A British sailor assisting an injured U-boat prisoner to a waiting ambulance.
Creator: ADGB, Royal Air Force official photographer.
Source: Tomlin, H W (Lt)

Operation Infatuate, Walcheren - 1 to 8 November 1944
The landing that gave Allied shipping access to Antwerp docks
Operation Infatuate, the codename for the invasion of the Dutch Island of Walcheren, was a major Combined Operation's amphibious landing against entrenched German defensive positions. The fortified island stood at the mouth of the River Scheldt blocking Allied access to the captured port of Antwerp some 60 kilometres inland. It was urgently needed to supply the advancing Allied armies as they moved towards Berlin.
The city of Antwerp and its port had fallen to Dempsey's 2nd British Army in early September 1944. Montgomery's attention at the time was on securing several bridge crossings, including the Rhine at Arnhem, in an operation code-named Market Garden. It held the prospect of shortening the war by opening a clear route to Germany and Berlin. There was, consequently, no priority given to securing the approaches to Antwerp, which would require the island fortress of Walcheren to be neutralised. Its formidable array of weaponry was garrisoned by the Fifteenth German Army.
With the failure of Market Garden, Montgomery issued a directive on the 9/10/1944 giving priority to opening the River Scheldt to Allied shipping. Some 10 days later the Canadians began attacking along the isthmus breaking into the Breskens pocket. By the end of the month the Germans had been cornered in Zeebrugge, surrendering on November 2. Both south and north Beveland had been virtually cleared and the time was right for the assault of Walcheren itself. Operation Infatuate was activated. A three pronged assault was planned with Commandos landing at Westkapelle in the west of the island and at Flushing in the south. The Canadians were to cross by a water channel close to the causeway in the east. However, it soon became clear that the tidal flats around the water channel were virtually impassable, leaving the Canadians with the exceedingly hazardous option of a direct assault along the well defended causeway - an exposed stretch about 30/40 yards wide and 1200/1500 yards long. The Canadians were to establish a bridgehead on the island through which the British 52nd Lowland Division would pass to continue the assault. Against much scepticism and opposition, General Simonds' plan to breach the island's dykes and flood the interior was adopted.
After the ill fated 'Market Garden' operation on October 20, No. 2 Dutch Troop of 10 IA (Inter-Allied) Commando moved to Brugge in Belgium and were incorporated under the command of No. 4 Brigade. They split up and were attached to other fighting units where, in the case of some officers and men, their native language skills helped Allied liaison with the local population, while others fought alongside their comrades in arms.
Operation Infatuate gets Underway
The force sailed from Ostend at 0315 hours and by 0930 hours they reached Walcheren. The heavy ships bombarded the German defences with the 15inch guns of HMS Warspite, the guns of LCGs, the rockets of LCT(R)s and a squadron of rocket-firing Typhoons. However, the German defences held fire until the assault landing craft and support craft made for the shore. Several were hit, including a LCT(R), which received a direct hit. Thirty landing craft from the Close Support Squadron were lost and over 300 men were killed in the action.
The Assault
The three RM Commandos of No 4 SS Brigade, together with No 4 (Belgian) and No 5 (Norwegian) troops of No 10 (IA) Commando, commanded by Peter Laycock, landed at Westkapelle on the western side of the island.
No 4 Commando, with Nos 1 and 8 (French) troops of No 10 Inter Allied Commando, crossed from Breskens and attacked Flushing with support from the 155th Infantry brigade. The brigade had trained for this assault in the Ostend area during October.
The bombing of Walcheren in October, by RAF Bomber Command, had breached the dykes around the island turning it into a massive lagoon, rimmed by long stretches of intact dykes. German gun emplacements on the unaffected areas, virtually provided a continuous fortification bristling with guns of every calibre.
The Marines placed great reliance on Weasel and Buffalo LTs for transport to the landing areas. The RM Commandos were to seize the shoulders of the gap in the dyke and then to fan out north and south to roll up the remainder of the German defences by linking up with the southern thrust. The RAF provided air support and the 79th Armoured Division provided naval gunfire support, including Landing Craft Gun (Medium) and multiple-rocket launch systems. After some debate over the sea conditions, the operation was planned for November 1. No 4 Commando landed at 0545 hours and the remainder at 1000 hours.
On the day of the assault, a heavy mist over the Dutch and Belgian airfields limited RAF support for the actual landings, although the skies over Walcheren itself were clear. No 4 Commando, under Lt-Colonel Dawson DSO, had a problem in finding a suitable place to disembark. Dawson sent a small reconnaissance party (known as Keepforce) ashore in two LCPs. They were followed by Nos 1 and 2 troops, who secured the beachhead with minimal casualties and soon began to take prisoners. The main body came in at 0630 hours but, by this time, the Germans were totally alert and opened heavy fire with machine guns and 20mm cannon. Despite this, the Marines landed with only two or three casualties, although the LCA containing the heavier equipment, including 3 inch mortars, hit a stake and sank 20 yards off shore but the mortars were successfully salvaged.
The marines now fought their way through the German strong-points. Unfortunately, the need to leave rearguards against infiltration, hindered progress. However, despite losing two LCAs to heavy enemy gun fire, the leading battalion of 155 Brigade began to land at 0830 hours which immediately improved the situation.
German prisoners were pressed into service, unloading stores and supplies. A good proportion of them were poor quality troops, many of whom suffered from stomach complaints. Curiously, however, their defence positions were well stocked with food and ammunition. By 1600 hours, the Commandos had reached most of their objectives and decided to consolidate, as the day drew to a close.
Brigadier Leicester's plan, for the attack on Westkapelle, called for three troops of No 41 (RM) Commando, under Lt-Colonel E C E Palmer RM, to land on the north shoulder of the gap blown in the dyke. The objective was to clear the area between there and the village of Westkapelle. The remainder of the Commando, along with the two No 10 (IA) Commando troops, would then come ashore in Weasels and Buffalos launched from LCTs. Their mission would be to clear Westkapelle and then move north. No 48 (RM) Commando, under Lt-Colonel J L Moulton DSO, would use the same methods but come ashore south of the gap. From there, they would advance on Zoutelande, two miles to the south. Finally, No 47 (RM) Commando, under Lt-Colonel CF Phillips DSO, would land behind No 48 and to meet up with No 4 Commando near Flushing.
No 41 overran a pillbox in their path and pushed onto Westkapelle, where they were confronted by a battery of four 150mm guns which were reduced with supporting fire from tanks. The Commandos then moved north along the dyke.
No 48 also encountered a battery of 150mm guns. The leading troop commander was killed and several men wounded in an attack on the position. In response to another assault on the gun emplacements, the enemy released an enfilade of intense mortar fire. Supporting fire from field batteries in the Breskens area, together with Typhoon attacks, considerably softened up the battery allowing another troop, under cover of smoke, to reach the centre of the battery, putting it out of action.
The next day, No 4 Commando, together with 5 King's Own Scottish Borderers, continued with the battle for Flushing. No.5 (French) Troop were involved in an action against a strongpoint nicknamed Dover. One section of the troop gained the roof of a cinema and opened fire on the strongpoint with their PIAT. The other sections moved along the street and through back gardens. As the troop was preparing for the final assault, Typhoons attacked the enemy position. That afternoon, the Troop resumed their advance and reached the corner overlooking their objective. One house remained occupied by the Germans and, as they made for the strongpoint, they suffered several casualties from the fire of No 5 Troop. No 1 Section was now by the Anti-Tank wall and firing PIAT bombs into the embrasures of the strongpoint at very short range. Corporal Lafont was on the point of breaching the strongpoint with a made-up charge at the ready, when the German defenders surrendered.
No 48 (RM) Commando pushed on at first light and took Zouteland, meeting only light opposition. No 47 took over the advance but soon came up against a strong fortified position with an anti-tank ditch and huge 'Dragon's Teeth'. The weather had closed in and no air support was available, so they attacked supported only by artillery fire. They also came under heavy mortar fire and suffered several casualties.
The other half of the Commando, having moved along the dyke, were confronted by another 150mm battery. Their approach was obstructed by pockets of resistance, which were not cleared until nightfall. The three Troops halted in front of the battery and received much-needed food and ammunition before they repulsed a German counter-attack.
Defensive stakes and mines, embedded in the base of the dyke, made it difficult for supply craft to land stores. By the third and fourth days, the Commando were forced to 'endure' captured German rations. To the relief of all concerned, supplies were parachuted in on the fifth day near Zouteland.
No 41 and No 10 Commandos reached Domburg on the morning of D+1, where they encountered strong resistance. That evening, Brigadier Leicester ordered No 41, less one Troop, to assist No 47 in the south, leaving the Troops of No 10 and one of No 41 to finish mopping up Domburg. No 4 Commando was relieved by 155 Brigade and embarked on LVTs to assault two batteries, W3 and W4, situated north-west of Flushing. They had been fighting for 40 hours and needed a short break for rest and recuperation. After landing in a little known gap in the dyke, Lt-Colonel Dawson secured relief of 24 hours for his men from Brigadier Leicester, however, it was well after dark before the Commando was relieved by 155 brigade. In the event, No 47 (RM) Commando overcame the opposition south of Zouteland later that day and linked up with No 4 Commando. Meanwhile, No 10 and the Norwegians cleared Domburg, showing particular courage in the face of heavy opposition, which cost them a number of casualties.
In the after-action report of the battle, Captain J. Linzel of No 10 Commando stated.... This operation had more impact on me. The objective was to clear the seaway to Antwerp. We went to Belgium, where the Nr 4 Troops Brigade and the No10 Commando were billeted. We were an attached unit of 14 men. We entered our LCT's Buffalo's amphibious vehicles to go to Walcheren where we experienced heavy German Artillery. Our vehicle got hit direct by a grenade, setting our flamethrowers and ammunition on fire. This was a chaos. Our burning Buffalo was pushed into the sea and I can remember that together with 10 other men I ended-up in another Buffalo and landed at Westkapelle. We experienced some serious fighting there and a lot of the Brigade were killed. It took us 3 days to capture the German dyke at Vlissingen, there were about 300 casements. Captain J. Linzel.
The Outcome
Nos 4, 47 and 48 Commandos then regrouped at Zouteland and a two-day pause ensued while they re-supplied. The remaining enemy resistance was concentrated in the area north-west of Dombug. Nos 4 and 48 Commando set off on foot, although they used LVs to cross the gap at Westkapelle, in order to reinforce No 10 and No 41. While No 41 assaulted the last remaining battery, W19, No 4 cleared the Overduin Woods and pushed on to Vrouwenpolder opposite North Beveland. No.48 remained in reserve. This phase of the operation began on November 8.
At 0815, four Germans approached the Allied troops to ask for a surrender of all remaining German troops in the area. After some negotiation, 40,000 Germans surrendered. No 4 SS Brigade had lost 103 killed, 325 wounded and 68 missing during eight days of fighting. By the end of November, after a massive minesweeping operation of the Scheldt, the first cargoes were being unloaded at Antwerp.


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