The Battle of Overloon
This changed when the front reached the Peel village on 26 September 1944. The narrow strip of land between Eindhoven and Arnhem that was liberated during operation Market Garden slowly but surely became wider. The advance was going well, until the troops reached Overloon. The Germans had dug in here in order to stop the Allies. Inevitably, it came to skirmishes in the first four days. And during those first battles, the inhabitants of Overloon were compelled by the German soldiers to leave their homes. It was the beginning of a long evacuation.
On 30 September the Allies began a large attack with 7th American Armoured division, which had been called in specifically for this purpose. It was the beginning of one of the fiercest battles in Western Europe. For nine days, the American Sherman tanks tried to breach the German defences, but time and time again, they ran into German mines, artillery and Panther tanks. On 8 October, the Americans were relieved by the 11th British Armoured division and the 3rd British Infantry division, under command of major-general L. C. Whistler.
After a few days of relative peace, a new attack would begin on 11 October. But due to heavy rainfall, that attack was postponed by a day. The area around Overloon by now had changed into one large puddle, meaning that the British tanks could do little. The infantry, together with the artillery, had the difficult task of breaking the German resistance.
On 12 October at 11.00 a.m., all hell broke loose. For an hour and a half, the Allies attacked the German defences with heavy artillery and air strikes. At least 40,000 shells flew around the Germans’ ears. When Overloon lay completely in ruins, the advance of the British began. House by house was conquered, at the cost of huge losses. And intense man-to-man fighting also took place in the woods.
On 14 October in the afternoon, the last German stronghold in the village fell. With that, Overloon was liberated – although there was not much left of it...
But the German resistance was not yet broken. The Germans re-grouped in the woods between Overloon and Venray. The British gained ground only very slowly under harsh weather conditions. The greatest drama followed at the small river Loobeek. The whole area around the Loobeek, including the river itself, was laid with mines. Due to the torrential rain, the stream had become six meters wide. The Germans were able to prevent a bridge being spanned across water for a long time, but in the end it was done. The tanks that passed over the bridge immediately got stuck in the mud. Under murderous machine gun fire, the British tried to reach the other side over the bridge and through the water. The brook ran red with their blood, and thus got the nickname 'Blood Brook'. In the evening of 16 October, the British managed to cross en masse. Three days later, Venray was also taken after heavy house-to-house fighting, which meant the end of the great battle.
WHAT REMAINED BEHIND WAS A TOTALLY DESTROYED OVERLOON
The Allies had not experienced such intense opposition since the Normandy beaches in June. Hundreds of Allied soldiers were killed. The number of German soldiers who died remains unknown; it is estimated that in Overloon and Venray, a total of more than a thousand soldiers died, and at least the same number were injured.
Harry van Daal, resident of Overloon, was so shocked by the events that he proposed that a part of the battlefield be kept intact and developed as a museum. And thus on 25 May 1946, even before the village itself was re-built, the War Museum officially opened in Overloon. It was the first museum in the Netherlands dedicated to keeping the memory of the Second World War alive.