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Sherman tank on a festive street with crowds - AN19900198-123
Sherman tank on a festive street with crowds.

The Liberation of the Netherlands, 1944-1945

By September 1944, the Allied armies, advancing from France and Belgium, had reached the southern boundary of the German-occupied Netherlands. The first attempt to break into the Netherlands failed. The First Allied Airborne Army dropped by parachute and glider in an attempt to capture bridges across the Maas and lower Rhine rivers. American paratroops successfully took the Maas bridges, but the British 1st Airborne Division, landing near the Rhine bridge at Arnhem, was all but destroyed by a strong German force.

At this time Antwerp, Belgium, was in Allied hands, but it could not be used as a port to resupply the advancing armies because the Germans held the approaches to the port on both banks of the lower River Scheldt. In October and November, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division cleared the south bank, while 2nd Canadian Infantry Division fought along the north bank.

But at tremendous cost. The Germans cut the dykes to let seawater flood the low-lying fields and the attackers were forced to follow narrow, fire-swept routes along the tops of dykes or to attempt amphibious assaults. The Scheldt battles cost the First Canadian Army 6,367 killed, mostly from among the tired, perpetually wet infantrymen.

After an uncomfortable winter spent patrolling through the wet Dutch countryside, the Canadians got the help of their countrymen from Italy ( see the Sicilian and Italian Campaigns ), who advanced quickly north from the Rhine through the eastern Netherlands to the North Sea. Although the fighting was never easy, and continued nearly to the last day of the war, the German resistance collapsed from lack of supplies and manpower. In the western Netherlands, getting food to the starving Dutch population in their flooded villages was the major task. Finally, there was a ceasefire, allowing food to be dropped by parachute or trucked in.

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