"Da bunt ze" (there they are)
"Food tourists" and "bread thieves", those were daily words in the famine winter of 1944-1945. A large part of the Dutch population was fighting for its life at that time and: "you had to stand in line to be buried," as a manner of speech. To Allied strategists, this was no reason to rearrange their priorities for the destruction of Nazi Germany. The highest policy makers with the loyal military commanders in their wake were focused entirely on the effective defeat of Berlin. All military capacity, in particular the logistic element was deployed to strike deep and fast into the heart of Germany. In all their plans, the starving nation was literally left at the wayside, the military turning their backs on her.
The motto of London was loud and clear: Only maintaining the initiative will bring us victory and so, we are going to cross the Rhine as soon as possible and then, in one fluid movement out of a strong bridgehead, we will make the jump, over 217 miles long, to the River Elbe. The Chief of Staff at the Supreme Commanderís HQ thought this bridgehead could be established some time in April and that the low lying northwestern area was next in turn. For the Netherlands, in particular the western part, this was the worst possible scenario. This dark picture could fortunately be lit up a little.
"Lucky No. 1" came from Washington: the Joint Chiefs of Staff were deeply impressed by the threatened physical destruction of the Netherlands and ordered Eisenhower (Bio Eisenhower) to devise a plan for the liberation of the western part of the Netherlands. But the condition remained strictly unchanged: cross the Rhine first and establish a strong bridgehead.
"Lucky No. 2" was based on a principle of military strategy: the attacker should always make sure his flanks are protected. In this case, the eastern and northern parts of the Netherlands were the area from which this flank protection was effected. Field marshal Bernard Montgomery (Bio Montgomery) had previously exposed his measures in a plan with the urgent indication: ..the clearing of Holland will take second priority as soon as problems arise that will thwart the actual goal,..
This article is about Lucky No. 2, about soldiers and civilians who, more than 70 years ago, made the difference between winning and losing, between life and death in the eastern and northern parts of the Netherlands. Years of justice being raped, of misery and terror were relegated to history in March, April and May 1945. The cry "ÖWe are free!..."(1) conveyed indescribable joy. The hamlet of Megchelen, deep in the Achterhoek near Gendringen was the first to experience that joy on March 26th, 1945, brought to them by men of the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division entering from Germany of all places. Near Farmsum, in the Delfzijl Pocket, troops of the Irish Regiment of Canada waged the final battles for the liberation of eastern and northern regions of the Netherlands in the morning of May 2nd, 1945.
It is crystal clear that so many years later, a lot has been written about the liberation of the eastern and northern regions of the Netherlands. This period has yielded well readable and often perfectly detailed documents from primary sources. The intention of this article is to remain modest and this is done by offering a summary of this struggle, in particular emphasizing the connection between these theatres of battle.
Liberation started in the region around Nijmegen and ended via German territory in the western part of Friesland and the northeastern part of Groningen. In this process, two airborne operations played an essential role. The first yielded the requirements for the strong bridgehead mentioned earlier, the second yielded the requirement for a fast, advantageous finale. The first has undoubtedly been successful, the success of the second is subject to discussion.
The chart on the right shows the general outline of this article. It starts with the break out on February 8th, 1945, followed by the jump across the Rhine in the night of March 23rd to 24th. Next the advance of the Canadians and British out of the bridgehead in the direction of the Achterhoek to the Hoogeveensche Vaart. In the night of April 7th to 8th, the second airborne operation took place over Drenthe and next came the finale in the provinces of Friesland and Groningen which ended on May 2nd, 1945.
This article is limited, as far as the Netherlands are concerned, to the area of the Canadian 2nd Army Corps with a few words added about the Guards Tank Division of the British 2nd Army as far as the liberation of Twenthe is concerned. The liberation of the Waddenislands lies outside the scope of this article.