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Canadian Route of Remembrance - Battle of the Scheldt 1944

Between mid-September and 8 November 1944, the First Canadian Army led a series of hard-fought military operations in Belgium and the Netherlands. Their mission was to unlock the shipping route to the port of Antwerp for food, fuel, ammunitions and other crucial supplies to be delivered to the Allied troops advancing in northwestern Europe.
Strong German defenses and its unique geography made the Scheldt one of the most difficult battlefields of the Second World War. Allied forces faced a maze of narrow roads, canals, dykes and flooded lowlands as they advanced in the South Beveland peninsula on the river’s north bank. Along its southern shore, the Allied forces battled through terrain the Germans had intentionally flooded. Of the 12,873 casualties, 6,367 were Canadians.

Map of the Battle of the Scheldt in 1944

Map of the Battle of the Scheldt in Autumn 1944

The First Canadian Army was assigned the task of clearing the Scheldt Estuary with the 2nd Canadian Corps to the west of Antwerp while the 1st British Corps was on the right to the East of Antwerp. Within the 2nd Canadian Corps, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and 4th Canadian Armoured Division played a leading role in the liberation of the southern shore of the Scheldt. Assigned to the 2nd Canadian Corps, The 1st Polish Armoured Division made an important contribution in clearing the south bank of the Scheldt to the east of the canal Gent – Terneuzen towards Antwerp. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division fought north of Antwerp and then west to liberate South Beveland and Walcheren Island on the northern shore of the Scheldt. British Commandos and Infantry also helped defeat the enemy in South Beveland and Walcheren Island. The 4th Canadian Armoured Division was later involved in clearing the area north-east of the Antwerp up to Steenbergen. The 1st British Corps pushed the Germans back in fighting north and east of Antwerp up to the River Maas. The 104th United States Infantry Division was assigned to the 1st British Corps advancing between Wuustwezel and Moerdijk.

The plan for opening the estuary involved four main operations : (1) clear the area north of Antwerp and secure access to South Beveland; (2) clear the Breskens pocket north of the Leopold Canal (Operation Switchback); (3) capture South Beveland (Operation Vitality) and (4) capture Walcheren Island (Operation Infatuate).

Driving the adversary from the Scheldt allowed the Allies to use the vital port of Antwerp - the largest port in Western Europe - opening the way to the liberation of the Netherlands and the final victory.

Itinerary of the Canadian Route of Remembrance - Battle of the Scheldt 1944

The proposed itinerary below links a selection of Belgian and Dutch monuments and plaques, war cemeteries and other significant landmarks where Canada is enduringly honoured for its role in the Battle of the Scheldt in 1944. It is impossible to include all monuments and plaques honouring Canada’s sacrifices in WW2: there are simply too many. The street coordinates of each site will enable you to discover some of the places that are of particular importance for Canada.

1. For Freedom Museum in Ramskapelle (Knokke-Heist, Belgium)

Address: Ramskapellestraat 91, 8300 Knokke-Heist, Belgium

The For Freedom Museum in Ramskapelle (Knokke-Heist, Belgium)

The For Freedom Museum, with its realistic dioramas, imagery and original artefacts, including many gifted by Canadian regimental associations and families, paints a realistic picture of WW2 in Northwestern Belgium. No single inhabitant of that area was spared hardship and repression between 1940 and 3 November 1944, the day the guns finally went silent. The museum houses impressive collections of vehicles, uniforms and excavated aircraft remains in the former village school.

2. Adegem Canadian military cemetery (Maldegem, Belgium)

Address: Prins Boudewijnlaan 51, 9991 Maldegem, Belgium

Adegem Canadian War Cemetery (Maldegem, Belgium)

Adegem Canadian War Cemetery, located a few kilometres from the town centre of Maldegem, is the cemetery with the largest number of Canadian soldiers, killed in WW2, in Belgium: 849. Most Canadians buried there fell during the Battle of the Scheldt; but many Canadians who lost their lives elsewhere in Belgium were also brought there for burial, including 41 Canadian Air Force and 3 Navy members. Other nationalities represented are the United Kingdom (268), Poland (33), Australia (3), New Zealand (2) and France (2). The cemetery is owned and managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

3. Bailey bridge & Canadian plaque (Maldegem, Belgium)

Address: Boomstraatje, 9980 Maldegem, Belgium

Bailey-bridge across the Leopoldkanaal between Maldegem and Sint-LaureinsThis Bailey-bridge was built in 1944 by Canadian troops after fierce fighting as part of “Operation Switchback”. It was here that Canadian forces attacked across the canal. A plaque on site mentions that on Oct. 6 and Oct. 7 1944, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division began Operation Switchback with assault crossings of the Leopold Canal by the Regina Rifle Regiment, the Canadian Scottish Regiment and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. This is one of the last remaining Bailey bridges that is presently still in use.

Operation Switchback involved a two-pronged assault by Canadian forces, with an assault involving frame throwers across the Leopold Canal between Maldegem and Sint-Laureins on Oct. 6 and an amphibious landing in the northern part of the Breskens pocket, at Biervliet-Hoofdplaat (NL) on Oct. 9. Operation Switchback ended on Nov. 3 with the liberation of Knokke and Zeebrugge. The +/- 200 soldiers, killed during Operation Switchback, rest at the Canadian War Cemetery in Adegem (Maldegem).

4. Stadspark Antwerpen (Antwerp, Belgium)

Address: Van Eycklei 1, 2018 Antwerpen

Royal Hamilton Light Infantry plaque at Stadspark in Antwerp

In the Antwerp city centre park Stadspark, two Canada-related plaques are affixed on a wall adjacent to the Antwerp war memorial.

The first plaque reads: “This plaque is dedicated to the heroism of the 1st Canadian Army which, with British and Polish units, liberated the Scheldt estuary in the autumn of 1944 after bitter fighting, thus opening the port of Antwerp”

The second plaque on the same wall speaks to the contribution of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry in the Antwerp port area in preventing the destruction of the port facilities and its vital equipment to the north of the Albert Canal, in close partnership with the Belgian resistance.

Many of the Canadians killed near Antwerp during the Battle of the Scheldt are buried at Schoonselhof cemetery, located in Wilrijk, a suburb of Antwerp. A total of 348 Canadians rest there.

5. Monument of Gratitude at the Heide-Kalmthout train station (Kalmthout, Belgium)

Address : Heidestatieplein 1, 2920 Kalmthout, Belgium

Monument of Gratitude at the Heide-Kalmthout train station (Kalmthout, Belgium)

The Monument of Gratitude in Kalmthout, a village 20 km north of Antwerp, pays tribute to the exemplary partnership between the Canadian forces and the resistance that succeeded in securing the Port of Antwerp’s vital equipment and liberating villages North of Antwerp, including Kalmthout.

Two life-size bronze statues visualise the first encounter between Lt-Col. Denis Whitaker of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry and Antwerp local Eugene Colson (° 2000), whose 600 resistance fighters - mostly dockers - had seized control of the Antwerp port area since 4 Sept. and had defended it alone. Denis Whitaker (° 2001) was a decorated soldier earning the Distinguished Service Order twice, Canada’s highest military decoration short of the Victoria Cross - who notably distinguished himself at Dieppe and Woensdrecht. Out of their collaboration in Antwerp grew a lifelong friendship.

6. Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian war cemetery (Bergen-op-Zoom, Netherlands)

Address: Ruytershoveweg, 4622 RJ Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands

Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian war cemetery (Bergen-op-Zoom, Netherlands)

Most of the Canadian soldiers buried at Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery lost their lives during the Battle of the Scheldt. The cemetery contains 972 Canadian graves, including 64 Canadian aviators. Next to this cemetery is another one, Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery, where another 50 Canadians rest, almost all of them aviators.

7. Canadian Sherman tank at Hoogerheide (Woensdrecht, Netherlands)

Address: Onderstal 39, 4631 NN Hoogerheide, Netherlands

Sherman tank, deployed during the heavy fighting at Woensdrecht in Oct. 1944

A Canadian Sherman tank from the Fort Garry Horse and two plaques commemorate the heavy fighting in Oct. 1944 for control of the town of Woensdrecht, crucial to control access to the South Beveland isthmus. On October 2nd, 1944, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division met with unbreakable resistance near Woensdrecht and Hoogerheide. Bloody fighting against German crack units went on until October 16th. On October 13th, the “Black Friday”, the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada lost 145 men and all its commanders in a violent engagement. On October 16th, the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, supported by the Fort Garry Horse and by artillery, fought its way up to Woensdrecht and retained the position. The heavy fighting almost flattened the towns of Woensdrecht and Hoogerheide.

8. Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque at Sloedam (Arnemuiden, Netherlands)

Address: Postweg, Arnemuiden, Netherlands

Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque at Sloedam

The Sloedam Causeway, a 1 km long and only 45 meters wide dam and the only entrance to Walcheren from South Beveland, was the scene of heavy fighting between Oct. 31 and Nov. 5, 1944. A Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque, unveiled in 2010, speaks to the role of units of the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade in the full frontal attack over the causeway. On Nov. 2, a successful amphibious attack by the 52nd British (Lowland) Division outflanking the Germans’ defenses allowed the Canadian forces to advance into the eastern part of Walcheren. Landings by British Commandos of the 4th Commando Brigade eventually sealed the fate of the German defense on Walcheren Island, attacking from seaward at Flushing and Westkapelle.

9. Zeeland Liberation Museum (Nieuwdorp, Netherlands)

Adress : Coudorp 41, 4455 AH Nieuwdorp, Netherlands

Bailey bridge at the Zeeland Liberation Museum (Nieuwdorp, Netherlands)

The Zeeland Liberation Museum pays special attention to the Battle of the Scheldt.

The 3-hectare Liberation Park features bunkers, a bailey bridge, roadblocks, a Sherman tank, a temporary church etc.

The museum also has an amphibious Buffalo troop carrier.

10. Amphibious landing monument at Biervliet (Terneuzen, Netherlands)

Address : Parkeerplaats Paulinahaven, Biervliet, Netherlands

Amphibious landing monument at Biervliet (Terneuzen, Netherlands)

A monument commemorates the landing of a successful offensive using with almost 90 amphibious vehicles such as Buffaloes and Terrapins by the North Nova Scotia Highlanders at Hoofdplaat and by the Highland Light Infantry of Canada at Biervliet on Oct. 9, 1944. After successfully establishing a bridgehead, troops advanced in the direction of Knokke.

11. Hickman Bridge at Retranchement (Sluis, Netherlands)

Address : Zwinstraat 17, 4525 AC Retranchement, Netherlands

The memorial, next to the bridge named "Hickman brug", is in honour of Sergeant John Lockhart Hickman of the Royal Canadian Engineers, who was killed by mortar fire while the unit he commanded was building a Bailey bridge over a canal at Retranchement on Oct. 31. This action was part of the final Canadian push in the polders of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen towards Knokke-Heist and Zeebrugge, where the Battle of the Scheldt ended for Belgium on Nov. 3. The role of engineering units in the Battle of the Scheldt was crucial in an area, criss-crossed with canals and flooded land. Retranchement is the Western-most coastal village of the Netherlands. Sergeant Hickman is buried at the Adegem Canadian War cemetery in Maldegem.
 Hickman Bridge at Retranchement

It is only a few kilometres from here to the starting point of this route in Knokke-Heist.

 

 

 

Once the fighting on the ground was finished by 8 November, the Scheldt was then cleared of mines, and on 28 November the first convoy of Allied cargo ships entered the port of Antwerp, led by the Canadian-built freighter Fort Cataraqui.

Canadian-built freighter Fort Cataraqui entering the port of Antwerp on Nov. 28, 1944

Canadian-built freighter Fort Cataraqui entering the port of Antwerp on Nov. 28, 1944

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Date Modified:
2019-09-12