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The forgotten Battles of The Scheldt & Woensdrecht on "Black Friday" The 13th.
Article by Joseph Mad

Montgomery and Eisenhower never gave The Scheldt, top priority until it was almost too late. The Scheldt was one of the most important and bloody campaigns Canadian soldiers ever fought in WWII. As high Ranking Officers due to posturing ignorance and arrogance made horrendous inexplicable decisions. This was a chapter of WWII that had, by and large, been forgotten, with the exception of the Dutch people who were liberated, and never forgot their heroic honourable gallant sacrifice of those brave souls and the Canadian soldiers who fought and survived to tell the tail, of their exploits to endeavour to perceiver against all odds. Against a better equipped and season army that had completely fortified all German occupied positions.

On August 25th 1944, Paris was liberated. British and US armies advancing into German held territory which attracted most of the news,  and press. The Canadians were assigned a less glamorous task, of attacking and liberating French minor ports along the northern coast. The Canadian Army was under the command of General Crerar. They encountered very serious German resistance, since the area that the Canadians were attempting to liberate had been heavily defended. Remember this was the location Hitler assumed the Allied landings of D-Day were to have taken place in.

On 4 September 1944, XXX Corps reached Antwerp, and with the help of the Belgian resistance the city was secured and the port facilities were captured intact. The advance was halted at Antwerp. By not advancing past Antwerp and liberating Holland, which rendered the port of Antwerp useless.

The Scheldt estuary, which connects the North Sea with Antwerp, was 80km long and in Dutch territory and the Germans held both sides of the estuary. This was a blunder made by Montgomery, and Canadian soldiers would now have to pay the highest price for his incompetence. Due to his obsession with the idea of a thrust deep into Germany, that would carry Montgomery all the way to Berlin.

At this same time Operation Comet had been revised and was now called Market-Garden or as many know it as the movie “A Bridge to Far”. British units in Antwerp were to be used for operation Market-Garden so Canadian units replaced them in Antwerp. On 17 September 1944, Market-Garden was launched, but it ultimately met with failure disappointments and the lost and sacrifice of so many Troops. By now, the port had become the main priority for the Allies. Eisenhower saw this, but Montgomery still wanted a push into Germany. Around the 26th of September 1944, Eisenhower told Montgomery to forget about this thrust into Germany, his first priority was to clear the harbour of Antwerp. Montgomery conceded after much grumbling and assigned the task to the First Canadian Army now under command of Lt. Gen. Guy Simmonds of 2nd Division, who had become very alarmed on September 4th, by the build-up of German strength on both sides of the Scheldt estuary. German soldiers who had escaped the Falaise pocket (15th Army) and had now set up Shop on one of the Scheldt estuary banks, which was now a completely Fortified Fortress.

The battle of the Scheldt would start on October 1 and be the largest infantry battle under Canadian command of WWII. British and Polish units would join the attack. This was a battle that could have been easily won, due to Allied indecisiveness and procrastination. It was the delay that gave Hitler, all the time he needed to turn the Scheldt into a fortress. At the end of September 1944, the Canadian Army was ready for its advance into the Scheldt, and Lt. Gen. Simmonds’ plan was approved. Utter sheer madness by today’s military tactics. For the Canadians, it was not an inviting prospect to attack these positions with six under strength infantry battalions, a squadron of tanks and artillery regiments that had to ration the approaches to the port of Antwerp, insisted the advance continue.

The Black-Watch had already suffered heavy casualties. During the Battle of Verrières Ridge on July 25, 1944, In which 325 men left the start line, astonisingly only 15 made it back to friendly lines, the others being killed or wounded by well entrenched Waffen SS soldiers, machine gun Nests and tanks. And a month prior to the attack on Woensdrecht they had received above average casualties, in the Battle for Spycker from September 12-14. In October the Regiment expected to be fully manned and re-supplied, but that was not to be, as the Regiment laid in shambles.

The Black Watch Royal Highland Regiment of Canada, was about to meet it’s Waterloo, open field battle with no cover or obstacles to hide behind. The Brigade Commander knowing the Black Watch situation in hand, gave the order for the Black Watch, to attack and take a small town called Woensdrecht which the Germans had fully fortified. This town was vital for communications.

When October 12 came along the Black-Watch where undermanned, only rifles and smoke Bombs, with no support to lay down an attack on the German positions on that Bloody Friday the 13th. This operation, code-named Angus, called for 5th Brigade to employ one battalion to seize the railway embankment with the other two battalions passing through to seal off the route to Walcheren Island. The first phase of the assault would have to be undertaken by the Black Watch. The Maisonneuves were still more than 200 riflemen short and the Calgaries had borne the brunt of the fighting at Hoogerheide. The German’s held the high ground, their positions had been reinforced and had their guns, rifles and machineguns zeroed in, on the Black-Watch.

Like Lambs to the Slaughter house, not know the carnage that was about to unfold in front of their very eyes. As they where about to take heavy casualties, and a Proud Regiment was about to be desamated. On October 13 1944 on a raised railway embankment they layed, gasing in astonisment and looking up the hill, across 1,200 yards of open beet fields. The orders where given at 11.30 am to attack in plain daylight across flat open hill’d fields with no cover, flooded land, driving rain, booby traps and land mines that made the advance very escruteatingly difficult. As the battle waged and the battle field lay litterd with fallen men, the Battle Commander realising it was an impossible attack, the Black-Watch had to withdraw.

When the German rifles, Guns had silence’d and the smoke and dust had seatled  they sufferd 145 casualties, including 56 dead, among them all four company commaders, and one company of 90 men was reduced to just four survivors. Twenty-seven were taken prisoner, which devestated the Regiment. Known as “Black Friday” by the Canadian Infantry and The Black Watch – Royal Highland Regiment of Canada.

On the 16th of October 1944, it was the turn of the Royal Hamilton Light infantry, under Lt Col Denis Whitaker, to attempt to capture Woensdrecht. The Canadians on this day were supported by a squadron of tanks and artillery, and attacked at night around 3am in the morning. The attack succeeded. The Germans had reserves consisting of a Regiment of Paratroopers under the command of Lt Colonel Von Der Heydte who were excellent troops. Early the next morning, they commenced counter attacking, the Hamiltons. German troops managed to overrun one of the defending companies. It would take five more days before the battle for Woensdrecht was over. The battlefield was a display of carnage, the Canadians had suffered dearly and heavily. The battle of the Scheldt lasted till November 8 and caused 12,000 Allied casualties killed, wounded or missing. 6,367 of them were Canadian.

The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, received two battle honours one for “The Scheldt” & for Woensdrecht”. Personally they should of Received a Victoria Cross. Against all odds, For above and beyond the call of duty for “Black Friday” the 13th!.

An update of this article along with a list of those killed can be downloaded here!

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