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WWII vehicles collection finds new home in Overloon

General Marshall Museum closes

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

ZWIJNDRECHT - The extensive collection of WWII vehicles, materiel and other displays from the General George C. Marshall Museum in this Zuid-Holland town, will be moved to a new location. The trucks, tanks, motorcycles and other vehicles soon will be on permanent display in a new wing of the National War and Resistance Museum in Overloon, the site of a lengthy and fierce tank battle in the Fall of 1944.

Much of the Zwijndrecht collection was amassed by Jaap de Groot who just after the war had set up his own steel construction firm, starting out with a surplus U.S. Army wrecker. When De Groot retired in 1988, he bought another such piece of heavy machinery and began collecting other heavy WWII equipment used to transport and repair tanks and trucks and other motorized vehicles in the field. Every vehicle in the collection was taken apart, every part overhauled or replaced, then put back together according to the original specifications. Impressed with the standardization of vehicles parts and how the vehicles were mass produced, De Groot and his people dedicated their collection and the museum to the man who oversaw this part of the giant war effort, General George C. Marshall.

On May 24, 1997, fifty years after the implementation of the Marshall Plan, the museum was opened by NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General G. A. Joulwan, an American.

The museum contains a collection of over 300 military vehicles, against a background of various historical scenes from World War II. The Marshall Museum was housed in four industrial halls, covering a total of 44,000 square feet.

Five-star General of the Army, George C. Marshall (1880 - 1959) served as Chief of Staff from 1939 to 1945, building and directing the largest army in history. A diplomat, he acted as Secretary of State from 1947 to 1949, formulating the Marshall Plan, an unprecedented program of economic and military aid to foreign nations. The economic boom of the 1950s in the Netherlands in large part was the result of the Plan, which had emphasized rebuilding the industrial facilities and infrastructure.

For almost sixty years, the Overloon museum has stood as a permanent reminder and indictment of the horrors of war, which particularly devastated the eastern part of North Brabant and the Meuse Salient. (The tank battle there was the most protracted one that took place in Europe during WWII and has been described in the book The Forgotten Battle.) To enhance its goals, the Overloon museum needed to expand and modernize so it could accommodate the increasing numbers of visitors required to remain viable and to meet rising budgets. The Zwijndrecht collection serves this goal in many ways.

The expansion involved a lengthy battle with bureaucracy. To accommodate the Marshall collection, museum officials proposed to add a wing to the Overloon museum. Taking space away from the park created much controversy. After much wrangling with municipal authorities and environmentalists, building of the new wing started recently. The museum will compensate park loss by planting trees at an adjacent, bigger lot it specifically purchased.

The Battle of Overloon

Until September 1944, the Limburg village of Overloon, just north of the town of Venray, largely had been unaffected by the WWII fighting. On the 26th however, all that changed when the Allies attempted to expand their tenuous hold after Operation Market Garden largely had failed. The Germans had entrenched in the area and resisted advancing Allies fiercely. A four-day bombardment was followed by an Allied attack with the help of the American 7th Armored Division that had been specially drafted for the purpose. It pitched Sherman tanks against German Panzers, with no breaches of German lines for days. On October 8, the Americans were relieved by the 11th British Tank Division and the 3rd British Infantry Division. A new assault was to be launched four days later, but the Allied tanks literally bogged down. The difficult task of breaking the German resistance was left to the infantry.

An immense artillery raid pounded the German positions and reduced Overloon and a wide area around it to rubble. British ground troops slowly advanced, fighting over each ruined house or barn. Even in the woods, fierce man-to-man combat raged with German snipers picking off advancing soldiers.

Two days of fierce fighting ensued before the last German stronghold fell in the village. The Germans had not given up however and redeployed in the forest. British troops gained ground extremely labouriously. Heavy fighting continued especially over the mined Molenbeek, a creek swollen from days of heavy rain. The Allied capture of the bridge took more than a day with more heavy fighting awaiting in Venray.

Allied losses at Overloon numbered 1,878 men, forty tanks and three airplanes. German losses were fewer, although hundreds of their soldiers were captured. Overloon itself was left in ruins.

The battle, codenamed Operation Aintree, lasted till Christmas 1944 when the last stronghold fell on the western bank of the Meuse, near Venlo. The battle is considered to be the fiercest in Western Europe since D-Day. It is not surprising that the Overloon battle largely has been ‘forgotten’ among the other events of 1944 and 1945. Allied commanders described it as a ‘second Caen,’ referring to the battlegrounds in Normandy of June 1944.

The Overloon museum was set up immediatly after the infamous battle to serve as a monument to the action and to preserve some of the battlefield. It had been an initiative of local resident Harry van Daal, who had witnessed some of the events. On 25 May 1946, the museum was officially opened. The 15-hectare park, which houses the buildings, has become a permanent reminder and indictment of the horrors of war.