Operation “Blücher”

Frisius launched Operation “Blücher,” a raid in force against the Canadian and Czech positions around his perimeter. The raid so surprised the British command that it blew all the bridges over the canals in the area near the town and 25 miles away. Although the Allies counterattacked under heavy air cover, they failed to dislodge the Germans from their newly established positions.

Between the 28 April and 2 May 1945, the Germans were able to deliver a limited amount of supplies to the besieged garrison using Seehund, two-man midget submarines. These craft were normally armed with two torpedoes mounted on the outside. For the supply missions, the torpedoes were replaced with special food containers (nicknamed “butter torpedoes”). On the return voyages, they used the containers to carry mail from the Dunkirk garrison.

Upon the Allied breakout from Normandy, Adolf Hitler ordered the French Atlantic and Channel coast ports to be held as “fortresses” to deny their use to the Allies and tie down enemy troops. Although the Canadian 1st Army cleared the Pas-de-Calais region of France and liberated the Channel ports of Le Havre, Dieppe, Boulogne, and Calais, the port of Dunkirk proved a much more stubborn obstacle. In early September 1944, the Anglo-Canadians completed the landward containment of the German garrison at Dunkirk. Prior to the containment, the majority of the German 226th Infantry Division had withdrawn into the Dunkirk perimeter and, along with Kriegsmarine and Army coastal artillery and other support units formed the heart of the fortress garrison. Under the command of Vizeadmiral Frisius, Fortress Dunkirk held out isolated and under siege from the landward side for the rest of the war.

In accordance with its instructions of 5 Sep, 5 Cdn Inf Bde made the move from Dieppe on 6 Sep in two stages, halting at Bois Jean, south of Montreuil, and reaching Louches, three miles north-west of Tournehem, in steady rain late that night (W. D., H. Q., 6 Cdn Inf Bde, 6 Sep 44). At 0300 hours orders came from Headquarters 2 Cdn Inf Div that the brigade was to take Dunkirk. As a preliminary operation Camerons of C. moved against Gravelines. Before nightfall, however, a change in divisional plans assigned the capture of Gravelines to 5 Cdn Inf Bde and restored to 6 Cdn Inf Bde its original objectives of Nieuport, Furnes and La Panne (Ibid, 7 Sep 44). Early on the morning of the 8th the brigade pushed on to the north-east, encountering no opposition except for some shelling when passing to the south of Bergues. Fus M. R. proceeded on foot direct to its objective, Furnes, S. Sask R. to Nieuport, and Camerons of C., travelling forward in T. C. Vs. to save time, by-passed S. Sask R. to occupy positions in the area west of Nieuport (W. D., H. Q. 6 Cdn Inf Bde, 7, 8 Sep 44).

Because of the low nature of the ground the enemy had been able to flood large areas of country around Dunkirk. As a result, troop movement was confined to the high-built roads and exploitation and patrolling were severely curtailed. Kept thus to high ground and roads, the Canadian forces suffered from shell fire, which he was able to bring down with more effect than ordinarily. By 8 Sep 5 Bde’s task had been established as one of containing the Dunkirk garrison, estimated at some 9 to 10,000, by sealing off the routes in and out of the city from the west and south-west. The enemy had outpost positions in a wide perimeter which included Loon Plage, Mardick, Spycker and Bergues, with many section posts and gun positions scattered between these points. The reduction of these outposts became the Brigade’s immediate concern. (W. D., H. Q. 5 Cdn Inf Bde, 8 Sep 44). Early on the 8th Calg Highrs pushed off from Bourbourgville in a series of company “bites” towards Loon Plage. Passing through Les Planches, a collection of houses half way to Loon Plage, companies leap-frogged towards their objective, meeting stiffening opposition. There was heavy fighting on the outskirts of Loon Plage and it was apparent that the assault was going to be costly. A left flank attack by “D” Coy from the west managed to get within half a mile of the centre of the town, only to meet more violent enemy reaction. Before R. de Mais could arrive to assist the attackers, Calg Highrs had to withdraw its three forward companies, whose strength was only 30 each, as the men had been without food or water for nearly two days. Enemy infiltration caused some concern during the night 8/9 Sep, but the following morning the defenders withdrew, and Loon Plage was entered without difficulty (W. D., Calg Highrs, 8, 9 Sep 44). R. H. C., using “C” Coy and one troop “C” Sqn 8 Cdn Recce Regt, in order to take Coppenaxfort, had to advance up the road due to the flooding of the fields. All roads were about eight feet above the surrounding land and were under constant observation from the higher forts. For the next week Calg Highrs remained in contact with the enemy using Loon Plage as a base for extensive patrolling and a series of thrusts towards Mardick, three miles to the northeast. the position was finally taken on 17 Sep, and its capture marked the end of 5 Cdn Inf Bde’s operations against the Dunkirk defences. (W. D., H. Q. 5 Cdn Inf Bde, 17 Sep 44).

The advance of R. H. C. to Grand Mille Brugghe was held up on 8 Sep by the continued presence of the enemy in Coppenaxfort – the point where the Bourbourg Canal bends north-east towards Dunkirk. While the bulk of the battalion remained concentrated in Looborghe, “C” Coy and a troop of 8 Cdn Recce Regt was detailed to overcome this point of resistance. The attackers, moving towards Coppenaxfort from Bourbourgville had a peculiarly difficult problem. The only possible line of advance among the flooded farms and fields was the elevated road running south of the Bourbourg Canal and paralleling it. For 5000 metres both canal and road ran straight as an arrow, and only a few low trees afforded a very meagre form of protection from view. As the small force advanced well spaced under heavy fire, the leading armoured car was knocked out and the company was forced to ground some 500 yards short of its objective. Only when darkness fell was it possible to withdraw to a farm where slightly rising ground made deployment and digging in possible. At first light on the 9th the attack was resumed, and the company pushed forward to find the village vacated (W. D., R. H. C., 8 Sep 44; AEF/5 Cdn Inf Bde/C/D, Docket IV: Account by Major Pinkham, “C” Coy R. H. C., of the Attack on Coopenaxfort). Next day R. H. C. moved up along the Canal de la Hte Colme into Grand Mille Brugghe, where it remained until 13 Sep, continually undergoing artillery and mortar fire while engaged in mopping up enemy resistance int he immediate vicinity (Ibid, 9-13 Sep 44). Spycker, a mile to the north-west, was occupied on the 12th in a two-company attack. The enemy immediately counter-attacked, and for two days Spycker and Grand Mille Brugghe came under continuous shelling and mortaring, the enemy having turned some of his coastal guns and brought them to bear on inland targets (Ibid). On the night 13/14 Sep R. H. C. was forced to evacuate Spycker, and the battalion fell back to Bourbourgville. Its withdrawal was covered by R. de Mais, who, since 11 Sep had been engaged in cleaning up the Soex – Hooge Weld – Steene area south-west of Bergues (Ibid; AEF/5 Cdn Inf Bde/C/D, Docket IV: Account of a Two-Coy Attack on Spycker by “B” and “C” Coys R. H. C.; W. D., R. de Mais, 11, 12 Sep 44). There was little further activity on the brigade front until its relief by 4 (Brit) S. S. Bde on 17 Sep (W. D., H. Q. 5 Cdn Inf Bde, 13-17 Sep 44).

The capture of Ghyvelde, Bray Dunes and Bray Dunes Plage marked the western limit of 6 Cdn Inf Bde’s attempt to reach Dunkirk and brought to an end the brigade’s operations in that area. On the morning of 15 Sep the Divisional Commander announced that 2 Cdn Inf Div was to relieve 53 (W.) Inf Div in Antwerp (Ibid, 15 Sep 44). For the next two days units remained fairly inactive in their positions, their patrols reporting that the enemy had strengthened his F. D. Ls. along the entire front. It was evident that he intended to hold a strong perimeter about Dunkirk (Ibid, 17 Sep 44). Before the hand-over to the relieving force – 4 Special Service Brigade – on 18 Sep 1944.

The outer defences of Dunkirk now centred upon the town of Bergues, five miles south-east of the port. In accordance with the plan to maintain pressure upon the Dunkirk garrison until heavier artillery and assault equipment should be released from operations at the other Channel ports, 4 Cdn Inf Bde was ordered to this strongly held town. On the morning of 13 Sep the brigade – less Essex Scot – were relieved in Bruges by 4 Cdn Armd Div and returned into France to the locality of Bergues. The ground to the south-east of the town had been flooded by the enemy, who were found to be holding the north bank of the Canal de la Colme, and the Bergues – Furnes Canal, both of which ran through Bergues. The brigade plan was for R. Regt, C. to establish a bridgehead over the Canal east of Bergues, with R. H. L. I. attacking the town from close in. (W. D., H. Q. 4 Cdn Inf Bde, 13 Sep 44). From positions west of Warhem two companies of R. Regt C. prepared to cross the Bergues – Furnes Canal and work in behind the town in readiness for a night attack (W. D., R. Regt C., 14 Sep 44).

Although the Royals made a successful crossing during the night, and gathered some 25 prisoners, the attack of R. H. L. I. – scheduled to begin at 0430 hours 15 Sep – begged down from delays in clearing the extensive minefields. At the same time the enemy fired a large patrol dump, the light of which prevented the companies from achieving their starting positions (W. D., H. Q. 4 Cdn Inf Bde, 15 Sep 44; W. D., R. H. L. I., 15 Sep 44). Attempts to bridge the canal on the 15th failed, and R. Regt C. met with increasing resistance. As a result Essex Scot, who had been brought forward from reserve for the assault, were not committed. During the morning orders were received to the effect that 4 Cdn Inf Bde would move the following day to the Antwerp area, and the attack on Bergues was called off (W. D., H. Q. 4 Cdn Inf Bde, 15 Sep 44). But the brigade attack had not been in vain. On the following day, 16 Sep, 8 Cdn Recce Regt (14 C. H.) entered Bergues at 1100 hours, the enemy having withdrawn (W. D., 8 Cdn Recce Regt, 16 Sep 44). On 16 Sep 4 Cdn Inf Bde moved to Antwerp – the first formation of 2 Cdn Inf Div to take part in the relief of 53 (W.) Inf Div – and assumed responsibilities from 71 Brit Inf Bde in the lock area (W. D., H. Q. 4 Cdn Inf Bde, 16 Sep 44).

To relieve 3 Cdn Inf Div at Dunkirk and Calais, the Commander 4 S. S. Bde would take over both commitments, retaining under his command the reconnaissance regiment and machine gun battalion of 3 Cdn Inf Div as well as certain additional necessary forces. Headquarters First Cdn Army would take over the direction and administration of these containing forces, in order to free the Commander 2 Cdn Corps of this responsibility.

On 8-9 October 1944, the Czechoslovak Independent Armored Brigade Group, commanded by General Alois Liška and subordinated to the 1st Canadian Army, arrived at the Dunkirk perimeter and took over from the British as the operational controlling element of the containment forces for the rest of the war.

On 5 April 1945, Frisius launched Operation “Blücher,” a raid in force against the Canadian and Czech positions around his perimeter. The raid so surprised the British command that it blew all the bridges over the canals in the area near the town and 25 miles away. Although the Allies counterattacked under heavy air cover, they failed to dislodge the Germans from their newly established positions.

On 9 May 1945—the formal capitulation of Germany—Vizeadmiral Frisius surrendered Fortress Dunkirk to General Liška at Wormhoudt.

The brigade was about 4260 men: 167 died during the battle, 461 were wounded and 40 missing in action.

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Vizeadmiral Friedrich Frisius

Friedrich Frisius was born on 17th January 1895 in the charming German township of Bad Salzuflen, which lies roughly halfway between Hannover and Dortmund (Nordrhein – Westfalen), but little is known about his childhood and youth. Yet we know that from the very beginning of his adult life, he was formed by his career with the Kriegsmarine, which he entered as a Kadett in 1913.

Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War he underwent a training on the protected cruiser Victoria Louise and during the four wartime years, during which he served on torpedo boats as well as cruisers, he became a Lieutenant of the Navy. His career went steadily upward, though.

Between 1919 and 1923 he was assigned to the Baltic coastal defences, where he, aside from other activities, took part in suppressing the Communist uprisings and in maintaining law and order in the heavily shaken post-war Germany. From September 1929 he went through a series of commanding and training posts in various assignments – and he commanded another torpedo boat.

From 1929 to 1931 he joined the Foreign Department of the military intelligence (the Abwehr) at the Reich Defence Ministry. Later, two further commanding assignments followed on ships and the Naval School at Muerwick, but in 1935, a Korvettenkapitaen at that time, rejoined the Abwehr.

From a Consultant he shortly became a Group Leader in the Foreign Dept. and he was to see the outbreak of the Second World War as a staff officer of the Hamburg Kriegsmarine Service Centre, which was, like the other Kriegsmarinedienststellen, responsible for providing merchant ships for the war effort and for the overseeing the supply chain and the preparation and movement of troops.

From here he moved to the Boulogne Service Centre and, on 26th January 1941, already in the rank of a Navy Captain, he became the commander of the local coastal defences. During the three following wartime years, from 16th December 1941 to 28th October 1944, he was assigned to Pas de Calais as the commander of its fortifications. His position was of major importance and of great impact on the German military strategy. Indeed, it was here that the main Allied blow was expected to strike hardest when the invasion to Europe was to come.

On 15th September 1944, when the coastal defences of Pas de Calais, which he still commanding, are non-existent for some months, he is assigned to command the Fortress of Dunkirk (Festung Duenkirchen). Only a few days before his new assignment, he and his strong garrison were completely enclosed by the Allies. Yet the port was to be held at all costs to tie down Allied units and to prevent them from using it. On 30th September 1944, Frisius was promoted to the rank of Vizeadmiral.

No more than a month afterwards, on 8th and 9th October 1944, the static siege task was taken over from the Canadian units by the Czechoslovak Independent Armoured Brigade Group under the command of Major-General Alois Liska, which besieged the energetic garrison until the end of the war.

By Operation Bluecher, the last desperate break-out attempt against the enemy lines on 5th May 1945, Frisius testified for the last time to his fanatic loyalty to Hitler and Nazi Germany, and although the attack was indeed very surprising to the British command (the bridges near the town were even blown up) and the German units were not to be dislodged from their newly gained positions until the end of hostilities, four days later, on 9th May 1945, Vizeadmiral Frisius handed the Fortress to the hands of General Liska at the Brigade Group’s Headquarters at Wormhoudt.

He was taken prisoner immediately after he signed the unconditional surrender, spending a couple of post-war years at Island Farm, the Special Camp 11 at Bridgend, from where he was released on 6th October 1947.

Friedrich Frisius died 30th August 1970 in the town of Lingen (Ems) in Lower Saxony, Germany, in the age of 75.

15 September 1944-9 May 1945: Fortress Commandant Dunkirk, France.

Upon the Allied breakout from Normandy, Adolf Hitler ordered the French Atlantic and Channel coast ports to be held as “fortresses” to deny their use to the Allies and tie down enemy troops. Although the Canadian 1st Army cleared the Pas-de-Calais region of France and liberated the Channel ports of Le Havre, Dieppe, Boulogne, and Calais, the port of Dunkirk proved a much more stubborn obstacle. In early September 1944, the Anglo-Canadians completed the landward containment of the German garrison at Dunkirk. Prior to the containment, the majority of the German 226th Infantry Division had withdrawn into the Dunkirk perimeter and, along with Kriegsmarine and Army coastal artillery and other support units formed the heart of the fortress garrison. Under the command of Vizeadmiral Frisius, Fortress Dunkirk held out isolated and under siege from the landward side for the rest of the war. On 8-9 October 1944, the Czechoslovak Independent Armored Brigade Group, commanded by General Alois Liška and subordinated to the 1st Canadian Army, arrived at the Dunkirk perimeter and took over from the British as the operational controlling element of the containment forces for the rest of the war. On 5 April 1945, Frisius launched Operation “Blücher,” a raid in force against the enemy positions around his perimeter. The raid so surprised the British command that it blew the bridges over the canals near the town. Although the Allies counterattacked under heavy air cover, they failed to dislodge the Germans from their newly established positions. On 9 May 1945—the formal capitulation of Germany—Vizeadmiral Frisius surrendered Fortress Dunkirk to General Liška at Wormhoudt.  

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