Allied Forces Liberate the Town of Venray (Battle of Overloon)

The Battle of Overloon was a Second World War battle between Allied forces and the German army which took place in and around the village of Overloon in the south-east of the Netherlands between September 30th and October 18th, 1944.

The battle, which resulted in an Allied victory, ensued after the Allies launched Operation Aintree. The Allies went on to liberate the town of Venray.

In September 1944, the Allies had launched Operation Market Garden, a major offensive from the Dutch-Belgian border across the south of the Netherlands through Eindhoven and Nijmegen towards the Rhine bridge at Arnhem, with the goal of crossing the Rhine and bypassing the Siegfried Line in preparation for the final drive toward Berlin. Allied airborne forces were defeated at the Rhine bridge in Arnhem and the advance stopped south of the Lower Rhine, resulting in a narrow salient that ran from the north of Belgium across the south-east of the Netherlands.

German forces attacked this salient from a bridgehead west of the bend in the river Meuse (known as Maas in Dutch and German) near the city of Venlo. The bridgehead was established by retreating German forces who were reinforced with troops arriving from nearby Germany by crossing the Meuse in Venlo. The western edge of this bridgehead ran through the Peel marshes, a fen area with marshy ground and several canals blocking an Allied advance. The Allies decided to attack the bridgehead from the north, and this meant they had to capture Overloon and Venray, which were on the road towards Venlo.

Operation Aintree (named after Aintree racecourse) had the goal of securing the narrow salient the Allies had established between Eindhoven and Nijmegen during Operation Market Garden and destroying the German bridgehead west of the Meuse, in preparation for the eventual Allied advance into the nearby German Rhineland.

The battle of Overloon ensued as the Allies in Operation Aintree advanced from nearby positions southwards toward the village of Overloon. After a failed attack on Overloon by the U.S. 7th Armored Division, the British 3rd Infantry Division and the British 11th Armoured Division took over. Suffering heavy losses the Allies captured Overloon and moved towards Venray. The advance on Venray resulted in heavy losses, especially around the Loobeek creek, which was swollen due to heavy autumn rains and was flooded and mined by the Germans. Casualties were heavy here among the First Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment. During the battle, the village of Overloon was destroyed. In and around Overloon, some 2,500 soldiers died, making it one of the bloodiest battles in the Netherlands during the Second World War. It was also the only major tank battle ever fought on Dutch soil. Dozens of tanks, mainly British, were destroyed.

The heavy fighting was a very traumatic experience to anyone who had not been evacuated from the front lines. Such evacuation orders were not welcome measures: in many places, the Dutch took their time to relocate if the orders came from the Germans (an order by Allied received faster action). One man who with a friend hid in an underground shelter between haystacks, barely got out alive when a German tank crushed it. As the see-saw battle progressed, both men were exposed to the dangers of cross-fire. For days they hid, surviving on apples from shot-up trees. The ordeal still was not over when they made it back to their home - on October 12 alone, 90,000 grenades landed on Overloon! Living in no-man's land was just not for civilians. The horrors of war was to stay with them all those fifty years.