Operation Destroyer

This was an Allied operation to clear the German forces from the Over-Betuwe area of the Netherlands as part of ‘Quick Anger’ (2/3 April 1945).

With the postponement of ‘Anger’ after General H. D. G. Crerar had informed Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, commanding the Allied 21st Army Group, that there was little chance that his Canadian 1st Army would be able to launch the operation before the latter part of April, greater emphasis was placed on the exploitation and further development of the gains made in ‘Plunder’. Thus Lieutenant General C. Foulkes’s Canadian II Corps was ordered to attack the IJssel defences from the rear, with a view to capturing Apeldoorn and the high ground between that town and Artihem, and was also instructed to co-ordinate its ‘Anger’ plan with the efforts of Lieutenant General G. G. Simonds’s Canadian I Corps. Though there was no immediate prospect of a Canadian attack across the Nederrijn river, the I Corps could undertake the clearance of the German forces out of the remainder of the flooded ‘island’ between the Waal and the Nederrijn rivers.

When the corps took over the Nijmegen sector on 15 March the Germans still controlled the northern portion of the ‘island’ and a rectangular area to the west of the Pannerdensch Canal connecting the two rivers. The southern portion of the ‘island’ was held by Major General G. H. A. MacMillan’s (from 28 March Major General S. B. Rawlins’s) British 49th Division, the only formation as yet under Foulkes’s command, with the 18th Armoured Car Regiment (12th Manitoba Dragoons) along the line of lower Waal river to the north-east of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

Two difficulties were apparent when the possibility of clearing the ‘island’ was discussed in mid-March: firstly, the 49th Division was not considered sufficiently strong to undertake both clearance and holding efforts at the same time and, secondly, there were concerns that any long pause between the elimination of German resistance on the ‘island’ and the launch of ‘Anger’ might result in heavy casualties to the troops holding the southern bank of the Nederrijn river.

MacMillan therefore suggested that the operation be postponed until a time early in April, and this was agreed with the provisos that the operation would be undertaken only if the opposition was weak and the weather favourable. Reports indicated that German morale was especially low in this sector.

Problems of regrouping within the I Corps and co-ordination of the corps’ projected operations with those of the II Corps in ‘Plunder’ were under consideration throughout the rest of March. As Foulkes saw the operation on 17 March, Major General H. W. Foster’s Canadian 1st Division and the and 49th Division would clear the ‘island’ and establish a bridgehead across the Nederrijn river at Oosterbeek, immediately to the west of Arnhem, with Major General B. M. Hoffmeister’s Canadian 5th Armoured Division then passing through to expand the holding to the north and west; however, if the ground of the ‘island’ would not permit a direct assault across the Nederrijn river, he had an alternative plan under which the 1st Infantry and 5th Armoured Divisions would use the II Corps’ bridges at Emmerich and across the IJssel river to attack Arnhem from the north and east. Administrative considerations made this latter alternative difficult, and unless the proposed crossing facilities in the Emmerich area were expanded, no more than four divisions could be maintained over them.

Since Simonds required three formations (Major General A. B. Matthews’s Canadian 2nd Division, Major General R. H. Keefler’s Canadian 3rd Division and Major General Stanisław Maczek’s Polish 1st Armoured Division) for his responsibilities in ‘Haymaker’, it was evident that only one division could be employed across the IJssel river. On 24 March Crerar issued his orders for the co-ordination of the I and II Corps’ operations, and three days later Foulkes issued his own detailed directive based on the need, coinciding with the expansion of the ‘Plunder’ bridgehead, for the I Corps to hold its portion of the line along the Maas and the Nederrijn rivers.

The I Corps was therefore to carry out active operations in three phases, of which the first two were designated as ‘Destroyer’: firstly, the 49th Division was to clear the south-eastern sector of the ‘island’; secondly, the 49th Division and Canadian 5th Armoured Division were to clear the rest of the ‘island’ and dominate the left bank of the Nederrijn; and thirdly, either the 49th Division, with an additional infantry brigade under command, would make a ‘scramble crossing’ of the Nederrijn river at Oosterbeek in ‘Quick Anger’ or, in the event that the Germans were still holding the right bank of the Nederrijn river after the II Corps had crossed the IJssel river, the I Corps would force the river about 5 miles (8 km) farther downstream at Renkum in ‘Anger’.

The target date for the launch of ‘Destroyer’ was 2 April, and the evolved plan now required that a major regrouping of the formations involved be undertaken.

On 21 March the Westminster Regiment (Motor) of Brigadier I. H. Cumberland’s Canadian 5th Armoured Brigade, took over the sector previously held by the 18th Armoured Car Regiment. Two days later the 11th Armoured Regiment (The Ontario Regiment), of Brigadier W. C. Murphy’s Canadian 1st Armoured Brigade, came under the command of the 49th Division and began moving its squadrons into the ‘island’. The build-up for ‘Destroyer’ continued on 28 March when Brigadier I. S. Johnston’s Canadian 11th Brigade also joined the 49th Division, relieving Brigadier R. H. Senior’s British 56th Brigade in the vicinity of Oosterhout. Both the Westminster Regiment and the 11th Brigade reverted to Hoffmeister’s 5th Armoured Division on 31 March, when that division took over the western sector of the island from the 49th Division.

The inter-divisional boundary ran from De Hulk, 6 miles (10 km) west of the Nijmegen bridge, in a north-easterly curve toward Arnhem. Hoffmeister’s responsibilities extended downstream, along the line of the Waal river to a point near Heerewaarden, to the north-east of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, where the British I Corps took over.

The 49th Division carried out its role in ‘Destroyer’ on 2/3 April, clearing the rectangular area held by the Germans at the eastern end of the ‘island’.

The timing of the attack at 06.00 on 2 April was carefully synchronised with the operations of Keefler’s 3rd Division to the east of the Rhine river, and it was hoped that Keefler’s formation would clear the angle formed by the Nederrijn and IJssel rivers as far as Westervoort while, simultaneously, the 49th Division occupied the opposite bank of the Nederrijn. Under Rawlins’s command for ‘Destroyer’ were the Ontario Regiment and the 11th Army Field Regiment, as well as ‘Crocodile’ flamethrower tanks and ‘flail’ mineclearing tanks of Major General Sir Percy Hobart’s British 79th Armoured Division.

‘Destroyer’ proceeded smoothly in two phases. First, Brigadier H. Woods’s British 147th Brigade rapidly took the south-eastern corner of the ‘island’, advancing some 3 miles (4.8 km) from Haalderen to Doornenburg, which was cleared in the early afternoon of the same day. The Ontario Regiment’s tanks gave good support, although they encountered many mines and road blocks. Second, starting at 15.30, Brigadier D. S. Gordon’s British 146th Brigade turned to the north, clearing the left bank of the Nederrijn river, below the Pannerdensch Canal, in the direction of Angeren and Huissen. These objectives were secured with the assistance of fighter-bombers, and British troops entered Huissen before the fall of night on 2 April.

On the following morning the British units crossed the river to Westervoort. Heavier German resistance east of the Rhine had prevented the Canadian 3rd Division from conforming to the British advance, for Keefler’s main strength had to be directed to the north in the direction of Zutphen. Accordingly, early on 3 April, Rawlins sent reconnaissance elements through the Emmerich bridgehead to link with his force in the area of Westervoort and Pannerden.

By 17.00 on 3 April the 49th Division had eliminated all opposition in its area to the south of the Nederrijn river. The Ontario Regiment continued to support the British infantry throughout this final phase. In general, resistance had been very light.

Meanwhile, on the front of the 5th Armoured Division on the left if the advance, the Canadian 11th Brigade had cleared the ‘island’ westward to the area near Randwijk, some 8 miles (13 km) downstream of Arnhem. At dusk on 2 April all three battalions, supported by tanks of the 3rd Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (The Governor General’s Horse Guards), advanced to the north along approximately parallel axes toward the Nederrijn river, and encountered very little opposition. On the brigade’s western flank, the Irish Regiment of Canada encountered many mines, but not much active resistance. By mid-morning on 3 April the Irish had taken Randwijk, and its patrols then pushed forward to the river bank and established contact with the Cape Breton Highlanders on their right. The Highlanders also had trouble with mines and craters, but secured their objectives, including Heteren.

On the right flank the Perth Regiment had a somewhat harder task. After clearing Driel it was counterattacked twice on the afternoon of 3 April but ‘beat the enemy off without much trouble’. Forced back to the northern bank of the Nederrijn, the Germans remained active during succeeding days, employing artillery, mortars and machine guns against movement in the Allied line.