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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Battle for Scheldt Estuary

2 October to 8 November 1944

Theatre: North West Europe
Location: Western Netherlands and eastern Belgium
Players: Allies: Lieutenant General Guy Simonds' Canadian 1st Army comprising 1st (British) Corps and 2nd (Canadian) Corps (including 1st Polish Armoured Division and the British 49th and 52nd Divisions). Axis: General Gustav-Adolf von Zangen's 15th Army.
Outcome: Defeat of German forces in the Scheldt estuary, opening the Belgian port of Antwerp.

After the failure of Operation Market-Garden at Arnhem, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery directed the British 2nd Army to 'tap' eastwards into the Ruhr. Meanwhile, the Scheldt estuary would be cleared - and Antwerp opened for Allied shipping - by the Canadian 1st Army, whose commander Lieutenant General Henry Crerar had temporarily transferred command to Lieutenant General Guy Simonds owing to illness.

The battle to clear the Scheldt was long and arduous. The southern bank of the estuary, around the towns of Breskens and Zeebrugge, was flat, marshy country, much of it below sea level and easily flooded as a defensive measure. To the north of the estuary was South Beveland - a former island connected to the mainland by an easily-defended isthmus - and the island of Walcheren, heavily fortified and accessible from South Beveland by a causeway.

On 16 October 1944 the Canadians took Woensdrecht, the town at the head of the isthmus of South Beveland; two weeks later a combined land and amphibious assault captured the isthmus. The south bank of the Scheldt was cleared in the first week of November.

The island of Walcheren, finally, was attacked from the air, with precision bombings breaching the dykes and flooding most of the island. On 31 October the Canadians launched an attack across the causeway, eventually establishing a foothold on the island. Combined land and amphibious attacks followed; the last resistance ended on 8 November, and on 28 November the port of Antwerp was reopened.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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