The developments on the Western Front, from the moment the allied troops crossed the river Seine by the end of August 1944, made the position of Antwerp more and more important. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the American commander of all allied troops in Western-Europe already saw in an early stage that future operations, deep into Germany, only were possible if the provisioning and supply could take place through a deep water harbor close to the frontline. In August 1944, the allies did not comply with that condition. The advance that followed from the river Seine had to comply with this demand and one of the primary targets of the allies was the liberation of Antwerp.
Already on September 4th, 1944, this goal was reached and the clearing of the city and the docks took only a few days. Target achieved? General Brian Horrocks, commander of the British 30th Army Corps and responsible for the attack force on Antwerp, has written after the war that he could be blamed for the conquest of Antwerp on September 4th to be a Ēserious mistakeĒ: he should have passed the harbor city at his left flank and before anything else, he should have had the 11th Armoured Division advancing via a bridgehead over the Albert canal to Woensdrecht (Noord-Brabant) and the isthmus of Zuid-Beveland (Zeeland), in order to prevent the retreating German 15th Army [15. Heresabteilung] from crossing the river Scheldt. He furthermore wrote: ďIt never occurred to me that the river Scheldt would be flooded with mines and that we could not use Antwerp harbor if not first of all the mines would have been swept and we had driven the Germans away from both banks.Ē His attention and the attention of his immediate chief, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, at that moment of time were completely focused on taking Arnhem and crossing the river Rhine. There it was, according to the generals, that the decisive battle had to be won, in order to advance thereafter deeply into Germany and thus to force a quick ending of the war in Europe.
Unfortunately the battle for Arnhem (17 Ė 25 September) was lost and to blame for this loss was, ironically, also the lack of supplies. Montgomery, responsible for the whole northern sector of the front, had to admit that after the misfortune of loosing the battle for Arnhem, the opening of the Scheldt estuary became now priority number one.
The German General Staff also realized that the free entrance to Antwerp was of crucial importance to the allies. After General Gustav-Adolf von Zangen with his 15th army had been able to escape from being surrounded by the allied forces at Calais, the majority of his troops (about 90,000 strong) had been able to arrive at and cross the Westerscheldt and had therefore been in the position to establish forceful defenses around the river mouth. A part of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen became inundated and the German occupying forces could wait patiently for things that were to happen.
The Battle for the Scheldt could commence.