The Netherlands / Monument
On 14 April, the occupying forces evacuated Leeuwarden. Many of the German soldiers moved to Harlingen. This city was on the route to the Afsluitdijk. And the port was used to ferry German troops into North Holland. For this reason in particular, the Germans were not prepared to give up this city without a fight. On 16 and 17 April, there would be intense fighting.
After the liberation of Leeuwarden, the Canadians set their sights on Harlingen. Thanks to the resistance, they knew pretty precisely how the German troops wanted to defend the city. They had marked on a map of the city where the occupying forces had taken defensive measures. Several roadblocks had been set up around the city. An anti-tank ditch had been dug, and there was a minefield on the eastern side. There was also a heavily defended bunker complex in the English Garden. The occupying forces had also placed machine guns and artillery in several places. In most cases, the locations of those weapons were known to the Canadians.
On the morning of 16 April, units of the 7th Reconnaissance Regiment Duke of York's Royal Canadian Hussars were sent towards Harlingen via Franeker and Herbaijum. The goal was to test German defences and gather additional information. At Midlum, they could not proceed any further as the Germans caught sight of them and opened fire on the armoured cars. But led by Major MacLean, the men held their ground and by provoking German fire they were able to gather additional information about the German defences. MacLean later received a high Canadian honour for this.
Just before seven-thirty in the evening, Canadian artillery began shelling the German positions. Soon after, infantry of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, supported by tanks of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers, launched the attack. During the intense fighting, the Canadians managed to enter the city around ten-thirty. At half-past four in the morning on 17 April, the Germans in the city had been defeated. Around 500 of them were captured.
During the battle, most residents of Harlingen had taken shelter. Many were in cellars. Yet the battle took the lives of at least four citizens of Harlingen. With a few fires and some houses that had taken a hit, property damage was relatively small. This was largely due to the excellent work of both the Frisian resistance and the 7th Reconnaissance Regiment. With the information they gathered about the location of German artillery defences, these could also be relatively easily targeted for shelling.
With the liberation of Harlingen, a key escape route for the Germans had been blocked. The Canadians could now focus on capturing the head of the Afsluitdijk.