Operation Anger (ii)

'Anger' (ii) was a Canadian plan for General H. D. G. Crerar’s 1st Army to break out of the Nijmegen bridgehead across the Nederrijn river to assist in opening the Emmerich crossing of the Rhine river using Lieutenant General C. Foulkes’s I Corps currently moving from Italy to North-West Europe (February/16 April 1945).

Foulkes determined that the proposed operation, which would be subordinate to 'Plunder' and undertaken after 'Veritable', was fraught with problems in its primary intention of taking Arnhem and advancing to Emmerich, largely as a result of the difficult terrain, the possibility of further flooding from natural or artificial causes, weather conditions and the determination of the German defence in this region. The planned operation was therefore postponed until a time late in April at the earliest, the object now being co-operation with the 'Plunder' offensive to be undertaken by Lieutenant General G. G. Simonds’s Canadian II Corps against the rear of the Germans' IJssel river defences and at Apeldoorn.

The operation was then revived in a somewhat revised form as 'Quick Anger' to exploit 'Destroyer', though an 'Anger' (ii) component was also envisaged for the I Corps to effect an assault crossing of the Nederrijn river at Renkum, some 5 miles (8 km) downstream of the point selected for the II Corps' crossing of the IJssel river, if the Germans continued to hold the right bank of the Lower Rhine river.

This led to the 2nd Battle of Arnhem and resulted in the Liberation of Arnhem within the context of the Canadian 1st Army’s liberation of the Netherlands, and was spearheaded by Major General S, B. Rawlins’s British 49th Division, supported by armour of Major General B. M. Hoffmeister’s Canadian 5th Armoured Division, specialised armour of Major General Sir Percy Hobert’s British 79th Armoured Division, RAF tactical air attacks and boats of the Royal Navy.

The Allies had first attempted to liberate Arnhem in September 1944 during the 'Market' and 'Garden' operations top 'bounce' across the Nederrijn river. Poor planning, the unexpected presence of German armoured formations and a delayed advance by ground forces meant that Major General R. E. Urquhart’s British 1st Airborne Division was defeated, and a new front then stabilised in the area to the south of the Dutch town. Fresh planning to take Arnhem began in the new year as the Canadian 1st Army sought ways to link its formations and units advancing into the Netherlands, but it was not until April that the liberation of Arnhem became a real possibility. After Lieutenant General G. G. Simonds’s Canadian II Corps had secured the eastern bank of the IJssel river and advanced to the north, Lieutenant General C. Foulkes’s Canadian I Corps prepared to assault Arnhem.

The operation began on 12 April 1945 and proceeded to plan, as the 49th Division’s three brigades leapfrogged each other through the city. Within four days Arnhem was totally under Allied control, aso opening the way for the Canadians to advance farther into the Netherlands. Less than two weeks after the battle a general truce brought major combat operations in the country to an end and on 5 May the German commander in the Netherlands surrendered to the Canadian 1st Army. Three days later Germany unconditionally surrendered, bringing the war in Europe to a close.

In February 1945 the Allies launched 'Veritable' and 'Grenade', striking to the east from land captured during 'Market' and 'Garden' directly across into Germany. These paved the way for 'Plunder' and 'Varsity' in which the Rhine river was crossed farther upstream from Arnhem. Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery’s Allied 21st Army Group then advanced at speed into north-western Germany. While Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army advanced farther, General H. D. G. Crerar’s Canadian 1st Army was given the task of liberating the Netherlands.

The Canadian 1st Army had been ordered to plan advances across the Lower Rhine river when it first assumed responsibility for the Nijmegen salient in November 1944, but any plans were delayed by the winter and the subsequent allocation of resources to 'Veritable'. After 'Veritable', however, Crerar saw advantages to seizing Arnhem and opening a route to Emmerich during the coming crossing of the Rhine river. The first iteration of the 'Anger' (ii) plan to take Arnhem, was completed in February as a subsidiary operation to 'Plunder', but Foulkes, commander of the recently arrived Canadian I Corps, thought it safer to wait until the Rhine river had been crossed before launching an action on Arnhem, and 'Anger' (ii) was therefore shelved.

After 'Plunder', Simonds’s Canadian II Corps attacked to the west and seized Emmerich, approaching the IJssel river from the east. In this, Crerar saw an opportunity to take Arnhem and open a route between the Arnhem and Zutphen to the north, and ordered his two corps commanders to co-ordinate their advances accordingly. However, Crerar was wary of trying to seize Arnhem before the IJssel river had been bridged farther to the north.

In March the 49th Division, which had been on the Nijmegen 'island' since November, came under the command of the Canadian I Corps. On 2 April the division, supported by Canadian units, led 'Destroyer' to clear the 'island', 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 to the east of the IJssel river and linked with units of the Canadian II Corps in the town of Westervoort opposite Arnhem. The rest of the 'island' was cleared within another day and the Allies occupied the southern bank of the Nederrijn river in preparation for the assault on Arnhem.

The original plan of February for 'Ange’r had called for an immediate crossing of the Nederrijn river near Oosterbeek as soon as the waterway had been reached if the situation allowed it: this was known as 'Quick Anger'. Alternatively, if the German defences were considered too strong to make this feasible, a better-prepared crossing downstream at Renkum could be made: this was 'Anger' (ii). However, Crerar had decided that operations to liberate Arnhem should not be made until the Canadian II Corps had crossed the IJssel river and advanced on Apeldoorn, so 'Anger' (ii) could not yet take place. Moreover, reconnaissance patrols on 3 and 4 April established that German observation posts and positions on the Westerbouwing heights overlooking the river would make crossing the Nederrijn river a matter of great danger. Attempts were made to create smokescreens obscuring the southern bank of the Nederrijn river from the watching Germans: this was a technique that had proved successful in the preparations for 'Plunder'. The screen stretched from the town of Randwijk, 10 miles (16 km) to the west of Arnhem, along the river’s southern bank to Huissen to the south of Arnhem, but strong winds and a lack of adequate numbers and types of smoke generators reduced the concept’s effectiveness. Additionally, the ground on the 'island' was deteriorating and on 7 April, after considering various alternatives, Foulkes decided Arnhem must be attacked from the east, across the IJssel river.

The attack had necessarily to be delayed as the 49th Division moved to Westervoort and the Canadian II Corps prepared to cross the IJssel river farther to the north. The move occasioned major logistical problems as the roads around the 'island' and Westervoort became jammed with traffic. This delay caused concern that the Germans would have time to prepare to meet the assault, but in the event it seemed that they had neither the troops nor the weapons and/or equipment to improve their situation.

The attack was planned on the basis of three phases. The initial assault would be carried out by Brigadier R. H. Senior’s British 56th Brigade, which would cross the IJssel river at night in Buffalo Mk IV amphibious tractors 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 would move forward and attack the high ground to the north of Arnhem. And in the third phase, Brigadier H. Wood’s British 147th Brigade would advance through 56th Brigade’s positions and secure the high ground and the northern bank of the Nederrijn river in the area to the west Arnhem. With the heights around Arnhem secured, Hoffmeister’s Canadian 5th Armoured Division would advance through Arnhem and Foulke’s Canadian I Corps would resume its advance to the west. The British took several Canadian units under command, along with Churchill Crocodile flame-throwing tanks of the 79th Armoured Division. Most of Major General H. W. Foster’s Canadian 1st Division and Hoffmeister’s Canadian 5th Armoured Division were allocated to provide support, and a composite group known as 'Murphyforce' provided a diversion to the south of the Nederrijn river.

The river crossing would be assisted by landing craft of the Royal Navy, including the 509th LCA Flotilla and 660th, 661st and 662nd LCM Flotillas, which operated 45 landing craft. The Royal Army Service Corps would run DUKW amphibious trucks across the river during the operation. The I Corps' Royal Canadian Engineers would create four Bailey pontoon ferries as soon as locations on the German bank had been taken: these would be two each across the IJssel and Nederrijn rivers. The RCE would also deploy a prefabricated Bailey bridge as soon as the situation permitted it. The bridge was built in advance farther upstream at Doornenburg and floated nearer to the IJssel river just before the attack. As soon as the situation allowed it, this bridge would be floated into position between Westervoort and Arnhem in the hope of making it possible for armour to cross the river more quickly than the Germans would expect. Canadian pioneers would lay a heavy artillery smokescreen over Arnhem during the attack and in the build-up to the battle maintain the smoke screen along the Nederrijn river in the hope of deceiving the Germans as to the true direction of the crossing.

The German forces in the Netherlands, under the command of the Oberbefehlshaber Niederlande, Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz, had recently been redesignated as the Festung 'Holland' though this change had little effect on the formations and units available to Blaskowitz. The rout of forces the previous year, the creation of extemporised Kampfgruppen and the cannibalising of units made it difficult for Allied intelligence to determine the realities of the 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 (from 25 April Generalleutnant Arnold Burmeister’s) XXX Corps were in the area of Arnhem and Apeldoorn. It was also believed that there were as many as 1,000 men of Generalmajor Gerhard Linder’s 346th Division, the 858th Grenadierregiment and other miscellaneous units occupying the Arnhem area: these last included a divisional battle school, paratroopers and Dutch Waffen-SS units. As well as the natural defence of the rivers and the high ground to the north and west of it, 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 Heinrich Himmler issued a decree that all cities and towns should be defended at any price, failure to do so being punishable by death.

On 11 April, the Canadian II Corps launched 'Cannonshot' as the crossing of the IJssel river farther to the north at Deventer before striking to the west in the direction of Apeldoorn. On the morning of 12 April, Foulkes was informed that this undertaking was well under way, and ordered the 49th Division to begin its attack that evening. The whole day was occupied in a bombardment of the German positions in Arnhem with artillery and ground-attack aircraft. The RAF provided 36 Supermarine Spitfire fighter-bomber and 83 rocket firing Hawker Typhoon sorties to soften up the German positions, and the attack was preceded by one of the heaviest artillery barrages ever fired by the 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 south of the Nederrijn river provoked a strong German response, which suggested the Germans had probably prepared for the Canadian-led attack to be made from the south rather than the east.

The initial assault did not proceed entirely to plan. The crossing was scheduled for a start at 22.40, but was delayed by the late arrival of several assault craft. Moreover, several explosive charges on the eastern bank of the river, designed to clear a path through land mines and the 'bund' failed to detonate. The 2/Gloucestershire Regiment then discovered several of the Buffalo tractors earmarked for it were inoperative, so its companies were forced to cross separately rather than in a single concentrated assault as had been planned.Despite this, the battalion’s four companies began crossing separately, their way illuminated by 'Monty’s Moonlight' (searchlights illumination reflected off the underside of cloud) and Bofors guns firing coloured tracers along 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 started to take its objectives in the face of light opposition along the river bank, in the process suffering 32 casualties. After a slight delay, the British soldiers secured the landing area for the prefabricated Bailey bridge, and and at 00.50 the Royal Canadian Engineers began floating the components of the bridge into position. The second wave, comprising the 2/South Wales Borderers, crossed the river under heavy artillery fire. Its assault craft drifted downstream during the crossing, but once ashore the battalion advanced rapidly into Arnhem. Its advance stalled, however, and the 1/7th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, originally scheduled to cross in the third phase, was sent across the river to support the 2/South Wales Borderers. By 07.00 the 2/Essex Regiment had crossed the river and by 08.45 the RCE had created a pontoon ferry service to allow the start of The Ontario Regiment’s tanks across the river.

The RCE meanwhile continue its assembly of the Bailey bridge throughout the night and 12 hours after H-hour traffic was rolling across the IJssel river. This allowed the second phase of the operation to proceed, and soon troops of the 146th Brigade and tanks of The Ontario Regiment were approaching the 56th Brigade’s positions. There was relatively little resistance in the morning, although the South Wales Borderers had to beat back a counterattack near the railway junction. Late in the morning, the British troops advanced toward a large Enka BV factory complex in the eastern area of Arnhem, where a battalion of the 346th Division and troops of the 46th Festungsmaschinengewehrbataillon had created a strongpoint; the Germans had arrived from Oosterbeek that morning and had thus escaped the earlier bombardments. The 4/Lincolnshire Regiment was given the task of clearing the complex, but the Germans, who were still relatively fresh, were able to offer some resistance. With the British attack supported by the tanks of The Ontario Regiment and the 79th Armoured Division, the Germans were eventually overwhelmed in a battle which lasted most of the day. By the evening of 13 April most of the resistance had been broken and the 147th Brigade were preparing to cross into Arnhem.

In the third phase, the 147th Brigade crossed the Nederrijn river from the 'island' during the course of the night and by the morning of 14 April was ready to move through the 56th Brigade’s positions. By this time the German defence was crumbling, but the 147th Brigade’s battalions were nonetheless met large numbers of mines and demolitions as they advanced. D Company of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment ambushed what it believed to be a German counterattack led by three ex-French Renault tanks, although it later transpired that the Germans had no idea that the British were there. Later in the day, Dutch troops of SS-Oberführer Martin Kohlroser’s 34th SS=Freiwillgengrenadierdivision 'Landstorm Nederland' supported by armour counterattacked the Duke of Wellington battalion’s positions. The Dutch were eventually beaten back after heavy fighting had destroyed their tanks, but were able to blunt a later British advance into their area. By the end of the day the Allied units had reached all of their objectives and most of Arnhem had been secured. The Canadian 5th Armoured Division began to advance onto the high ground to the north of Arnhem in the night that followed, and here linked with elements of SAS units which had been operating behind the German lines since a time earlier in that same month. On 15 April the Duke of Wellington battalion occupied Arnhem’s zoo and upon discovering a live polar bear offered it to the brigade commander, who declined. The Germans were cleared out of the precinct of Velp and the surrounding area on 15 and 16 April, bringing 'Anger' (ii) to an end.

What the Allies forces had liberated was a ruined town. After being looted in the previous year, houses were little more than empty wrecks. The 49th Division’d war diary noted that 'a town had never been more wantonly destroyed'. Evidence of the 1st Battle of Arnhem lay everywhere and the liberation was likened to 'entering an ancient tomb'.

The Allied advance continued immediately. The Canadian 5th Armoured Division began moving through Arnhem toward the high ground to the north of the city during the night of 14/15 April. In a change to the original plan, which had ordained an advance to the west, the division was given a new mission, and in this 'Cleanser' moved to the north in order to secure towns between Arnhem and the IJsselmeer. A large German force counterattacked the Canadian 5th Armoured Division on the night of 16 April at Otterlo, hoping to break out to the west, but was beaten back after suffering heavy losses. On 17 April, the 49th Division attacked Ede, occupied by the Dutch SS, and liberated the town within 24 hours. On 27 April a temporary truce came into effect, allowing the 'Manna' distribution of food to the starving Dutch civilians in areas still under German control, and on 5 May Blaskowitz agreed to the unconditional surrender of all German forces in the Netherlands.

The British recorded totals of 62 men killed and 134 wounded in 'Anger' (ii), although it is unclear if this figure includes Canadian casualties. German figures are imprecise, with prisoners of war listed as 601 in some sources and up to 1,600 in others. The German casualties are similarly unknown, although could have been as great as 3,000 men.