‘The Forgotten Battle’ – The True Story Behind the Netflix Film

Photo Credit: Darkknight / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Darkknight / MovieStillsDB

The Forgotten Battle (202) captivated audiences with its gripping portrayal of a lesser-known chapter of the Second World War. Set in the Netherlands during the conflict’s final months, the film is based on a monumental and often overlooked battle to take the Scheldt estuary from the Germans.

This is the real story of the Battle of the Scheldt, the Canadian-led operation designed to open up Allied access to Antwerp.

The Forgotten Battle (2020)

Coen Bril and Tom Felton as Henk Schneijder and Lt. Tony Turner in 'The Forgotten Battle'
The Forgotten Battle, 2020. (Photo Credit: Darkknight / MovieStillsDB)

Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., The Forgotten Battle chronicles the often-overlooked events of the Battle of the Scheldt. The story follows a diverse group of characters navigating the brutality of war, among them a young Dutch Resistance member from Zeeland, a British glider pilot and a Dutch Axis soldier grappling with his conscience.

The strategically crucial Scheldt estuary becomes the center of the plot. Each of the three characters finds themselves involved in fighting, with the film following them in the lead-up to – and for the duration of – the grueling battle.

The Forgotten Battle was considered a great success upon its release, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a critic score of 100 percent. Within 28 days of being on Netflix, the film had accumulated over 60.93 million hours watched, making it one of the service’s top 10 non-English movies of all time.

How historically accurate is The Forgotten Battle (2020)?

Still from 'The Forgotten Battle'
The Forgotten Battle, 2020. (Photo Credit: Darkknight / MovieStillsDB)

Given The Forgotten Battle is based on real events, it’s understandable to wonder how accurate the film really is. Most of the big-picture elements are accurate, including the tactics and equipment used. The weapons, including the Lee-Enfield bolt action rifle and Bren light machine gun, are very accurate.

The film does deviate from reality, however, in terms of its characters. None of the main ones were based on real people – they’re representations of those with stakes in the Battle of the Scheldt. The entire plotline surrounding the Dutch Resistance was also fictitious, although members did work tirelessly to undermine German troops. As such, the nighttime raid that broke the enemy defenses near the end of the battle did actually happen, it just wasn’t the result of Resistance intelligence.

Lead-up to the Battle of the Scheldt

Troops with the Canadian First Army coming ashore in amphibious vehicles
Amphibious vehicles taking Canadian First Army troops across the Scheldt, 1944. (Photo Credit: Donald I. Grant / Library and Archives Canada / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The Forgotten Battle accurately represented the Battle of the Scheldt, which is often overshadowed by Operation Market Garden, due to the offensives being launched within a month of each other.

By 1944, the Allies knew they needed to secure a port to resupply their liberation armies. After the success of D-Day, the Belgian White Brigade was able to take the port of Antwerp back from the Germans, and the British 11th Armored Division arrived that September to help hold it. The problem was that the Germans still held the Scheldt estuary, the waterway leading from the North Sea into Antwerp; without clearing out the enemy, the Allies wouldn’t be able to use the port.

Although they knew they needed to launch an attack, these troops were left waiting while resources were dedicated to operations Market Garden, Wellhit and Undergo. This meant that, by the time a move was made, the Germans had heavily reinforced their positions.

Getting the go-ahead to launch an assault

H.A. Marshall and S. Kormendy crouching in a roadside ditch
Sgt. H.A. Marshall and Cpl. S. Kormendy, scouts with the Calgary Highlanders, advancing north of Kapellen, Belgium, 1944. (Photo Credit: Ken Bell / The Liberation of Belgium and the Battle of the Scheldt Photo Gallery / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The First Canadian Army was finally given the go-ahead and put under the command of Lt. Gen. Guy Simonds. They launched their attack on October 2, 1944, fighting alone for two weeks before Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery ordered that the 52nd British Division be attached to the Canadians.

The engagement was fierce, and the troops had to deal with unforgiving terrain. They were fighting in areas that were flat, flooded and muddy, as they were largely below sea level. This made it hard for them to use armored vehicles, and they were instead forced to travel through enemy territory on exposed roads that left them open to German attacks.

By November 3, much of the area had been taken by the Allies. However, Walcheren Island remained.

Battle of Walcheren Causeway

Gijs Blom as Marinus van Staveren in 'The Forgotten Battle'
The Forgotten Battle, 2020. (Photo Credit: Darkknight / MovieStillsDB)

Walcheren Island was an extremely difficult position to take, as it lay at the end of a long and narrow causeway. However, it was the only way the Allies could get over to the defending Germans, as the land on either side was too wet to walk over. As well, there wasn’t nearly enough water to launch an amphibious attack. It was decided the Royal Air Force (RAF) would bomb nearby dams to flood the area, after which the troops could use amphibious vehicles.

They took Walcheren Island by launching three attacks: one over the causeway in the east, one from the west via the sea and the third from the south through the Scheldt. The First Canadian Army was tasked with attacking the causeway on October 31, 1944, and they were able to gain a foothold after a costly fight. The British then aided in securing the bridge, allowing the Allies to take the island’s capital by November 6 and secure Walcheren entirely two days later.

Suffering heavy casualties

Members of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Wentworth Regiment), 2nd Canadian Infantry Division riding in vehicles along a road
Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Wentworth Regiment), 2nd Canadian Infantry Division during the Battle of the Scheldt, 1944. (Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Library and Archives Canada / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The fighting was deadly, and the Canadians suffered extremely high casualties, making the Battle of the Scheldt their bloodiest engagement of World War II. Undoubtedly, the most disastrous day of all was what became known as “Black Friday,” when the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) lost their commanding officers and an additional 145 men.

The heavy losses were, in part, because of how well the Germans had entrenched themselves in their positions. The large number of casualties was also because the area provided no cover for enemy fire.

Soldier William “Bill” Davis explained, “We went across there, a thousand yards, with no cover, no nothing. The only thing that was there was beets. How the h**l we ever got across, I don’t know, because the Germans were dug into a big dike at the other side, which contained the railway and a roadway, the only way to get to Walcheren.”

Aftermath of the Battle of the Scheldt

German prisoners of war (POWs) gathered along a street
German prisoners of war (POWs) on Walcheren Island, 1944. (Photo Credit: P/O A. Goodchild / Imperial War Museums / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

By the time the Battle of the Schedlt had ended, the Canadian First Army had taken a whopping 41,043 German prisoners and suffered over 6,000 casualties. The losses were high, but there was another major problem faced by the Canadians. Many of the men had continually pushed through from D-Day, liberating the channel ports before moving to the Scheldt. Battle exhaustion became extremely common.

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Despite the ultimate success of the Canadian forces in taking the Scheldt, many historians feel it was made needlessly difficult by the tactical decisions of Allied command. If the assault hadn’t taken a back seat to Operation Market Garden, it’s almost certain the area could have been cleared of its German occupants quickly and with fewer losses.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.