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Flamethrowers in action



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After the successful crossing of the IJssel on April 11, 1945, Canadian infantrymen proceed with the next phase of Operation Cannonshot. They advance towards the area south of the village of Wilp. German resistance quickly emerges, necessitating urgent assistance from Canadian artillery. Meanwhile, a German prisoner of war reveals that approximately sixty Germans are hiding in the woods.

A company, under the command of Captain Robert Kitchener Swinton, advances from the IJssel towards the intersection of Marsstraat and Rijksstraatweg between Wilp and Gietelo. The forest where the Germans are hiding is north of the Rijksstraatweg. Along the way, the Canadians seize an American jeep with a German license plate on Oyseweg in Wilp. Although the roof and windshield are removed, the vehicle is in excellent condition. At twenty past nine in the evening, fighting breaks out between the Canadians and the Germans. It becomes clear that an important German defensive position is located here. The leading Canadian platoon now comes under intense machine gun fire. Several casualties occur on the Canadian side, and the advance stalls.

Without hesitation, Captain Swinton moves forward to reach the platoon at the frontline. Exposing himself to gunfire, Swinton quickly reorganizes the platoon. Just after midnight, the Germans launch a counterattack on the Canadians around the Rijksstraatweg. Fierce fighting ensues. The attack is repelled, resulting in many Germans being killed or wounded. In the early morning of April 12, a Canadian tank regiment, led by Lieutenant George Henry Cressey, crosses the IJssel. Around half past three, the Canadian infantry launches the attack, encountering difficulties crossing the dike. By morning, most companies have firmly secured their objectives: positions around codenamed Export (Estate De Dijkweide, Wilp), Browning (Deventerweg 3, Voorst), Piccadilly (Estate De Poll, Voorst), and at Wordsworth (Marsstraat/Rijksstraatweg). Now it's time to clear the woods of Germans.

Captain Swinton wants to attack only when a smoke screen is created to conceal their advance. However, the area is not safe for tanks to operate, so the relevant command refuses to provide support. Therefore, Swinton calls for flamethrowers, led by Corporal Russell George Woodward, who volunteers despite knowing the danger involved. It is the first time flamethrowers are used in battle in this manner. Woodward advances at high speed with his three flamethrowers at two o'clock in the afternoon, coming within twenty meters of the dike. He takes the road under fire from an anti-tank gun. Under heavy machine gun fire, he sets the area ablaze, causing the Germans to surrender immediately.

The flamethrowers' action lasts only fifteen minutes. Swinton and Woodward are instrumental in breaking the last stubborn German resistance. Five Germans are killed, and thirty-five Germans are captured. The loot is substantial: fifteen machine guns, fifteen light automatic weapons, fifteen anti-tank weapons, and an anti-tank gun. Swinton receives a Military Cross for this action, and Woodward receives a Military Medal. The troops move south to position themselves at Estate De Poll. Finally, it's time for a well-deserved hot meal, dry socks, and rum!


Marsstraat, Rijksstraatweg, Wilp