History:Overview – The Calgary Highlanders in the Victory Campaign July 1944 – May 1945
The following article appeared in the July 1945 edition of “The Glen”, the regimental newsletter that was begun in September 1939. The overview is told in the words of the editorial staff of The Glen – in other words, soldiers who were with the battalion during the Second World War. The article originally ran without maps or illustrations, and was intended as part of a “souvenir” edition, aimed primarily at serving soldiers of the Regiment to take home as a keepsake. Some minor edits have been made by the webmaster, chiefly to alter abbreviated words, plus minor spelling, grammar and punctuation edits.
This site will eventually have detailed examinations of all of the major operations described below, but this abridged version of the history will also no doubt be of interest to those only wishing a brief overview of the battalion’s history.
The detailed examinations on other pages will also put some of the more obscure references below in a more comprehensible context for the reader unfamiliar with Canadian operations in NW Europe as a whole.
The Breakthrough and Pursuit
The war in Europe was almost a month old when, on the sixth of July, 1944, The Calgary Highlanders landed in France. The first glimpse of things to come was a 1000-bomber raid on Caen, seen as the later elements of the battalion came ashore. The more personal angle came as we de-waterproofed our weapons and vehicles and moved inland towards the great battle, settling for a while in the shadow of the Abbey at Cussy. There, we had our first casualties, a reminder that war was not all route marches and waving banners.
On the nineteenth, our first action started, our orders being to take Hill 67. We marched through Caen, passed through the Black Watch and the Regiment de Maisonneuve and, under a terrific barrage, swung into battle with pipes skirling. Clearing out all German opposition on the way, we pressed forward, taking Fleury-sur-Orne and The Hill itself. The first counter-attack, supported by tanks, came in about two hours later, causing considerable casualties but gaining no ground. The enemy lost two Panthers and one Pz Kpfw IV. The Calgaries had stood the test and now knew that they were as good as the best of German soldiers – the SS; the phrase was no longer a meaningless instructor’s platitude. An extra phase of this battle was the taking out of Etavaux, a small thorn in our right flank.
A few days later, we were ordered down the hill to capture May-sur-Orne. The enemy contested every foot of the ground and we did not get our final objective. Tired, weary and much depleted in ranks, we retired to Basse in the early hours of the 26th, leaving the town of St. Andre to be held by the Regiment de Maisonneuve. Back at Basse, we were re-equipped and the new reinforcements were fitted in to plug some of the gaps.
All too soon, we felt, we were flung once more against the enemy, this time at Tilly-la-Campagne. We could not then understand this seemingly senseless beating of our heads against the might of the German Army. Only later were we to see that these battles had held the German armour long enough to enable the American Army, far on our right, to break through at St. Lo. It was the end of a phase.
The seventh of August saw us on the start of the great Falaise Breakthrough. The tempo of the fighting decreased as we fought our way through Bretteville and Clair Tizon. However, the fatigue of the pursuit increased as we tried, generally in vain, to engage the enemy at Urville, Fontaine-les-Pin, through the shelling at Orbec to Ste. Germain-la-Campagne. It was on the way to Orbec, as we passed through Vimoutier and Laboscraie, that we felt the first collapse of the German Army. At the latter place, we could hear Jerry starting up his vehicles and pulling out as we advanced. It was there, too, that we came upon mile after mile of vehicles which had been knocked out by the Air Force.
The night air attack at St. Cyr de Salerne was the prelude to the relief of the Watch at Bourgtheroulde and the terrific shelling in Foret de la Londe, where the regiment stood up to sixteen hours of the heaviest shelling the enemy could turn against us.
We crossed the Seine on the 3rd Div bridge at Elbeuf and were the first of the Allies to enter Rouen. So great was the reception of the French people that it took three hours to travel the four miles through town.
And so to Dieppe! There it was spit, polish and blanco – shades of England again. The General Officer Commanding the division and the mayor of Dieppe took the salute, honouring the Canadians who had made the first trial landing in force on 19 August, 1942. After a short pause, on up the French coast, where we tidied Ste. Folquin, then Bourbourgville and the assault and capture of Loon Plage, where our most forward elements reached Fort Mardick, jut short of Dunkerque. Little did we realize that only with the utter collapse of the Germany Army, way on in 1945, would Dunkerque be free once more.
On the 18 September, 1944, we left Loon Plage to proceed to Wommelghem, situated on the outskirts of Antwerp. The trip proved to be a very interesting one, through the beautiful rolling country of Northern France, passing through and near such famous places as Ypres, St. Julien, Passchendaele, Poel Capelle, etc. All along the road, we were warmly welcomed by the people. On 22 September we made the long-to-be-remembered and highly successful crossing of the Albert Canal. Stiff encounters were fought; we finally drove the Hun from his positions, thus establishing a firm bridgehead through which the remaining 2nd Division units could pass.
After a short rest, we once again started to roll, making for St. Leonard, via Ryckevorsel and Oostbrecht. On approaching St. Leonard, opposition became increasingly more stiff and a tough battle was fought in St. Leonard itself and on the outskirts of Brecht. As that particular sector was the hub of the German defence system in that area, we may well be proud of our achievements there. We then moved to Lochtenberg, where a company took over Fort de Schooten, which had been left undefended by the Germans. A new plan was unfolded, in which the 2nd Division was given the job of moving up the new enemy defensive line, which had been prepared south of Bergen-op-Zoom.
On the seventh of October, at 0530 hours, we crossed the start line to attack and capture the town of Hoogerheide. Small pockets of resistance were encountered on the axis of the advance but, finally, each company was firmly established on its objective, in spite of the enemy’s reluctance to give ground. That night a great many counter-attacks were successfully repelled and it was then realized that we were in the centre of Jerry’s defence line. On the ninth, a large, well organized attack was launched by the Germans and they were successful to some degree, in that they regained a vital cross-roads on the outskirts of Hoogerheide; however, we quickly regained our offensive spirit and the next day the cross-roads was once again in our hands.
We were relieved on October 11 and proceeded back to an area around Ossendrecht for regrouping and a well earned rest.
From this area, we moved out to the water country and it was here that we got our first taste of real “Dyke Warfare.” After a week of intensive patrolling, we felt that we were ready to attack the formidable Hun positions, which were cleverly and securely dug in along the sides of the dykes and a railroad which ran directly across their defense line. So good were these positions that they were safe from artillery fire, other than lucky, direct hits. at 1500 hours on October 23, we moved into the attack, corssing open country swept by murderous machine gun fire from the enemy, and were successful in dislodging the enemy, from the positions he had held for so long. Casualties were amazingly low, in spite of the stubborn fight the enemy put up in the initial stages of the attack. Some of the Huns managed to withdraw to a high piece of ground which commanded the main road out to Beveland; however, we again came to the fore and cleaned this pocket out the next day, thus sealing off the Beveland Peninsula. Another job well done.
No sooner had we got organized for a nice, long rest than orders came through to start moving along the Beveland Peninsula. After passing through Goes, we cleared and captured our first two objectives, which were Heer Hendrikskinderen and Heer Arendskerke. The main problem other than the Heinies was the large amount of mines encountered, which slowed the advance up somewhat.
Finally, all that remained to be done before the port of Antwerp would be free for shipping was the clearing of Walcheren Island, which is joined to the mainland by a narrow causeway. We drew the job of crossing the causeway and establishing a bridgehead on the Island, to enable other units to pass through. The Germans had this narrow entrance well covered with all types of fire. We were successful in crossing and managed to establish a small bridgehead but the fire brought down by the enemy on this small area was too much and we withdrew, taking up positions on the causeway itself, later to be relieved by another unit. It was there that the good news came that a real rest was assured for us. It was the first one since we had landed and we were more than happy to hear of it.
The Winter Campaign and Attack to the Rhine
The Battle of the Scheldt had been won only at considerable cost, in men and equipment, to the Canadian Army. We had not escaped heavy losses, paying a high price for the reputation we had gained. It was, therefore, with a sense of relief that we heard we were to return to Lierre, Belgium, for the period of rest and refitting.
In Lierre, equipment was overhauled and our unit was brought up to strength. Training on platoon and section bases was carried out. With this were mixed shows, dances and 48-hour passes to Antwerp and Brussels. However, th rest soon came to an end and, on the night of 10-11 November, 1944, we moved to Malden, near Nijmegen, which was to be our area for some time to come.
During the next three months, we were to assist in the task given to the Canadian Army of holding what was known as the “Nijmegen Salient.” The 2nd Division occupied the Groesbeek area, facing the Reichswald Forest. The general plan was to have two brigades forward, holding the line, with one brigade kept in the rear, resting.
Following ten days of “restful” training and bridge guarding we took over the role of reserve battalion in the brigade. Much patrolling and souvenir hunting in the 82nd Airborne Division landing zone was carried out during this period.
On 1 December we took over from the Black Watch. Activity was very varied at this stage, ranging from the annoying of Jerry to the “mercy killing” of “shell-shocked” cattle and pigs – the resultant meat from the latter being a welcome addition to our diet.
On 8 December we were relieved by the South Saskatchewan Regiment and, until the 15th, we were once more in “rest.” On the latter date we moved up to the front again to take over from the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry in the woods facing the Reichswald Forest. It was a cold, dreary, wet day with snow on the ground, and the position that had to be taken over definitely reminded everyone of the stories they had heard about trench life in the last war. The positions were none too good when we moved in; as a result, in addition to bothering Jerry and keeping him quiet, all possible efforts were directed to building dug-outs, log cabins (well sandbagged or underground), crawl trenches and fire bays. After improvements had been made, life became more tolerable. As a western battalion we obtained a new understanding of a gopher’s life.
Here, patrolling formed a large part of the work. Creeping through woods where a false step would snap a twig or rustle a leaf to betray one’s presence, mindful of the Schumines sown thereabouts, exposed to sporadic mortaring or shelling, we found this a period of strain, especially at night.
Christmas Eve brought an amusing incident. Suddenly, from the Jerry lines, came the sound of a trumpet playing, rather badly, “Silent Night” as accompaniement to our sundry voices. In retaliation two of our pipers regaled the Hun with regimental company marches past.
Christmas Day was spent “in the line” but our special dinner was held back, as it was hoped that we would be relieved before New Year’s Day. However, the Germans started their drive in the Ardennes and itw as feared that they might attempt an airborne landing in our area. The necessary counter measures deprived our brigade of its relief and we had Christmas Dinner in the line, after all, and we stayed there until the 10 January 1945, when we were relieved by the South Saskatchewan Regiment. We spent twenty-seven consecutive days in our front line positions; it was the longest single period put in by any of the units of 2nd Division.
We passed seven days cleaning up, resting and taking part in entertainment after our long spell of “the front”, after which, on 17 January, we moved to Grave barracks for a week’s training with the tanks of the Fort Garry Horse.
From the 3rd Division we took over an entirely new area – Berg en Dal – on 25 January, where more patrolling was carried out. The first of February found us back in the Groesbeek area, well done.
On 8 February the drive to the Rhine got under way, at 1042 hours, after a heavy artillery barrage of five hours’ duration. We, in company with the Regiment de Maisonneuve, were to take Wyler and, by 2000 hours, the objective was gained. Two hundred prisoners were taken, including the first woman prisoner we had captured.
On 10 February, we were pulled back to the area we had occupied before the attack on Wyler, following which we made a brief stay in Nijmegen. After that, we went to the Cleve area, on the 18th, where we relieved the 9th Cameronians. We spent the time until the 24th keeping Jerry “hotted up.” This included a well-staged platoon attack with the aid of flame throwers, which netted some forty Jerries, dead and prisoners.
After three days spent in a brigade concentration area, preparing for the attack on the approaches to Xanten, we started the attack on the 27th, moving toward the Hochwald Forest. Very stiff opposition was encountered but we reached our final objectives: however, we had to repulse a counter-attack the next morning. We remained in this general area until 9 March, on which date we assisted in the clearing of the area south of Xanten.
By now, the Americans were only a short distance away and the “Battle of the Rhine” was over. We were relieved by the South Saskatchewan Regiment and returned by Troop Carrying Vehicles to Berg en Dal, so that we could rest and clean up there. After a couple of days of changing this and that, bath parades, pressing bees and so forth, we looked smart and clean again. Company dances and an Officers’ Mess Dinner were held during this rest, as was a brigade church parade, followed by a march past, when Major General A.B. Matthews took the salute.
On 28 March, our regiment was warned for a move and, at 1302 hours, 29 March, we were on our way, crossing the Rhine near Rees, over Blackfriars Bridge.
Across the Rhine and Germany kaput
After spending two nights in concentration areas, we formed up south of Terborg. On 1 April, the attack on Doetinchem got under way. This phase of the war was, for us, one of a somewhat varying nature; although the ground lent itself chiefly to normal tactics, there was still quite a large number of canals and rivers to be crossed. Doetinchem was taken by 2300 hours on that day, with the exception of the town square. This held out until the following morning, when efficient use of flame subdued the enemy.
We then engaged in a pursuit battle from Doetinchem to Hengelo, crossed the Twente Canal on the fourth of April, engaged the enemy again just short of Laren and, having earned it, were given a rest for two days.
On the 8th of the month, we crossed the Schipbeek Canal and on the 10th, we moved by Troop Carrying Vehicle up to the next canal, crossed the canal on foot and continued to a position southeast of Ommen. The 11th saw us again on the march and we settled in at Balkbrug for the night. The Scout Platoon did excellent work throughout this area by working well out to a flank, shooting up the Boche.
April the 13th saw us again pushing on, stopping for the night at Peelo, near Assen. The Hun had apparently retired to Groningen; therefore, the brigade plan was now to attack that city from the west. We pushed forward on the 14th to take Hoogkerk, establishing a firm base for the brigade. The initial attack on Groningen was now planned and by last light we were on our objectives within the outskirts of the city, having accounted for two hundred Huns including those killed and taken prisoner.
On the 15th, we had the task of clearing a U-shaped, canal bounded portion of the city. This area consisted mainly of three-story apartment buildings; house to house and room to room fighting went on all day. The sector was cleared, apart from the odd sniper, by 1700 hours, some flame and three-inch mortar having been used. The total bag of Boche was five hundred, killed, wounded and taken prisoner. It was a very successful operation.
After the Groningen battle, we made a long move into Germany, arriving at Westrum, via Assen and Lingen, on 17 April. Thence to Ahlhorn, from which area we moved off, on the 22nd, to attack Döhlen.
On the 26th, we withdrew to Delmenhorst, having orders to thrust toward Oldenburg. We took Gruppenbühren and, despite mines and heavy resistance, pushed forward another two thousand yards in the next three days.
On 30 April, we attacked through Hude on to Ocholt and Neuenkoop. Although subjected to considerable shelling, all companies were on their objectives by 1800 hours. Due to low lying country, heavy rainfall and the blowing of bridges and craters by the Huns, vehicle movement was almost impossible. Several companies reverted to horse and cart transport in order to get their rations up.
Extensive patrols were carried out by the Scout Platoon during the next few days, keeping contact with the enemy and obtaining valuable information.
The 3rd of May brought the news that Oldenburg had fallen. The brigade was ordered to concentrate there on the 4th, prepatory to the drive on Wilhelmshaven. On the next day, while plans were being made for the attack on the thumb between Bremen and Wilhelmshaven, word came through that the sector in which we were fighting had surrendered. However, just in case the news was incorrect, the plans were completed.
Cease Fire for 21 Army Group came into effect at 0800 hours on the 5th of May. This brought an end to our role as a fighting unit.
In closing, it is fitting that special mention be made of all the supporting arms, Artillery, Tanks, 4.2 inch Mortars, MMGs and Engineers, who co-operated so magnificently with us. During the latter stages of the war, battle-trained leaders realized the importance of all supporting arms and employed them most effectively to assist the infantry soldier.