The Watchman over the Peel

The Netherlands





In early October 1944, fierce battles are raging around the villages of Overloon and Venray. The Germans are using the Venray church tower, the Watchman over the Peel, as a lookout post. They can see the British forces slowly advancing with their tanks and respond with relentless shelling of rocket launchers and artillery. Despite the shelling, the swampy ground and vast minefields, the British continue to advance.

In September-October 1944, persistent heavy fighting is taking place in several areas along the Dutch-German border. Similarly around Overloon and Venray. For days, British forces under General Whistler are involved in a determined fierce battle to initially liberate Overloon.

On October the 14th, the resistance is finally broken and General Whistler‘s tanks and troops can head from Overloon towards Venray. The Germans can still observe Allied troop movements from the Venray church tower, relaying the information on time to their smoke mortar and artillery units. In turn, they continue to fire on the British. The area between the two villages consists of swampy meadows, streams that have burst their banks due to heavy rain and densely forested areas. Not easy terrain for the extremely heavy Sherman and Churchill tanks.

The Germans have blown up the bridges over the Loobeek, on the road from Overloon to Venray and Merselo Venray. Moreover, they have laid countless mines. The vast minefields present a major obstacle that can only be overcome by using so-called flail tanks. With their steel flails, these tanks literally beat a path through the meadows. While every metre is being fought for on the ground, Venray is also hit hard from the air. The St. Petrus Banden Church tower becomes the target of combined attacks by British Typhoon fighter-bombers and field artillery. The tower, known as the Watchman over the Peel, must be put out of action in any way possible. Only on Wednesday October 18th, can the first British tanks enter a heavily damaged Venray. There is little left of the ‘The Watchman over the Peel’.