Attack on the Scheldt...
...The Struggle for Antwerp - a new book from Pen and Sword
Title: Attack on the Scheldt. The Struggle for Antwerp 1944
Author: Graham A. Thomas
Publisher: Pen and Sword Books
By the final months of 1944 the Allies had advanced quickly across Western Europe following the successful D-Day landings. The aim of a quick victory by crossing the Rhine at Arnhem had failed and an assortment of issues face the Allied Commanders in that winter. A key one of these was the issue of supply. It had got to the point where they needed to reopen the port of Antwerp to enable shipping to start using the port, as it was still very reliant on the Red Ball Express convoys making the long journey from the Normandy beaches and which in turn was using fuel and transport in large volumes. There remain questions about why Allied forces had not moved earlier to clear the banks of the Scheldt but that is something of a question on one side.
With an introduction, maps and a section describing the First Moves (itself divided into 2 chapters) then we get section 2, 'Operation Swithchback' and this is split into another 9 chapters which tell the story of the actions to clear the South bank of the Scheldt. Primarily Canadian troops faced challenges from not only a capable and well armed enemy but a flat, featureless land with little cover and plenty of waterway obstacles to deal with. A prolonged period of wet weather turned the ground into muddy mess, let alone the misery of enduring a steady rainfall for days on end. Crossing obstacle such as the Leopold Canal and assaulting South Beveland were not simple operations.
The third and final section tackles Operation Infatuate, the clearing of the Northern bank of the Scheldt, including the island of Walcheren, explained in detail within 7 more chapters. The story illustrates the value of a well coordinated combined arms operation. The RAF made accurate raids to break the dykes that allowed the sea to flood into the low lying land and restrict movement and communications for the German defenders. The Royal Navy assisted with their support and the use of landing craft, while specialist forces of Commandoes and vehicles of 79th Armoured Division, the Funnies. As well as AVREs, Bridgelayers and flamethrowers, they also operated the US built Buffalo and Weasel amphibians as well as the British built Terrapin.
All this gives us an interesting account of the significant operations required to enable Antwerp to be brought back into use to support the Allied advance into Germany and the book is clearly assisted by well kept Canadian War Diaries made at the time. The fighting was a hard slog, in cold, wet winter weather that needed to be endured as much as the defensive efforts of the German army, but one that was effectively carried through.