World Battlefronts: Straightening the Line

  • Share
  • Read Later

While the Allied armies on the western front waited for Antwerp to open up, there could be no general push. So, while U.S. troops, from Belgium south, scrapped fiercely in local actions and conserved their ammunition, the only full-scale fighting was in The Netherlands, where the Germans were in orderly retreat northward across the Maas.

Quick to cash in on a chance to straighten the critical northern end of the line (which faces Germany's vulnerable northern plain), Montgomery's Twenty-first Army Group pressed them savagely, hurling British, Canadian, Polish and U.S. troops into the Nazi rear guards.

Last week they were still trying to break the Germans, bump them into a disastrous run. But the Nazis, busy at one of their most carefully nurtured arts—retreat—held fast. On successive days, U.S. and Polish troops lost bridgeheads across watercourses to withering German fire, had to fight again to get them back. They pushed doggedly ahead. This week the Allies stood on the left bank of the Maas and its estuary, the Hollandsch Diep, on a 50-mile front. Nearly all of the German Fifteenth Army had already crossed intact by way of the big rail and road bridges at Moerdijk, a bridge at Geertruidenberg, ferries at Willemstad. When the Poles reached Geertruidenberg, they found it abandoned.

By week's end the Germans had completed a successful "disengagement." But the Allies, too, had done well. The Nijmegen salient, which had once stuck out toward Arnhem like a slender and sensitive thumb, was now a broad, strong fist, securing the whole left flank of the Allied line. The Berlin radio asserted that Montgomery was mounting a new attack against Arnhem, had already dropped "sabotage parachutists" north of the celebrated bridge. From Aachen to Arnhem, the Germans dug in deeper, and waited for the big blow.