As early as 3 September 1944 the need to clear the Scheldt Estuary was recognized by the Allies. Admiral Sir Bertam Ramsay - Naval Commander-in-Chief under Eisenhower at SHAEF - outlined in a telegram to Eisenhower, Montgomery (21st Army Group), and the Admiralty that "It is essential that if Antwerp and Rotterdam are to be opened quickly...It will be necessary for coastal batteries to be captured before approach channels to the river routes can be established."3
After Normandy, the British 2nd Army made spectacular progress, capturing Amiens on 31 August 1944, crossing the Somme River, and, moving at a rate of 60 miles a day, capturing Antwerp with port facilities intact on 4 September 1944. Unfortunately, the Scheldt Estuary - fifty miles of waterways leading to Antwerp - remained in German hands. At the time of Antwerp's capture, however, the Germans were disorganized and the estuary defences only lightly held. With Antwerp's vital port facilities taken (with the major ports on the northern Channel coast still in German hands, supplies were still arriving on the Continent in Normandy, facilitating the need to truck them forward to the now rapidly moving front), the decision not to press on and take the Scheldt Estuary would be controversial.
First Canadian Army in September 1944
The First Canadian Army would not have the opportunity to clear the Scheldt in September 1944, for the Canadians were acting under a directive by 21st Army Group, promulgated on 26 August 1944 and ordering the capture of Le Havre and Dieppe, and the destruction of German coastal defences all the way to Bruges. I British Corps was ordered to Le Havre and II Canadian Corps was directed to take Le Treport, Dieppe and to cross the Somme at Abbeville.
By 10 September, the importance of clearing the Scheldt and opening the port of Antwerp was being stressed by General Eisenhower to Field Marshal Montgomery. The Combined Chiefs of Staff, meeting at Quebec, also sent Eisenhower a telegram on 12 September 1944, reminding him of the importance of Antwerp. Montgomery asked Crerar if he could accomplish it. By the 13th, Montgomery was stressing a sense of urgency in clearing Boulogne, Dunkirk and Calais, in addition to clearing the Scheldt. "He hoped that Crerar could carry out all these tasks simultaneously. Given their nature and the size of First Canadian Army, the Field Marshal was being unrealistic."6
The Canadian Army would have its hands full with three major operations during late September 1944:
There is evidence to suggest that Field Marshal Montgomery was focusing the operations of his armies on the broad strategic goal of winning the war by crossing the Rhine with his single thrust concept. While the Canadians were engaged in these tasks along the Channel coast, Allied resources were concentrated into one dramatic effort to cross the Rhine River, Operation MARKET-GARDEN, launched on 17 September 1944. Canadian involvement in this Operation was minimal, and Canadian engineers played a small part in the evacuation of some of the paratroopers of the British 1st Airborne Division. Several CANLOAN officers did take part in the fighting at Arnhem.
However, the securing of the Channel Ports were not unrelated to the airborne offensive in the Netherlands:
North from Antwerp
The final two actions described in this section of the website could also be considered part of the Battle of the Scheldt.
Fighting at Wyneghem by the 5th Canadian Brigade on 21-22 September 1944 created a bridgehead over the Albert Canal, east of Antwerp. Fighting to expand the bridgehead occupied the 2nd Division from 24-29 September 1944, recognized by the Battle Honour "Antwerp-Turnhout Canal."
The line of the Antwerp-Turnhout Canal was held by the German LXVII Korps under Otto Sponheimer, consisting of three divisions, the 711th, 719th, and 346th. The first attempt to force the canal was on 23 September by the 6th Canadian Brigade. Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal and the South Saskatchewan Regiment attempted to cross by boats in front of Lochtenberg; the FMR made it across but were held up by heavy MG fire while the SSR could not make a crossing due to snipers and MGs. A second attempt under cover of smoke later in the day got the SSR across and pressing onto Lochtenberg itself. Heavy counter-attacks forced the FMR back across the canal, and the SSR were forced to withdraw. The brigade had suffered 113 casualties in the day long operation. On 28 September 1944, another attempt to cross the canal was made by the brigade, but this attack was also rebuffed.
The decision was made to move the 2nd Canadian Division through a bridgehead created on the canal by the British 49th Division. On 28 September 1944, the 5th Brigade went into action, extending the bridgehead towards St. Leonard. The Cameron Highlanders of the 6th Brigade lend assistance, but movement was slow, and Brecht, less than two miles from St. Leonard, did not fall until 1 October 1944.
While the month of September 1944 saw Allied armies liberating almost all of France, with US soldiers approaching the German border, few port facilities of significance had been wrested from the Germans. Dieppe's port was in disrepair and facilities there were not large. Other captured ports like Boulogne and Calais were badly damaged during the liberation, and other ports continued to hold out - and would, in fact, remain in German hands until May 1945. These ports were "masked" by Allied units as the armies moved on.
Significantly, First Canadian Army also captured a large proportion of German V2 Rocket sites, which had been sending high-explosives into the United Kingdom and causing significant numbers of civilian casualties.
The following Battle Honours were granted for the fighting between the Battle of Normandy and the Battle of the Scheldt: