The liberation of the Netherlands, from September 1944 to April 1945, played a key role in the culmination of the Second World War, as the Allied forces closed in on Germany from all sides. The First Canadian Army played a major role in the liberation of the Dutch people who had suffered terrible hunger and hardship under the increasingly desperate German occupiers.
The First Canadian Army also played a leading role in opening Belgium and the Netherlands' Scheldt estuary, gateway to the port of Antwerp. Access to this port was essential to maintain supply lines to the Allied armies as they continued their push toward Germany.
Under the command of General Henry Crerar, the First Canadian Army was international in character. In addition to the 2nd Canadian Corps, the 1st British Corps, and the 1st Polish Armoured Division, at various times American, Belgian, and Dutch soldiers were also included as units. The strength of this army included approximately 175,000 Canadian soldiers, and ranged anywhere from 200,000 to over 450,000 when including the soldiers from other nations.
More than 7,600 Canadians died in the nine-month campaign to liberate the Netherlands, a tremendous sacrifice in the cause of freedom.
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Upon reaching the Netherlands, the First Canadian Army was ordered to clear the banks of the wide, multi-channelled Scheldt River between the North Sea the port of Antwerp. It was a treacherous landscape for attacking troops to operate in -- flat, soggy, sometimes-flooded land, situated below sea level and enclosed by a series of dykes.
However, by 8 November the estuary and its large islands had been secured. The river was then cleared of mines, and on 28 November the first convoy of Allied cargo ships entered the port of Antwerp.
The Battle of the Scheldt exacted a heavy toll on the First Canadian Army. Between October 1 and November 8, 1944, the First Canadian Army suffered 12,873 casualties (killed, wounded, or missing), 6,367 of whom were Canadians.