September 4th 1939
a few kilometers away from the important bridges of Boom, near Breendonk, one of the Shermans from 3th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment of lt-kol. David Silvertop
was halted by a local man who, afterwards, seemed to be Robert Vekemans
Vekemans was a professional officer with experience in blowing up bridges during May '40. He also had an engineer diploma in civil life. During the occupation he worked at 'Bridges and Roads' in Antwerpen (a civil organisation responsable for bridges and roads).
He also worked for Alex, the illegal 'secret service' collecting data. During that time he had good contacts with Lt. Reniers (http://www.warandtactics.com/smf/admin-board/belgian-resistance-in-and-around-antwerpen-in-september-1944/
Vekemans studied the roadmaps and came to the logical conclusion that when the Allies took the road to Antwerp they would have Boom at their path, with its bridges. All those bridges were ofcourse ready to be blown up by the Germans. A frontal attack would lead to the destruction to the bridges and a huge loss in time which would lead to the lack of surprise. To keep the element of surprise he walked towards a roadjunction in front of Boom and awaited the Allied tanks. His plan was to lead them away from the important bridges and made them cross the river on a small, less important, bridge and surprise the Germans who were guarding the bigger bridges. (small bridge=Van Enschodtbridge)
When the Allied tanks arrived, at 08:35hr, they weren't eager to stop for a civilian waving at them. On numerous occasion civilians lead them to small villages to be 'liberated'...
Only the 3rd tanks halted and listened to Vekemans. Commander of that tank was Welshman Stubbs
, that evening promoted to Captain, who informed his commander, major Dunlop
, about the civilian and his plan.
Dunlop gave Vekemans 1 recon vehicle and 3 Shermans.
The plan was to deviate from the original road to Antwerp and go by the wooden Van Enschodtbrug, crossing the 'Rupel' river.
The Van Enschodtbrug was also wired but they used Belgian materials (never use local stuff when you're occupying his land), the wires were cut nevertheless, just to make sure.
The tanks followed Vekemans plan and totally surprised the Germans guarding the bridges. None of the bridges were blown and the Allied advance could continue at full speed.
Vekemans, on top of one of the Shermans, continued to guide the tanks and infantry into Antwerpen direction Port.
Full speed ment also that the tanks reached the Port faster then the Germans could start their demolition work.
Vekemans initiative was acknowledge by both the Resistance and the Allied forces as the action that gave them the Port in perfect working condition.
Also note that Vekemans was NOT a member of the Resistance or any group.
He acted individually and with great bravour.
statue on the Northern side of the river 'Rupel'
Sherman Firefly honouring 11th Armoured Division and Robert Vekemans, on the souther side of the river 'Rupel' (since 1984)
Celebrating the events in 2008