The Drive North
After the Rhine crossing in March 1945, the First Canadian Army was given two tasks: the liberation of the western Netherlands, and a drive to the North Sea protecting the left flank of the British 2nd Army driving into northern Germany.
First Canadian Army became operational at midnight on 1 April 1945, with the 1st Canadian Corps, having arrived from Italy, taking its place under command and the 1st British Corps reverting to command of 2nd British Army.
Strategically, on 1 April the 1st and 9th United States Armies completed their encirclement of the Ruhr, Germany's industrial heartland, eventually cutting the pocket in two on 8 April and completing its destruction on 18 April, destroying Army Group B (composed of 5th Panzer Army and 15th Army) and collecting 315,000 prisoners. The 9th U.S. Army returned to American command, having been subordinated to the 21st Army Group during operations in the Rhineland.
In the west 1st Canadian Corps attacked to open the Arnhem-Zutphen road, allowing 2nd Canadian Corps to move northeast in support of their goals. Arnhem and Apeldoorn were liberated on 14 and 17 April respectively.
Secondary objectives made themselves apparent as the malnutrition rife among the civil population was observed by troops of 1st Canadian Corps, indicating a general famine in the western Netherlands. Wary of prompting German flooding (as had been done at Walcheren), the corps stopped its advance on 22 April and instead negotiated a truce to deliver food to the starving population.
The advance of 2nd Canadian Corps to their right was rapid, though enemy resistance was still serious in places, such at Zutphen and along the Twente Canal, where the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division was halted by Infanterie Division 361. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division also faced considerable opposition, notably at Groningen. The 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division advanced into Germany early in April, reaching the Küsten Canal on the 14th.
2nd Canadian Corps Across the Rhine
As the 1st Canadian Corps was engaged in operations in the western Netherlands, the 2nd Canadian Corps was clearing out the last pockets of German resistance in the northwestern Netherlands, and advancing into Germany itself.
2nd Canadian Division
The 2nd Division crossed the Twente Canal in early April and by 6 April had reached the Schipbeek Canal; the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada managed to cross the obstacle with the assistance of small airborne drops of French and Belgian parachutists on 7/8 April. With the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment in the van and the armoured cars of The Royal Canadian Dragoons on the flank, the division reached Beilan on 12 April and took Assen the next day, netting 600 prisoners. On 13 April, the division reached Groningen, the provincial capital where a major battle including Dutch SS troops occupied the entire 2nd Canadian Division for four days. Over 2,000 prisoners were taken at a cost of 209 casualties. In the meantime, the RCD had captured Leeuwarden and reached the North Sea.
3rd Canadian Division
The 3rd Canadian Division cleared Deventer on 11 April, faced sparse resistance at Zwolle, Meppel and Steenwijk, and sent the divisional reconnaissance battalion at Leeuwarden to find The Royal Canadian Dragoons had beaten them to the punch. In a 26 day, 115 mile advance from the Rhine, the division took 4,600 prisoners and bridged 30 canals. The division was briefly sent east in relief of the 1st Polish Armoured Division in the third week of April, west of the Ems, south of Delfzijl, where the Canadian Scottish and Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment fought at Wagenborgen before handing responsibility for the Delfzijl Pocket to the 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division.
4th Canadian (Armoured) Division
The 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division crossed the Twente Canal on 4 April and had reached the Ems, finding flooded terrain making poor going for tanks. The commander of 1st Canadian Army refused to attach the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division to the British 30th Corps while the 2nd Canadian Corps prepared for Operation CANNONSHOT far to the south and the division continued its drive over the Overijsselsch Canal, to Coevorden and into Meppen on April 5. According to the Canadian Army's official history:
In the meantime, The Algonquin Regiment had moved into Almelo, a town with a population of 35,000. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada had "whisked in and out", and the Alqonquins followed in their wake to determine what enemy was present in and around the town. Suspecting enemy forces in sizeable numbers to the west and south-west, "D" Company was ordered to exploit towards Wierden, 3,000 yards to the west, on 4 April. A reconnaissance party went out in the afternoon to gather information for the company's mission that night, mainly to secure a bridgehead over the canal during a silent operation that night. "C" Company, posted to the south-west portion of the Almelo perimeter, made contact with the enemy also and located one of the German observation posts.
The Carrier Platoon, looking for revenge, carried out a raid on the northern outskirts of Almelo on 6 April, and in a short fight against an estimated 160 Germans, killed 20 and captured 15 more using flamethrowers, mortars and Bren guns, driving the remainder back to the north. "C" Company to the south-west also sent out a patrol to clear out the OP they had spotted, came under fire, but sent in a successful platoon attack later on the evening of 6 April. At midnight, an enemy counter-attack aimed at cutting the road to the south was beaten off by "C" Company with the aid of a searchlight battery and a light anti-aircraft detachment. On the night of 6/7 April, information gathered from civilians indicated the Germans were pulling back from the canal and a platoon from "A" Company crossed the obstacle and established a position inside a factory, while engineers bulldozed a large crater on the highway. However, the enemy was not withdrawing from Wierden itself, and attempts to reinforce the platoon across the canal failed, as did an attempt to get "D" Company across the water to the south. During the day on 7 April, Typhoon fighter-bombers were called on to attack German anti-tank guns with rockets and bombs. The Mortar Platoon established itself in the former headquarters of Anton Mussert, the Dutch Nazi. By 9 April, Algonquin patrols established that the Germans had slipped away from Wierden and "C" Company moved in; the regimental history credited a day of rocket and bomb attacks by Typhoons on the 8th for persuading the Germans to pull out.5
While the Algonquins were occupied at Wierden, the remainder of the division was on the move north again. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise's), fighting with the 4th Canadian Armoured Brigade, made an assault crossing of the Ems at Meppen and captured the town with the loss of only one casualty. German prisoners included a number of 17-year old youths with only six to eight weeks of total military experience.6
Beyond Meppen lay Sögel, and the Lake Superior Regiment had to fight off several German counter-attacks before declaring the town cleared.7
Plaque commemorating The Algonquin Regiment, Wierden, Netherlands, 2 July 1945. (L-R): Major Robert Saville, Major L.C. Taylor. LAC photo.
5th Canadian (Armoured) Division
After Operation CLEANSER, the 5th Division moved north to relieve the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division south of Delfzil and ordered to clear the Germans from west of the Ems estuary. The division fought to clear the Delfzijl Pocket between 25 and 30 April. With the port captured, The Irish Regiment of Canada advanced to the west, capturing 4,150 more prisoners in their final actions of the war.
German prisoner of war camps, such as Stalag VI C, began to fall to Allied soldiers, as well as concentration camps. German resistance ended by early May, following the fall of Berlin and the suicide of Adolf Hitler. Victory in Europe Day was announced on 7 May 1945 to take effect at one minute past midnight on May 8.