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The Battle of Overloon
26 September to 16 October 1944
For more than four years, the village of Overloon escaped the consequences of the Second World War. The inhabitants had of course seen German soldiers in their streets, but there had been no acts of war at all.
However, on 26 September 1944, the frontline reached this village in the swampy Peel. The narrow strip of land between Eindhoven and Arnhem that had been liberated during Operation Market Garden was being extended slowly but surely. The Germans had entrenched themselves in order to halt the allies. The adversaries bombarded each other's position for the first four days.
On 30 September, the allies launched their attack with the help of the American 7th Armored Division that had been specially drafted in for the purpose. This was the start of one of the fiercest battles that took place in Western Europe. The American Sherman Tanks tried to breach the German defences but time and again, they were prevented by German mines, field artillery and Panther and Tiger tanks. On 8 October, the exhausted Americans retreated from the battlefield to be relieved by the 11th British Tank Division and the 3rd British Infantry Division under the command of Major General J.C. Whistler.
After a few days of relative peace, a new assault was to be launched on 11 October. The attack was put back a day due to heavy rain. The area around Overloon had in the meantime been turned into a huge quagmire, which meant that the British tanks were unable to do much. The difficult task of breaking the German resistance was left to the infantry.
On 12 October at 11.00 a.m. all hell was let loose. An hour and a half later, the Allies pounded the German positions with heavy artillery fire and air raids. More than 100.000 grenades exploded around the Germans. Once Overloon had been reduced to rubble, the British started their advance. The houses were taken one by one at the cost of a huge number of casualties. Even in the woods, fierce man-to-man combat raged.
The British advance through the woods was extremely dangerous. German snipers had bound themselves to trees so that they could continue fighting for as long as possible, even if they were wounded. There was no question of surrender. When the Germans ran out of ammunition, they attacked the enemy with bayonets.
At 4.15 p.m. on 14 October, the last German stronghold fell in the village of Overloon. The twenty SS-fighters who had taken refuge in the church were overpowered. Many hundreds of Germans had to give themselves up.
Nevertheless, the German resistance had not yet been broken. The Germans redeployed in the forest between Overloon and Venray. The British gained ground - under dreadful weather conditions - only very slowly. The biggest drama was to ensue near a stream called the Molenbeek. The whole area around the stream was strewn with mines. Mines had even been laid in the water! Heavy rains meant that the stream had risen to the level of a river measuring six metres across. For some time, the Germans were able to hold off a strike to the bridge, but eventually the inevitable happened. The tanks that were crossing immediately became lodged. Under a barrage of deadly machine-gun fire, the British tried to reach the opposite bank over the bridge and through the water. The river was stained red with their blood and was therefore nicknamed 'Bloedbeek' or River of Blood. However, on the evening of 16 October, huge numbers succeeded in crossing the bridge. Venray was recaptured three days later, once again after heavy combat for each house. The great battle was finally brought to a conclusion.
Overloon was left behind in ruins.
The Allies had not come up against such hostile opposition since June on the beaches of Normandy. Their losses included three aircraft, some forty tanks and 1878 men. The Germans lost about 600 men and a number of tanks.
Harry van Daal, a citizen of Overloon, was so shocked by the events that had taken place, that he proposed preserving part of the battlefield and erecting a museum on it as a monument.
On 25 May 1946, General Whistler, the commanding officer of the British troops who recaptured Overloon, officially opened the museum. The museum and the 15-hectare park on which it stands, was once the scene of one of the fiercest battles of the Second World War. It has become a permanent reminder and indictment of the horrors of war.
Today the Dutch National War Museum stands on the exact location of the battle wich is still the same as it was left behind in 1944. Visit the website for more information. http://www.oorlogsmuseum.nl The site is also in English.
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