Pays-Bas / Champ de Bataille

Pointless battle for a small patch of land




From early November 1944, the area south of the Hollands Diep, Amer and Maas rivers was in Allied hands. During the harsh winter of 1944 to 45, General Crerar's First Canadian Army was responsible for the long front from Tholen to Grave. Throughout these months the area remained relatively quiet, with one exception - the bloody battle at Kapelsche Veer. The reason for this battle was a tiny German bridgehead around the two houses on the southern bank by the ferry.

On 24 December 1944, 40 German soldiers from the 712 Infantry Division (under Lieutenant-General Neumann) rowed across the Bergse Maas to Kapelsche Veer to dig in, in preparation for a new German operation, 'Fall Braun'. Soon after, a second company joined the first and some 150 soldiers were in the small bridgehead, in the middle of an abandoned marshland. This was a thorn in the side of Major General Maczek, whose 1st Polish Armoured Division was guarding the sector. The Polish troops' first attempt to expel the German soldiers failed, and it proved extremely difficult to approach the German positions unseen through the snow-covered, flat marshlands. The harsh conditions made an already difficult battle impossible.

Change of guard

After the departure of Neumann's division to the east, from 31 December the German positions were taken over by the 6 Fallschirmjäger-Division of Lieutenant-General Plocher. Composed mostly of young paratroopers, they were on average more fanatic than the average German soldier. Unsurprisingly, a renewed attack by the Polish troops again came to nothing. On 5 January, Operation 'Trojan' was launched, the third Polish attempt to drive the German soldiers out of their bridgehead, however this too failed miserably. Next, it was the turn of the No. 47 Royal Marine Commandos, however they too were unable to drive them out.

Final act

Finally, these repeated failures led the Canadian troops to intensify their efforts, namely, they deployed some elements of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division. The aptly named Operation 'Elephant' was launched on 26 January 1945. Despite the superior force, it took another four days before the last German defenders withdrew from the Land of Heusden and Altena. From that day onwards, things calmed down along the Maas.

Overall, there were around 450 Allied dead and wounded, and on the German side casualties probably amounted to at least 600. The tragedy was that the battle was utterly pointless - the tiny bridgehead was no threat to anyone, but even senseless actions are, unfortunately, not exceptional in wartime.

Veerweg, Sprang-Capelle