Humanitarian Aid to the Dutch-Operation Faust

Right before the start of Operation Husky and the Italian Campaign my grandpa transferred from the Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA) to the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps (RCASC).  The RCASC was the administrative and transportation corps for the Canadian Army.  What does this mean? It means that this is the unit that moved supplies from the rear of the line up to the front. And, I use the word ‘supplies’ in the most broad sense: ammunition, weapons, food, medical supplies, building supplies for the engineers, etc.

As noted in my post on the RCASC’s move from the Mediterranean theatre towards Northwest Europe, the RCASC was instrumental in Operation Goldflake.  This operation was the largest wartime movement control task undertaken by the RCASC.  Building upon this, the RCASC played a pivotal role in the liberation of Holland and ultimate defeat of Germany through their transporting of men and supplies.  Once the Canadians had arrived in Northwest Europe en masse in the Spring of 1945, the RCASC was supplying more than 500,000 troops.

These are not the things that my Gpa Mike ever spoke of… these are the details that we can read about in history books.  More important to the military aspect of the Canadian efforts in the NW Europe theatre, my grandfather spoke more about the humanitarian aspects of the campaign.  The Canadians were very much confronted with the problems associated with the starving Dutch population, particularly the Dutch in the still Nazi-occupied western Netherlands – although very little was said, this is the aspect of war that my grandfather spoke of.

Because my Gpa Mike spoke so little of the history and context behind operations, I actually don’t know if he was aware of what he was involved in.  What I mean by this is that I don’t know if he realises that he was part of a really incredible part of the Liberation of the Netherlands’ history.  To explain further, I will provide some background.  In order to provide some relief to NE Holland (or sometimes called area B-2), the Allies and the Germans entered into an unofficial truce.  The truce came into affect at 0800 on 28 April 1945 so that food and medical supplies could be delivered to the Dutch civilians.  As a part of the aid, the Germans also agreed that no further flooding of the lowlands was to take place. These events occurred under the names Operation Manna and Chowhound.

The senior Nazi official involved in negotiating the truce was Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart*. Throughout the 1944-45 winter, the plight of the Dutch population under him had grown steadily worse; with the isolation of that area from Germany, starvation of went from being a threat to becoming a stark reality. Four drop zones were identified, two of which were very near Rotterdam.  The rations were packed in sacks, each weighing around 23 pounds, and they were dropped without parachutes from a height of about 300 feet.  The sacks initially contained bread, dehydrated meat, potatoes, vegetables, margarine, sugar and chocolate.  Foiled by poor weather on 28 April, the aid started on 29 April with airdrops made by the Americans and Brits – this was only a quick fix.

The real challenge was to organise in a way so that massive amounts of supplies could be brought to the civilians using army vehicles because of a bottleneck at the bridges at Arnhem.  A second meeting to discuss the truce was held on 30 April, resulting in the agreement to increase the airdrops and to allow supplies to be trucked in.  A special organisation was set up under Lt-Colonel E.A. DeGeer under the name Operation Faust with ad hoc headquarters established a mere 300 yards from the enemy.

Using the trucks of the RCASC, Operation Faust started at 0730 on 2 May 1945.  By 3 May, 30 vehicles were crossing the truce line every 30 minutes. There was a total of 12 transport platoons, 8 Canadian and 4 British, comprised of 360 vehicles that delievered approximately 1000 tons of supplies each day until 10 May.  Delivery and distribution of the supplies were two different things and the later proved to be a major challenge.   Supplies were delivered to a roadside dump in “No Man’s Land” between Wageningen and Rhenen, Dutch villages on the Neder Rijn. Distribution responsibilities fell on the Dutch authorities, but they were severely handicapped by the number of workers who had been forced to go underground and by the weakened physical condition of those available.   As a result, regrettably, actual distribution did not begin until 10 May in Amsterdam and 11 May in the Hague and the Province of Utrecht.   Although Operation Faust disbanded on 10 May, some 200 Canadian military vehicles were used in the first line distribution of supplies to assist the overextended Dutch transport.

What is notable is that the unofficial truce that was reached in the NW Netherlands on 28 April 1945 in affect ended WWII in Holland; fighting halted in order to allow for humanitarian aid to be given to the civilians.  On 1 May, German forces surrendered in Italy. On 2 May, the Battle of Berlin ended with the surrender of the Nazis to the Soviet Red Army. Shortly after 20:00 on 4 May 1945, Field Marshal Montgomery accepted the unconditional surrender of the German forces in Holland, Northern Germany and Denmark.  The surrender was to take affect at 0800 on 5 May. Victory in Europe Day — or VE Day — is celebrated on 8 May to mark the date when the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany, marking the end of Hitler’s Third Reich.

RCASC Trucks

This leads me to the few memories of the Liberation of Holland that my grandfather shared.  He told us that he usually transported ammunition.  The photo to the left shows my Gpa Mike sitting on the hood of his truck with three of his comrades and three Italian girls, just outside Ortona in 1943. The ammo was removed from the truck and replaced with flour and sugar – these are the two commodities that my Gpa Mike remembers transporting.  He remembers  that the civilians were in such dire straights.  They welcomed the Canadians with open arms.  My grandfather had picked up some Dutch at this point so that it could be explained to the Dutch that their part of the homeland was still considered Nazi-occupied so to keep alert, be careful and stay inside.  The fact that my grandfather had this level of interaction with the Dutch civilians while delivering sugar and flour leads me to believe that he was a part of the Canadian group that assisted the Dutch with the distribution of the supplies beyond 10 May.

As we near the anniversary of my Gpa Mike’s passing, my mom and I were, as we always do, reminiscing about our favourite memories of our beloved.  I was sharing with her some of the more recent reading I had done on the Liberation of the Netherlands and we were sort of gob-smacked! To those with veterans in the family, you know how intensely modest veterans are. But we just had no idea about some of the efforts: unofficial truces, 30 vehicles every 30 minutes over the enemy line, an average of 1000 tons of supplies a day… it’s amazing.  We have always been incredibly proud of my grandfather’s service.  But we reflected on the fact that he seemed to take the most pride in helping the innocents of war and so in a way, we have a different, new found pride in Gpa Mike’s role in the big picture that is now history.

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Source: Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Vol. II: the Canadians in Italy.

Online source: Report #56: Historical Section (G.S) Army Headquarters – declassified 12 November 1986

*Arthur Seyss-Inquar was later charged with conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war crimes; and crimes against humanity.  He was tried during the Nuremberg Trials and executed as a major war criminal.

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