March 20, 2015

1944. Newly Liberated Belgium

Maintaining Supply Lines Through Belgium
"Personnel of the Royal Regiment of Canada. Blankenberge, Belgium, 11 Sept 1944" (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Brussels

September 9, 1944

British troops today have made their second crossing over the Albert Canal at the town of Geel, some twelve miles from the bridgehead further up the canal at Beringen. Today British armor and infantry are widening their hold on the north bank of the canal against stiff German resistance. The two crossings as yet have not been linked up.

The Albert Canal once was Belgium's main defense line against invasion from the north. Millions of dollars have been spent in making it one immense tank trap. At important defense points, the banks of the canal rise from 130 to 210 feet with almost vertical walls. Although the canal defenses are directed northward, they often make it tough going to get an army from the south, and not everywhere can this be done.

After the Germans blew all the remaining bridges across the canal, British troops found it a major engineering problem. And that is the reason that there has been a pause in the army's advance the past three days.

News that the channel port of Ostend has been abandoned by the Germans without a fight was received with much gratification here. Allied supply lines are now some 300 miles long back to the Normandy ports.

The problem of supply has been extremely difficult. Long lines of convoys have been keeping the tanks and troops operating fully, but there has not been the opportunity for a buildup such as that supplied to the Allied march north of the Seine. The ports on the channel north of the Seine will serve to ease this problem.

But meanwhile, thousands of tons of materiel are arriving every day by air. The RAF has set a new speed record in establishing itself on Belgian airfields. I saw one yesterday and I counted some twenty American planes flying over the airfield in a wide circle lining up the land. On the ground, scores of other planes were taking off. And dashing in between and around this heavy flow of airplanes were the fighters flying constant patrol and escorts. No airport has probably ever been busier.

And as if this was not enough, demonstration of complete Allied control of the air only some fifty miles from the German frontier, hundreds of Fortresses and Liberators roared over Brussels today on a bombing mission to Germany.

Traveling through newly liberated Belgium from northward towards the front is like going through an oversized Mardi Gras. People line the roads and cheer. Flags are everywhere in the villages you pass through. Hitler has been hanged in effigy in a half dozen of these villages I drove through.

But as you approach the front in the more newly liberated towns, you run into the feeling of vengeance and the signs of the magnificent efforts of the people to help free themselves. In one village, we stopped for coffee—ersatz coffee—at a restaurant. When we went in, we found that it was being used as headquarters for the Belgian White Army there. The men wore their uniforms of cream-colored coveralls and black berets. They all had rifles and pistols and knives. German grenades stuck out of their belts. They had been working and fighting all night, and many were asleep at the tables catching a few moments of rest before their next mission. And true to the hospitality we have received here, the Allied soldiers were the guests of the White Army. No man in a uniform could buy a meal.

And on our way back to Brussels, we saw other signs of this nation's gratitude to the Allied armies. Farmers along the highway had left their land to repair and clear the roads so that the convoys could roll faster, and other men were voluntarily clearing and repairing a damaged railroad line, getting it in shape for use even before army engineers arrived to do the job.

This is Bill Downs in Brussels returning you to CBS in New York.