On 12 September 1944, the Allied armies in Belgium crossed the Dutch border near the village of Mesch in South Limburg, initiating the liberation of the Netherlands. They reached Maastricht two days later.
After the Allies had entered the Netherlands and liberated Maastricht, heavy fighting followed throughout the province, with the Maas (Meuse) river becoming a front line. The division that fought the toughest battles in this area was the 52nd British Lowland Division, which counted 752 casualties. Large swathes of Limburg were liberated during the final months of 1944, but early 1945 witnessed further engagement in which numerous soldiers and civilians lost their lives.
It took the Allied forces until 1 March 1945 to liberate Venlo in the north of Limburg, where hostilities centred on the airport – baptized “Yankee 55” after its capture by American troops. Because the Germans had blown up most of the airport before their retreat, the Americans set up a tented camp they called the “Venlo Hilton”.
The Eyewitness Museum uses the power of storytelling to bring World War II to life. The “eyewitness” in question is a fictional German paratrooper, August Segel, whose story is told through thirteen dioramas of wartime scenes, peopled by 150 life-sized mannequins and a number of prized objects. Sound effects accompany the battle scenes, and background information is provided throughout.
Just outside the town of Margraten, the American War Cemetery and Memorial is a moving monument to more than eight thousand US servicemen who died in the Dutch and Belgian campaigns of late 1944 and 1945. The centrepiece is a stone quadrangle recording the names of the fallen soldiers, together with a small visitors’ room and a pictorial and narrative description of the ebb and flow of the local campaign. Beyond the quadrangle, white marble crosses stretch into the distance. The cemetery is located near the historic Cologne–Boulogne highway, once trodden by Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Napoleon and Kaiser Wilhelm II.
This cemetery in Ysselsteyn is the only German military cemetery in the whole of the Netherlands. Eighty-five German soldiers from World War I and 32,000 combatants from World War II are buried here across 28 hectares of land.
Top image: View of Maastricht today © catolla/iStock