After the Normandy Campaign, the First Canadian Army was given the task of clearing the coastal areas in the North of France (Dieppe, Dunkirk, Boulogne, Calais etc.) and opening the channel ports for vital supplies.
On the left flank of the Allied forces, the Canadians pushed rapidly eastward through France towards Belgium. September began with the 2nd Canadian Division being welcomed to Dieppe. Boulogne, Calais, and Cap Gris Nez followed, and by the end of September the Channel coast, with the exception of Dunkirk, had been cleared and southern England freed of the harassing fire of Hitler's weapons which had been launched from these sites. Farther north, the Second British Army seized the port of Antwerp with its installations virtually intact.
Clearing the Coast
The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division received a tumultuous welcome to Dieppe, where Canadian forces had suffered very high casualties in a failed attempt to storm the beaches in 1942 (out of 4,963 Canadians who took part in the raid, 907 were killed and 1,946 taken prisoner). On September 6, they marched eastward with the objective of clearing the entire coastal area east of Calais, including the heavily fortified port of Dunkirk, capturing the launching sites of German rockets and putting an end to their attacks on southern England.
On September 7 and 8, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division's 5th Brigade captured Bourbourg, southwest of Dunkirk, and then worked to contain the Dunkirk garrison. The Germans had an estimated 10,000 troops in Dunkirk, with outposts in the villages of Mardick, Loon-Plage, Spyker, Bergues and Bray Dunes. Loon-Plage and nearby Coppenaxfort were liberated on September 9; Mardick was taken on September 17.
East of Dunkirk, in the area of the Franco-Belgian border, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division's 6th Brigade occupied Furnes, Nieuport and La Panne. The Canadians received great assistance from the Belgian White Brigade, Belgium's national resistance movement, which furnished exact information concerning the enemy's strength, defences and minefields. West of La Panne, the 6th Brigade cleared the area of Bray Dunes as well as the nearby village of Ghyvelde.
On September 9, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division's 4th Brigade moved north to occupy the Belgian port of Ostend. This port, although fortified, was not defended by the Germans. The harbour installations, however, had been partly demolished which delayed its opening. Still, on September 28, stores and bulk petrol began flowing through Ostend which provided much-needed supplies to the Allied front.
The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division's 4th Brigade then moved to the southern outskirts of Bruges to assist the 4th Canadian Armoured Division in that sector. Fortunately, the enemy withdrew without contesting possession of the city, and the Canadians entered the city to an enthusiastic welcome from the Belgian people. The 4th Brigade then turned back and attacked Bergues, a key part of Dunkirk's outer defences, which fell on September 16.
Despite being surrounded, the main German force in Dunkirk showed no sign of surrendering, and the port could only have been taken by a major attack with heavy support. Instead, the Allies simply contained the port with minimum forces and concentrated every available resource on opening Antwerp. This freed the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division to move to the Scheldt area at once.
The Germans were determined to hold the Channel ports at all costs. These had been heavily fortified and the German defenders had resolved not to surrender. The distance between these ports and the Allied front meant that supply routes became stretched and Allied commanders worried that their advance might be slowed or, worse, halted completely.
Le Havre, Boulogne and Calais were taken by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division only after massive attacks, with combined air and ground assaults. Because of these attacks, the port installations were largely destroyed and would require months of repair before they could be made operational for Allied shipping. On October 1, the only harbours north of the Seine receiving Allied shipping were Dieppe, its subsidiary Le Tréport, and Ostend.
Meanwhile, the Second British Army had pushed forward into the southern Netherlands. On September 17, three British and American airborne divisions, as well as a brigade of Polish parachute troops, attempted to land behind enemy lines at Nijmegen, Eindhoven and Arnhem. Code-named Operation Market Garden, the mission's objective was to seize a bridge over the Rhine River at Arnhem. The operation failed, with 1,400 of the original force of 35,000 killed and more than 6,000 taken prisoner. Any hope for a speedy end to the war appeared to be dashed.
For the Allies, securing adequate supply lines for the winter now became paramount. The Second British Army had seized the port of Antwerp with its installations virtually intact. As Europe's second-largest port, Antwerp and its 45 kilometres of docks was an ideal landing ground for supplies for the continuing war effort. In fact, the opening of the port of Antwerp was essential, since at this point the main supply lines still ran back to Normandy.
However, German occupiers still controlled the Scheldt river which connected the port of Antwerp to the North Sea. As long as the Germans held control of the sea approaches and the long winding estuary, Allied shipping to the port would be impossible. The mere occupation of Antwerp was not enough- all the lands surrounding the Scheldt would have to be liberated first.
Major J.M. Figott and members of his company of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry kneeling at the graves of Canadian soldiers killed at Dieppe on 19 August 1942. Dieppe, France, 1 September 1944.
Two Canadian soldiers standing in front of signs. 9 Sept 1944, Dieppe, France.
Signalman F.R.J. Savage of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals reads the inscription on a plaque dedicated to an unknown British soldier buried in November 1920. September 19, 1944, Boulogne, France.
Captains E.L. McGivern and J.H. Medhurst examining a German pillbox fortification. 3 Sept 1944, Dieppe, France.
Canadian soldiers with the last German officer at the Mont Lambert fortification. September 17, 1944, Boulogne, France.
Private F.J. Coakley of the North Shore Regiment on a German gun. 21 Sept 1944, Boulogne, France (vicinity).
Entry of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division into Dieppe. 3 September, 1944.
Personnel of 'C' Company, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders of Canada advancing on the fort at LePortel, Boulogne, September 22, 1944, LePortel, Boulogne, France.
German soldiers surrendering to the 31st Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers (R.C.E.). September 18, 1944, Boulogne, France.
Sappers of the 31st Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers (R.C.E.). September 18, 1944, Boulogne, France.