Paesi Bassi / Campo di battaglia

First lesson in 'Polder Fighting'



Indicazioni stradali

On the night of 9-10 October 1944, Canadian troops surprised German defences in Zeeland Flanders. The 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General 'Rocky' Rockingham, landed amphibious vehicles on the Braakman coast. The sector was very weakly defended, as the German general Eberding did not believe the attackers could pass the mudflats and salt marshes. After overrunning the few defenders, the Canadian soldiers were able to dig inland, towards Hoofdplaat and Biervliet. The German commander responded to this threat in the usual way. He ordered the counterattack to be launched. To this end, ad hoc companies were hastily formed in the hinterland, which were taken by truck to the threatened polders around Biervliet and Hoofdplaat. For the Canadians, confronting these determined defenders became a first, hard lesson in 'Polder Fighting' ....

The chilly night just outside Driewegen glowed yellow from burning farms, while the regular exploding shells drowned out the usual sounds of the night. Soldiers of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders had come ashore a day earlier and at first the German opposition had been easily overwhelmed. In the evening, however, they had come up against soldiers of a different calibre for the first time.

As an armoured flamethrower came his way with the rising of a pale sun, Lieutenant Mercer summoned his soldiers on Wednesday 11 October. He made it clear that their assignment for today lay 1,000 metres away along a dead straight embankment. The attack target was the junction with Hoofdplaatseweg, Zuidlangeweg and Schenkeldijk. To Mercer, it was just one of many anonymous crossings of dykes in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen.

As above their heads the flamethrower sprayed burning oil towards the crossroads with a bellowing sound, they slunk through the wet ditch along the safe north side of the embankment towards the German troops. Above their heads, bullets splattered the ground on the crest of the dyke. Once done, the flamethrower was already on its way when Mercer jumped up not far before the attack target and sprinted across the dyke. The men followed his lead and allowed themselves to roll down the opposite side of the embankment. The Germans, who had escaped the flames, opened fire with all weapons from the other side of the Hoofdplaatseweg. A soldier from the lieutenant's platoon was hit on the crest of the embankment and fell. A second platoon also tried to cross the Schenkel dike, but the flak fire caused six casualties in seconds.

Mercer decided to pull his platoon back and, while the rest made their way to safety, he stopped in full view of the enemy at the wounded soldier who lay groaning on the crest of the dyke. He grabbed the soldier, pulled him onto his back and moved him out of the field of fire as fast as he could. Covered by a layer of mud, both slid down the safe side of the embankment. The next day they would have to try again.

Hoofdplaatseweg-Zuidlangeweg-Schenkeldijk, Driewegen