The Netherlands / Monument
The Polish Cross at Axel commemorates the Polish soldiers who died on September 17, 1944 while forcing a crossing over the Axel-Hulst Canal. Just one year after the liberation, Polish veterans unveiled the monument right where they lost 25 comrades and a Belgian interpreter.
In September 1944, Polish units advanced towards Axel via Hulst. They were tasked with defending the Canadian flank, which was advancing along the Belgian coast. In addition, they had to prevent a German counteroffensive towards Antwerp and put a stop to the retreat of German troops via Terneuzen. This involved crossing the Axel-Hulst Canal. Earlier, the German defences had blown up bridges over the canal and flooded large parts of the countryside surrounding Axel. This forced the Poles and their heavy tanks to find higher ground on the dykes. This made them more vulnerable and, as a result, they were met with fierce resistance.
When Polish scouts approached the canal, they were attacked at the Kinderdijk. A lot of soldiers were killed there. A Polish patrol managed to reach the blown-up bridge right outside Axel and dug itself in while under heavy fire. On the other side of the canal the German defenders did the same. When the Poles, using light tanks, attacked the German defences , they came under heavy fire once again. In a short period of time dozens of Poles were killed. The Polish troops withdrew and only came out at night to rescue the wounded.
It took three days of heavy fighting and dozens of casualties before the Poles managed to construct a bridge over the canal. This bridge would be called the Gdyniabrug. The fighting also cost 26 civilians their lives. But the greatest losses in crossing the Axel-Hulst channel were sustained by the Poles.
Visit the Zeeuwse Ankers website (Zeeland Anchors) for comprehensive information, personal stories and videos about the Battle of the Scheldt.