Thursday, February 18, 2021

SCHELDT ESTUARY

The sudden seizure of Antwerp may have been a severe blow to the German high command, but over the following days, when the British Second Army failed to secure the north side of the Scheldt estuary, General von Zangen managed to establish defence lines. These included a twenty-kilometre-wide redoubt on the south side of the mouth of the Scheldt called the Breskens pocket, the South Beveland peninsula on the north side and the island of Walcheren. His force soon mustered 82,000 men and deployed some 530 guns which prevented any attempt by the Royal Navy to approach the heavily mined estuary.

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, the Allied naval commander-in-chief, had told SHAEF and Montgomery that the Germans could block the Scheldt estuary with ease. And Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, the First Sea Lord, warned that Antwerp would be ‘as much use to us as Timbuctoo’ unless the approaches were cleared. General Horrocks, the corps commander, later admitted his own responsibility for the failure. ‘Napoleon, no doubt, would have realized this,’ he wrote, ‘but I am afraid Horrocks didn’t.’ But it was not the fault of Horrocks, nor of Roberts, the commander of the 11th Armoured Division. The mistake lay with Montgomery, who was not interested in the estuary and thought that the Canadians could clear it later.

It was a massive error and led to a very nasty shock later, but in those days of euphoria generals who had served in the First World War convinced themselves that September 1944 was the equivalent of September 1918. ‘Newspapers reported a 210-mile advance in six days and indicated that Allied forces were in Holland, Luxembourg, Saarbr├╝cken, Brussels and Antwerp,’ wrote the combat historian Forrest Pogue. ‘The intelligence estimates all along the lines were marked by an almost hysterical optimism.’ The eyes of senior officers were fixed on the Rhine, with the idea that the Allies could leap it in virtually one bound. This vision certainly beguiled Eisenhower, while Montgomery, for his own reasons, had become besotted with it.

Antony Beevor, Ardennes 1944 (14-15). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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