America helped play a key role in the liberation of Holland from September 1944 to April 1945, starting in Mesch in the Dutch province of Limburg, then fighting through Noord-Brabant and Gelderland. Thousands of American soldiers gave their lives to break a German defence fuelled heavy artillery and the desperation of what defeat might bring. Follow their Liberation Route.
- Read more about the battles that led to Allied victory in Holland.
- Discover more about the only American military cemetery in the Netherlands.
- Follow the Liberation Route to retrace the steps of the American troops who helped liberate Holland.
American troops arrive to help liberate Holland
After one of the hottest summers they had ever experienced, exhausted by the heat and four years of Nazi control, a group of Dutch farmers are working in the vivid green fields and orchards adjoining the Dutch village of Mesch. They hear a strange noise, and before they know it are surrounded by soldiers. Before they can react, one of the uniformed men, with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and a grin flashing across his face for the first time in days, calls out to them: “you are liberated,” he says, “the Allies are here!” These soldiers are from the US Army’s 30th Infantry Division, and this is the beginning of America’s support in freeing Holland from the clutches of Nazi control.
Operation Market Garden
America’s involvement in Holland’s liberation was invaluable. Just five days after US troops had entered Mesch in the south of the province of Limburg, American soldiers were also being dropped behind enemy lines as part of Operation Market Garden in Gelderland and North-Brabant. One of the biggest airborne attacks ever made, it aimed to break through to Germany from the Netherlands by capturing strategic Dutch bridges, including two which crossed the River Waal near Nijmegen. Under the leadership of General James Gavin, US paratroops from the 82nd Airborne Division landed near the village of Groesbeek on Sunday, 17 September 1944. Three days later, under heavy fire from a German defence that had been strengthened with reinforcements, a plan was made to attack the bridges from both sides at the same time, which meant that troops had to cross the river by boat. They crossed the Waal under fierce fire, managing to reach the north bank and hold on to it. From there they secured the bridges and helped liberate the city of Nijmegen. During the operation, half of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 260 soldiers had been killed or injured. To make matters worse, the Allies were defeated in their attempt to secure the last bridge over the Rhine at the Battle of Arnhem and the operation failed.
The liberation of Brabant and the Battle of Overloon
Though Operation Market Garden was unsuccessful, US troops had managed to liberate a corridor of land which stretched from Belgium to Nijmegen via Eindhoven, eventually paving the way for the liberation of the rest of the province of Noord-Brabant. One battle which helped secure this corridor was the Battle of Overloon, which began with an assault by the Sherman tanks of the 7th American Armoured division on 30 September 1944. It ended more than two weeks later after some of the fiercest fighting witnessed during WWII when the Allies finally liberated the Dutch city of Venray. Around the same time that the battle ended, the American 104th division 'Timberwolves' joined an Allied force which attacked west and central Brabant, helping to liberate the province in early November.
The monotony of war
Months of intense fighting followed this victory, with little ground given on either side. The Germans could see they were losing the war, but this only made them more desperate. Securing the Rhine remained an unattainable goal for the Allied army. The fighting in Holland subsided, and the monotony of war took over the terror, with soldiers on the front mostly battling the intense cold of a winter which was as unforgiving as the enemy.
German surrender and the liberation of Limburg
On 8 February 1945, British-Canadian troops launched Operation Veritable. The American forces’ Operation Grenade was planned to start simultaneously, bringing the Allies to the Rhine in a pincer movement. Unfortunately, the Germans had flooded the River Rur, preventing the commencement of Operation Grenade. A turning point came on 23 February 1945, when the water level of the River Rur fell far enough for the Americans to cross, beginning the delayed action. After taking Roermond and Venlo, on 3 March the Americans met English troops in Geldern, Germany. Defeated, the Germans still in Limburg surrendered. The liberation of the province, which began on 12 September 1944, was finally complete. The US troops moved into Germany, having played a major part in unshackling Holland from one of history’s most oppressive regimes.
Visit the American War Cemetery and Memorial
Today, people from Holland and all around the world still arrive bearing Remembrance Day bouquets and wreaths to lay among the 8,301 headstones at the American Military Cemetery in Margraten, paying honour to people that played an instrumental part in securing the freedom they enjoy to this day. A further 1,722 names are inscribed on the Walls of the Missing. ‘The Faces of Margraten’ is an ongoing project to collect personal photographs and put 10,023 faces to the 10,023 names of the fallen.
Editors' tip: You will find the 'Faces of Margraten' and an annual Liberation Concert at Margraten cemetery!