‘I think that my experience of taking part in the Causeway battle on Halloween night and November 1, 1944 in Holland is probably the most terrible 40 hours I have ever spent…’ -the late Bill Powell, 1998
In October 1944 the Allied advance through Holland was held up by a shortage of vital supplies because the Germans controlled the entrance to the port of Antwerp although it, with all its docking facilities, had been captured intact. As Duncan’s late Bill Powell, formerly of the Calgary Highlanders, explained Wednesday, the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions were assigned the task of driving them out, the Highlanders to capture the mined Scheldt Estuary…
Bill Powell: The battle of the Scheldt started Oct. 1, 1944 at the Albert Canal and it wasn’t over until Nov. 8 when the British invaded the last obstacle, Walcheren (Fortress Walcheren as it was called), by sea. The last fighting died down by Nov. 8 and the job of clearing the mines from the Scheldt Estuary could begin, so that shipping to the port of Antwerp could commence, bringing supplies so desperately needed by the Allies.
The 3rd Division got the job of clearing the Breskens Pocket on the south side of the Scheldt. They had preliminary help from the 4th Cdn. Armoured Division and the 1st Polish Division. The 3rd Cdn. Division had a very rough time. Besides the Germans their main enemy was water. Water and dikes were everywhere. By the time they’d cleared the Bresken Pocket, they’d earned the name, “The Water Rats.” I had a good friend who was killed there. He fought with the Canadian Scottish.
The assignment of the 2nd Cdn. Division was to cut off the Germans’ escape route from the South Beveland Peninsula to Germany then to drive down to the western end of the peninsula. Cutting off the escape route involved a number of critical battles, the Albert Canal Hoogerheide and Woensdrecth, to name two. The drive to the western end of the South Beveland Peninsula took until Oct. 31. Connecting the end of the peninsula to Walcheren Island was the Causeway. The final phase for the 2nd Division was to cross the Causeway and establish a small beachhead on Walcheren. With this accomplished, we were promised a few days’ rest in Liere, Belgium.
The 2nd Cdn. Division had been in action since landing in France about a month after D-Day. The 5th Brigade, part of the 2nd Cdn. Division, consisted of three regiments, the Black Watch, the Rgt. de Maisonneuve and the Calgary Highlanders.
The Causeway leading to Walcheren Island was 1,200 yards long, 40 metres wide and straight as a gun barrel. On it ran a two-lane road, an elevated railroad track and a bicycle path. Each side of the Causeway was marshy salt flats of deep mud which were impossible to cross. Along the complete length of the Causeway there was absolutely no cover for advancing troops.
I’ll try to describe the preparations the Germans had made to hold back any attack. I’ve read several accounts of the Causeway battle; the following is an attempt to describe what awaited us.
About 500 yards from the end the Germans had blown a huge crater. The enemy was virtually indestructible in the concrete bunkers they’d built at their end and in the Walcheren dikes that ran north and south on Walcheren at the western end of the Causeway. On top of these dikes they had firing trenches. They’d sited 88 mm guns to fire down its length and had positioned two others both north and south of the Causeway.
Developed as an anti-aircraft weapon, the 88 was a deadly weapon with a very high velocity. They were mounted on their tanks [employed as field guns.] They also had heavy and light mortars and the ever-present machine guns. German artillery for miles around was also sighted on the [Causeway]. On top of all this, they had at least one heavy coast gun aimed [at] the Causeway. There were mines planted everywhere, including on the embankment. At the western end they’d built a roadblock. They’d had many months, even years, to get ready.
By Oct. 31 we’d reached the western end of the South Beveland Peninsula. The last remaining obstacle was the Causeway and Walcheren Island. The Black Watch of our 5th Brigade was ordered to advance down the Causeway and “bump” a bridgehead at the far end.
I hate the expression, “bump.” When you bump the enemy a number of men get killed and wounded. It’s as though many people in command have no feeling for the common soldier who’s doing the fighting.
(To be continued)