Liberation of Limburg, the Netherlands

Limburg is most southern province of the Netherlands and was the first area to be liberated. The reason for this is that this area is right next to Germany. Parts of Limburg were liberated by the US 30th Infantry Division.

After the Allies victory in northern France, the Germans were steadily retreating without putting up to much of a fight. The allies pulled into Belgium at September 2nd, 1944. Their advance was so fast that supplies could not keep up. Patton was ordered to halt since his tanks consumed 350.000 gallons of fuel (that’s 1.2 million liters) a day. There were sufficient supplies in Normandy but the Red Ball Express (logistic operation until the Port of Antwerp could be used) could not supply the Third Army’s most forward units. Troops were ordered to continue on foot at the area of Waterloo. Three regiments trudged their way to the border over muddy, cobblestone roads. It took them three days to reach Liege. Armored units of the 30th division raced ahead were they met the first signs of any concerted resistance.

Liege

At Liege, troops are now encountered with the Meuse river and the Albert Canal. The Meuse runs towards Maastricht, The Netherlands. The area east of Liege is the location of a series of forts; the vulnerability of these defenses had been emphasized when they failed to stop the Germans advancing in both WWI and WWII. On 10 May 1940, the largest of these forts, Eben-Emael, not far from the banks of the Albert Canal, had been the site of a spectacular and daring attack by 78 German paratroops. Strangely enough, the Germans weren’t using the waterways nor the forts to hold to advancing Americans.

In preparation for the advance, the division formed up into two columns with the 117th Infantry Regiment, which had originally been in the center column, following the 119th Infantry Regiment on its southern flank beside the Meuse River. The 120th Infantry Regiment, the other column, pushed towards Eben-Emael, not knowing that it had been abandoned already. Later, it turned out that 300 enemy troops who occupied the fort, withdrew over the Dutch border to Maastricht. The Germans fired artillery at the 120th IR but the 119 IR advanced unopposed.

At September 10th at night, the 119th IR crossed the Meuse virtually unopposed, other elements were crossing near Liege. This allowed the 119th IR the be reinforced with tanks and tank destroyers. The 120th Infantry, meanwhile, occupied itself with securing lock gates that were situated at the southern tip of the Maastricht island where the two waterways converge. These locks were of paramount importance because they controlled the water levels in both the Meuse River and the Albert Canal.

Eben-Emael

Entrance to the fort today

Once again, an amphibious crossing was required when at 1700 hours, a platoon of Company E from the 120th Infantry clambered down the steep banks of the Albert Canal and loaded onto assault boats. Harassed by incoming small arms fire from beyond the far bank, the officers of the 120th instructed the men to keep their heads low and move as fast as they possibly could. Their movement was aided when, completely out of the blue, a Belgian engineer suggested using two tunnels that ran from inside the Eben-Emael fort all the way down to the banks of the canal. The larger of the two tunnels opened roughly halfway down the canal bank; the other opened just one foot above the waterline, but was barely wide enough to crawl through— it was slimy, rat-infested, and extremely claustrophobic. Inside Eben-Emael the men of the 120th assembled to use the tunnels. There was sufficient room to crouch and shuffle through the larger of the 50-yard-long tunnels, but in the other one the soldiers were strictly confined to crawling on their bellies in pitch darkness. They shouldered their weapons and begrudgingly assented to crawl inside these foreboding black holes to edge their way down to the riverside. A few soldiers complained about the filth, the insects, and the over-sized rats, but one by one they all went forward until the mission was accomplished and all were safely through. Thanks to these tunnels, the amphibious crossing was executed successfully. The whole maneuver was a resounding success who had managed to capture the locks intact, neutralize German demolition charges, and cross the canal in relative safety.

Maastricht

Old Hickory Monument

The bridgehead was now complete with the arrival of the 117th IR. In Maastricht the German authorities hastily set up defenses. Their attempts to establish a line of defense just to the south of Maastricht with an ad hoc collection of soldiers and a few 30mm flak guns failed; on 12 September at 1000 hours, the 117th Infantry crossed the Dutch-Belgian border. These were the first Allied troops to enter the Netherlands. After taking Maastricht on 13 September, they realized that they were getting precariously close to the German border in the east and it was generally accepted by all Allied commanders that the Germans were going to fight the hardest on their home ground.

On September 13th, the 30th Division advanced roughly seven miles and entered Maastricht. Later that day, Maastricht was liberated. At 17:30, five miles west of the city of Aachen, the 120th Regiment’s Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon surreptitiously crossed the German border.

Valkenburg

Liberation of Valkenburg monument

At Valkenburg, the Germans put up the stiffest resistance so far. The town seemed deserted at first, civilians had retreated to nearby caves and most German troops had pulled out. There were still some left, held up in the Oda hotel guarding the only renaming intact bridge over the Geul river. The Americans tried to prevent the bridge from being blown but that failed. After fierce fighting, Valkenburg was taken later that day. During the hard fought battles in and around Valkenburg, the 30th Division had begun to encounter the first cohesive opposition they’d experienced since the St. Lô-Falaise breakout.

Kerkrade

That we may be worthy of peace

A part of the 30th ID moved into Germany to attack the Westwall (Siegfried line), other units moved towards Kerkrade (a town right next to the German border). The local German commander requested that 30.000 civilians were to be evacuated first. US forces were reluctant at first but ultimately agreed. On the morning of 25 September this stream of refugees walked in a broad column towards the liberated town of Ubachsberg. As they left, the German occupiers of Kerkrade plundered the houses of these unfortunate people. Then another problem occurred: the ceasefire had expired but the GIs were still busy organizing the flow of refugees when German artillery started up again in earnest. Somewhere in the vicinity of Imstenrade en route to Ubachsberg, a German shell exploded in the middle of the column of refugees. Fourteen people were killed instantly and dozens were critically injured. Later it was revealed that the evacuation of this town had been unnecessary because on October 5 Kerkrade was taken without any significant opposition.The road to Germany was now open. The 30th ID was en route to it’s next major ncounter. taking the city of Aachen.

Eye Witness Museum, Beek

This is only museum in the south of Limburg. It tells the story of World War 2 with a neutral perspective. It doesn’t necessarily show events from the liberation but more generic World War but tells the story of August Siegel a German paratrooper, a Dutch Jew who went into hiding, the Jews in the concentration camps and the liberation of Beek (dutch town were the museum is located). Beek was liberated on September 17th bt the 2nd Armored Division. Find more about the museum here

 

Windowsill Museum

The Windowsill is an initiative of the Dutch Government encouraging people to, if they have items from World War 2 related to the liberation, to create their own little museum in the windowsill. On the following website, you can find all the addresses that have such a museum: https://vvvmiddenlimburg.nl/nl/vensterbank-musea-in-limburg The following pictures are from our own windowsill and the items and uniforms are from my own collection. All the decorations are done by my wife.

Directions:

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