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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In April of 1945, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was given the task to clear the approaches and capture the city of Groningen, in northeast Holland. What they found was a city that had been transformed into a fortified stronghold. They met fierce resistance from over 7000 German soldiers, bolstered by a core of SS troops. Snipers were everywhere, while machine-gunners fired at the Canadians as they advanced through the streets.
After four days of fighting, much of it room-to-room, the Germans surrendered on 16 April. The 2nd Division had secured the largest city in northern Netherlands and taken over 5,000 prisoners at the cost of 206 casualties.