Bringing the port of Antwerp into use
In August 1944 the Allies broke out of Normandy. The speed of the allied advance was so great that they outran their supply lines. In early September the advance came to a halt. The Allies desperately needed a large port to supply their troops and the obvious choice was Antwerp.
On 4 September 1944 British forces captured the city of Antwerp with its port intact. This was a major success for the Allies because it offered them a chance to solve their supply problems. Since the breakout from Normandy the frontline had moved northward at an astonishing pace. This caused problems since every gallon of fuel and every round of ammunition the allied armies needed, had to be brought up from Normandy. By early September it was simply impossible to bring up enough supplies to keep the Allied armies moving.
The British field marshal Montgomery therefore proposed to focus all efforts on a narrow section of the front with Operation Market Garden. The goal of Operation Market Garden was to capture bridges over major rivers in the Netherlands in order to ensure a swift advance towards the heart of Nazi-Germany. Unfortunately the operation failed as the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem remained in German hands.
Operation Market Garden had drawn away the attention from the port of Antwerp. This was a big problem because, although Antwerp was captured, its port could not be brought into use as long as German forces controlled the river Scheldt that flowed into the port. The Germans were aware of the critical importance of Antwerp and had prepared strong positions along the river.
This situation led to what is known as the Battle of the Scheldt. At stake was the use of the port of Antwerp and in essence the ability of the Allied armies to effectively fight the last phase of the war.
The Liberation Museum Zeeland takes us back to a special part of Zeelands history. During the Second World War Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen of various nationalities united in the fight against the German occupation forces. This struggle resulted in a lot of dead and wounded on both sides. The local population in Zeeland also suffered heavy casualties.
A group of granite and brick stone memorials, commemorating the French soldiers who were killed in May 1940 during the battle of Zeeland and the Scottish and Canadian soldiers who were killed during Operation Mallard in November 1944.
During the Second World War the Sloedam was the only connection between the former island of Walcheren and the South-Beveland peninsula. At that time the causeway of 1,200 meters long and only 45 meters wide was of utmost strategic importance. The Germans defended the Sloedam fiercly.
Woensdrecht was an important town for the Allies since it was the only land entrance to South-Beveland and Walcheren. If the Canadians could capture the town the German forces to the west would be cut off from the rest of their army. Woensdrecht was the first key objective for safeguarding the Scheldt estuary.
The last phase in the battle of the Scheldt was the capture of the island of Walcheren. Walcheren had been incorporated into the German Atlantic Wall and had been heavily fortified during the war. The Allied commanders therefore viewed the capture of Walcheren as the biggest obstacle in the clearing of the Scheldt estuary.
On 24 October 1944 the third phase of the battle of the Scheldt began with Operation Vitality. The goal of the operation was to clear the peninsula of South-Beveland of German forces. Once again the Allied forces would have to overcome not only the German defenders but difficult terrain as well.
This museum has been dedicated to the brave men and women of the 1st Polish Armour Division commanded by General Stanisław Maczek, who have liberated major parts of the Netherlands from the German occupier in 1944 and 1945.
Every two years the Havendagen are a weekend of local celebration. In 2020 it will be all about the 75 years of liberation.