"Overloon, it’s mines, mud and woods, stiff with the enemy all the way!"
"The concussion had blown me to the floor of the turret of our Churchill tank. I could only see an inferno of burning and smoke. The noise of the shell penetration was horrendous. It was just as though a large giant had torn steel in two. It was a tearing sound that is unforgettable. " (C.P. Lamb, Grenadier Guards)
In the autumn of 1944, in a remote area of the Netherlands known as de Peel, a vicious battle was fought to reduce a German bridgehead west of the Meuse near the German border. Preceded by Market-Garden and followed by the Ardennes offensive and because of its dismal nature, heavy losses and lack of success it has been somewhat forgotten in history. Hence "forgotten battle" or "battle in the shadow". The troops themselves called it "Second Caen", because of the ferocity and unforgiving nature of the fighting. The operation was conducted by the US 7th Armored Division and later British 3rd Infantry and 11th Armoured Divisions. On the defending side was the German Kampfgruppe Walther consisting of paratroopers from the 21. Regiment, a battalion sized unit from the 10. SS-Panzerdivision Frundsberg and a Luftwaffe 88 mm battalion. The hard core of the unit was the 107. Panzerbrigade.
Between September,30th and October 14th, 1944 a bloody battle raged around the village of Overloon. In circumstances reminiscent of the Great War the British plodded further across the heavily mined Loobeek which they finally took on October, 16th. Venray fell on October, 19th, 1944. Then the offensive was suspended. The troops were needed elsewhere for the fighting around the Scheldt estuary in order to open a route to Antwerp. This harbour was needed urgently if the allied supply situation was to be solved. Only on December, 3rd, 1944, the German bridgehead was finally eliminated with the capture of Blerick, a suburb of Venlo on the west bank of the Meuse. Venlo itself would remain in German hands until March, 1945, in the battle for the Roer triangle.
What preceded the battles
During the partial failure of operation Market-Garden an allied salient of 80 km deep and 20-30 km wide was formed that stretched from the Belgian-Dutch border up till north of Nijmegen. Already during the fighting in and around Arnhem the corridor’s only supply road, Hell’s highway, was cut several times. This was one, among various reasons, why British XXX Corps didn’t advance quick enough. The paratroopers at Arnhem couldn’t be reached in time and were defeated. The front stabilized around Nijmegen beyond the river Waal.
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, with typical British optimism, found that "Market-Garden had been a 90 % success". He wanted to try an alternative river crossing into Germany and its vital industrial Ruhrgebiet. Instead of crossing the Lower Rhine and river Ijssel beyond Arnhem he now envisaged an attack through Gennep, Kleve and Emmerich in order to capture Düsseldorf and Cologne. By crossing the Meuse and the Rhine the strongest part of the Siegfried Line defences would be bypassed . In order for this to succeed the German bridgehead in the bend of the Meuse between Boxmeer and Wessem needed to be taken out.
The allies still underestimated the military strength of Germany at that moment. This would also appear during the fighting around Aachen ( 2nd – 21st of October,1944) and the Hürtgenwald (October 6th-December 1st, 1944) and by the surprise that the German offensive in the Ardennes would achieve ( December 16th , 1944 onwards). By and large the allies thought that Germany was about to collapse soon.Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model had his own plans with the Brückenkopf Venlo. Eventually he planned to launch an offensive towards Nijmegen. The bridgehead was reinforced, unnoticed by allied intelligence. When the allies attacked on September, 30th, 1944 there were 15,000 German soldiers in the area. Allied intelligence had estimated 2,000 mostly badly trained and demoralized troops. German LXXXVI Corps had the 7. Fallschirmjägerdivision "Erdmann" and the weak 180. Infantry Division. The strongest unit in the vicinity of Overloon where the American 7th Armored was about to attack was the 107. Panzerbrigade. Originally intended for the Eastern Front the armoured brigade was transported to Venlo during Market-Garden. It had already given the allies some surprises near Helmond.
The front ran west of Overloon at Oploo, to the north of Overloon in forested areas and over the railway towards the twin villages of Vortem-Mullem near the Meuse. The Hauptkampflinie, HKL or the front, was held by three parachute batallions of 21.para regiment , Luftwaffen-Festungs-Bataillon X near the hamlet of the Hattert and a unit from battalion size from the SS-Panzerdivision Frundsberg under command of Sturmbannführer Franz Roestl with as its major fire power 15 StuGs assault guns.