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The Breskens Pocket

On October 6th the 3rd Canadian Division commenced Operation "Switchback", attacking the German pocket south of the West Scheldt at the point where the Leopold Canal diverges from the Canal de Derivation de la Lys. The Leopold Canal was a formidable obstacle, about 60 feet wide and with steep banks. Inundations to the north of the canal left only a narrow strip of land where the Canadians could develop a bridgehead. The 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade made a sudden assault supported by Wasps, flame- throwing carriers. The attack was made through the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, which put in two diversionary attacks, one on either side of the bridgehead. After acquiring a shallow foothold the attack bogged down in the face of strong opposition. General von Zangen, commanding the German 15th Army in the Netherlands, had allotted an efficient formation, the 64th Infantry Division, to the defence of what the Germans called "Scheldt Fortress South", This formation now held the 7th Brigade's bridgehead to narrow limits.

An amphibious attack was now made against the rear of the pocket. The 9th Brigade's assault force embarked at Ghent in Buffaloes (Landing Vehicles, tracked) and sailed down the canal leading to Terneuzen. At 2;00 AM on October 9th they set off across the Braakman inlet, supported by fire from the artillery of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division. Both attacking battalions got ashore near Biervliet quickly and reorganized against slight opposition. By 9:00 AM a bridgehead 1500 yards deep had been established and soon the reserve battalion was landed, advancing to Hoofdplaat.

The attack over the Braakman had met with so much success that it was now decided to reinforce there instead of on the Leopold Canal as previously planned. The 3rd Division's reconnaissance regiment was sent over on the 11th, followed by the 8th Brigade. The enemy had now moved up forces to face this threat at his left rear; the going became tougher. On the 14th troops of he 4th Canadian Armoured Division succeeded in crossing the Leopold near Watervliet and near the head of  the Braakman, making it possible to send supplies and artillery by road into Scheldt Fortress South. The 8th and 9th Brigades advanced slowly westward against opposition.

On the 16th resistance before the 7th Brigade suddenly slackened. At last light on the 18th the brigade was relieved by the 157th Brigade of the 52nd (Lowland) Division. The 157th pushed forward and on the 19th made contact with the force that had crossed the Braakman.

The 3rd Division now moved to cut the German forces off from the Scheldt. The 9th Brigade captured Breskens on the 22nd in the face of heavy enemy artillery fire, particularly from Flushing. The German's communications with Walcheren were virtually severed. Next day the 9th Brigade swung south-westward and captured Schoondijke. After taking Fort Frederik Hendrik this formation was withdrawn into reserve and the 7th Brigade struck out westward, capturing Cadzand on the 29th. The 8th Brigade meanwhile had shifted southward, relieving the 157th. Sluis fell on November 1st. On the same day the German Divisional Commander was captured near Knocke-Sur-Mer. The 8th Brigade cleared westward along the Leopold Canal and on November 3rd opposition was at an end in Scheldt Fortress South. Operation "Switchback" was over.



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