Operation Ascot (ii)

This was a British operation by Lieutenant General N. M. Ritchie’s XII Corps of Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s 2nd Army to drive the German forces back from their bridgehead on the left bank of the Maas river in the Netherlands (14 November 1944).

The main part of the operation was undertaken by Major General T. G. Rennie’s 51st Division, whose first major operation after its arrival in the Netherlands had been 'Colin'. The 51st Division had attacked on 22 October and within two days driven the Germans from 's-Hertogenbosch and back to the Maas. The success of 'Colin' left the Germans with two pockets south of the Maas. That to the west of 's-Hertogenbosch was known as 'the island', which was cleared in 'Guy Fawkes' during 4/5 November.

Meanwhile a German counterattack by General GŁnther Blumentritt’s LXXXVI Corps of General Alfred Schlemm’s 1st Fallschirmarmee within Generaloberst Kurt Student’s Heeresgruppe 'H' had established a bridgehead across the Maas between Venlo and Roermond, and this posed a threat to Eindhoven. To push the Germans back over the Maas was the next task, which was allocated the designation 'Ascot' and designed to push the German forces back over the Maas. The 51st Division’s role was to attack the Germans on the line between Weert and Roermond, and then swing to the north-east to drive the Germans toward Venlo.

Within this overall scheme, Rennie gave Brigadier A. J. H. Cassels’s 152nd Brigade the task of crossing the Noorder Canal, Brigadier J. R. Sinclair’s 153rd Brigade that of crossing the Wessem Canal, and Brigadier J. A. Oliver’s 154th Brigade that of taking the lock gates at the junction of the Noorder and Wessem Canals. If the 153rd Brigade had crossed the Wessem, the 154th Brigade would then advance to take Heyhuijzen. Some preliminary training for the crossing of the canals took place using assault boats and Buffalo 'amtracks'.

The operation started on 14 November, and all three brigades successfully crossed the canals and, in the case of the 154th Brigade, the canal junction. The advanced continued and the 5th Cameron Highlanders in particular distinguished themselves in the establishment of a bridgehead over the Zig (or Uitwaterings) Canal. The 51st Division then exploited across the Zig Canal, and by 18 November was just south of Venlo in the area of Baarlo, Bong and Zoterbeek close to the Maas, so ending the operation successfully.

In the conclusion of this series of operations, the 51st Division now moved north to support the Allied bridgehead between the Waal and Rijn rivers west of Nijmegen and Arnhem, also known as 'the island'. On 2 December the Germans blew the Lek dyke and flooded 'the island'. As the floods subsided. 'the island' was reoccupied. This concluded the series of operations that pushed the Germans east of the Maas river, so allowing the start of preparations for the resumption of major operations at the start of 1945 to clear the Germans from the entire region eastward to the Rhine river.