April 1945: The difficult liberation of Otterlo
On Sunday the 15th of April, 1945 the Canadians reach the Veluwe: the liberation has begun. The troops headed for Deelen Air Base first and took it without much resistance from the Germans. Then they went onto the National Park the Hoge Veluwe. Since September 1944, the Kröller-Müller Museum has housed an emergency hospital of the Red Cross, where the Canadians at around noon, are received with great enthusiasm.
Otterlo freed or not?
They move on, and by 6 p.m., the first tanks approach the village of Otterlo, near farm De Houtkamp. There, the Germans, from the Hoenderlose Road, subject the front tank to ammunition. The tank fires back. During this shelling back and forth, father Willem and son Sander van de Ham are fatally wounded at their house on the Hoenderlose Road. The front tank then moves in the direction of the village’s main street to locate their enemies. The remaining tanks are waiting on the Hoge Veluwe. At the beginning of the village’s main street, past the cemetery, the Canadian tank is shot by a German cannon and taken out.
Among the tank crew, three are dead, and one badly wounded. The rest of the tank convoy retreats to the Hoge Veluwe and spends the night in the vicinity of the museum. On Monday morning, the liberation continues and early on in the day, the tanks advance again. Otterlo is now approached from both easterly and southerly directions. It is conquered relatively easily from the Germans. At the end of the afternoon, the convoy travels in the direction of De Harskamp. Tough combat follows. After which, part of the troop retreats in the direction of Otterlo. They moved into positions near the Genie Road and closed the road to Hoenderloo. The Allies established their headquarters in the Reformed Church in Otterlo. About six hundred men were quartered in the church, the school and houses in the village. On Monday evening April the 16th, Otterlo seems liberated.
During the night, at around 3 a.m., an eight hundred strong German infantry unit storms into the village. They want to retreat to the 'Panther Position', the German defence line. Fights break out everywhere, often man-to-man. There is chaos in the village. A real battle has broken out in and around Otterlo. This lasts all night. The fighting is extremely intense. As one moment the Allies seem to be winning, the next moment, the Germans seem to rule the village again. In the early morning, four Canadian soldiers flee into the National Park. They happen to make contact with a British tank unit. They send reinforcements on the 17th of April at the crack of dawn. One Churchill tank and two universal Carriers equipped with flamethrowers, move into the village. After major losses on both sides, the Canadian and British are victorious. In addition to the allied casualties, the village suffers four deaths among its population.