Paesi Bassi / Campo di battaglia
While German troops were withdrawing to new positions across the entire front in the West Brabant region in late October 1944, an exceptionally fierce battle was still unfolding in the hamlet of Welberg and its surroundings. It was a rearguard action that would last several days and cost many casualties.
After the liberation of Moerstraten, Canadian troops reached the then municipal border with Steenbergen, of which Welberg was part, on 30 October. A day later a first attempt to take Steenbergen and Welsberg followed. This was blocked by a formidable tank wall, a thick concrete wall almost two metres high.
What next? A new plan envisaged a night assault on the hamlet of Welberg and its environs. This task was assigned to the Algonquin Regiment, a battalion of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division. The attack took place on the night of 31 October to 1 November, but would end in failure.
Like many other Canadian infantry units, the Algonquin Regiment faced a severe shortage of men. On paper, the average company was supposed to number about 150 men, but it was down to just a few dozen at the end of October 1944. The plan of attack was actually quite simple: an attack with two companies, Major Atkinson's A Company and Major Stirling's C Company. Tanks were ready for when the breakthrough was achieved.
The Alqonquins set out in the night and initially encountered little resistance. Around four o'clock, the vanguard reached the area around the church in Welberg. Both majors established their headquarters in a house not far from the church and their men dug in and waited to see what was to come.
Within an hour, the German troops from the north launched the counterattack. In the dark night, the battle was confused and cluttered. Moreover, the connection to headquarters was lost and they could not call for help. After a tough battle, the attackers overran the Canadians. Both majors were captured in their headquarters. But few Canadians managed to escape in the dark.
The failure was mainly due to insufficient advance reconnaissance, an underestimation of the opponent and far too little support from tanks and artillery. In one of the war diaries of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division one wrote: 'the enemy has again shown himself to be an expert in retreating; leaving strong rearguards and thus gaining time to rebuild a defence line in another place'. An apt conclusion!
What happened to the Canadian attempts to capture Welberg and Steenbergen? Two days later, the Canadians made another attempt to take Welberg. Despite a larger approach, on 3 November fierce fighting again occurred in the hamlet with many losses of men and vehicles, both on the Canadian and German sides. Only when the German rearguard retreated towards Dinteloord did the Canadians succeed in taking Welberg and Steenbergen.