The Unnecessary Battle

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by canuck, Oct 2, 2017.

  1. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    The effect of the 11th Armoured carrying on 15 more miles to Woensdrecht and "putting the cork in the bottle" very likely would have made the Canadian role much different.

    With the exit points sealed from South Beveland and a secure footing over the Albert Canal, the tactical situation changes dramatically. With the 15th Army bottled up in Beveland, the remaining German forces are stretched even further and an advance to the Maas becomes more feasible. In fact, Rotterdam becomes a port option in that scenario.

    At that point, the presence of the additional six divisions of the 15th in Walcheren/Beveland does change the prospect for an immediate clearing of the Scheldt and the opening of Antwerp. How long that might have taken is pure speculation. However, with an unsupplied 15th Army and the ability to advance up the Beveland peninsula vs the flooded polder land of Breskins, the prospects are likely no worse. Simply masking the trapped 15th Army may have been preferred.

    Ironically, the inability for the German 15th Army to escape north may have been crucial to Market Garden as those troops played no small part in defeating that attack. The point is, be it trapping the 15th army or opening Antwerp, either outcome was an acceptable result.
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  2. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    "Ironically, the inability for the German 15th Army to escape north may have been crucial to Market Garden as those troops played no small part in defeating that attack. The point is, be it trapping the 15th army or opening Antwerp, either outcome was an acceptable result."

    So, opening the port of Antwerp wasn't that important then? Isn't that what the premise of the whole "greatest tactical mistake" is based on? If 15th Army was trapped but Op Market Garden secured a bridgehead over the Neder Rijn wouldn't we still have to put up with ahistorical accounts of poor old Patton being starved of supplies because of the nasty Montgomery?

    "the ability to advance up the Beveland peninsula vs the flooded polder land of Breskins"

    Have you read any accounts of the advance up the Beveland Canal? It wasn't some sort of "swan"!

    And again, it was never an advance up the Beveland Peninsula v the flooded polder land of Breskens it always had to be both.

    I feel like starting a new thread called "The Scheldt: The Necessary Battle"!


  3. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    The point is, the 15th Army wasn't trapped nor was Antwerp opened up. Pick any one you like.
  4. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Well, you said that "It was a blunder which prolonged the war"! But now you admit that trapping 15th Army in the Beveland Pocket would have not resulted in an immediate opening up of Antwerp and that "How long that might have taken is pure speculation".

    Actually, Antwerp was opened up wasn't it, as was Le Havre, Dieppe, Calais, Boulogne, Ostend and Ghent...all, as we have seen, useful ports when Antwerp was recognised as too dangerous for ammunition.


  5. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    I thought that the following extracts from 2 Cdn Corps war diary (WO179/2695) might be interesting as well when considering how hard they pressed on the heels of 15th Army:

    5 September 1944
    Gen CRERAR visited Corps Comd and stressed importance of 2 CDN Div and 4 CDN Armd Div pushing through tomorrow without pause to ensure remnants of several divs which he believes are in our bag and are NOT given time to org a break through Second BRIT Army.

    6 September 1944
    Gen CRERAR visited Corps Comd and discussed policy for completion of mopping up of our sector to HOLLAND. He estimated there were some 25,000 GERMANS left in the sector.

    Of course, in all the excitement of talk of 11 Armd Div motoring on with no opposition (apart from the infantry division north of the Albert Canal facing them which are conveniently overlooked!) most historians fail to consider the chance that 15th Army could have counter-attacked into Antwerp from the west. That the British knew about this threat is made clear above (and in Ultra signals). 15th Division had some hard fighting during these few days to hold attacks from the west but they are seldom mentioned obviously as they do not fit in with the story that most historians want to tell.

    Crerar also seems to have underestimated the size of 15th Army as well, doesn't he?

    It is of interest that so many authors fail to look at sources like this but continue to repeat the same old stuff rehashed and repackaged but essentially the same story.


  6. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    If Horrocks admits to his own error, other opinions carry much less weight.


    On September 4, 1944, soldiers of General Sir Miles Dempsey’s Second Army seized the ports at the Belgian city of Antwerp. The advance had been so rapid that the German force charged with defending the city and more importantly the seaports had failed to take measures to deny the Allies use of the port facilities. General Sir Brian Horrocks, the Corps Commander of XXX (UK) Corps, the force that seized Antwerp, recalls in his memoirs that although he did not realize it at the time, “this was the high point of the 1944 offensive” and that from this point onwards, “things began to go wrong.” He further states: It never entered my head that the Scheldt would be heavily mined, so that Antwerp could not therefore be used as our forward base for some time, or, worse still, that the Germans would succeed in ferrying across the estuary from Breskens to Flushing and also from Terneuzen - until it was captured by the Polish Armoured Division - the remaining troops of the German Fifteenth Army, which had been holding the coast. General von Zangen, the Army Commander, reckoned that he had saved the remnants of eight German divisions, a total of 82,000 men and 530 guns. If I had ordered Roberts to bypass Antwerp and advance for only fifteen miles north-west, in order to cut off the Beveland isthmus, the whole of this force, which played such a prominent part in the subsequent fighting, might have been destroyed or forced to surrender. Napoleon, no doubt, would have realized this, but I am afraid Horrocks didn't. My only excuse is that a Corps is the highest formation which fights the tactical battle, and is not concerned with strategical matters, which lie in the province of the higher formations -Army, Army Group, etc. My eyes were fixed on the Rhine. (Horrocks). Major General “Pip” Roberts, the division commander of the 11 (UK) Armoured Division that took Antwerp, while comparing the German retreat at Alamein to that in Northwestern Europe assessed that “one armoured division, even below strength, could have cut off and captured all Rommel’s army, so reduced was he in strength.” Instead, the 21st Army Group did not exploit the advantage gained by securing the ports of Antwerp intact. Rather than immediately clearing the Scheldt Estuary, which would have enabled Allied shipping to reach Antwerp, Montgomery had Second British Army continue towards the Rhine. This mistake enabled the Fifteenth German Army to escape and ultimately delayed the opening of Antwerp as a useable port by many weeks and in essence halted the entire Allied advance for want of supplies.

    More from Terry Copp:
  7. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Ralph Bennett, the Cambridge historian, spent four years with the Bletchley Park wartime codebreaking operation.

    An Ultra intercept of a Führer order on September 3, stressing the “decisive importance” of holding the Scheldt, was disregarded by Allied commanders; so were subsequent orders from Hitler, including an intercepted message reminding Fifteenth Army that “it must be insured that the Allies cannot use the harbor for a long time.” This “incomprehensible” error, the historian Ralph Bennett later concluded, was “a strategic mistake of such magnitude that its repercussions were felt almost until the end of the war.” Eisenhower’s messages to his top commanders about Antwerp had not specified capturing the Scheldt, and neither Montgomery nor Dempsey, the Second Army commander, attended the issue. Montgomery believed the enemy army’s position was hopeless. “The bottle is now corked,” he declared, “and they will not be able to get out.”
  8. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Serious plans were made for a counterattack by 15 Army across the Scheldt river towards the Brussels area. This attack would converge with an attack from the east, led by the 'brand-new' 105 Panzer Brigade, thus cutting off the Allied troops in the Antwerp area and opening an escape route to the east for the trapped 15 Army. The operation ultimately was cancelled in the very last moment by the German High Command, but not before some German units actually had launched their attack, which completely surprised the 4th Armoured Brigade. The German High Command had decided that 15 Army should retreat via the northern route across the Estuary and Beveland Istmus, while leaving behind a covering force along the Scheldt Estuary.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2017
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  9. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    Thanks for the cut and paste from someone else's work. It's just a shame that you don't seem to want to debate any of the points that are made that undermine the case you are repeating.

    So Horrocks hadn't thought the Scheldt could be mined? That's what the RN advisors to SHAEF were for, wasn't it? Of course, that is also why (amongst several other reasons that have been raised here), no matter what Horrocks did, the port of Antwerp couldn't be opened by a sprinkle of magic dust!

    So now the failure to attempt to drive north through 719 Division was a "strategic mistake" - I wonder why Ralph Bennett thought that "its repercussions were felt almost until the end of the war"? Why not until the end of the war? After seeing the standard of historiography around this issue, it might be argued that the "repercussions" are still being felt today.

    I'd be interested in seeing Bennett's source reference for the Montgomery quote re "corks".


    Thanks. It seems to have escaped some people's attention that if 11 Armoured Division had tried to move north-east or even by-passed Antwerp then it is likely that the Germans would have moved in which could have been embarrassing.


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  10. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Would have or could have are two different propositions. Despite Hitler having declared the Scheldt a priority, they were unable to effectively reinforce the Woensdrecht area until September 9th. Presumably, the Allies could have reinforced the 11th Armoured in a comparable timeframe.
    It wasn't until October 2, that the Canadian 2nd Division began its advance north from Antwerp.

    People in glass houses!
    An equal shame that you dismiss or ignore the many reliable sources who have criticized the actions of Roberts, Horrocks, Dempsey and Montgomery during this period. For clarity, the Great Mistake was the failure to trap the 15th, not opening Antwerp. You have not made any specific responses to numerous, credible points.

    The perceived threat of offensive action from the 15th Army is a new argument. Not one used by any of the participants in trying to defend their actions. Sounds very much like justification after the fact. Are we getting to the dregs.
    There were an estimated 80-100,000 Germans trapped at Falaise. Their overriding priority was escape not offensive action and of that total, 50,000 surrendered.

    Not much panic noted in the history of the 4th Armoured from the German attack of September 4th.

    "For the rest of 3rd September and for 4th September, under command of 12 Corps, the 4th Armoured Brigade protected the left flank of the Corps axis, stepping up behind 53rd (Wessex) Division and clearing the area to the west as far north as St Pol, past the old World War One battlefields. On 5th September, the Brigade returned to the command of 7th Armoured Division, moving behind 22nd Armoured Brigade through Aubigny, Vermelles, Carvin and Secin, crossing the Belgian frontier at Estambourg, finally halting with 3rd/4th CLY at Oudenarde, 44th RTR at Kerkhove and the Scots Greys at Avelgem. The Brigade was then ordered to remain concentrated there while 131st Lorried Infantry Brigade passed through with a completely open left flank, facing an area in which there were known to be large numbers of Germans, who were being pressed from the south by the Canadians and Poles."

    First you ask for credible views and opinions. Now using other people's work is offside? Really.
    Where the hell did you think the content would come from? My own imagination. The request was to offer support for the views presented.
    I am not a research historian and I actually have a full time job so you have your explanation as to why I have not devoted hours to long, sweeping responses.
    By the way, are you in any way related to the Montgomery family?
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2017
  11. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Of course, and the reason why Ramsay, more than anyone else, raised the issue of Scheldt early and often.
  12. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Have looked it up ... the abortive 15th Army attack was launched on the evening of September 6th; units involved were (left to right) 712 Inf Div., 59 Inf Div and 346 Inf Div plus 17 LW Field Div. These units u/c of 86 Corps (Obstfelder) attacked the British 2nd Army's left flank between Avelgem and Oudenaarde. Though the attack was cancelled, the message did not reach all units in time and some confused fighting took place. The attacking enemy forces reached the Scheldt river, but were unable to gain a river crossing and the battle petered out by the end of September 7th.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2017
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  13. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    Sorry if I appear to be "Unnecessarily" argumentative, thank you for your restrained response.

    "Despite Hitler having declared the Scheldt a priority, they were unable to effectively reinforce the Woensdrecht area until September 9th. Presumably, the Allies could have reinforced the 11th Armoured in a comparable timeframe."

    You are aware there was a German infantry division manning the Albert Canal at Antwerp when the advanced battle groups of 11th Armd Div arrived there?

    "For clarity, the Great Mistake was the failure to trap the 15th, not opening Antwerp."

    Can you clarify why you now say that. Are you going to edit the thread title? If 15th Army was trapped, that would make the battle to clear the Scheldt even more necessary wouldn't it?

    Does 1st Cdn Army not deserve some of the "blame" for the failure to interfere with 15th Army's crossing of the Scheldt?

    "Now using other people's work is offside?"

    Well, it would be nice if you at least referenced your posts so that we can see which are your opinions, and where the others are coming from.

    Sea-mining - "the reason why Ramsay, more than anyone else, raised the issue of Scheldt early and often". Great, can you name one constructive thing he actually did though? Did he immediately arrange minesweepers to wait off the mouth of the Scheldt, did he organise a bombardment force to start to support the land forces clearance of either the Breskens Pocket or the islands north of the Scheldt, did he raise an amphibious force to take Walcheren island by the end of October?


    Thanks for that informative post. I guess, along with the extract from 2nd Cdn Corps diary, it shows that there was an understood threat to the western flank of the 30 Corps corridor north to Antwerp and to the rear of any move NE from there. I need to do some research in the British and Canadian war diaries to see if there are any more references.


  14. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    To be fair to Monty, this was a side of him not generally known.

    "Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, not known for personal sentiment, made a special 'pilgrimage' to the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge soon after it was liberated from German hands on 8 Sept.1944."

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  15. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    I've been transcribing the photo reconnaissance reports in AIR29/357 over the last few nights. One factor that has appeared to have been overlooked is the number of small ports on the north side of South Beveland which were being used by shipping in early September. The particular sortie I am looking at presently covered 11.9.44. Not sure that the rag tag collection of barges, fishing vessels, etc would have been suitable for lifting vehicles and guns, but certainly suggests that much of 15th Army could have escaped even if the Beveland Isthmus had been cut. Certainly there escape would have been slowed down but not prevented. See Sicily, Seine and indeed Scheldt estuary for examples of German improvisation.



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