Remembering Operation Veritable - WWII

In the morning of February 8, 1945, Operation Veritable, also known as the battle of the Reichswald, was launched, led by Canadian General Harry Crerar. It was going to be the British and Canadian troops' largest operation since Normandy.

The aim was to destroy Nazi German positions between the River Maas and the River Rhine and to break through between these two rivers, allowing the formation of a front along the Rhine. The operation proved to be the turning point towards the end of the Second World War. It came at a high cost, however.

Almost half a million soldiers, more than 1000 guns and 34,000 vehicles lined the ten-kilometer-long front, ready for battle. They started their attack with heavy artillery fire, stunning their opponents. But to their dismay, the frosts had gone and the operation turned into an enormous mud bath. During the first days the soldiers struggled against landmines and mud.

In some areas, soldiers were left wading through freezing water up to their waists; the devastating explosions from hidden mines damaging tanks and vehicles, blocking the few usable paths; and as the rain continued to fall for days, the ground, churned up by shelling and heavy vehicles, turned into a thick porridge.

Surviving soldiers would go on to describe the Reichswald forest as a slaughterhouse, trees and buildings destroyed and recall brutal acts of violence and merciless close combat. Afterwards, Dwight Eisenhower described Operation Veritable as: "One of the fiercest and most violent campaigns of the war, a bitter struggle for endurance between the Allies and the Nazi Germans."

During Operation Veritable, the Allies lost 23.000 soldiers, including more than 5.000 Canadians – many of whom are buried or commemorated within the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery and the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery just across the German border in Kleve.

The eventual success of Operation Veritable and the Rhineland Offensive paved the way for the continued liberation of Dutch cities and towns. With the Nazi Germans unable to defend the Rhineland area, the Allied commanders could confidently continue the liberation efforts in the rest of the Netherlands, and many of the surviving soldiers were sent north, west and south to help.