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Fierce fighting at Reichswald Forest

British infantrymen advance through the Reichswald Forest during Operation Veritable in February 1945.

On Feb. 19, 1945, midway through Operation Veritable, the Allied plan to surge into Germany, the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) and Essex Scottish were in a tight spot.

They were part of a pincer movement launched on Feb. 8 and wrapped up in March, in which the British XXX Corps and 3rd Canadian Division in the north and U.S. 9th Army in the south intended to destroy German forces west of the Rhine River.

However, the Americans had been delayed by flooding, allowing the Germans to focus their efforts on the Canadian advance.

The fighting to clear the Reichswald Forest became fierce. On the evening of Feb. 19, one company of the Canadian Scottish “beat off no less than six counter-attacks.” Along the Goch-Calcar road, one of the bloodiest battles began. The Essex Scottish and the RHLI moved forward under a rolling barrage.

Then German reinforcements arrived. The Essex Scottish and some RHLI units were overrun, suffering 329 casualties before the Royal Regiment bolstered the line on Feb. 20.

“Although the infantry were able to penetrate to the immediate vicinity of their objectives they suffered severely,” said Colonel C.P. Stacey in The Canadian Army: An Official Historical Summary. However, the Germans lost control of the road and, on Feb. 21, the forest was cleared. “Two of the three German lines had now been smashed by British troops and Canadians in some of the fiercest fighting of the war.”

No. 18 Canadian Field Ambulance’s advanced dressing station handled 131 casualties on Feb. 20, including 11 prisoners.

It took more than a month to drive the Germans back over the Rhine, by which time the Canadians had suffered more than 5,300 casualties.

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