To liberate Nazi occupied Europe, the Allies (including Britain, Canada, United States) executed Operation Overlord. This is also known as the D-Day Normandy landings, which was the largest amphibious invasion in history. All of the Allied countries collaborated with each other and pooled their resources together in order to ensure there were enough resources to mount a cross channel invasion. Mark Zuehlke, author of Juno Beach: Canada's D-Day Victory, June 6th 1944, argues that "the Western Allies were gambling that they could win and hold a beachhead in France from which they could drive to the Rhineland and into Germany's heart - the most direct route to bring the war to a rapid conclusion." D-Day was a "winner take all" operation that was imperative to defeating Nazi Germany. Canada was in charge of storming Juno Beach and establishing a beachhead. Canada was successful in securing Juno Beach which enabled the constant flow of Allied troops and supplies to pour in over the coming weeks.
The Allies had seen significant success freeing occupied countries since the Normandy landings. The Allies next goal was a full out offensive over the Rhine river. If this offensive was successful, it would lead to defeating Germany. The Canadians had the task of liberating the Netherlands. General Harry Crerar, a senior officer and Canada's "leading field commander" is credited with commanding the largest formation ever led by a Canadian officer. The final stage of the Rhineland campaign for the Allies was to meet at the town of Wesel.
There were many tasks given to the Canadians that they needed to complete before reaching Wesel. The main objectives included clearing the Reichswald forest and breaking the Siegfried line. The combination of the winter that had recently passed and the mild weather during the campaign, created muddy, wet terrain. This meant that whenever the Canadians needed to advance they did not have mobile units to protect them, because the ground was hard on the vehicles.
Although the Rhineland campaign tested the Canadian army, the Canadians were successful in every operation they embarked on. The Germans blew up the bridges to try and disable Canadian transportation into Wesel and then retreated to the eastern bank of the Rhine. Thus, Canada was successfully able to capture the west bank, resulting in an end to Canada's Rhineland campaign.
Among the Allied death toll, approximately 5,304 Canadian lives were lost during the Rhineland campaign into the Netherlands. General Dwight D. Eisenhower (who later became President) acknowledged the success of the Canadians in a letter stating, “It speaks volumes for your skill and determination and the valour of your soldiers, that you carried it through to a successful conclusion.”
The Nazis began their invasion of the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. Lance Goddard, author of Canada and the Liberation of the Netherlands, states "the Dutch army was unable to match the Germans in force, speed, or equipment. As a neutral country, the Netherlands was simply not equipped to take on the Nazi war machine." Since then, the Dutch had been living through horrible conditions under Nazi occupation. For example, Peter Tammes, a World War II historian claims "Jews in the Netherlands suffered more than Jews in other Western European countries; about 73% of them were killed". The Jewish population in the Netherlands before the Nazi's invaded was higher than normal. This is because before the Nazi occupation, thousands of Jews fled to the Netherlands in hopes of escaping persecution. Included in those thousands was the 900 Jewish passengers who tried to escape persecution aboard the SS St. Louis. However the ship was turned away by many countries including the Unites States and Canada. Laura Madokoro, a member of Active History, states that "254 St. Louis passengers ultimately perished in the Holocaust when German forces invaded countries where the ships passengers had sought refuge (such as the Netherlands)." Jews went into hiding and hid in peoples attics, basements, cellars, and floors. Anne Frank and her family were among the many Jews who hid from the Nazis in the Netherlands. Many non Jewish citizens helped to hide Jewish people even though the penalty if caught was being arrested or sent to a labour camp. The Nazis placed restrictions on everyday life for the remaining citizens who had not been sent to a concentration camp for being Jewish. One of the biggest acts of resistance was from the Dutch Communist Party, when they called a strike against the Nazis. According to Zuehlke "it was one of the only strikes in Nazi occupied Europe." However, because of this strike attempt, the oppression and restrictions escalated and around 165 000 citizens were sent to work in German factories. Although the Rhineland campaign was a success, there were still many German soldiers occupying Dutch provinces. The Dutch launched acts of resistance to help the Canadians end the German occupation of their provinces. Churches throughout the Netherlands openly protested and resisted the German occupation while they were being occupied up until they were liberated. When Canadians eventually entered the Netherlands, they were met with an overwhelming amount of positivity and celebration from the Dutch.
With the success of the Rhineland campaign empowering the Canadian army, the reception of the Canadians from the Dutch population only strengthened the morale of the soldiers. In a final attempt to fight back, the Germans had snipers on top of buildings, machine gun nests hidden in the cities, and SS soldiers dressed up as Dutch civilians. The Canadian army pushed the Germans back to the Wageningen border by April 28. As a result of the Canadian army's tremendous success liberating occupied provinces and their overwhelming number of troops compared to German forces, the German high command started considering a truce in the Netherlands. Moreover, most of the remaining German soldiers alive were professional soldiers who did not want to see anymore civilian casualties, and so an unofficial truce was declared. However, this does not mean the German army did not commit atrocities to civilians earlier in the war. For example, the German military in the Netherlands obliged to Berlin's constant demand of forced labour, materials, and compliance with Nazi ideology, even though some of the soldiers questioned what they were doing.
On 5 May 1945 Canadian Charles Foulkes, a Royal Canadian Regiment General, and the German Commander-in-Chief Johannes Blaskowitz finalized an agreement that resulted in the Germans surrendering, thus ending the fighting and enabling support and supplies to be delivered throughout the Netherlands.
The Canadian army did not question Foulkes ability to handle himself with the negotiations. He was known for being a reliable tactician, and for taking responsibility for the administrational side of warfare. Foulkes made his way through the military rankings with impressive speed throughout the earlier years of World War II. The Canadian Corps Chief of Staff George Kitching has been quoted saying he is “impressed with Foulkes military decisions.” Refer to Charles Foulkes (Canadian Army general) for more information on him.
Before Foulkes met with Blaskowitz, he discussed terms of the surrender with General Lieutenant Paul Reichelt, who was Blaskowitz Chief of Staff. This discussion took place May 4, 1945. When the discussion began, Reichelt, speaking on behalf of Blaskowitz tried to change the terms of the agreement by only allowing a 10-mile passage for Canadians to transport supplies into Western Holland. There was no mention of a German surrender. Foulkes then reminded Reichelt that the Allies have them surrounded. It was revealed to Foulkes that the Germans in the Netherlands did not want to surrender out of fear of being prisoners sent to Russia. This term was mitigated with Foulkes stating he “had no intention of putting the German army into Russia”. When the meeting concluded, Foulkes left Reichelt with his terms of a “truce across the entire frontage where the Canadian Corps and Germans faced each other.” Foulkes called the negotiations a “gentlemen’s agreement rather then a written truce.” This was because if a truce was declared, the Canadians and Germans would be living in close proximity while the Canadians gave supplies to civilians.
The time between May 4 and 5 felt like forever for the Canadian troops. Because of the negotiations, an unofficial truce had been declared on both sides until the truce was agreed upon the following day. Both Canadians and Germans had been informed of the harsh consequences for breaking the unofficial truce, but soldiers on both sides still feared fighting would start any moment. The Royal Canadian Army Service Corps was the first to cross into the German lines during the unofficial truce. White flags hung from the trucks and the Canadians had weapons hidden in case of an attack. Food was continuously transported into Holland by the Canadians during the unofficial truce, and long after the war was over.
On May 5, 1945, the Germans accepted the truce agreement knowing they would not end up as prisoners in Russia. Foulkes accompanied by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, met with Blaskowitz at the Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen. They sat at a table surrounded by debris and rubble from the fighting that had taken place days earlier. Photographers, the press, and the media came out of hiding to cover this truce meeting. Blaskowitz conducted himself professionally and did not question a single clause that Foulkes read out. The main terms of the truce agreement were as follows: “Germans would retain command of their troops and be responsible for maintenance. All units were to remain where they were. German police would come under military command, and all personnel guarding concentration camps and other detention centers arrested." Although a truce had been declared, German resistance was still a problem until around the end of June 1945.
In the immediate weeks following the liberation of the Netherlands, there were parties, parades and other joyous occasions celebrating the end of the Nazi occupation. The Dutch learned a whole new level of gratitude after learning the Canadians chose to help liberate them, especially at such a high cost. There was a boom in war brides between Canadian soldiers and Dutch women, and around 41 351 of these war brides moved to Canada after the end of the war. Marriage and family bonds between Canada and the Netherlands only strengthened these nations relationship. Moreover, the relationship between Canada and the Netherlands formed from their roles as liberator and liberated, respectively. Lance Goddard, author of Canada and the Liberation of the Netherlands, states that “nothing matched the emotional outpouring that resulted from the liberation of the Netherlands.” Although Canada was not the only nation to help with the liberation, they were the first to arrive and remained stationed there the longest.
In contrast to the excitement both nations felt, there was still a war raging and a country in ruins. Canadians contributed a significant amount of effort into helping the Netherlands recover from their Nazi occupation. Bridges were rebuilt that had been bombed and the Canadians also helped to clear mines out of the major cities.
According to Mark Zuehlke, author of On to Victory, “Monuments commemorating Canada’s role in liberating specific communities in the Netherlands are common coin." The town of Diever even modified their coat of arms to include the maple leaf. Schools in the Netherlands include information about Canada and the role the country played in their liberation. The gratefulness of the Dutch is illustrated through their Canadian War cemeteries that acknowledge the sacrifice made by Canadians who died fighting for freedom. The bond between these two nations can be witnessed in Canada as well. Located in Ottawa (Canada's capital city) thousands of tulips grow each spring that the Dutch send to Canada as a gift.
Parade on Liberation Day 1960 in Utrecht
|Next time||5 May 2019|
|Related to||Liberation of the Netherlands from German occupation during World War II|
After the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945, Liberation Day was celebrated every five years by the Dutch. In 1990 the day was declared a national holiday when liberation would be remembered and celebrated every year.
On May 4 the Dutch hold "Dodenherdenking" Remembrance of the Dead for the people who fought and died during World War II. There are remembrance gatherings all over cities and in the country. The better-known gatherings take place at the National Monument on Dam Square in Amsterdam and at the Waalsdorpervlakte, one of the infamous Nazi execution places. Throughout the country two minutes of silence is observed at 8 pm. On May 5 the liberation is celebrated and festivals are held at most places in the Netherlands with parades of veterans and 14 musical festivals through the whole country.
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