Thursday, July 12, 2007

Albert Canal, 1944

Bill getting the "straight story" from a fella who was actually there at the time. Thats his barge...the "Manhattan". He was five years old at the time all the excitement was going on, and he remembered the Canadians coming through. Us Canucks got the dirty job....taking the flooded land along the coast. Mind you, the Brits didn't have it easy either, plenty of mud to go around!, and the Yanks had their "Private Ryan" moments as well. These are the famous locks that the Canadians crossed. It wasn't an easy fight...the Sergeant that headed up the team to cross was recommended for a VC. Don't get THOSE for hanging about!
click on these pictures to enlarge.

The Calgary Highlanders were part of the great big push to take Antwerp back in '44, but the Germans fought for every inch of ground. They took advantage of the canals as they were natural barriers to movement. As you can see in the above picture, a very large canal, called the "Albert Canal" was blocking their way North. It went east west from Antwerp. Another Canal, the "turnhout canal" was another problem, to be dealt with later, it angled off north east from Antwerp, and is out of the picture. But the Albert Canal was a waterway that in the words of Hitler himself..."it is the barrel of a pistol pointing at the heart of Germany". So, the Canadians got the job of taking the Canal.
On either side of the canal are high banks which are made by the spoil from digging the canal. They provide really good cover for German 88's and other, heavier artillery. Everything the Canadians could do had to be done at night. You see that little lake in the above picture just south west of the locks? Thats a flooded part of the old fort that the Canadians used as their headquarters. Not all of it is flooded, in fact, most of it is actually now a shopping centre, and they have no idea! But you can see the remnants of the arrowhead shaped redoubts around the little lake.

Back in 1944, these locks were pretty much broken up and non-functional. But there was a couple of pipes (slippery in the rain and the dark) which Sergeant Crockett led his men over to attempt to take the buildings on the other side. Those buildings, particularly the blue quonset hut, contained a hornet's nest of well trained, well armed, and seasoned German troops, machine guns, and overlapping fields of fire.
When the first squad actually succeeded in taking the buildings, they pushed inland, allowing the rest of the Calgary Highlanders to cross un-opposed, in a hail of supporting artillery fire, to receive the brunt of the inevitable counter attack. Able, Bravo and Charlie companies were thrown back almost to the blue buildings, and Dog company, which was in reserve at that point, was thrown in to stiffen the defences. They succeeded, and the Canadians had taken the north side of the Albert Canal. All before daylight. My uncle Bill was in Dog Company, and he distinguished himself in that action, saving the lives of dozens of his fellow infantrymen as they tried to extricate themselves from the withering fire of the German Counter attack. Unfortunately, heroism has its price, and he fell in that action.
My uncle Nick, went back to the aid station to check on his brother and was told that "he's right there...under that blanket". And thats all that he would ever say about that! He was buried right there, in sight of the Canal the next day, and I have heard rumours that Nick participated in the burial party. I know Nick, you could not have kept him from it!, so it sounds reasonable to me.

It must have been like a movie, 'cept it was all real! The lock workers did not know how important their little "artificial island" was, and were a little surprised when I read the action reports I had photocopied from the archives. I'll have to scan these action reports in and put them up on these pages sometime in the next couple of days. They are really exciting!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always learn so much from you!! Being American and all, we never really learned about what our Canadian neighbors were doing fighting alongside us in the war. Very glad to learn about it. ~ Jen