Operation Guy Fawkes (ii)

This was a British undertaking by Major General T. G. Rennie’s 51st Division of Lieutenant General N. M. Ritchie’s XII Corps within Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s 2nd Army in the Netherlands (4/5 November 1944).

After the success of ‘Colin’ there remained two German pockets to the south of the lower part of the Maas river, in the form of a small bridgehead just to the west of ‘s-Hertogenbosch facing the XII Corps and another along the line of the Mark river facing Lieutenant General J. T. Crocker’s I Corps also of the 2nd Army.

The 51st Division attacked across the Afwaterings Canal on 4 November with Major General G. L. Verney’s British 7th Armoured Division co-operating on its left flank. Benefitting from the support of the corps artillery and the fighter-bombers of Air Vice Marshal L. O. Brown’s No. 84 Group of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham’s 2nd Tactical Air Force, the operation continued throughout the night, meeting little serious resistance. Engineers quickly built bridges over the canal at much the same time as the Germans were blowing their Maas bridge at Pleusden, and by the following afternoon the XII Corps’ task had been completed.

The I Corps had a more difficult time, however, and all of its divisions were strongly resisted. General Gustav-Adolf von Zangen had ordered his 15th Army, within Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model’s Heeresgruppe ‘B’, to make only planned withdrawals, and to this Adolf Hitler had added an order that if the Moerdijk bridges fell intact into Allied hands the commander of its defending force would be executed. By 5 November, though, the implacable pressure exerted by the formations of the I Corps, much assisted by the bombs and rockets of No. 84 Group’s warplanes, had broken the Mark river line and over the course of the following three days the corps closed up to the Maas river, though not quickly enough to prevent the Germans from destroying the Moerdijk bridges.

The I Corps now assumed responsibility for the line of the Maas river as far upstream as Maren, to the north-east of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, relieving the XII Corps, and Lieutenant General G. G. Simmonds’s Canadian II Corps moved into the Nijmegen sector in succession to Lieutenant General B. G. Horrocks’s British XXX Corps of the 2nd Army.