The Battle Of Hochwald Gap. In World War II, It Was One Of The Largest Armor Engagements And Few Are Aware Of It.

by Daniel Russ on November 20, 2011

M4 Sherman Firefly

 

 

In February 1945, there was little left for most of the Wehrmacht to go home to. The Soviets were an unstoppable juggernaut rumbling out of the East and overrunning desperate outnumbered Nazis. The Allies had opened a second front in Occupied France and were squeezing the Nazis out of Western Europe. The Nazi’s lost their western ports, thusly they suffered an attenuated supply line, factories that were cramped desperate underground organizations and most of the countryside was in a state of perpetual anomie. Few know that the heroes who opened the gate into Germany were really Canadian and British forces who were the first to cross the Rhine at Xanten. The Nazis of course stole the Rhineland because Hitler felt it had been once German land, and now a replevin made possible by the Treaty of Versailles. As I have stated before, the Wehrmacht could hurt you as badly in retreat as they could on the offensive. They were well organized, highly disciplined, blooded and ideologically motivated to bring down as many invaders as they could. This was the irony. After having invaded a dozen or more countries and inflicting millions of casualties, they now saw themselves as victims, defending the homeland.

 

 

The Battle of Hochwald Gap was almost as big as Normandy, but with three times the number of casualties. The Canadians assembled a force of 90,000 infantry, 1300 artillery guns and over 1000 tanks, most attached to the Canadian 2nd Division. They faced a force of about 10,000, with a handful of Panzer Mk. Vs, less than 100 Panzer Mk. VIs and a handful of PAK 28 anti tank guns. The Battle itself a was masterpiece of defensive combat by Germans who intimately knew their own territory and set up one tank trap after another. Outnumbered hopelessly, the German fought about as well one could expect.

 

 

The Canadians, under the Command of Guy Simmonds, had M4 Shermans armed with a short-barreled 75mm gun and just 2 inches of armor. One in five of the Canadian tanks were Fireflies, basically an M4 Sherman with a British 17 pounder, capable of stopping a Panzer. The short-barreled 75 mm could do little against the Tigers or the Panthers firing against their front plating armor. That said, they had ten times the number of tanks, and like Stalin said “Quantity is a quality all itself”.

 

The Battle Of Hochwald Gap

 

The plan was to move from the Dutch/German border to the Xanten the last town on the western side of the Rhine. Hochwald was a heavily wooded redoubt with a wide road running through the middle; to get there the Canadian commander decided to take nearby Calcar and Uden. Those elevated vantage points would allow the Canadians to punch through the Hochwald Gap and force the Germans back to Xanten. The British were pushing through German defenses to hook up with the Canadians. The operation that Simmonds put together, Operations Blockbuster, was an attempt to take the heights around Xanten and Uden at night. Unfortunately there were three major things-that-go-wrong.

 

 

One was the weather. The rains began in the spring and the ground on the open Rhineland became an impassable, oatmeal-like morass. The second problem was a series of small dams that the Germans destroyed to flood the farmlands. The third problem was the Germans had prepared the battlefield and dug deep tank traps, mine fields and left only thin roads for The Canadian armor to move through. All those roads were zeroes in by static antitank guns, many hidden in the tree lines surrounding the battlefields.

 

 

On February 26th, the Canadians began the offensive with a 700 artillery tube salute that went on for hours. In World War II artillery fire was mostly a rough guess. They simply did not have the targeting and acquisition systems that armies are so used to. The barrage did little to help the Canadians who were mostly bogged down and pushing slowly through kill zones. In the first two and half weeks, the Germans sent 8000 Canadians to their demise or to field hospitals. The superior guns of the Panthers, Tigers and even the 5-inch 200-yard Panzer Faust decimated Canadian Shermans as they punched through the forests.

 

Panzer Mk VI Tiger Tank

 

The best the Canadian could hope to do was outnumber and overwhelm the 63-ton Panzers, or perhaps score a shot through their underbellies or through the softer plating armor on the sides and backs of the turrets. There was a weakness in between the turret and chassis of the Tiger tanks and once that was breached with an armor piercing or HEAT round the fight was over.

 

 

Canadian armor was caught in lines on carefully crafted roads. The Germans took out the front tank and then the rear tank and calmly took out the tanks trapped in the middle. Or, perched on camouflaged redoubts, Tiger tanks and anti-tank guns made short work of Shermans caught in Tank traps.

 

 

It didn’t all go badly for the Canadians. Although the battle raged for days, the weather eventually cleared and Typhoon fighters used their rockets and 20mm guns to grind down German armor. By the time the Canadians had captured the heights around the Hochwald Gap and pushed through the woods, the Germans hightailed it. The door was open and entire Allied army corps poured into the country. There were some 5300 casualties suffered by the Canadians.

 

 

One of the largest tank battles ever fought is hardly ever mentioned in history texts, and the heroes are rarely given the notice they are due. Less than two months after the battle Hitler killed himself and Germany capitulated.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Ron quigley June 14, 2012 at 9:35 am

Why is this battle not taught in Canadian schools

Daniel Russ June 14, 2012 at 10:50 pm

You know, that’s a great question.

Sam June 19, 2012 at 5:26 am

Well it’s not fair to think that the Canadians/British were not given much credit for helping to defeat the Germans. It’s always the Americans who seemed to take ALL the credit for winning the war.

Sam June 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Well it’s certainly not fair that the Canadians/British were not given much or any credit at all for helping to defeat the Germans. It’s always the Americans who seemed to take ALL the credit for winning the war.

Patrick Carroll October 27, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Here in the US, the History Channel did a series on epic tank battles, and the Hochwald Gap was one of the tank battles detailed.

The documentary opens with a Canadian soldier saying that “the Germans were simply better soldiers.” It goes on to describe a stand by two Panzer Mk V’s against a Canadian tank column (20+ tanks), where the Panthers killed tank after tank, but were eventually taken out by a combination of German mistakes and Canadian ingenuity.

You end up admiring both sides. The Germans, even though they were fighting for a rancid, evil dictatorship, really were brilliant soldiers. The Brits and Canadians never gave up, and eventually won.

Oh, and at least some in the US – the History Channel, at least – recognize the Canadian/British effort. I think the lack of recognition for the Brits and Canadians comes from British reserve. Americans wave the flag, while Brits do a “Tut tut!” at that sort of thing, and then wonder why nobody remembers them.

Oh, and those Brits and Canadians were riding in American tanks.

Oh, etc, etc…..

The USA *was* the arsenal of democracy, after all. Please give us some credit.

Daniel Russ October 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Thank you for your comments. I agree. The problem with history,is that people forget it.

Patrick Carroll October 31, 2012 at 3:20 pm

BTW, I’m the son of an American father and Irish mother, born in England (Leicester), and raised in England, France, Germany and Ireland. Though an American citizen by birth (actually, three governments claim me), I never set foot in the USA until I was an adult, and my first work in the USA was as (first) a USAF Officer Training School Trainee, and then as a USAF commissioned officer. I served six years during the Reagan/Bush administrations, and it was the most fun you could have with your clothes on. Just sayin’

So, it may well be that I come at this with a bit more than the average US citizen. This is by way of agreeing with you: people do forget history, and then keep wondering why the same crap keeps happening, again and again.

Ah well, what can you do?

Nice site, BTW. I enjoy it. Thanks.

Daniel Russ October 31, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Thank you

Come back and tell your friends!!!!!

Ben Martin April 11, 2013 at 7:04 am

The US were a great help, but I agree, they do seem to take the credit for alot of things 🙂 To be fair though, they deserve the credit they got since they had a massive impact on the war and had great men. Lets not forget the efforts of the 101st.
But the English, Canadians, French ect. Worked their arses off and don’t get enough credit for their efforts.
As for the Germans. What can I say? The Wehrmacht were truly great fighters who saw it as them fighting for their fatherland. They were just soldiers doing what they were told and they done a great job at it.

JimV July 12, 2013 at 1:46 am

Interesting to see the relative merits of several allied countries mentioned, the common theme of American disparagement, and a very innacurate portrayal of this battle.

There were scores of larger tank battles on the Russian Front and in relative terms, 8000 casualties was a nosebleed. One has to remember that the USSR reduced the best the Germans could throw at them and that many Wehrmacht uniforms on the Western Front were filled by foreigners involuntarily.

The most important contribution made by the West to defeat the Nazi regime came from North American farmers and those who participated in the convoys. And the most important contribution from any source that helped defeat the Nazi regime was Adolf Hitler’s own incompetence.

Daniel Russ July 12, 2013 at 6:30 am

I don’t agree. I think you’re overstating the case. The Russians didn’t take the worst the Germans threw at them. They fought well, but lost most of the head on engagements. The Russians won because they had more men, more tanks, more planes and ultimately as they swept back through Western Russia they saw what the Germans did to them.

Also, the size of the engagement is measured by numbers engaged, not be casualty lists.

Salty Sea Dude November 5, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Yet to be written WW2 book – The complete faillure of the Allied bombing campaign.
Bombing Germany did not weaken morale, it strengthened it. Even war material production increased till the final stages of the war.
All bombing accomplished was killing millions of civilians and stiffening the German Army’s resistance late in the war. Why surrender when the Allied have no qualms in killing civilians?
When the Nazis dropped bombs on civiliisns it was a war crime and I agree it was. But I also see the allied bombing of civilians in the same light. A war crime.

Jerry February 15, 2014 at 1:57 am

There is a main reason that the American Army gets so much “credit” for having had a major impact upon the out-come of WWII; that is simply because we had a “major impact!” We had more troops involved in the Allied forces during the war than any other country, we produced more equipment for use by Allied forces and we lost more troops than any Allied Army. Both my father and step-father [ who still lies in foreign soil having lost his life during the “Battle of the Bulge” fought with 3rd US Army which, as we all know, killed and captured more Germans and moved further and faster than any other Army during WWII, and 3rd Army paid a very heavy price. While I would never diminish the role, actions and heavy price paid by the Allied forces members, including even the Russians, I would point to the fact that we Americans bore more than our fair share and furnished more resources and equipment than any of the other Allied members, even to the Russians who never repaid us. As a matter of fact, most of the Allies never repaid us for the equipment. If it had not been for Hitler’s ultimate blunder in declaring war against the U.S. after Japan attacked, we would never have been involved in the European portion of WWII.
As a retired US Army Officer, who served in such units as the 82nd ABN Div and 18th ABN Corps, among others, in both Combat Arms and Combat Support Arms, I am acutely aware of both the contributions of American Forces during WWII. Our forces bore a major role throughout WWII and are generally not credited by our Allies with have lead the charge and furnished the majority of men, equipment and money. Once, when visiting Normandy, I even saw a French newspaper that had De Gaulle having landed the day before the other Allies!
There is no doubt that the Candians played a major role. This I find as typical of British management, or manipulation, of its Commonwealth countries, without giving them the true credit they deserve. Among the Allies at the time, however, I think that there was a general tendency to not give the credit which was due to the American Army.

Jim Kilian February 15, 2014 at 11:52 am

SOME of us in the US, particularly who have read some history and perhaps, served in the Army (Armor), recognize the British/Canadian war was longer, started earlier, and was much more difficult. If they hadn’t handled the war as they did until we got into it, things would have been much worse. The sacrifices of our British and Canadian allies laid the groundwork for defeating the Germans, as did the soaking up of the so much German strength by the Russians. Not ALL of us think the US won the war all by itself, contributions by the arsenal of democracy notwithstanding. It was a team effort at all levels. Thank you all.

Daniel Russ February 17, 2014 at 7:39 am

I agree. The Russian really did most of the dirty work in crushing the Wehrmacht. But this is a byproduct of a robust Hollywood, a myth perpetuating political system and a poorly educated American public.

Daniel Russ February 17, 2014 at 7:51 am

I have to disagree here. Firstly I think you for your service. Now let’s talk facts. The Russians lost upwards of 13,000,000 battle deaths and another 12,000,000 civilian deaths. The US lost 416,000 men. Hardly a comparison if you ask me. The Soviets suffered the worst under the Wehrmacht by far.

DeGaulle did lead a French Army (Free French) of 1.3 million men into France. And they did invade and they did help take back France from the Nazis. I don’t see why history has to be rewritten.

The real role the US played in WWII was not just combat, but in production, where we were making a jeep every four minutes and 53,000 tanks and 343,000 combat aircraft as an example. Because of our geography, we were spared the factory bombing that the other Allies suffered. Consider that the Germans made 1,278 Panzer Mk 6 Tiger tanks. And less than 800 King Tigers. The US made 53,000 tanks and the Russians made 39,000 T-34s. So the Allies, the US in particular, out produced the Axis forces ten to one.

We also helped other Allied armies that generally were happy to use the equipment that we produced. Even the Russians used equipment we lend leased to them.

I also think no one as taken more credit for winning WWII than the US. We did this with Hollywood which has portrayed us as the valiant victims of an unprovoked attack. We were.

It’s just that we were not alone in this victory and not by far.

Ed van Zuilen October 7, 2014 at 1:38 am

Ok guys,

i will thank all the allied countrys in that time !! My homeland Holland was liberated by all of you !!! next week i’m going out to the Hochwald area with my detector to look for some “relics”of that terrible time in the early spring of 1945 !!!

John October 29, 2014 at 10:03 am

Jerry, you are wrong. On the day Germany declared war on the US, more than 75% of German forces were lined up against Soviet forces. That never changed. Yes, the US had a major impact, but that impact was financial, the ability to outproduce all other nations. The Soviets by far bore the brunt of the fighting, the losses. There were up to 27 million Soviet dead in the war (mostly civilian casualties) — and as for losses of troops, it simply defies the imagination that so many persist in saying what you do, that the US lost more soldiers than any other ally. Soviet troops losses were in the millions.

Daniel Russ November 2, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Great point John. Well Said.

clive donahue July 11, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Found this information very interesting as it sets the scene duriing my uncles time in this battle.

John January 17, 2016 at 6:52 pm

There has never been a British general who wasn’t willing to fight to the last Canadian. Or American.

Wes Beatty March 7, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Hello All: I’m not going to slag our friends to the south. The fact is that they contributed much and are justifiably proud of their fighting record in W.W.II. That said, I think Canadians have not been as forward as they could be in setting the record straight on our contributions.
Take the Battle of Normandy. I’ve plodded through Jack Granatstein’s Bloody Victory: the Canadians at Normandy. Page after meticulous page of Canadian failures and loses. And then, at the end, almost as an afterthought, oh yes, and did I mention the Germans suffered an overwhelming defeat losing thousands of men, tanks and vehicles?
Until Terry Copp came along (See: Fields of Fire) you’d be hard pressed to find anyone trumpeting the fact that an army of newbie Canadians learned their craft very quickly, put themselves in the path of the main German armoured thrust coming south from the Pas de Calais and destroyed the cream of the SS at Normandy.
My two cents.

Jacob Carroll March 30, 2016 at 4:46 pm

Enjoyed reading this. Some friends and I decided on playing the hochwald gap on company of heros 2. None of us knew what it was so we thought we should do some research and figured It might help us. I found this and really enjoyed reading about it. Im a big fan of ww2 battles and I never knew about this. Already told my friends about this and sent them links. Will deffinatley look here again for more research in the future.

Ben Davella September 28, 2016 at 11:03 am

No disrespect to the west, but the Russians killed 80% of the German Army And make no mistake, by the end of the war, the Soviets took many of the tactics they learned from the Wermacht , and used them to maximum effect against Germany The blood and guts of the Russians defeated Germany, and of course the logistic nightmare of the Germans

Brian Cudmore November 11, 2016 at 7:19 pm

My Father was killed in the last days of the Battle of the Hochwald Gap and I share the sentiment of a German Field Officer after his capture. He asked, “Why didn’t they just go around the forest and attack from the other side or bypass it?”

Instead the Canadian leaders insisted on forcing their way through “the Gap” around which the entire German defenses were focused.

Brian Cudmore November 11, 2016 at 7:28 pm

Wes Beatty’s comment re: D Day. Only Canada soldiers achieved their DDay objectives and were as far as 25 miles from the beach at the end of the day.

Casualties? Montgomery’s bombing of Caen when he was unable to capture the city killed more Canadian troops than died on D Day.

We don’t hear about these things. Most of our DDay information is focused around the American Omaha beach which was a typical American screw-up with troops missing their landing zones by miles, only 1 tank making it to shore etc etc. But like the Battle of the Bulge, which the Americans “won” because the Germans didn’t capture the planned US fuel depots and so their tanks ran out of fuel. The worse the American defeat the more glory they heap on to call it a victory

Ward February 16, 2017 at 7:39 pm

Happened to see that history channel episode on this. Found this trying search for that tank battle.
One thing to keep in mind, not taking anything away from other countries represented here.
America was ALSO fighting a two front or theater war, with Japan.
So not all resources could be committed to Europe and North Africa.

Production and everything else. Was having to go into the Pacific theater as well.

Martha Raffae March 28, 2017 at 2:05 pm

Politic played a huge part in Canadians and British not getting the credit where credit was do too.
In small town after small town in France, my father said they would dig in , fight for days , and on the brink of taking it, be told the Americans get this one , and they would step down and let the American’s roll in victorious. I imagine it was important at the beginning of the end…so to speak to inspire the American’s back home that it was their contribution that was taking back Europe , because for so long they had not wanted involvement at all.

tim June 24, 2017 at 10:42 pm

1st thing.If Hitler let his generals run the war,the Germans would probably still be a major menace? Hitler was a horrible field commander.if the Germans had built a defensive posistion? They probably would’ve held back the Russians.
If the Americans didn’t get involved in Europe France would still be under german control.Of course more Russians were killed.Germany committed over 4 million troops to the campaign.As far as the air bombing not achieving anything?The germans had to keep fighter planes in country to help fight off the bombers which could’ve been used on the Russian front.And too say it didn’t slow down german production is silly.The allies also knew what the germans were going to do when they captured the germans code books.A major factor to why the germans lost in the Battle of Kursk.But I somewhat agree in the Americans wanting credit for battles won.MacArthur’s insistence on island hopping was a horrible mistake.Couldve bypassed many of them.IMO.The Germans lost because Hitler was a moron when it came down to battle plans and not listening to his generals.Stalingrad and North Africa were huge mistakes.Hitlers ego lost the war.If he had pulled back his forces in Russia after the first campaigned had failed and bought some time with a defensive stand? Who knows what would’ve happened? I think real Historians know the true facts of the credit that is due. And to my knowledge.The allies didn’t kill their own people like Stalin did during war? And IMO? DeGaulle was a fraud!

Sean July 5, 2017 at 10:01 am

Big salute to the Canadians for clearing the Hochwald Layback/Gap. Many well deserved Victoria Crosses were awarded in this significant battle. As all can see, the forest gave the Germans ample opportunity to punish any attacker moving in. 88’s and mg42s covered the entire front, making it extremely deadly to attack, especially during the daylight.
The Germans believed this was the last line of defense to hold back the allied juggernaut, and were more than willing to fight to the death for the fatherland. Tanks going into the Gap were prime targets, and many fell victim to the 88’s, halting the advance to a crawl.
However, rapid pin point artillery fire coordinated by Forward Observation Officers played a key role in clearing the forest from stubborn defenders. Once the Typhoon fighters arrived, the game was up for the Germans, forcing them to retreat quickly.
Unfortunately, many soldiers recalled this battle, “a nightmare,” where nothing good was to be remembered. The complete truth about this battle is generally difficult to come across.

Brian Flack August 2, 2017 at 2:59 pm

Iv got permission to metal detect 1kms from the gap you would not beleave
the amount of shell bits every foot there is a signle drives me mag iwould not
like to been around here in ww2

Louis September 7, 2017 at 2:14 am

One thing about the crossing of the Rhine. In this one the Americans did get the first across, if only by dint of luck, and communication failure on the German side. The bridge at Remagen was captured by the Americans before Monty could do his setpiece crossing at Wesel, which did went almost like clockwork by the way. Just the way Monty liked it.

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