Operation Blockbuster | Then and Now
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Operation Veritable begins on February 8, 1945. It is the largest operation ever carried out from Dutch territory with the aim of clearing the area between the Rhine and the Roer of German troops. British and Canadian soldiers attacked from the north, while the Americans closed the trap from the south. Once the objectives had been achieved, the next step, Operation Blockbuster, could be carried out.
After the objectives of the first phase of Operation Veritable were achieved, the follow-up operation, Blockbuster, could be launched. During Blockbuster, the last line of defense west of the Rhine had to be broken in order to advance south along the Rhine as far as Xanten, and make contact with the Americans advancing from the south. For this purpose, the Canadian army deployed no less than three British and Canadian armoured and five infantry divisions. Their main obstacle was the German defense line Schlieffen-Stellung, better known to the Canadians as the ‘Hochwald Layback’.
On February 22, 1945, the offensive was resumed, but like Operation Veritable, heavy resistance was encountered so that it was only possible to advance with great difficulty. Further south, the Americans were finally able to launch their Operation Grenade because the water in the Roer had receded. After a bombardment of a thousand guns, the 9th Army crossed the Roer on February 23, seven bridges were built and by February 26, three army corps were across and on their way to Düsseldorf. Meanwhile, in two weeks of bitter fighting, faced with determined opponents of the 1. Fallschirm-Armee, and particularly bad weather and terrain conditions, the British and Canadians slowly fought their way from one fortified place to the next, to and through the Hochwald Layback, gradually driving out the Germans, until they faced Wesel on the banks of the Rhine.
The Rhine is reached
The last part of the Rhineland offensive consisted of crossing the famous river itself. The crossing of the Rhine between Rees and Wesel was codenamed Operation Plunder. The entire operation began in the late afternoon of March 23, 1945. One million soldiers from three different countries took part in the operation. The Allies had assembled more than 4,000 pieces of artillery on the west bank of the Rhine, while more than 250,000 tons of supplies were dragged to the front. “For the Canadians and the British fighting under their command, these battles were among the grittiest and most gruesome of the entire war,” said Colonel C. P. Stacey, author of The Canadian Army 1939 – 1945 – An Official Historical Summary. But from Emmerich to Basel the Allies were now on the Rhine. This brought them to the starting point for the decisive final phase of the war, also at the front in the Netherlands.
During Operation ‘Blockbuster’, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division’s task was to capture the German town of Uedem and clear the way for the 11th Armoured Division’s advance to the east. After the fierce battle for Keppeln, Brigadier John Rockingham draws up an attack plan for the 9th Brigade. It should advance south with two battalions, the Highland Light Infantry of Canada on the left and the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders on the right. If they controlled the northern part of Uedem, The North Nova Scotia Highlanders would advance through the area and complete the clearing of the city. The attack started on February 26, after a 30-minute artillery barrage. The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, advancing on the main road from Cleve, had to clear Bomshof from their starting line, but then made good progress. On the left, the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, advancing from Keppeln, lost several personnel vehicles to mines.
That night the two battalions crossed an anti-tank ditch surrounding Uedem without much difficulty, but as they entered the northern suburbs of the city around midnight, the German resistance strengthened, and a fierce battle developed. By 4:00 am the resistance was reduced to a few snipers and the North Nova Scotia advanced into the city center. By 27 February 1945, Uedem had been cleared and the way was clear for the next phase of the operation, the attack on the Hochwald Gap by the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and the ridge to its south by the British 11th Armoured Division. © IWM B14932
The capture of Uedem cleared the way for the next phase of the operation, the attack on the Hochwald Gap by the 4th Canadian Armoured Division and the ridge to its south by the British 11th Armoured Division. This photo shows a Cromwell tank of the 15th/19th Hussars, the armoured reconnaissance regiment of the 11th Armoured Division, in front of the St. Laurentius church. © IWM B14938
Members of the Canadian Press Center pose in front of a building in Materborn converted into an Advance Press Camp near the destroyed German town of Kleve on 27 February 1945. It was the First Canadian Press camp on German soil. The village and church were heavily damaged during Operation Veritable, the building still bears the marks of the battle. © Library and Archives Canada (LAC)
The 53rd Welsh Infantry Division advanced from the German town of Goch towards the fortified town of Weeze. On February 24, 1945, the first day of the attack, they met heavy resistance in the village of Höst. The 6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers of the 169th Brigade were stopped and at 5:00 pm the Highland Infantry of the 71st Brigade moved through their positions to attack the village. With support from Crocodile flamethrower tanks, Höst was completely cleared by daylight on 25 February.
After this, when the direct route to Weeze was blocked by heavy resistance from Fallschirm-Jäger-Regiment 22 of the 8. Fallschirmjäger-Division and some armored vehicles, the 53rd Division made use of a small bridgehead established by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division over the Mühlenfleuth, a tributary of the Niers east of Weeze to put two brigades across the river and approach the town from the rear and side.
The maneuver was successfully carried out on the night of 28 February/1 March, and in daylight the 7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers of the 158th Brigade approached Weeze from the north-east, forcing the German defenders to retreat. Patrols from the 1st Highland Light Infantry (71st Brigade) who entered the town from the north on the night of 1–2 March found it deserted. This photo shows soldiers from the 4th Welsh approaching the town centre. The same houses are still standing on Loestraße in Weeze. © IWM B15066
During operation Blockbuster, the British 5th Infantry Division, supported by the 8th Armoured Brigade, advanced from the German town of Weeze via the Geldern road to the next objective, the town of Kevelaer, six kilometers away. An armoured vehicle unit led the way, consisting of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoons Guards, A Squadron of the 53rd Recce Regiment and the 1st Oxford and Bucks, until they were stopped by German Sturmgeschütze and machine guns.
The infantry dismounted from their vehicles and, after a night-time battle in the village of Neuenhof, they sent patrols across the anti-tank ditch into Kevelaer on 3 March, where they discovered that the Germans had withdrawn. Only 20 prisoners were taken but the Ox and Bucks suffered booby-trapped losses. This photo shows British soldiers marching past a line of Sherman tanks from the north into the city.
This photo was taken on 4 March 1945, the tanks probably belong to the 13th/14th Hussars, another unit of the 8th Armoured Brigade, which was concentrating in Kevelaer on that day for further deployment with the Welsh Division further north. The Amsterdamer Straße has changed remarkably little. Even the gilded crown of the café Zur Krone on the right is still there. © IWM B 15146
An M4 Sherman tank of the British 13th/14th Hussars, 8th Armoured Brigade armed with 75mm Gun M3 (M3 75mm) is parked in the Amsterdammer Strasse in Kevelaer on 4 March 1945. This photo clearly shows that tracks and wheels have been fitted to provide additional protection against German anti-tank weapons. © IWM B 15145
This photo shows a Sherman V Crab mine clearing flail tank of the 1st Lothian and Border Yeomanry at Kevelaer, to which a squadron of the 53rd Infantry Division was attached during Operation Blockbuster. In this photo, the tank passes the Sankt-Marien-Basilika in the city center, photographed by Sergeant Hutchinson. A Catholic pilgrimage town since the 17th century, Kevelaer did not come out of the war unscathed and suffered air raids on February 14 and March 1, although most of the bombs fell outside the town centre. © IWM B 15148
Impressive then and now photo of the Hauptstraße in Kevelaer. This photo shows British soldiers of the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division moving through the city center on 3 March 1945 towards the next objective, the large market town of Geldern, nine kilometers to the south. Led again by a squadron of the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards, the 158th Brigade took off, but before they reached the town, a reconnaissance unit from the 12th King’s Royal Rifle Corps reported that they had made contact with troops from the US 35th Infantry Division. The German garrison cleared Geldern that night and the next morning, 4 March, the 1st East Lancashires captured the town without resistance.
- Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Vol III The Victory Campaign: The Operations in Northwest Europe, 1944-45 by Stacey, C.P.
- The long left flank by Jeffrey Williams
- Alastair Borthwick: Battalion: British Infantry Unit’s Actions from El Alamein to the Elbe, 1942-45.
- War Diary North Nova Scotia Highlanders, February 1945
- Forgotten Victory: First Canadian Army and the Cruel Winter of 1944-45 (Canadian Battle Series) by Mark Zuehlke
- ’40 – ’45 Toen & Nu, De slag om de Hochwald opening door Karel Margry
- Liberation Route Europe