Operation Battle of Otterlo

The 'Battle of Otterlo' was fought between Canadian and German forces in the Netherlands (16/17 April 1945).

In this small-scale undertaking, German troops were encircled on the De Hoge Veluwe National Park and unexpectedly delivered an attack on the liberated Dutch village of Otterlo, leading to fierce hand-to-hand combat. The result was a Canadian victory, thanks to the deployment of flamethrower tanks, and the Germans suffered considerable losses.

In April 1945, the Western Allies liberated large areas in the Netherlands above the Rhine river. Within the context of the allies' intention of defeating Germany, the movements of General H. D. G. Crerar’s Canadian 1st Army were focussed in advance to the north as quickly as possible, and led to the liberation of Groningen at 13/16 April. As a flank protection, an area called 'the Veluwe' was liberated on 14/18 April in two operations, namely 'Cleanser' and 'Cannonshot'. As a result, the troops on 'the Veluwe' were encircled in a pocket that was expected to surrender without a major fight. Otterlo was liberated on 16 April in 'Cleanser' by Canadian and British troops. The Canadian 1st Army’s main strength moved on Barneveld, while a couple of units were stationed in and around Otterlo. However, German troops assembled in the village Hoenderloo decided to break out of the pocket and thereby rejoin the bulk of General Philipp Kleffel’s 25th Army in what was by now designated Festung 'Holland'. The Germans expected that a last stand would have taken place in the Randstad, but this was a battle that did not happen. In what was a major surprise to the Allies, whose intelligence apparatus had completely overlooked the grouping in Hoenderloo, the German troops decided to attack Otterlo during the night of 17 April. These were men of the 952nd Grenadierregiment of Generalmajor Alfred Philippi’s 361st Volksgrenadierdivision.

At about 00.00, the leading German troops surrounded and attacked a small squad outside Otterlo as a distraction. According to the regiment’s diary, about 25 soldiers then surged into Otterlo and started to fire. Between 800 and 1,000 Germans attacked the village from the north, resulting in fierce hand-to-hand combat. The fighting continued the whole night, including an artillery bombardment at about 04.30. The Germans were successful until two winning, until two Wasp (flamethrower-carrying Universal Carrier) vehicles and standard gun tanks appeared and turned the tide. This little force had been informed of the situation at Otterloo by a couple of Allied soldiers who had fallen back into the woods and then coincidentally encountered a couple of scouts from a small tank unit located at the Kröller-Müller museum. Many German casualties were caused by the flamethrowers.

According to the grave memorial in Otterlo, 17 Canadian and six British soldiers lost their lives. No civilians lost their lives during the night, although four civilians had died during the earlier liberation of Otterlo on 15/16 April. The precise number of German casualties is still not clear. There are 62 known German graves: 24 bodies in a mass grave that was cleared in 1949, and 37 bodies buried at the German war cemetery in Ysselsteyn. However, eyewitness accounts, war correspondents' reports and a regiment diary report larger numbers of German dead, many of them teenagers: the numbers vary between 150 and 200.