Operation Quick Anger

This was a Canadian offensive, developed from the abortive ‘Anger’ (ii), against the German forces holding Arnhem in the Netherlands, by Lieutenant General C. Foulkes’s I Corps (centred on Major General H. W. Foster’s 1st Division and Major General B. M. Hoffmeister’s 5th Armoured Division) of General H. D. G. Crerar’s 1st Army (12/16 April 1945).

The Canadian II Corps had been transferred from Italy to North-West Europe in ‘Goldflake’ during February 1944 to bring the 1st Army up to a strength of two Canadian corps, and on 1 April this army became an essentially all-Canadian formation when it regained Lieutenant General G. G. Simonds’s II Corps from Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army.

In March and April 1945 the 1st Army was instructed by Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Allied 21st Army Group to undertake the double task of clearing those parts of the Netherlands still in the hands of General Günther Blumentritt’s 25th Army of Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz’s Heeresgruppe ‘H’, and winning a corridor between the Weser river and the IJsselmeer (Zuiderzee) for an advance to the north-west in the direction of the north German cities of Wilhelmshaven and Emden with Lieutenant General B. G. Horrocks’s British XXX Corps as the left flank guard for the 2nd Army as it pushed into northern Germany with Hamburg as its objective.

Sometimes known as the 2nd Battle of Arnhem, ‘Quick Anger’ was an element of the 1st Army’s liberation of the Netherlands and was led by Major General S. B. Rawlins’s British 49th Division, supported by armour of Hoffmeister’s Canadian 5th Armoured Division, British warplanes and British small craft.

The Western Allies had first tried to liberate Arnhem in September 1944 by means of the related ‘Market’ and ‘Garden’, but poor planning, misappreciation of intelligence, the unexpected presence of German Panzer units and the slow progress of the relieving ground forces meant that Major General R. E. Urquhart’s British 1st Airborne Division had been defeated in the 1st Battle of Arnhem and a new front had then stabilised in the area to the south of the city on the ‘Island’, as the polder (low-lying tract of land enclosed by embankments) between Nijmegen and Arnhem was nicknamed, over the winter.

After 'Market' and 'Garden', the populations of Arnhem and Oosterbeek were expelled from their homes, and the shattered towns were then developed into strong defensive positions from which the Germans expected to resist future Allied advances. The Arnhem road bridge, which the British airborne forces had tried so desperately hard to take and hold, was bombed by the Allies in October 1944 to deny its use to the Germans. Arnhem itself was extensively shelled by the Allies during the winter and was even hit by V-2 ballistic missiles which fell short. In retaliation for a strike by Dutch railway workers, which was supposed to aid the Allies' advance in September, the Germans banned all inland freight movement. This prevented the movement of food grown in the north from reaching the south and west of the country, causing thousands of deaths among the Dutch population in the so-called Hongerwinter.

Fresh planning to take Arnhem began in the new year of 1945 as the 1st Army sought ways to link its formations advancing into the Netherlands, but it was not until April that the liberation of the city became a distinct possibility. After Simonds’s Canadian II Corps had taken the eastern bank of the IJssel river and advanced to the north, the I Corps prepared to assault Arnhem.

In February 1945 the Allies had launched 'Veritable' and 'Grenade', which advanced to the east directly into Germany from the southern part of the area taken in 'Market' and 'Garden'. The two operations paved the way for 'Plunder' and 'Varsity', crossing the Rhine river upstream from Arnhem. Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Allied 21st Army Group then advanced rapidly into north-western Germany. While Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army advanced to the north-east, Crerar’s Canadian 1st Army was allocated the responsibility of liberating those parts of the Netherlands which remained in German hands.

The Canadian 1st Army had been instructed to plan advances across the Nederrrijn river when it first assumed responsibility for the Nijmegen salient in November, but the implementation of any such plans had been delayed by the winter and then the subsequent reallocation of the resources they required for 'Veritable'. After 'Veritable', however, Crerar saw operational and tactical advantages in the seizure of Arnhem and the opening of a route to Emmerich during the forthcoming crossing of the Rhine river. The first draft of the 'Anger' plan to take the city was created in February as an undertaking subsidiary to 'Plunder', but Foulkes, commanding the recently arrived Canadian I Corps, thought it safer to wait until the Rhine river had been crossed before attempting the liberation of Arnhem, and 'Anger' was shelved.

After the completion of 'Plunder', the Canadian II Corps attacked to the west and seized Emmerich, approaching the IJssel river from the east. Crerar saw an opportunity to take Arnhem and thus open the way the the north-west in the direction of Zutphen, and instructed his two corps commanders to co-ordinate their advances to this end. Crerar was wary of trying to seize Arnhem before the IJssel river had been bridged farther to the north, however.

In March the British 49th Division, which had been on the Nijmegen 'Island' since November, came under the command of the Canadian I Corps, and on 2 April, with the support of Canadian units, led the 'Destroyer' operation to clear the 'Island', carefully timing the initial attack to coincide with the Canadian II Corps' clearance of the eastern bank of the IJssel river. On 3 April elements of the Canadian I Corps crossed the Nederrijn river in the area to the east of the IJssel river and linked with units of the Canadian II Corps in the town of Westervoort just to the south-east of Arnhem. The rest of the 'Island' was cleared by the end of the following day and the Allies occupied the southern bank of the Nederrijn river in preparation for the assault on Arnhem.

The original 'Anger' (ii) plan of February had based based on an immediate crossing of the Nederrijn river near Oosterbeek as soon as the river had been reached, if the situation allowed it, in 'Quick Anger'. If the German defences were perceived as too strong to allow this, a better prepared crossing downstream at Renkum was to be made in 'Anger' (ii). Crerar had decided that ho operations would be made against Arnhem until the Canadian II Corps had crossed the IJssel river and advanced on Apeldoorn, however, so 'Anger' could not yet proceed. Moreover, reconnaissance patrols on 3/4 April established the fact that the presence of German observation posts and positions on the Westerbouwing heights overlooking the river would render any crossing the Nederrijn river very problematical. Attempts were made to create smokescreens, a technique which had proved very useful in the build-up to 'Plunder', to obscure the southern bank of the Nederrijn river from the watching Germans: the screen stretched from Randwijk, some 10 miles (16 km) to the west of Arnhem, along the southern bank of the river to Huissen, lying to the south of Arnhem, but strong winds and a lack of appropriate generators reduced its effectiveness. Moreover, the ground on the 'Island' was deteriorating and on 7 April, after considering various alternatives, Foulkes decided that the assault on Arnhem must be delivered from the east, across the IJssel river.

The offensive was of necessity delayed pending the movement of the British 49th Division to Westervoort and as the Canadian II Corps prepared to cross the IJssel river farther to the north. The move caused serious logistical problems as the roads around the 'Island' and Westervoort became clogged with traffic. The delay caused the Allies to become worried that the Germans would have time to ready themselves to check the assault, but in the event it became apparent that the Germans possessed neither the troops nor the equipment with which to improve their situation.

It was planned that the offensive would to proceed in three phases. The first phase was to be the initial assault carried out by Brigadier R. H. Senior’s 56th British Brigade, which was to cross the IJssel river at night in Buffalo IV amphibious vehicles of The Ontario Regiment before clearing the eastern and southern districts of Arnhem. In the second phase, Brigadier D. S. Gordon’s British 146th Brigade was to advance and attack the high ground to the north of Arnhem. In the third phase, Brigadier H. Wood’s British 147th Brigade was to advance through the 56th Brigade’s positions and secure the high ground and the northern bank of the Nederrijn river to the west of Arnhem. With the heights around Arnhem secure, Hoffmeister’s Canadian 5th Armoured Division was then to advance through Arnhem and the Canadian I Corps would resume its advance to the west.

In preparation for the offensive, the British took several Canadian units under command, together with a number of Churchill Crocodile flamethrower tanks of the 617th Assault Squadron, Royal Engineers, of Major General Sir Percy Hobart’s British 79th Armoured Division. Most of the Canadian 1st Division and Canadian 5th Armoured Division were available for support, and a composite group known as 'Murphy' Force provided a diversion to the south of the Nederrijn river.

The river crossing was to be assisted by the 552nd Landing Craft Flotilla of the Royal Navy , which operated several landing craft which had earlier been used in 'Plunder', and the Royal Army Service Corps was to operate run DUKW amphibious trucks across the river. The Canadian I Corps' Royal Canadian Engineers was to build four Bailey pontoon ferries (two across the IJssel river and two across the Nederrijn river) as soon as locations on the German bank had been taken; the Canadian engineers were also to deploy a prefabricated Bailey bridge as soon as the situation permitted. This bridge was built in advance farther upstream at Doornenburg and floated nearer to the IJssel river just before the attack, and as soon as the situation made it feasible, this was to be floated into position between Westervoort and Arnhem so that armour to cross the river much more rapidly than the Germans expected. Canadian engineers were also to lay a heavy artillery smokescreen over Arnhem during the attack. and in the build-up to the battle maintain the smokescreen along the Nederrijn river in the hope that its presence would deceive the Germans about the true direction of the crossing.

The German forces in the Netherlands, under the overall command of Blaskowitz’s Heeresgruppe 'H', had recently been redesignated as the Festung 'Holland' (Holland fortress), although this name change had little effect on the units on the ground. The defeat of forces during the previous year, the formation of extemporised Kampfgruppen and the cannibalisation of formations and units to restore other formations and units combined to render it difficult for the Allied intelligence apparatus to determine German strength in the area to the north of the Rhine river. It was believed that some 10,000 men of General Philipp Kleffel’s XXX Corps, part of the 25th Army also commanded by Kleffel, were located in the area of Arnhem and Apeldoorn area, and that 1,000 men of the 858th Grenadierregiment of Generalmajor Gerhard Linder’s 346th Division and other miscellaneous units held the Arnhem area, these latter including a divisional battle school, paratroopers and Dutch-SS troops.

Naturally well protected by the rivers and the high ground to its north and west, Arnhem itself had been turned into a strong defensive position after the battle the previous year. On the very day of the start of the assault on Arnhem, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler issued a decree that all cities were to be defended at any price, failure to do so being punishable by death.

On 11 April the Canadian II Corps began 'Cannonshot' to cross the IJssel river downstream of Arnhem, and therefore farther to the north between Zutphen and Deventer, as a first step toward an advance toward the west for the capture of Apeldoorn. On the morning of 12 April, when told that this operation was well under way, Foulkes ordered the 49th Division to start in attack during the evening of the same day. This day was occupied by a bombardment of the Germans in Arnhem with artillery and ground attack aircraft. The RAF provided 119 sorties by Supermarine Spitfire fighter bombers (36 sorties) and Hawker Typhoon rocket-firing ground-attack aircraft (83 sorties) to soften up the German positions, and the offensive was preceded by one of the heaviest artillery barrages ever fired by Canadian I Corps: one field gun battery of eight guns fired 640 rounds in 10 minutes, and the Pioneer Corps fired 30,000 smoke shells over the course of the battle. A diversionary barrage from an area to the south of the Nederrijn river provoked a strong German response, and this suggested that they had probably readied themselves to face an attack from the south rather than the east.

The initial phase of the Canadian offensive did not proceed entirely to plan. The crossing was scheduled for 22.40, but was delayed by the late arrival of several of the assault craft which were required, and several of the explosive charges on the eastern bank of the river, which were designed to clear a path through the land mines and the river embankment failed to detonate. The 2/Gloucestershire Regiment then discovered that several if Buffalo amphibious tractors in which it was to make the crossing were unserviceable, so the companies were forced to cross separately rather than in a single wave as had been planned. Thus the four companies of 2/Glosters began to cross individually, their passage illuminated by the so-called 'Monty’s moonlight' (searchlights reflecting their light off the underside of the cloud cover) and Bofors guns firing coloured tracer to mark the axis of attack. Under cover of heavy machine gun and mortar fire, the first company reached the western bank of the IJssel river at 23.15 and began to take its objectives in the face of light opposition along the river bank, sustaining 32 casualties in the process. After a short delay the Glosters secured the landing area needed for the prefabricated Bailey bridge, and at 00.50 the Royal Canadian Engineers began floating the components of the bridge into position.

The second wave comprised the 2/South Wales Borderers, and this battalion crossed the river under heavy artillery fire. Its assault craft drifted downstream in the crossing, but once ashore the battalion advanced rapidly into Arnhem. The advance stalled, and as a result the the 1/7th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, which was scheduled to cross in the third phase, was carried over the the river to support 2/South Wales Borderers. By 07.00 the 2/Essex Regiment was across the river and by 08.45 the Royal Canadian Engineers had established a pontoon ferry to begin moving the tanks of the Ontario Regiment across the river.

The Royal Canadian Engineers pressed ahead with the assembly of the Bailey bridge throughout the night, and 12 hours after the start of the offensive traffic was rolling across the IJssel river. This allowed the second phase of the operation to get under way, and soon troops of 146th Brigade and tanks of the Ontario Regiment were moving up to the 56th Brigade’s positions. There was only indifferent resistance during the morning, although the 2/South Wales Borderers had to beat back a counterattack near the local railway junction. Late in the morning the British advanced towards a large Enka factory complex in the eastern area of the city, where a battalion of the 346th Division and men of the 46th Festungs-Maschinengewehrbataillon had established a strongpoint. This German machine gun battalion had arrived from Oosterbeek only during the morning, and had thus escaped the earlier bombardments. The 4/Lincolnshire Regiment was assigned the task of clearing the factory complex, where the Germans were able to offer some resistance as they were comparatively fresh. With the armoured support of the Ontario Regiment and 79th Division, the British were finally able to overwhelm the Germans in a fight which lasted most of the day. By the evening of 13 April most of the resistance in Arnhem had been broken, and the 147th Brigade was preparing to cross into Arnhem.

In the third phase of the battle, the 147th Brigade crossed the Nederrijn river from the 'Island' during the night and by the morning of the 14 April was ready to move through the positions of the 56th Brigade. By now the German defence was crumbling, but the battalions of the 147th Brigade came across large numbers of mines and demolitions as they advanced. D Company of the 1/7th Duke of Wellington’s ambushed what they believed to be a German counterattack led by three ex-French Renault tanks, although it was later discovered that the Germans had no idea that the British were already there in the area. Later in the day, Dutch soldiers of SS-Oberführer Martin Kohlroser’s 34th SS Freiwilligen Grenadierdivision 'Landstorm Nederland', supported by armour, counterattacked the 1/7th Duke of Wellington’s positions, but were eventually beaten back after heavy fighting had knocked out their armoured support, but were able to blunt a later British advance into their area. By the end of the day, however, the British and Canadian units had reached all of their objectives, and most of Arnhem had been secured.

The Canadian 5th Armoured Division began to move onto the high ground to the north of the city during the night which followed, and here linked with elements of SAS units who had been operating behind the German lines since a timer earlier in the month. On 15 April the 1/7th Duke of Wellington’s occupied Arnhem zoo. The Germans were driven from the Velp suburb in the north-eastern edges of Arnhem and also from the surrounding area on 15 and 16 April, bringing the operation to an end.

The Allies' liberation was of a ruined town. After the looting of the previous year, the houses were little more than empty wrecks lacking everything down to doors. There was evidence of the 1st Battle of Arnhem everywhere, and the liberation was likened to 'entering an ancient tomb'.

The operation cost the British 62 men killed and 134 wounded, although it is unclear whether or not these figures include Canadian casualties. The German figures are imprecise, with prisoners of war being recorded as 601 in some sources and as many as 1,600 in others. The German direct casualties are similarly unknown, although could have been as high as 3,000.

The Allied advance continued without a pause, but in a modification of the original plan to strike to the west, the Canadian 5th Armoured Division was given a new task in 'Cleanser' and headed to the north in order to secure the towns between Arnhem and the IJsselmeer. A substantial German force counterattacked the Canadian 5th Armoured Division on the night of 16 April at Otterlo in the hope of breaking out to the west, but was repulsed with heavy losses. On 17 April the 49th Division attacked Ede, occupied by the Dutch SS, and liberated the town in 24 hours before sweeping on to the IJsselmeer at Harderwijk.

Blumentritt then ordered the sea dikes to be opened, but on 27 April Crerar achieved a local armistice with Blumentritt so that this move would not devastate much of the lowest-lying parts of the Netherlands, the armistice also stipulating that the Germans would make no effort to shoot down RAF bombers dropping food to the starving Dutch population in ‘Manna’.

The second task allocated to the 1st Army was more difficult, and fell to the II Corps. This went over to the offensive for the rapid liberation of Zutphen and Almelo on 6 April followed by that of Groningen and Leeuwarden on 10 April, and an advance into Germany aided by the capture of crossings over the Orange Canal by the 2nd and 3rd Régiments Coloniaux des Parachutistes at Assem and Meppel. But once the Cnadian II Corps was in Germany it met fierce resistance from General Eugen Meindl’s II Fallschirmkorps, requiring assistance from army group in the form of the 5th Armoured Division, Generał brygady Stanisław Maczek’s Polish 1st Armoured Division and Major General L. G. Whistler’s British 3rd Division. By 5 May the corps’ formations had reached the outskirts of Wilhelmshaven and Emden, the double offensive having cost the Canadians 5,514 casualties in all.