment and it was late afternoon before the two had been completely cleared of the enemy.

 

8.The attack on Eede (16 October 1944)

 

What was the situation meanwhile on the German side. Ten days if uninterrupted comnat had also caused high casualties for the Germans. Considering Hitler's order to defend the Festung Schelde-Süd to the last man and bullet, losses suffered thus far were considered reasonable. However, in the face of the expected combined (tanks and infantry) attack, the question was for how much longer the Germans could hold the line. Having already lost the I. Bataillon/Grenadierregiment 1038 and with the reserve (the Füselierbataillon 164 and the I. Bataillon/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment) having already been engaged and depleted, Generalmajor Eberding was in dire need of more troops. At this point Eberding performed a trick that the Germans would perform time and again in later weeks: soldiers from various units we combined into ad hoc 50-men units under the command of an officer. To form these units soldiers were also drafted in from supporting functions. In this way, Eberding had managed to constitute a regiment worthy of that name and consisting of three battalions, which were now organized as follows:

  • the II. Bataillon/Grenadierregiment 1038 (Hauptmann Hascher) was defending the sector west of Eede

  • the I. Bataillon/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment (Hauptmann strotmann) was defending the sector north of Eede

  • the Füselierbataillon 164 (Major Kruhm) was defending the inundated De Biezen area

Further support could be given by the 4/MAA 203) in Cadzand. Ironically, this battery was to determine the course of events. The attack on Eede had been scheduled for 15 October 1944. However, a fortune hit by one of the Cadzand guns in the morning of 15 October made a big hole in the Bailey bridge across the Leopold canal. The five tanks which had already crossed the bridge and were operating in the bridgehead, made the Germans realise that the attack was impending. In response, they called down heavy artillery fore on the Canadian positions. All these events resulted in the Canadian attack having to be postponed until the following day.

Expecting a Canadian attack and having become familiar with the Canadian practice of starting all attacks with intense artillery fore. Eberding took precautionary measures and withdrew his front units somewhat during the night of 15-16 October 1944, organizing them more in depth, so that the artillery fire would cause fewer causalties and the attack could be absorbed better. Also, Eberding also used the spart tactic to order his withdrawn troops to move forward towards their original position after the Canadian artillery bombardment, thus simultaneously attacking with the Canadians, causing the latter to breakoff the attack in the face of the unexpected strong resistance. Tactics like these go a long way towards explaining why the Germans were able to put up fierce resistance throughout the campaign. They had mastered the art of adapting to and exploiting the weaknesses in the batlle tactics of the opponents.

 

The above is exactly what happened when the Canadians attacked on 16 October 1944. The attack, carried out by the Canadian Scottish Regiment was (again) fraught with difficulties. Firstly, of the three Wasp flamethrowers deployed, two were unable to advance and the third hit a mine, killing the occupants.

Secondly, it was found that the supporting tanks could not be used in the muddy terrain, so that they had to be withdrawn. Thirdly, of the two mobile AT-guns of the 33rd Canadian Anti-tank Battery, brought forward in a hurry to replace the tanks, one hit a mine while the second, an M10 tank destroyer, fired all its ammunition without being able to advance. In short, the infantry were left to fight for themselves. The Canadian Scottish Regiment, however, had become the victim of the smart German battle tactic described above and was forced to brealk off the attack.

A new Canadian attack was launched at around 5.30pm, but was again halted by the Germans in bloody close combar. In the past 24 hours the Canadians had only managed to advance from the Belgian-Dutch border to the crossoads of the Maldegem-Aardenburg and Eede-Sint-Laureins roads,  a distance of only some 600 metres.

On 16 October 1944 the Regina Rifles were again deployed as a battalion and given the mission of clearing Eede, after a captured German order had indicated that the Germans were to wthdraw the Grenadierregiment 1038. Despite the fact that the town had been reduced to rubble by artillery and air bombardment, the Regina Rifles still had to conductt bitter streetfighting and required various attacks to dislodge the paratroopers of the I. Bataillon/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment and it was late afternoon before the two had been completely cleared of the enemy.

After it had become clear that the Germans had withdrawn from Eede during the night of 16-17 October, the Regina Rifles tried to advance on Middelburg further to the west on 17 October 1944. Soon, however the Canadians were stopped by a temporary stoppage line thrown up by the I. Bataillon/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment. After intensive artillery and mortar support the attack again resulted in close combat action and was stopped. During the night of 17-18 October 1944 a 16-man strong Canadian patrol was ambushed and made prisoner.

After such intense fighting the Canadians lacked both the combat strength and the morale to continue their attacks and the operation, in fact, ceased, albeit only temporarily.

 

9.Change of plans and reorganization (16-19 October 1944)

 

On 26 September 1944 Operation Market Garden effectively came to an end with the evacuation of the British paratroops from the northern bank of the river Rhine. The operation had not been the success that Field Marshall Montgomery had hoped it to be. To the contrary, it had been a catastrophy. Yet, in the weeks that followed, Montgomery appeared unwilling to change his strategic plan for a quick thrust towards the Ruhr area in an attempt to bring industrial Germany, and by extension the Wehrmacht, to its knees, so that the war would be finished by Christmas. In doing so Montgomery came into conflict with his boss, the Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who felt more priority was to go towards clearing the Schelde estuary to be able to use the port of Antwerp.

On 16 October 1944 Montgomery, sensing that Eisenhower might go so far as to sack him, wrote a remarkable letter to Eisenhower, in which he expressed his unconditional loyalty and stated that he would give the highest piority to the Schelde estuary. That same day the highest-ranking Canadian general, Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds was informed of this. And there was more good news: to liberate West-Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, additional troops would be provided in the form of the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division, which was actually a Scottish division. Initially intended to support Operation Market Garden, one brigade of the division, the 157th Infantry Brigade, was given a mission in support of the First Canadian Army, i.e. the relief of the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade, which was still patrolling and securing the southern bank of the Leopold Canal. The 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade had been ordered to rejoin its parent division, 4th Canadian Armoured Division, which was operating in the western part of Noord-Brabant.

Thus, in the evening of 16 October 1944, the 157th Infantry Brigade duly relieved the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade. After the relief operation had finished, security operations on the southern bank of the Leopold canal were organised as follows:

  • the 18th Canadian Armoured Car Regiment (2nd Canadian Corps) between Zeebrugge and Middelburg

  • the 6th Batallion Highland Light Infantry (175th Infantry Brigade)  between Strrobrugge and Sint-Laureins

  • the 52nd Reconnaissance Regiment (52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division) from Sint-Laureins to Watervliet)

However, in the evening of 17 October 1941 plans were changed once more. The commander of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, Major-General Spy, felt he was in dire need of fresh troops to relieve his battle-weary 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade. However, this was easier said than done, since roops had first to be found to take over their security duties south of the Leopold canal. Security operations there were reorganised once more, now as follows;

  • the 18th Canadian Armoured Car Regiment (2nd Canadian Corps) between Zeebrugge and Middelburg

  • 2 Scottish supporting compaanies (157 Infntry Brigade) between Middelburg and Strobrugge

  • the 3rd Canadian Anti-Tank Regiment (3rd Canadian Infantry Diision) betwen Strobrugge and Sint-Laureins

  • a machine-gun company of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (3rd Canadian Infatry Division) between Sint-Laureins and Watervliet

Only just before midnight on 18 October 1944 was the above reorganisation completed.

In the early hours of 19 October 1944 2 battalions of the 157th Infantry Brigade (6th Highland Light Infantry and the 52nd Reconnaissance Regiment)crossed the Leopold canal at Strobrugge to relieve the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade, which was transported to the Ijzendijke-Biervliet area on 20 October 1944, where it could rest as the divisional reserve.

 

10. German withdrawals and Scottish progress (19-24 October 1944)

 

Before the Scottish troops moved into the Eede bridgehead, the Canadian attackers had been organized from west to east as follows:

  • the Regna Rifles wee located along the nort-south ribbon building of Eede (secondary road)

  • the Canadian Scottish were located along the road Maldegem-Aardenburg, east of Eede.

  • the Royal Winnipeg Rifles were lovated in the watery terrain east of Eede

Once in the bridgehead the 6th Highland Light Infantry took over the positions of the Reginas and the Canadian Scottish, while the positions of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles were occupied by the 52nd Reconnaissance Regiment.

The contrast between the new and totally inexperienced arrivals and th battle-hardened German soldiers could not be greater. For this reason the first mission given to the Scottish troops wasto maintain the bridgehead, rather than expand it. But where were those German troops meanwhile?

Their withdrawal from Eede had taken the Germans to the following positions on 19 October 1944:

  • the Füselierbataillon 164 was located near St-Kruis, some 3.5km east of Aardenburg

  • the I. Bataillon/Fallschirmersatz- und Ausbildungsregiment was now located north of Eede

  • the II. Bataillon/Grenadierregiment 1038 was still holding onto the area west of Eede, where the Canadians had failed to penetrate.

During the night of 19-20 October 1944 there were no contacts between the Scottish and Geran troops, but only because the Germans used this night to withdraw even further.

The Germas withdrew their front line all the way to behind the Uitwateringskanaal (drainage canal). This canal followed the line Cadzand-Bad-Retranchement-north of Sluis-Bakkersdam-De Munte-Turkeye-south of Ijzendijke and then further in the direction of De Braakman. The German defences along the Uitwateringskanaal o 20 October 1944 were as follows:

  • the I. Bataillon/Grenadierregiment 1037 from the Leopold canal to Sluis (following the Damse Vaart)

  • the renamed Kampfgruppe Erfurth from Sluis to Bakkersdam. The weakened combat group was initially reinforced with a battalion consisting of redundant naval personnel. This unit, however, soon turned out to be utterly useless (due to lack of infantry training) and was replaced by a battalion of artillery soldiers (of whome the guns could by now no longer be used).

  • the remainder of the Grenadierregment 1039 from Bakkersdam to further east

After sufficient evedence had made it clear that the Germans had evacuated Aardenburg, the Scottish troops of the 6th HIghland Light Infantry marched on Aardenburg in the afternoon of 19 October 1944  which they reached and liberated towards 3.30pm. Two hours later, at around 5.30pm  the 7th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment also arrived in Aardenburg, coming from Sint-Kruis.

On 20 October 1944 the 7th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment occupied the terrain to the south of the Uitwateringskanaal between Draaibrug and Bakkersdam, while the 6th HIghland Light Infantry reached and liberated Middelburg.

Also on 20 October, the lone 6th HIghland Light Infantry battalion was joined in the bridgehead by the 4/5th Royal Scots Fuseliers.

While the latter actually belonged to the 156th Infantry Brigade, they were suboerdinated on 21 October 1944 to the 157th Infantry Brigade. Also on this day, the brigade took over responsibility from the 52nd Reconnaissance Regiment east of the Strrobrugge-Ardenburg road. The 52nd Reconnaissance Regiment was withdrawn south of the Leopold canal, with the exception of one squadron (see below).

Also on this day, actually in the early morning, patrols of the 6th HIghland Light Infantry reported that the area north of Aardenburg was free of Germans. Even patrols sent to Sluis reported only weak resistance. Nevertheless an attack on Sluis was halted towards noon and the 6th HIghland Light Infantry took up positions on the south of the Uitwateringskanaal on the line Sluis-Draaibrug, east of which the 7th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment was located.

On 22 October 1944 the remaining squadron of the 52nd Reconnaissance Regiment reached and liberated Heille and Den Hoon, north of Middelburg and west of Aardenburg. Also on this day, a new Scottish battalion, the 6th (Lanarkshire) Battalion The Cameronians arrived in the bridgehead. The plan was now as follows:

  • the 6th (Lanarkshire) Battalion The Cameronians would relieve the 4/5th Royal Scots Fuseliers in their positions in the watery area east of the Eede-Aardenburg road

  • the 4/5th Royal Scots Fuseliers would then have to prepare to take over the sector between the Leopold canal and Middelburg and then launch an atack to the west, bringing it as far as the Damse Vaart (canal Bruges-Sluis)

This pla, however, was most suddenly given up, when news arrived that the units of the 156th Infantry Brigade had now been earmarked for oerations on South-Beveland and Walcheren.

On 23 October 1944 the 4/5th Royal Scots Fuseliers was withdrawn and replaced by the 304th Anti-Tank Battery and the 354th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery which would have to carry out the planned attack. Under normal circumstances a successful attack by these units would have been been highly unlikely. However, reports suggested that the Grenadierregiment 1038 had meanwhile withdrawn to across the Bruges-Sluis canal. This effectivel enabled the two batteries to reach the canal in the Lapscheue area. On their right flank was now the 6th HIghland Light Infantry, occupying positions between Lapscheure and Draaibrug.

On 24 October 1944, however, more organistional changes caused havoc. As it had now been decided that the entire 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division was to be directed to South-Beveland, the 157th Infantry Brigade was to be withdrawn as well. This, in effect, left only the 52nd Reconnaissance Regiment in the bridgehead, which was forced to take over all positios, for which purpose it stationed 2 squadrons in Lapscheure and 2 in Aardenburg. For the time being there would be no further attacks, only patrols.

TO BE CONTINUED