- SImon Biggs
Operation Infatuate - The Battle of Walcheren
1st - 8th November 1944 Operation Infatuate - The Battle of Walcheren.
The operation was part of the wider Battle of the Scheldt and involved two assault landings from the sea by the 4th Special Service Brigade and the 52nd (Lowland) Division. At the same time the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division would force a crossing of the Walcheren causeway.
The force sailed from Ostend at 0315 hours and by 0930 hours they reached Walcheren. The heavy ships bombarded the German defences with the 15inch guns of HMS Warspite, the guns of LCGs, the rockets of LCT(R)s and a squadron of rocket-firing Typhoons.
Image: A landing craft tank entering the beach area during the landing by Royal Marine commandos on the island of Walcheren at Westkapelle the most western point of the island, during the final phase of the battle to free the Belgian port of Antwerp. In the hold of the LCT are vehicles carrying various supplies for the landings. © IWM (A 26266)
However, the German defences held fire until the assault landing craft and support craft made for the shore. Several were hit, including a LCT(R), which received a direct hit. Thirty landing craft from the Close Support Squadron were lost and over 300 men were killed in the action.
Image: A landing craft gun (medium) (almost certainly LCG (M) 101) crew fighting to save their shell ridden and sinking craft during the landing by Royal Marine commandos on the island of Walcheren at Westkapelle the most western point of the island, during the final phase of the battle to free the Belgian port of Antwerp. IWM © IWM (A 26236)
The three RM Commandos of No 4 SS Brigade, 41, 47 and 48 CDO RM, together with No 4 (Belgian) and No 5 (Norwegian) troops of No 10 (IA) Commando, commanded by Peter Laycock, landed at Westkapelle on the western side of the island.
No 4 Commando, with Nos 1 and 8 (French) troops of No 10 Inter Allied Commando, crossed from Breskens and attacked Flushing with support from the 155th Infantry brigade. The brigade had trained for this assault in the Ostend area during October.
The bombing of Walcheren in October, by RAF Bomber Command, had breached the dykes around the island turning it into a massive lagoon, rimmed by long stretches of intact dykes. German gun emplacements on the unaffected areas, virtually provided a continuous fortification bristling with guns of every calibre.
The Marines placed great reliance on Weasel and Buffalo LTs for transport to the landing areas. The RM Commandos were to seize the shoulders of the gap in the dyke and then to fan out north and south to roll up the remainder of the German defences by linking up with the southern thrust. The RAF provided air support and the 79th Armoured Division provided naval gunfire support, including Landing Craft Gun (Medium) and multiple-rocket launch systems. After some debate over the sea conditions, the operation was planned for November 1. No 4 Commando landed at 0545 hours and the remainder at 1000 hours.
Image: This image shows German coastal guns and blockhouses which the British forces quickly put out of action on Walcheren Island.© IWM (BU 1273)
On the day of the assault, a heavy mist over the Dutch and Belgian airfields limited RAF support for the actual landings, although the skies over Walcheren itself were clear. No 4 Commando, under Lt-Colonel Dawson DSO, had a problem in finding a suitable place to disembark. Dawson sent a small reconnaissance party (known as Keepforce) ashore in two LCPs. They were followed by Nos 1 and 2 troops, who secured the beachhead with minimal casualties and soon began to take prisoners.
The main body came in at 0630 hours but, by this time, the Germans were totally alert and opened heavy fire with machine guns and 20mm cannon. Despite this, the Marines landed with only two or three casualties, although the LCA containing the heavier equipment, including 3 inch mortars, hit a stake and sank 20 yards off shore but the mortars were successfully salvaged.
The marines now fought their way through the German strong-points. Unfortunately, the need to leave rearguards against infiltration, hindered progress. However, despite losing two LCAs to heavy enemy gun fire, the leading battalion of 155 Brigade began to land at 0830 hours which immediately improved the situation.German prisoners were pressed into service, unloading stores and supplies. A good proportion of them were poor quality troops, many of whom suffered from stomach complaints. Curiously, however, their defence positions were well stocked with food and ammunition.
By 1600 hours, the Commandos had reached most of their objectives and decided to consolidate, as the day drew to a close.
Brigadier Leicester's plan, for the attack on Westkapelle, called for three troops of No 41 (RM) Commando, under Lt-Colonel E C E Palmer RM, to land on the north shoulder of the gap blown in the dyke. The objective was to clear the area between there and the village of Westkapelle. The remainder of the Commando, along with the two No 10 (IA) Commando troops, would then come ashore in Weasels and Buffalos launched from LCTs. Their mission would be to clear Westkapelle and then move north.
No 48 (RM) Commando, under Lt-Colonel J L Moulton DSO, would use the same methods but come ashore south of the gap. From there, they would advance on Zoutelande, two miles to the south.
Finally, No 47 (RM) Commando, under Lt-Colonel CF Phillips DSO, would land behind No 48 and to meet up with No 4 Commando near Flushing.
[Photo; Royal Marine Commandos going down the ramp of a landing craft tank in an Alligator amphibious personnel carrier, whilst some more men in a Weasel amphibious carrier are about to follow.
LCT 532 has just beached on the island of Walcheren at Westkapelle, the most western point of the island. Note the badly damaged buildings and sea defences in the background.
No 41 overran a pillbox in their path and pushed onto Westkapelle, where they were confronted by a battery of four 150mm guns which were reduced with supporting fire from tanks. The Commandos then moved north along the dyke.
No 48 also encountered a battery of 150mm guns. The leading troop commander was killed and several men wounded in an attack on the position. In response to another assault on the gun emplacements, the enemy released an enfilade of intense mortar fire. Supporting fire from field batteries in the Breskens area, together with Typhoon attacks, considerably softened up the battery allowing another troop, under cover of smoke, to reach the centre of the battery, putting it out of action.
No 48 (RM) Commando pushed on at first light and took Zouteland, meeting only light opposition.
Image: The Nolle Dyke gap during Op Infatuate [http://33squadronassociation.co.uk/]
No 47 took over the advance but soon came up against a strong fortified position with an anti-tank ditch and huge 'Dragon's Teeth'. The weather had closed in and no air support was available, so they attacked supported only by artillery fire. They also came under heavy mortar fire and suffered several casualties.
The other half of the Commando, having moved along the dyke, were confronted by another 150mm battery. Their approach was obstructed by pockets of resistance, which were not cleared until nightfall. The three Troops halted in front of the battery and received much-needed food and ammunition before they repulsed a German counter-attack.Defensive stakes and mines, embedded in the base of the dyke, made it difficult for supply craft to land stores.
By the third and fourth days, the Commando were forced to 'endure' captured German rations. To the relief of all concerned, supplies were parachuted in on the fifth day near Zouteland.
No 41 and No 10 Commandos reached Domburg on the morning of D+1, where they encountered strong resistance.
That evening, Brigadier Leicester ordered No 41, less one Troop, to assist No 47 in the south, leaving the Troops of No 10 and one of No 41 to finish mopping up Domburg. No 4 Commando was relieved by 155 Brigade and embarked on LVTs to assault two batteries, W3 and W4, situated north-west of Flushing. They had been fighting for 40 hours and needed a short break for rest and recuperation. After landing in a little known gap in the dyke, Lt-Colonel Dawson secured relief of 24 hours for his men from Brigadier Leicester, however, it was well after dark before the Commando was relieved by 155 brigade.
In the event, No 47 (RM) Commando overcame the opposition south of Zouteland later that day and linked up with No 4 Commando. Meanwhile, No 10 and the Norwegians cleared Domburg, showing particular courage in the face of heavy opposition, which cost them a number of casualties.In the after-action report of the battle.
Nos 4, 47 and 48 Commandos then regrouped at Zouteland and a two-day pause ensued while they re-supplied.
The remaining enemy resistance was concentrated in the area north-west of Dombug. Nos 4 and 48 Commando set off on foot, although they used LVs to cross the gap at Westkapelle, in order to reinforce No 10 and No 41. While No 41 assaulted the last remaining battery, W19, No 4 cleared the Overduin Woods and pushed on to Vrouwenpolder opposite North Beveland. No.48 remained in reserve.
This phase of the operation began on November 8.
47 Cdo memorial at Dishoek, dedicated November 2019 [08 Nov 16:45 @kelouise79]
At 0815, four Germans approached the Allied troops to ask for a surrender of all remaining German troops in the area. After some negotiation, 40,000 Germans surrendered. No 4 SS Brigade had lost 103 killed, 325 wounded and 68 missing during eight days of fighting. By the end of November, after a massive minesweeping operation of the Scheldt, the first cargoes were being unloaded at Antwerp.
'in this remarkable operation the extreme gallantry of the Royal Marines stands forth. The Commando idea was once again triumphant' Winston Churchill. History of the Second World War (1959)
See the actions mapped here RoyalMarinesHistory.com