It was now vitally necessary to clear the passage of the Scheldt to allow the recently liberated port of Antwerp to be used to bring in ammunition and other stores to support our advance across the Rhine into Ruhr. However, it would remain closed until the heavy coastal defences on the island, like those at Westkapelle - described as "some of the strongest defences in the world" - had been destroyed or captured. (Hist Sec file C.O. H.Q./Y/3: C.O.H.O. Bulletin Y/47, April 45: Combined Operations against Walcheren)
The West and South sides of the island were protected by underwater obstacles, wire and infantry positions on the dykes and dunes, with gun batteries in support behind. Flushing had a perimeter defence system, including two anti-tank ditches. The strong points on the SW Coast, as far North as Westkapelle, were fairly heavily fortified, though less heavily than those at Flushing. (21 Army Gp Report).
Intelligence indicated further that no fewer than eighteen batteries covered the approaches from the sea. The strength of the garrison was estimated between 6 ,000 and 10,000 men, mostly from 70 Inf Div.
Lt-General Simmons, commander 1st Canadian Army, appreciated that the greater proportion of the land surface of Walcheren lay below sea level and if the dykes could be cut, salt water would flow in and flood the interior, thus isolating and demoralizing the enemy and enabling our troops to take full advantage of their amphibians. That was why it was decided to bomb the dykes and flood the island.
So under the command of the 1st Canadian Army, 52nd (Lowland) Division went into battle to liberate Walcheren.
|Hotel Britannia, Flushing|
|No. 4 Commando, 4th and 5th KOSB went across ahead of the 7th/9th RS. I went over some hours ahead of the battalion as an advance party to reconnoitre where the companies would go when they landed and to guide them into their positions. I sank up to my waist as I jumped out of the assault craft and was covered in mud but thankfully clear of enemy fire which was busy elsewhere. My task along with a major was to reconnoitre positions for the companies and then select a site for Battalion HQ and to do this in time to meet the rest of the battalion as they 'beached' from their landing craft in the pitch darkness.|
The C.O. with myself in attendance were soon called to Brigade HQ where he received orders to undertake a night attack and capture the heavily fortified German Command Post in the area of the Hotel Britannia on the sea front. The assault would be made through sea water flooding much of the island from the breach made in the sea-wall by the RAF. At high tide it could be up to our waist and at times could be chest-high! Normally the C.O. would reconnoitre the approach to the objective and determine the best forming-up place to launch the attack, but this could not be done because of the flood conditions and had to make use of aerial photographs and information provided by the Dutch Resistance.
|Wearing lifejackets and holding our weapons and wireless sets out of the water we advanced in single-file in the eerie moonlight through the deep flood water towards in the Hotel Britannia. The German Command Post had a network of 14-foot concrete positions surrounded by a steep bank and a 4-barrelled 20mm gun supported by machine guns located in an impregnable position on the hotel roof able to bring devasting fire on all the approaches on to the objective. As we made our way through the muddy sea water we came under heavy artillery fire and this proved to be shellfire from our medium guns firing from the area of Breskins and shots were falling short of the objective and landing on us. Our wireless sets were all shut down because of the flood water, and despite the efforts of the Royal Signallers attached to Battalion HQ they could not be made to work and were unable to get through to Brigade HQ to stop the medium guns. We sustained casualties but fortunately our wounded were kept afloat by their lifebelts and tended by our stretcher-bearers.|