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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Following the Battle of the Scheldt, the Canadians were given the responsibility of holding the line along the Maas River and the Nijmegen salient (a salient is a projection into enemy territory). The Canadian front ran from the German frontier south of Nijmegen to Dunkirk in France on the North Sea coast, a distance of over 360 kilometres.
Then, in February 1945, the Allies launched the great offensive to drive the enemy back over the Rhine. The First Canadian Army advanced from the Nijmegen salient southeastward to clear the corridor between the Rhine and the Maas rivers, while the Ninth U.S. Army drove northeastward to converge with the Canadians on the Rhine opposite Wesel.
During this month of fighting, the First Canadian Army suffered heavy casualties -- 15,634 killed, wounded or missing in action, including 5,304 Canadians. But they had gained control of the banks of the Rhine, which marked the last major line of German defence.