I Was There! - I Saw the Royal Marines Go In at Walcheren
Westkapelle, keypoint in the Dutch island of Walcheren blocking the entrance to the Scheldt and Antwerp, was in our hands by November 2, 1944. Arthur Oakeshott, Reuters' special correspondent, saw it fall to the combined assault of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marine Commandos, and rocket planes and bombers of the R.A.F. Here he tells of this most hazardous and daring operation as he witnessed it from the H.Q. Ship.
As we approached the island, stretching away on either side and astern of us was a vast convoy of landing craft, and we could see the lighthouse tower and the famous 400-yard-wide gap torn in the dyke wall by R.A.F. Bombers at Zuidhoofd, just to the right of Westkapelle.
We approached to within some thousands of yards, to the accompaniment of the roar of the 15-in. guns of the battleship Warspite and the monitors Erebus and Lord Roberts. I thought it all seemed very unreal – until a couple of German shells fell among us. Guns blazed away from almost every craft and shells of very calibre went screaming to land on the shore and among the German batteries and beach fortifications. But more and more shells dropped among us and one of two ships were hit.
On an eminence to the left of the town were four large German guns in concrete emplacements, and these were shooting pretty accurately Bu this time several landing craft were afire and burning fiercely. Then I saw an unforgettable sight – dozens of landing craft bearing hundreds of men wearing green berets – the men of the famous Royal Marines. They were all singing – yes, singing as they went into that hell of fire and shell and flying metal. "They've got guts", said a sailor.
Still more and more craft swept past us, and all the time the German shells were falling among us, claiming a craft here, a man there. More were in flames. Then above the din of battle we heard the roar of aircraft, and looking up I saw scores of Typhoons screaming down – a puff of smoke, and their rockets flashed in at the German positions.
Deafening Roar of 15-in. Guns
Great spouts of black smoke streamed up into the sky from the bomb bursts, and the smaller fire from the Germans abruptly ceased. But those big batteries continued to take toll of the assault force. By this time the L.C.G.s (landing-craft, guns) were near enough to add their quota, and the noise and crash and banging became almost deafening, while, all the time, wave after wave of Typhoons roared in.
Above the din we heard the steady boom-boom of the "15-inchers" from two monitors and Warspite, and suddenly I saw a great burst of flame and black smoke come from one of these mighty German gun emplacements. It spoke no more – thanks to the R.N. The other three continued.
Then the rocket-firing landing craft came in. There was a zigzagged flash and a black pall of smoke, and hundreds of rockets sailed high into the air until they looked like a flock of migrating birds, and then dropped to explode with deafening detonations on the luckless German defenders of the island of Walcheren. Another roar of aircraft above us, and once more Typhoons, carrying bombs, sped in on the three remaining batteries and simultaneously, shells from the monitors and the battleship scored direct hits, and put No. 2 out of action.
Still the other two continued to fire, causing the invading ships considerable difficulty. Again and again I saw landing craft run a gauntlet of shell bursts as they nosed their way shorewards. Some did not get there. Still more shells poured in on the force that crept nearer and nearer the island, and then somebody said: "There goes the third one", and I could see flames belching out of the third of the German gun batteries. Warspite got that one, and a few minutes later the fourth battery was silenced again by the guns of the Royal Navy.
As we steamed away from Walcheren I could see fires here and there on the island and, dotted about the sea, several blazing craft – one burned all night. A wounded Marine Commando officer said to me: "Don't tell them at home that it was easy – it was damned difficult, but we did it – please tell them that!"
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