Friday, June 10, 2016 - Antwerp/Westkapelle


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June 10th 2016
Published: June 10th 2016
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Following the chase across France, the Allies were faced with an increasingly difficult supply train. The famed Red Ball Express, consisting mostly of African-American drivers, operated nearly 6000 trucks and carried about 12,500 tons of supplies from the Normandy area to the front lines daily. Despite those heroic efforts, supply of ammunition and fuel was significantly constrained, and had to be apportioned here and there as circumstances dictated. 20,000 tons a day would have been needed to keep all the advancing divisions supplied.

A significant contributor to this difficulty was the rapid advance itself. The Allies had thought that after the Operation Cobra breakout the Germans would retreat and form a defensive line along the Seine. When Hitler ordered the German VII Army to stand rather than retreat from Mortain, he essentially sealed their fate in the Falaise pocket, and the destruction of that army was so great that the Germans no longer had the armed strength to stand at the Seine, and thus the Allied armies advanced much fast than they had expected.

It was clear that a port closer to the advancing front was needed. Antwerp was captured by the British 11th Armoured Division on September 4, 1944. General Bernard Montgomery failed to recognize that capture of the port was insufficient. He was intent on being the first into Germany, and insisted that he be given sufficient supplies for a quick thrust all the way to Berlin. Eisenhower recognized immediately that such a maneuver would quickly be cut off and destroyed, but in the discussion Montgomery managed to get permission to delay capturing the Scheldt Estuary (the approach to the port of Antwerp) to pursue a lightning thrust through the Netherlands to Arnhem. When this failed disastrously, he finally began to take the estuary, mostly with Canadian troops. The last holdout, Walcheren Island, was captured after 6 weeks of bitter fighting through very difficult terrain and circumstances. In the battle, the Allies bombed the dikes of the island in order to constrain German defensive efforts. Although they dropped leaflets warning the civilian population, over 189 civilians died anyway from the flooding and bombing.

Today we visited Westkapelle and its museum to that battle. The relatively short drive took us out of Belgium and across what appears to be endless flat plains of agriculture in the Netherlands, with scattered windmills. Walcheren is no longer an island, connections with another island and the mainland having been completed.

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