On 10 May 1940 the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), under the command of Lord Gort, moved forward from the Franco-Belgian border and took up positions along a 20-mile sector off the River Dyle, to await the arrival of the German Army Group B. Their expected stay was considerably shorter than planned as the German Army Group A pushed its way through the Ardennes and crossed the Meuse at Sedan, scattering the French before them. Little did the men of the BEF realise that the orders to retire would result in their evacuation from Dunkirk and other channel ports.
The line of the River Escaut was seen as the last real opportunity for the Allied armies to halt the advancing German Army, but the jigsaw of defence was tenuous and the allied hold on the river was undone by the weight of opposing German forces and the speed of the armoured ‘Blitzkrieg’ thrust further south. As far as the BEF were concerned, the Battle for the Escaut took place on a 30-mile sector from Oudenaarde to Bléharies and involved units in a sometimes desperate defence, during which two Victoria Crosses were awarded.
This book takes the battlefield tourist from Oudenaarde to Hollain in a series of tours that retrace the footsteps of the BEF. With the help of local historians, the author has pinpointed crucial actions and answered some of the myriad questions associated with this important phase of the France and Flanders campaign of 1940.
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