The liberation of the Netherlands (1944–1945)

By Sarah Bellefleur Bondu

This year, 2020, is the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The cruel conflict lasted for six long years; it included battles, military offensives, restrictions and rationing for Europeans and North Americans alike, not to mention the heartbreak suffered by families who lost loved ones at the front. The war, from 1939 to 1945, also featured co-operation, goodwill and solidarity between the Allied forces and civilians who were enduring harsh conditions. The vital contribution of the Canadian Forces to the liberation of the Netherlands in 1944–1945 is a shining example of this spirit of caring.

On May 10, 1940, Germany attacked the Netherlands. A few days later, Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina and members of the Dutch government fled the country, which soon fell to the Nazi forces. The Netherlands remained under oppressive occupation for four years.

Flooded village with rooftops and a church steeple protruding from the waters.

The dikes blown up by the Germans flooded a large part of the northern Netherlands. This photograph, taken from an aircraft on May 31, 1945, shows a small flooded village where a church steeple and rooftops provide refuge for seagulls. (a175772)

Launch of operations in the Netherlands

In September 1944, several weeks after their invasion of Normandy, the Allies launched operations against the German forces still holding the line in northwestern Europe. Many key positions, including a number of bridges that crossed major Dutch waterways, were taken by the Allied forces during Operation Market Garden. However, German troops still held the banks of the Scheldt River, which crosses the Netherlands and connects the port city of Antwerp in Belgium to the North Sea. This canal was vital for the Allies to access key seaports and resupply their troops.

The Battle of the Scheldt

In October 1944, Allied forces seized first the northern and then the southern banks of the Scheldt. On November 8, they successfully stormed the German stronghold on Walcheren Island.

n the winter of 1944–1945, the Allies carefully planned their next campaign, which could potentially end the war in Europe. However, the Dutch had almost run out of resources under German occupation; this was the tragic Hunger Winter. With food reserves depleted in the Netherlands, thousands of civilians died.

Operation Veritable was launched on February 8, 1945. Its objective was to help Allied troops continue their advance, cross Germany’s borders, push the enemy back across the Rhine and breach the famous Siegfried Line.

The campaign in northwestern Europe: final phase

As they gradually advanced through the Netherlands, the Allied forces liberated occupied towns one after the other. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was responsible for ending the Nazi occupation of the northeastern Netherlands, including the cities of Almelo (April 5), Zutphen (April 8), Deventer (April 12), Arnhem (April 12–16) and Groningen (April 16), as well as the German coast. Elsewhere in the country, the 1st Canadian Army Corps pushed the remaining Germans out of the western Netherlands, north of the Meuse, and liberated the city of Apeldoorn (April 17).

During these operations, the Allies were concerned that the Germans would destroy the dikes and that the high waters of the spring would flood Dutch cities. They were also aware that civilians faced starvation because of supply problems. On April 28, they entered into negotiations with the Germans, who accepted their proposal two days later. As a result, thousands of tons of food and coal were transported by plane, ship and truck to the Dutch people.

Several people unload food crates from the back of a military truck. Many crates are stacked in the foreground.

Dutch civilians load a truck with Canadian-supplied food following an agreement between the Germans, the Dutch and the Allies on providing food to the Dutch people, May 3, 1945. (a134417)

On May 5, 1945, the German forces occupying the Netherlands surrendered; the whole country was officially liberated. After enduring years of hardship, the Dutch people gave the warmest welcome possible to the Canadians when they arrived. The Dutch celebrated across the country as the occupation ended. Two days after the liberation of the Netherlands, the Second World War in Europe was officially over.

Crowd of Dutch civilians celebrating the liberation of Utrecht by the Canadian Army, May 7, 1945. (a134376)

Since then, many of the Canadian soldiers who helped to liberate the Netherlands returned to attend commemorative ceremonies and maintained close ties with the Dutch people they had met. Library and Archives Canada holds an extensive collection of archival material documenting the events of 1945 and the relationship between Canada and the Netherlands to the present day.

Several children standing in front of headstones, holding bouquets of daffodils.

Young children preparing to place flowers on the headstones of graves of Canadian soldiers in the Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery, 1957. (e011176651)

Other resources


Sarah Bellefleur Bondu is an archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.