|South Beveland October 14 - 31 1944
While the Calgary Highlanders rested
between the 10th and 14th, other units of the 2nd Division continued the struggle to open the way onto
the South Beveland Peninsula. The Black Watch and Royal Regiment of Canada battled
through soggy ground and enemy counter attacks to the west of Hoogerheide and
Woensdrecht. On the 13th of October, known ever since to the Black Watch as
"Black Friday", the battalion tried several times to cut the rail line to the
northwest of Woensdrecht. Their objectives are noted as Angus 1 and Angus 2 on the
photo at right. Fifty-six men were killed that day, sixty two wounded and
twenty-seven captured. One company of 90 men was reduced to just four unwounded men.
A Calgary Highlanders officer, Captain Ron
Kerfoot, remembered that "Later, after we had taken the area, I walked down the dyke
and their dead were so thick that you could not walk over them, you had to walk to one
Woensdrecht itself was not taken until the
16th of October, and the Germans continued to counter-attack for five days after that. On the 14th of October, the
Calgary Highlanders moved into positions occupied by the Royal Regiment of Canada.
The relief was made in situ, or as the regimental history put it "under the
noses of the enemy." The relief went without incident, and the Highlanders now
occupied partially flooded polderland southeast of the railway emabankment that the Black
Watch had struggled to capture. The Germans still held the ground to the north and
northeast, with well placed and dug-in weapons. The Highlanders were to patrol this
area to determine enemy strength along the rail line, and south of it.
CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE
Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies Air
Photo Collection (Wilfrid Laurier University) 167/3061
The Highlanders endured sporadic
shelling and mortaring for the next few days; the Second Division could not move until
other forces moved north from Bergen op Zoom. Time was taken to train new
replacements, many now coming from non-infantry units. On 21 October, the
Highlanders were relieved in place by the Black Watch of Canada and moved back near
On 23 October, the Highlanders moved forward
again, to attack the railway embankment once more. The terrain was waterlogged;
where it wasn't actually underwater, it was soggy. The Highlander's objective was a
strip of land about 3500 yards wide by 1000 yards long, bounded on the north by a dyke and
on the south by the railway embankment itself. On the map, the ground resembled a
coffin, and the Highlanders have referred to this action as "the coffin show"
At 1500 hrs on
the 23rd, into fog and drizzle and under the supporting fire of artillery, mortars, and
machine guns, "A" Company moved forward on the left, "D" Company on
the right, and "C" Company in the middle. The objective was to cut once
and for all the rail and road link between Walcheren Island, the furthest enemy bastion to
seaward, and Bergen op Zoom.
"A" Company made good
progress until they crossed the railway embankment, then ran into heavy machinegun
fire. "D" Company hit strong opposition almost as soon as they crossed the
start line. "C" Company was also stopped short of the railway embankment.
Artillery fire was called down
to "C" Company's front, and two platoons of the Black Watch went forward to
reinforce "A" Company. The reserve, "B" Company and the carrier
platoon, moved up also to help "C" Company. By nightfall only
"A" Company had reached their objective. Eighteen men had been killed and
The Germans stayed close to the
battalion front that night, but only occasional MG fire along fixed lines met the
Highlanders. A small amount of enemy movement occurred, but no counter-attacks were
mounted. The Black Watch managed to bring food and ammunition forward to the
Highlanders, and evacuated their wounded and prisoners.
On the 24th, as the 4th and 6th
Brigades swung west onto the peninsula itself, the Calgary Highlanders were ordered to
continue the push north, clear the embankment, and then take the railway station to the
east, a mile and a half north of Woensdrecht. Afterwards, the Highlanders were to
establish an east-west line 500 yards to the north of the station.
The carrier platoon reached
the station at 1220 hrs, and "B" Company arrived on foot an hour later, but the
overall objective was not achieved. The Highlanders uncovered many bodies left from
the Black Watch assault of 13 October; they had been unrecoverable until then.
Another quiet night passed, and though the
Germans opposite the Highlanders were cut off from the north, east and south, they
continued to resist from pillboxes and entrenchments. On the 25th of October, seven
Highlanders died and 25 were wounded. On 26 October, six more men were killed and
six wounded. On the 27th, during an attack on a small hill resulting in the capture
of Lindonk, two more men were wounded. All told, the fighting around the embankment
cost 140 casualties, including 31 dead. But the objective had finally been
achieved. Brigadier Keefler, acting General Officer Commanding, proclaimed on the
26th that the battalion "had done a damn fine job for the Division."
The battalion withdrew to the
tactical headquarters on the northern edge of Woensdrecht and rested until 28
October. Troop Carrying Vehicles ferried the troops to the west, onto South
Beveland. It was at this point that Lieutenant Colonel MacLachlan left the
battalion, and Major Ross Ellis took command.
The battalion marched in the
wake of several fights along the peninsula, and by the 31st, arrived at the western edge
of the peninsula. Opposite the Slooe Channel lay Walcheren Island; by now the last
holdout along the Scheldt Estuary, whose guns still commanded the approach to
Antwerp. While these guns lay in German hands, the great port could not be
used. The Highlanders were about to embark on their most storied battle of the
Second World War.
Calgary Highlanders on the march in South Beveland in
late October 1944. The town is Krabbendijke.
PAC photo 42026 (Ken Bell)
CLICK PHOTOS TO ENLARGE
A second photo of this
group from a slightly different view point. The knocked out vehicle (incorrectly
identified as a PzKpfw IV in the regimental history) is a StuH III Ausf G.