Capture of Antwerp

September 4, 1944

On September 4, 1944 the British 11th Armoured Division rolled into Antwerp, capturing its precious docks undamaged. The long-awaited capture of the Belgian city and its invaluable deep-water port turned out, however, to be a hollow victory for the Allies. Although the port was undamaged, the British army could not push the German lines back any further, meaning the port would come under relentless fire if ships tried to dock.

The previous day, the British had liberated Brussels and the Germans were on the run. Paris had been captured earlier than expected, and Patton was routing the enemy as fast as his troops could travel. However, the Allied offensive would literally, and figuratively, run out of gas.

First Canadian Army in the Battle of Scheldt
First Canadian Army in the Battle of Scheldt

Deep-water ports were a major consideration during the planning stages of the D-Day invasion, and therefore the Norman city of Cherbourg was a major objective. The French Resistance was effective in blowing up the French railways that served as a supply line for the Germans, but now these lines were not available for the Allies either. As the Allies chased the Germans eastward it became clear that another port would be needed closer to the front, and that port would most likely be Antwerp. 

With its 10 square miles of docks, 20 miles of water front and 600 cranes, Antwerp could service 1,000 ships at a time, providing the Allies with 40,000 tons of supplies per day, far more than the famous truck convoy known as the Red Ball Express. The catch was that Antwerp was 80 miles from the open sea, and the Germans still controlled East and West Scheldt, which stood between the city and the open water. Germany's 64th Division was planted firmly in the way of Allied shipping.

Antwerp after V2 attack
Antwerp after V2 attack

By the middle of September, tensions rose between Montgomery in the north and Patton in the south over the shortage of supplies. There simply wasn't enough 

firepower to fuel offensives in both areas. Montgomery was told to free up the Scheldt Estuary that connected Antwerp to the sea. The British, Poles and Canadians tried to uproot the Germans. Ironically, the same swampy terrain that had kept the Wehrmacht from using their armor to finish off the Allies trapped at Dunkirk four years earlier was now protecting the Germans. 

Unable to free up the port of Antwerp, and with V2 rockets continuing to torment English civilians, Montgomery was able to sell the Allied brass on his risky plan to plow through the Netherlands - Operation Market Garden. Once that failed, the Allies were left defending Hell's Highway, a pencil of territory jutting up into Holland that had failed to cut off German units in Belgium.

Renewed bombing and ground invasion would eventually unseat the Germans from the Belgian coast, but it was not until the end of November that the port was cleared of mines and receiving shipping supplies. Nevertheless, Antwerp fulfilled its destiny as the key deep-water port that powered the Allied offensive into Germany. 

 

Written by: Steven Graning 


Feedback from our Passengers

Riefenstahl with her crew
Joe Delay of the 101st Airborne, 327th glider infantry regiment with his wife Helen and
grandson Jack in front of a Waco glider at the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mère-Èglise on
our Band of Brothers tour. Serving in Bastogne, Haguenau and Berchtesgaden, Joe
explained to the group the training he got and dangers of being deployed in a glider.

"Reference is made to the Beyond Band of Brothers tour which commenced August 5, 2012, in Paris and ended in Berchtesgaden, Germany a week and a half later. As you know, I hosted not only my wife, but also my two sons and their wives and the grandchildren, for a total of 11 of us.

I am writing you to express my gratitude for the entire tour, the meals, lodging, and the overall service provided by your firm, you and the other two guides.

As a former WWII member of the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, your tour brought back many memories and the progress of the countries that I visited in 1944 and 1945.

I rate the overall service of your tour as excellent. Each day of the tour was a full day and in my opinion we got more than our monies worth. [...] Thanks again for a very interesting and enlightening trip."

- Joseph P. Delay, Beyond Band of Brothers Tour 2012


Spotlight on Olympia

Riefenstahl with her crew
Riefenstahl with her crew

Leni Riefenstahl is one of the most controversial figures in Nazi history. She began her carrier as a dancer before moving on to acting, producing and directing before becoming a key figure in the Nazi propaganda machine. Her best known work is Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will), a documentary about the 1934 Nuremberg Party Days of the NSDAP. The film introduced many innovations that had great influence on the movies and documentaries of the decades to come. Riefenstahl used moving cameras, long focus lenses, aerial shots and swelling music to achieve the desired effect of presenting an image of a strong and united German nation. The film impressed Hitler so much that he commissioned Riefenstahl to document the events of the upcoming Berlin Olympics.

In 1936 Germany hosted both the winter and summer Olympic Games. Both were documented by German filmmakers. Carl Junghans' 37- minute-long Jugend der Welt (Youth of the World) recorded the winter games of Garmisch-Partenkirche and focused more on the general feeling of the games than on the athletes and their competition. In contrast, Riefenstahl's Olympia was a two-part, four-hour ode to the spirit of the Olympics and the beauty of the human body.

 

Camera platform in operation at the Olympic stadium
Camera platform in operation at
the Olympic stadium

Riefenstahl documented the games using all the cinematographic developments of the age. Tracking shots, camera cranes, back lightning, unconventional angles, extreme close ups and slow motion cuts made it possible to convey a realistic depiction of the athletes as opposed to the theatricality of motion pictures of theperiod. Riefenstahl used several cameras (often eight or ten) to film a sequence of events, which enabled her to show the event from several points of view.

The film had a budget of 1.5 billion Reichsmarks. It took one and a half years to edit the 250 miles of footage into two parts, Fest der Völker(Festival of Nations) and Fest der Schönheit (Festival of Beauty). The average length of cuts was 5 seconds, which lent the film a dynamic rhythm. Riefenstahl juxtaposed shots of the cheering crowd with footage of the perfection and beauty of the competing athletes. The film's visual language has greatly influenced the way documentaries and even commercials have treated the human body since. The film made a lasting impact on modern sports broadcasting.

Filming from unusual angles
Filming from unusual angles

Premiering on April 20, 1938, Hitler's 49th birthday, the film was a tremendous success and went on to win several awards, including the Mussolini Cup at the Venice International Film Festival, as well as several German, French and Swedish awards. Olympia aimed to present Germany as an open and peaceful nation and the capital, Berlin, as a modern industrial city. By the time of its international release, however, the true face of the Nazi regime had been revealed, which is why the movie was boycotted in the USA and Riefenstahl met with open hostility on her American promotion tour.

Leni Riefenstahl's reputation was severely tarnished by her contributions to Nazi propaganda. She faced charges after WWII but was not convicted. Her carrier in ruins, she turned to photography. Even though her past as Hitler's propaganda director continues cast a shadow on her personality, her influence on modern-day cinematography is undeniable.

 

 

 

Written by: Nikoletta Koves