Operation Vitality, the capture of South-Beveland
On 24 October 1944 the third phase of the battle of the Scheldt began with Operation Vitality. The goal of the operation was to clear the peninsula of South-Beveland of German forces. Once again the Allied forces would have to overcome not only the German defenders but difficult terrain as well.
Operation Vitality began in October 1944 with a push by the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division from the town of Woensdrecht towards South-Beveland. The peninsula of South-Beveland was defended by the German 70th Infantry Division, which was comprised of soldiers who suffered from chronic stomach disorders. Grouping these men together made their treatment more easy, but their fighting strength was still negatively affected.
The first challenge for the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was to cross the Kreekrakdam which connected South-Beveland to the mainland. An attempt to quickly capture the dam by an armoured assault failed as the leading vehicles were immediately knocked out by a German anti-tank gun. It soon became apparent that the terrain of South-Beveland was very unsuited for armour making its capture the exclusive task of the infantry.
The German soldiers defending the Kreekrakdam were not able to hold out for long due to their stomach ailments and the Canadians soon captured the dam. The further Canadian advance was hampered by the flooded terrain, minefields and obstacles. The German forces offered little resistance until the Canadians reached the main German defence line on the South-Beveland canal. A frontal attack on the canal was going to be costly, so the decision was made to outflank this line with the help of the newly arrived Scottish 52nd Lowland Division. On 26 October the Scots made an amphibious assault across the Scheldt outflanking the German positions and forcing them to withdraw to their next line of defence on the Sloedam.
The Allies had managed to capture South-Beveland relatively easily, but the real challenges of crossing the Sloedam and capturing the fortified island of Walcheren still lay ahead.