No. 4 Commando in assault on Flushing

The Battle for Walcheren Island: Men of the 4th Special Service Brigade wade ashore from landing craft near Flushing to complete the occupation of Walcheren.

The Battle for Walcheren Island: Men of the 4th Special Service Brigade wade ashore from landing craft near Flushing to complete the occupation of Walcheren.

British assault troops landed on Walcheren at dawn on 1 November 1944 and most of Flushing was included in the first bridgehead. The landings were supported by fire from British warships. The object of the assault is to silence the enemy guns menacing the Scheldt passage to the port of Antwerp. This image shows troops advancing along the waterfront near Flushing with shells bursting ahead.

British assault troops landed on Walcheren at dawn on 1 November 1944 and most of Flushing was included in the first bridgehead. The landings were supported by fire from British warships. The object of the assault is to silence the enemy guns menacing the Scheldt passage to the port of Antwerp. This image shows troops advancing along the waterfront near Flushing with shells bursting ahead.

Although the Allies had captured Antwerp, a major port capable of supplying the armies now entering Germany, the Scheldt river estuary remained in German hands. Lying to the north of the approach to the Scheldt lies Walcheren island, which had been heavily fortified, denying the Allies the use of the port. Another amphibious assault was now required with much less time to plan and prepare than had been the case with Normandy.

No. 4 Commando were veterans of amphibious assault, including the Lofoten Islands and Dieppe before Normandy. Murdoch C. McDougall was now a well experienced young officer leading his men in the attack, accompanied by the equally seasoned Sergeant McVeigh:

Out in the river, we lay in our craft and saw the light winking towards us from the darkness below the glare of the burning town. We stopped our circling and made for the shore.

When we were still about three hundred yards offshore, some 20-millimetre cannon opened up somewhere on the left. The red streaks of tracer swooshed and cracked a few feet over the craft. We felt like Aunt Sally at the fair, with our heads sticking up above the sides of the L.C.A. as we peered at the outline of the landing-ground drawing nearer. Machine-guns joined in with the cannon-fire from the left, but they too were firing high.

An L.C.A. is more or less invisible from the shore at night, the only sign of its presence being the white of the water where the blunt bows thrust their way forward. The gunners on shore were doubt- less aiming about normal deck level, hoping to cause casualties among the naval personnel handling the craft, but as we were low in the water, the streams of fire were passing for the most part overhead.

In the last stages of the run-in the fire was fairly heavy, those on shore having by now realized that our barrage had indeed lifted, and that we were on our way in. They finally succeeded in sinking two L.C.A.s a few yards from the shore and causing some casualties amongst the crew.

Scrambling ashore on to the slimy stonework of the mole along with McVeigh, who was always glad to get out of any sort of boat, we saw the tape, followed it through the stakes and heard the cheerful voice of Lieutenant Harry Har- greaves, the Navy signaller and demolition king, calling out as we all swarmed up the dyke towards him: “Mind the light, chaps, mind the light. You can’t beat the old firm, can you?” Harry had been with No.4 before at Lofoten and Dieppe.

The time was now 06.30 hours and the beachhead was established. Speed was now essential, as the initiative lay with us. We met no opposition as we hurried along in the half-light, although it was eerie to see dim figures flitting across the streets and not to know whether they were Dutch civilians taking refuge, or Germans.

As we ran on, threading our way through the dim streets, every man was probably going over in his mind the details of the route as we had all memorized it from the aerial photographs.

[W]e were heading for our barracks on the sea-front, with McVeigh like a bristling terrier in the lead. We dashed down an alleyway, at the foot of which we found a row of little houses. Beyond these was the back of what appeared to be a garage, which was very close to the barracks. There was a hole in the back wall of this garage, which McVeigh quickly enlarged.

One by one the leading group swung into the darkness of the building itself. The other walls were wooden and flimsy, as was the door which hung ajar. The leading man reached the door and almost ran into a body of German soldiers beside the blank wall of a bunker. The Germans immediately opened fire into and through the walls of the garage. I was just coming through the hole at the back, saw the disadvantage and roared: “Back out this way.”

Then it was that old Donkin, who at forty-one was the oldest member of the Commando, ex-miner, old soldier, the father of nine children, with a tenth on the way, jumped into the doorway and stood there framed, with both feet planted firm, stocky body balanced on slightly bandy legs, and methodically started to Tommy-gun from left to right among the fifteen or so Germans visible to him by the concrete bunker.

He reached the right-hand end of his swing and was starting the return, when one man on the left, whom he had missed at the start, got in a quick shot. It took him straight through the throat, killing him at once. McVeigh, who was beside him with a rifle, made no mistake with his return shot, then doubled back through the now empty garage, through the gap in the wall, and out to us in the alleyway.

The tempo now became even quicker. The enemy knew exactly where we were, and if organized could bring fire down on us from the various vantage points amongst the buildings around us. We could not afford to lose the initiative.

See Murdoch C. McDougall: Swiftly They Struck: The Story of No. 4 Commando

British assault troops landed on Walcheren at dawn on 1 November 1944 and most of Flushing was included in the first bridgehead. The landings were supported by fire from British warships. The object of the assault is to silence the enemy guns menacing the Scheldt passage to the port of Antwerp. This image shows British assault troops advancing through the streets at Flushing where there was sharp fighting.

British assault troops landed on Walcheren at dawn on 1 November 1944 and most of Flushing was included in the first bridgehead. The landings were supported by fire from British warships. The object of the assault is to silence the enemy guns menacing the Scheldt passage to the port of Antwerp. This image shows British assault troops advancing through the streets at Flushing where there was sharp fighting.

British assault troops landed on Walcheren at dawn on 1 November 1944 and most of Flushing was included in the first bridgehead. The landings were supported by fire from British warships. The object of the assault is to silence the enemy guns menacing the Scheldt passage to the port of Antwerp. This image shows the wounded being attended to by a British medical officer.

British assault troops landed on Walcheren at dawn on 1 November 1944 and most of Flushing was included in the first bridgehead. The landings were supported by fire from British warships. The object of the assault is to silence the enemy guns menacing the Scheldt passage to the port of Antwerp. This image shows the wounded being attended to by a British medical officer.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

chrissie October 11, 2015 at 7:59 pm

My grandfather was “old Donkin” fascinating history. I followed his footsteps and joined up. Initially wrac then rct and RlC. Kind regards Chrissie. Christine Donkin.

Editor June 21, 2015 at 9:37 pm

Rob

Many thanks for that extensive comment, which I found really useful, covered stuff I didn’t know.

best regards

Martin

rob morrison June 19, 2015 at 6:18 am

Mr Quinn
Monty and Horrocks both blew it. Horrocks should have pushed 11 Armored Div under Roberts to move on a few more miles after they captured Antwerp. They would have trapped 86,000 german 15th army troops. These troops were able to escape through Flushing and South Beveland via barge to Holland. They had to be fought later.

Thanks to the Belgian underground the port was captured intact. Montgomery did not appreciate the fact that there were 60 miles of mined channel and a strong point at Walcheren Island to be dealt with before the port could be used. Monty insisted that the Cdn 1st army (really only about 4 divisions–cdn 2nd and 3rd inf divs + 5 Cdn armored and 1st Polish armored div) clear the channel ports first before moving up to tackle the Breskens pocket and Walcheren. Huge mistake he should have masked those ports as they were either wrecked already or about to be. Monty should have pushed the closest troops to seal off the area where the German troops were escaping rather than take destroyed ports.
Ike practically had to threaten to have Monty removed to get him moving on that and to allocate the Cdn army enough artillery ammunition to get the job done. The armored divs were no good for this job due to the soggy terrain. It was an infantry job. Bloody and costly both in manpower and in time. The job was barely done in time.
for the port to be in use when the German’s launched the “”Watch on the Rhine”” offensive. Also known as the “”Battle of the Bulge””.

Gen Simonds of Cdn 1st army had the brilliant idea of “”sinking the island” He had Bomber command breach the dikes and flood much of Walcheren. This made the island almost impossible to defend.

The Commandos finished the job in a brilliant amphibious invasion. Kudo’s also to the 52nd Lowland Scottish Div, they were magnificent in their battle debut.

Cdn historians Mark Zuehlke wrote a really good book about this “”Terrible Victory””. Also Brig. Denis Whitaker wrote “”Tug Of War” Whitaker was there as a battalion commander. Terry Copp is another Cdn Historian who wrote about Canada’s
Northwestern European campaign. General Moulton of the commandos wrote a great book about the Commando operations.””The Battle for Antwerp””.1978. He was also there as a LT. Col

I found a website for the navy’s part in the operation
http://www.naval-history.net/WW2Memoir-Walcheren.htm about the Support Squadron Eastern Flank. These fellows sacrificed themselves to get the troops ashore. They were beyond heroic.

It was a fascinating time, There was euphoria in the Allied camp as all the Generals thought the war was over after Falaise. No one took this Antwerp clearance bit too seriously except for Admiral Ramsay, Eisenhower and the Cdn Generals who had to do the job of clearing the Breskens pocket and setting up the amphibious finale.
I hope this helps.
Rob

David royle June 10, 2015 at 7:55 pm

My father was there in 4 Commando, F troop.

agorabum November 3, 2014 at 7:27 pm

The Antwerp port facilities were captured in good order (unlike most other ports); it was at the end of the mad dash across France after the breakout and the Germans were too disorganized. But what Monty had in mind was Market Garden – after such a quick advance across France, they hoped it could just keep going, and jump into Germany and across the Rhine.
Since Market Garden failed, in hindsight it would have been far better to clear the Scheldt – after the allies took Antwerp, the Scheldt was lightly defended, but the Germans were able to fortify it in the meantime. And it was the lack of supplies that halted the Allied advance in general.

enplaned November 2, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Rick Atkinson in Guns at Last Light discusses this. Might start there.

William Quinn November 1, 2014 at 10:39 am

I recall reading somewhere that General Montgomery had an opportunity to clear this place out sometime earlier, and that it was generally consiidered to have been a mistake to delay the operation, since the lack of port facilities was the biggest holdup to the offensive. OTOH, weren’t the Antwerp port facilites pretty wrecked, wouldn’t there have been a delay anyway? Anybody have a good take on this issue?

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