Operation WET FOOT

International Operation Name: Not applicable                      

International Operation Dates:  Not applicable                               

Mandating Organization: Government of Canada

Region Name:  Europe

Location:  Netherlands

Canadian Operation Name: Operation WET FOOT

Canadian Operation Dates: 1953/02/03 – 1953/02/22

Mission Mandate: To deliver humanitarian assistance and provide aid to the Netherlands.

Mission Notes:

In the early hours of 30 January a low-pressure area developed east of Iceland. It moved east over the next day so that it was between Scotland and Norway by noon, 31 January. Filling in behind the low was a strong high-pressure ridge. As the air flowed from the high to the low pressure area the steep pressure gradient generated winds that gusted to 200 km/h (120 mph) off the coast of Scotland. The low then shifted southwards pushing a strong storm surge ahead of it and generating high waves.

The east coast of England and Scotland were overwhelmed by the force of the North Sea. A car ferry sank off Scotland, claiming 133 lives. Over 170 other people lost their lives in the United Kingdom as the sea washed out dikes and flooded large areas during the day and into the night of 31 January. The worse was yet to come. With the winds blowing from the north, the low was able to push the storm surge and 8 metres waves ahead of it. It hit the Netherlands at 4:00 AM on 1 February. The dikes along the southwest part of the country were easily breached by the combination of waves, storm surge and a high tide. By daybreak, one-sixth of the country was under water, 1835 people were drowned, 12.8 percent of its cropland and pasture were destroyed, as were 3000 homes and 300 farms. It was the worst flood in over 300 years.

The Canadian Ambassador in The Hague made an immediate offer of assistance, while Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent proposed the Red Cross set up a national flood relief committee to which the government would make a substantial contribution - $1,000,000. In addition a troop of field engineers from the Canadian army in Germany was detached for service in the Netherlands, and the RCAF flew relief flights into the country.

One further result of the flooding was that the Canadian government eased immigration rules specifically for inhabitants of the stricken areas in Belgium, England, and the Netherlands, and more specifically farmers. One effect was that whole families could immigrate to Canada, rather than just heads of families.

Starting 5 February, No. 426 Squadron North Stars made the first of four trips to Amsterdam. These flights carried 1500 army blankets, plus clothing and boots provided by the Canadian Red Cross. Further North Star flights departed on 12, 17 and 22 February.

From the Canadian 27th Infantry Brigade in Germany, a troop from the 58th Independent Field Engineering Squadron was detached to the 38th Field Regiment, Royal Engineers. By 11:00 AM on February 2nd, the officer commanding the 58th Field had been warned that he may assisting in flood relief efforts. By 8:00 AM the next morning, approval had been given, the engineers had drawn stores and had departed, returning to Germany and control of the 27th Brigade on 17 February. The engineers were equipped with searchlights and amphibious vehicles. Their initial task was to assist in rescue efforts, then later to assist in repairs.


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