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The Battle of the Netherlands ( ) was part of Case Yellow ( ), the German invasion of the Low Countries (Belgium, Luxembourgmarker, and the Netherlands) and France during World War II. The battle lasted from 10 May 1940 until 14 May 1940 when the Dutch main force surrendered. Dutch forces in the province of Zealandmarker continued to resist the Wehrmacht in the Netherlands until 17 May. Nazi Germany then occupied the Netherlands; the last Dutch territory was liberated in May 1945.

The battle ended soon after the devastating bombing of Rotterdam by the Luftwaffe and the subsequent threat of the Germans to bomb the other large Dutch cities if the Dutch refused to surrender. The Dutch supreme command knew it could not stop the bombers and surrendered to prevent other cities from suffering the same fate.


Britain and France declared war on Germany in 1939, following the invasion of Poland, but no major land operations in Western Europe occurred during the period of the Phoney War, during which the British and French built up their forces in expectation of a long war, and the Germans completed their conquest of Poland and Norway . On 9 October Hitler ordered plans to be made for an invasion of the Low Countries, to use them as a base against Great Britain and pre-empt a similar attack by the Allied forces, which could threaten the vital Ruhr Area.

The Dutch were ill-prepared to resist such an invasion. When Hitler came to power, the Dutch had begun to re-arm, but more slowly than France or Belgium; only in 1936 did the defence budget start to be gradually increased. Successive Dutch governments tended to avoid openly identifying Nazi Germany as an acute military threat. Partly this was caused by a wish not to antagonise a vital trade partner, even to the point of repressing criticism of Nazi policies; partly it was made inevitable by a policy of strict budgetary limits with which the conservative Dutch governments tried in vain to fight the Great Depression, which hit Dutch society particularly hard. Hendrikus Colijn, prime minister between 1933 and 1939, was personally convinced Germany would not violate Dutch neutrality; senior officers made no effort to mobilise public opinion in favour of improving military defence.
Dutch troops close the barrier of the Nijmegen Waal bridge during the Albania crisis
The growing international tensions in the late thirties, as exemplified by the crises caused by the German occupation of the Rhineland in 1936, the Anschluss and Sudeten-question of 1938 and the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia and the Italian occupation of Albaniamarker in the spring of 1939, forced the Dutch governments to exercise greater vigilance, but they limited their reaction as much as they could, the most important measure remaining a partial mobilisation of 100,000 men in April 1939.

After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the ensuing outbreak of the Second World War, the Netherlands hoped to remain neutral, as they had done during the First World War 25 years earlier. To ensure this neutrality the Dutch army was mobilised from 24 August and entrenched. Large sums (almost 900 million guilders) were at last spent on defence, but it proved very difficult to obtain new matériel in wartime, especially as the Dutch had ordered some of their new equipment from Germany, which deliberately delayed deliveries. Moreover, a considerable part of the funds were intended for the Dutch East Indiesmarker, much of it related to a plan to build three battle cruisers.

The strategic position of the Low Countries, located between France and Germany on the uncovered flanks of their fortification lines, made them the logical route for an offensive by either side. The Entente tried to convince them not to wait for the inevitable German attack but to join them first; for example this was proposed by Winston Churchill in a radio speech on 20 January 1940. Both the Belgians and Dutch refused however, even though the German attack plans had fallen into Belgian hands after a German aircraft crash in January 1940, the so-called Mechelen Incident.

The French considered violating the neutrality of the Low Countries if they had not joined the allies before the planned large allied offensive in the summer of 1941. Previously such a violation was indicated if Germany attacked only the Netherlands, necessitating an Entente advance through Belgium, or if, conversely, the Netherlands tolerated a German advance into Belgium through the southern part of their territory, both possibilities part of the hypothèse Hollande. The Dutch government never officially formulated a policy on how to act in case of such a contingency; the majority of ministers preferred to resist such an attack, a minority and Queen Wilhelmina refused to become a German ally whatever the circumstances. The Dutch tried on several occasions to act as an intermediary between the Entente and Germany, to reach a negotiated peace settlement.

After the German invasion of Norway and Denmark, both without a declaration of war, and a warning by the new Japanese naval attaché Captain Tadashi Meada that a German attack was certain, it became clear to the Dutch military that staying out of the conflict might prove impossible and they started to fully prepare for war, both mentally and physically. Dutch border troops were put on greater alert. Reports of the presumed actions of a Fifth Column in Scandinavia caused widespread fears that the Netherlands too had been infiltrated by German agents assisted by traitors. Countermeasures were therefore taken against a possible assault on airfields and ports. On 19 April a state of emergency was declared. Most civilians however still cherished the illusion that their country might be spared, an attitude that after the war has been described as a state of denial. The Dutch hoped that the restrained policy of the Entente and Central Powers during the First World War might be repeated and tried to avoid the attention of the Great Powers and a war in which they feared a loss of human life comparable to that of the previous conflict. A repeated request by Britain and France on 10 April that the Dutch enter the war on the side of the Entente was again refused.

The Dutch forces

Dutch Army

In the Netherlands all the objective conditions were present for a successful defence: a dense population, wealthy, young, disciplined and well-educated; a geography favouring the defender and a strong technological and industrial base including an armaments industry. However, these had not been exploited: while the Wehrmacht at the time still had many shortcomings in equipment and training, the Dutch army in comparison was like David compared to Goliath. The myth of the general German equipment advantage over the opposing armies in the Battle of France was in fact a reality in the case of the Battle of the Netherlands. On the one hand there was the modern German army with tanks and dive bombers (such as the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka) and on the other hand the Dutch army, whose armoured forces comprised only 39 armoured car and five tankettes, and an air force for a large part consisting of biplanes. The Dutch government's attitude towards war was reflected in the state of the country's armed forces, which had not significantly expanded their equipment since before the First World War, and were inadequately armed even by the standards of 1918. During the twenties, an economic recession lasting from 1920 until 1927 and the general détente in international relations caused a limitation of the defence budget. In this decade only 1.5 million guilders per annum was spent on equipment. Both in 1931 and 1933 commissions appointed to economise even further failed, because they concluded that the acceptable minimum had been reached and advised that a spending increase was urgently needed. Only in February 1936 a bill was passed creating a special 53.4 million guilder defence fund.

The Dutch defence

The lack of a trained manpower base, a large professional organisation or a sufficient matériel reserve precluded a swift expansion of Dutch forces. There was just enough artillery to equip the larger units: eight infantry divisions (combined in four Army Corps), one Light (i.e. motorised) Division and two independent brigades (Brigade A and Brigade B), each with the strength of half a division or five battalions. All other infantry combat unit troops were raised as light infantry (border) battalions that were in fact dispersed all over the territory to delay enemy movement. They made use of many lines of pillboxes, about two thousand in number, without any depth. Modern large fortresses like the Belgian stronghold of Eben Emaelmarker were non-existent; the only modern fortification complex was that at Kornwerderzandmarker, guarding the Afsluitdijkmarker. Total Dutch forces equalled 48 regiments of infantry as well as 22 infantry battalions for strategic border defence. In comparison Belgium despite a smaller and more aged male population fielded 22 full divisions and, including smaller units, the equivalent of thirty.

After September 1939 desperate efforts were made to improve the situation, but with very little result. Germany, for obvious reasons, delayed its deliveries; France was hesitant to equip an army that would not unequivocally take its side and the one abundant source of readily available weaponry, the Soviet Unionmarker, was inaccessible as the Dutch, contrary to most other nations, did not recognise the communist regime. An attempt in 1940 to procure Soviet armour captured by Finland failed.

Possition of Dutch and Allied forces in May of 1940

On 10 May the most conspicuous deficiency of the Dutch Army lay in its shortage of armour. Whereas the other major participants had all a considerable armoured force, the Netherlands had not been able to obtain the minimum of 146 modern tanks (110 light, 36 medium) they had already considered necessary in 1937. A single Renault FT 17 tank, for which just a driver had been trained and which had the sole task of testing antitank-obstacles, had remained the only example of its kind and was no longer in service in 1940. There were two squadrons of armoured cars, each with a dozen Landsverk M36 or M38 vehicles; another dozen DAF M39 cars were in the process of being taken into service, some still having to be fitted with their main armament. A single platoon of five Carden-Loyd Mark VI tankettes used by the Artillery completed the list of Dutch armour.

The Dutch Artillery had available a total of 676 howitzers and field guns: 310 Krupp 75 mm field guns, partly produced in licence; 52 105 mm Bofors howitzers, the only really modern pieces; 144 obsolete Krupp 125 mm guns; 40 150 mm sFH13's; 72 Krupp 150 mm L/24 howitzers and 28 Vickers 152 mm L/15 howitzers. As antitank-guns 386 Böhler 47 mm L/39s were available, which were effective weapons but too few in number, being only at a third of the planned strength; another three hundred antiquated 6 Veld (57 mm) and 8 Staal (84 mm) field guns performed the same role for the covering forces. Only eight of the 120 modern 105 mm pieces ordered in Germany had been delivered at the time of the invasion. Most artillery was horse-drawn.

The Dutch Infantry used about 2,200 7.92 mm Schwarzlose M.08 machine guns, partly licence produced, and eight hundred Vickers machine guns. Many of these were fitted in the pillboxes; each battalion had a heavy machine gun company of twelve. The Dutch infantry squads were equipped with an organic light machine gun, the M20 Lewis machine gun of which about eight thousand were available. This weapon was prone to jamming and not very suitable for offensive operations. There were but six 80 mm mortar for each regiment. This lack of firepower at the lowest level impaired the fighting performance of the Dutch infantry.

Despite the Netherlands being the seat of Philips, one of Europe's largest producers of radio equipment, the Dutch army mostly used telephone connections, only the Artillery had been equipped with the modest number of 225 radio sets.

Dutch Air Forces

The Dutch airforce, which was not an independent Arm, but part of the Army, on 10 May operated a fleet of 155 aircraft: 28 Fokker G.1 twin-engined destroyers; 31 Fokker D.XXI and seven Fokker D.XVII fighters; ten twin-engined Fokker T.V, fifteen Fokker C.X and 35 Fokker C.V light bombers, twelve Douglas DB-8 dive bombers (used as fighters) and seventeen Koolhoven FK-51 reconnaissance aircraft — thus 74 of the 155 aircraft were biplanes. Of these aircraft 121 were both operational and part of organic strength. Of the remainder the airforce school used three Fokker D.XXI, six Fokker D.XVII, a single Fokker G.I, a single Fokker T-V and seven Fokker C.V, along with several training airplanes. Another forty operational aircraft served with the marine air service, along with about an equal number of reserve and training craft. The production potential of the Dutch military aircraft industry, consisting of Fokker and Koolhoven, was not fully exploited due to budget limitations.

Training and readiness

Not only was the Dutch Army poorly equipped; it was also poorly trained. From 1932 until 1936 no summer field manoeuvres had been held at all, to economise. Before the war only a minority of eligible young men had actually been conscripted. Until 1938 those enlisted only served for 24 weeks, just enough to receive basic infantry training; that year service was increased to eleven months. In 1940 there were only 1206 professional officers present, in 1939 4469 professional non-commissioned officers. After the mobilisation on 28 August 1939, bringing the army strength to about 280,000 men, readiness only slowly improved: most time was spent constructing defences. Munition shortages limited life fire training. Unit cohesion was low. By its own standards the Dutch Army in May 1940 was unfit for battle. It simply could not stage a major offensive, let alone execute manoeuvre warfare.

German generals and tacticians (and Hitler himself) had an equally low opinion of the Dutch forces and expected that even the core region of Hollandmarker proper could be conquered in three to five days.

Dutch defensive strategy

Grebbe Line with the inundations in dark blue
In the seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic had devised an effective defensive system called the Holland Water Line, which could protect all major cities in the west by flooding part of the countryside. In the early 19th century this line was shifted somewhat to the east, beyond Utrechtmarker and later modernised with fortresses. This new position was called the New Holland Water Line. As the fortifications were outdated in 1940, it was reinforced with new pillboxes. The line was located at the extreme eastern edge of the area lying below sea level. This allowed the grounds before the fortifications to be easily inundated with a few feet of water, too shallow for boats, but deep enough to turn the soil into an impassable quagmire. The area west of the New Holland Water Line was called Vesting Holland ("Fortress Holland"), the eastern flank of which was also covered by Lake IJsselmarker and the southern flank protected by the lower course of three broad parallel rivers: two effluents of the Rhinemarker, and the Meusemarker (or Maas). It functioned as a National Redoubt, in which it was hoped to hold out a prolonged period of time, in the most optimistic predictions as much as three months without any allied assistance, even though the size of the German force to be operating against the Netherlands was strongly overestimated. Before the war it was intended to fall back to this position almost immediately, after a concentration phase (the so-called Case Blue) in the Gelderse Vallei, inspired by the hope that Germany would only transgress the southern provinces on its way to Belgium and leave Holland proper untouched. In 1939 it was understood such an attitude basically posed an invitation to invade and made it impossible to negotiate with the Entente about a common defence. Proposals by German diplomats that the Dutch government would secretly assent to such an advance, were rejected.

From September 1939 a more easterly Main Defence Line was constructed. This second main defensive position had a northern part formed by the Grebbelinie (Grebbe linemarker), located at the foothills of the Utrecht Hill Ridgemarker, an Ice Age moraine between Lake IJssel and the Lower Rhine. It was dug on instigation of the commander of the Field Army Lieutenant-General Jan Joseph Godfried baron van Voorst tot Voorst. This line was extended by a southern part: the Peel-Raamstelling (Peel-Raam Position), located between the river Maas and the Belgian border along the Peel Marshes and the Raam rivulet, by command of the Dutch Commander in Chief, General Izaak H. Reijnders, who in the south wanted to delay the Germans as much as possible to cover a French advance. Fourth and Second Army Corps were positioned at the Grebbe Line; Third Army Corps at the Peel-Raam Position with the Light Division behind it to cover its southern flank; Brigade A and B connected between the Lower Rhine and the Maas and First Army Corps was a strategic reserve in the Fortress Holland, of which the southern perimeter was manned by another ten battalions and the eastern by six battalions. All these lines were reinforced by pillboxes.

The Peel-Raam Position
In front of this Main Defence Line (MDL) was a covering line along the rivers IJssel and Maasmarker, the IJssel-Maaslinie connected by positions in the Betuwe, again with pillboxes and lightly occupied by a screen of fourteen "border battalions". Late 1939 General Van Voorst tot Voorst, reviving plans he had already worked out in 1937, again proposed to make use of the excellent defensive opportunities these rivers offered and shift to a more mobile strategy by first fighting a delaying battle with the Army Corps at the plausible crossing sites near Arnhemmarker and Gennepmarker to force the German divisions to spend much of their offensive power before they had reached the MDL and ideally even defeat them. This was deemed too risky by the Dutch government and General Reijnders. The latter wanted that after first offering heavy resistance at the Grebbe Line and Peel Raam Position, the field army would fall back to the Fortress Holland. This also was considered too dangerous by the government, especially in light of the German air supremacy, and had the disadvantage of having to fully prepare two lines. Reijnders had already been denied full military authority in the defence zones; the conflict about the strategy gradually further undermined his political position. On 5 February 1940 he was forced to offer his resignation and was replaced by General Henry G. Winkelman who decided that in the north the Grebbe Line would be the main defence line where the decisive battle was to be waged, partly because it would there be easier to break out with a counteroffensive if the conditions were favourable. However, he took no comparable decision regarding the Peel-Raam Position.

During the Phoney War the Netherlands officially adhered to a policy of strict neutrality. In secret however the Dutch military command, partly acting on its own accord, negotiated with both Belgium and France to coordinate a common defence in case of a German invasion, via the Dutch military attaché in Paris, Lieutenant-Colonel David van Voorst Evekink. This failed because of insurmountable differences of opinion about the question which strategy to follow.

Belgium, though in principle equally neutral, had, given its obvious strategic importance, already made quite detailed arrangements for the coordination with the Entente troops. This made it more difficult for the Dutch to adapt these to their wishes. They wanted the Belgians to connect their defences to the Peel-Raam Position, that Reijnders refused to abandon without a fight. He did not approve of a plan by Van Voorst tot Voorst to occupy a so-called "Orange Position" on the much shorter line 's-Hertogenbosch – Tilburgmarker, to form a continuous front with a Belgian line near Turnhoutmarker as proposed by Belgian General Raoul van Overstraeten.

When Winkelman took over command, he intensified the negotiations, proposing on 21 February that Belgium would man a connecting line with the Peel Raam Position along the Belgian part of the Zuid-Willemsvaartmarker. The Belgians however refused to do this unless the Dutch in turn reinforced their presence in Limburgmarker, for which the latter had no forces available. Repeated Belgian requests to reconsider the Orange Position were refused by Winkelman. Therefore the Belgians decided to withdraw, in case of an invasion, all their troops to their main defence line, the Albert Canalmarker. This created a dangerous gap, forty kilometres wide. The French were invited to fill it. Now the French Commander in Chief General Maurice Gamelin was more than interested in including the Dutch in his continuous front as, like Bernard Montgomery four years later, he eventually hoped to circle around the Westwall when the Entente would launch its 1941 offensive. But he did not dare to stretch his supply lines that far unless the Belgians and Dutch would take the allied side before the German attack. When both nations refused, Gamelin made it clear that he would occupy a connecting position near Bredamarker. The Dutch however did not fortify this area. Winkelman even in secret had decided on 30 March to abandon the Peel-Raam Position immediately at the onset of a German attack and withdraw Third Army Corps to the Lingemarker to cover the southern flank of the Grebbe Line, leaving only a covering force behind. This Waal-Linge Position was again to be reinforced with pillboxes; the budget for such structures was increased with a hundred million guilders.

After the German attack on Denmark and Norway in April 1940, when the Germans used large numbers of airborne troops, the Dutch command became worried about the possibility they too could become the victim of such a strategic assault. To repulse an attack, five infantry battalion were positioned at the main ports and airbases, such as The Haguemarker airfield of Ypenburgmarker and the Rotterdam airfield of Waalhavenmarker. These were reinforced by additional AA-guns, two tankettes and twelve of the 24 operational armoured cars. These specially directed measures were accompanied by more general ones: the Dutch had posted no less than 32 hospital ships throughout the country and fifteen trains to help make troop movements easier.

French strategy

Apart from the Dutch Army and the north wing German 18th Army, a third force, not all that much smaller than either, would operate on Dutch soil: the French 7th Army. It had its own objectives, within the larger French strategy. French planning had long concerned itself with possible operations on Dutch territory. The coastal regions Zealandmarker and Hollandmarker, though difficult to negotiate because of their many waterways, also offered opportunities for a surprise flanking attack, both for the French themselves as for the Germans who threatened to bypass the Antwerp-Namurmarker line from the north. Rapid forces, whether for an offensive or defensive purpose, were needed to deny vital locations to the enemy, with a special emphasis on the Zealand Isles, which, lying just opposite of the Thames estuary, posed a special menace to the safety of England. Long before the Germans did, the French had contemplated using airborne troops to achieve this and even in 1936 had commissioned the design of light airborne tanks, but these plans had been abandoned in 1940. A naval division and an infantry division were earmarked to depart for Zealand to block the Western Scheldtmarker against a German crossing. These in turn would send forward forces over the Scheldt estuary into the Isles, supplied by overseas shipping. Of course it would be preferable if the enemy did not even reach the Scheldt and for this it was logical to operate in front of Antwerp to cover the river's eastern approaches. This element naturally developed into the next step: to commit an entire army to maintain a connection with the Fortress Holland further to the north. The effort might gain vital ground for a successful 1941 offensive, but without it, Gamelin feared, the Dutch would be tempted to a quick capitulation or even an acceptance of German protection. The former French strategic reserve, the 7th Army, was reassigned to this mission, consisting of 16th Army Corps comprising 9th Mechanised Infantry Division (in reality largely a motorised unit, but also possessing tracked armoured vehicles) and 4th Infantry Division, and 1st Army Corps consisting of 25th MID and 21st ID. This army was later decided to be reinforced by the 1st Mechanised Light Division: an armoured division of the French Cavalry and a powerful elite unit. Together with the two divisions in Zealand, thus seven French divisions in total were dedicated to the operation.

Although the French troops would have a higher proportion of motorised units than their German adversaries, in view of the respective distances to be covered, they could not hope to reach their assigned sector advancing in battle deployment before the enemy did. Their only prospect of beating the Germans to it lay in employing rail transport. This implied they would be vulnerable in the concentration phase, building up their forces near Breda. They needed the Dutch troops in the Peel-Raam Position to delay the Germans for a few extra days to allow a French deployment and entrenchment, but French rapid forces also would provide a security screen. These consisted of the reconnaissance units of the armoured and motorised divisions, equipped with the relatively well-armed Panhard 178 armoured car. These would be concentrated into two task forces named after their commander: the Groupe Beauchesne and the Groupe Lestoquoi.

German strategy and forces

During the many changes in the operational plans for Fall Gelb it was at times considered to leave the Fortress Holland alone, just as the Dutch hoped for. In the version of 29 October it was even proposed to limit the transgression to a line south of Venlomarker, after the first version of 19 October had still suggested the possibility of a full occupation if the conditions were favourable. On 15 November 1939 it was, in the so-called Holland-Weisung, decided to conquer the entire south, but in the north to advance no further than the Grebbe Line and also occupy the Frisian Isles. However, Hermann Goering insisted on a full conquest as he needed the Dutch airfields against Britain; also he was afraid the Entente might after a partial defeat reinforce Fortress Holland and use the airfields to bomb German cities and troops. A third reason for the complete conquest was that as the fall of France itself could hardly be taken for granted, it was for political reasons seen as desirable to obtain a Dutch capitulation, because yet another debacle for the policy of the Entente might well bring less hostile governments to power in Britain and France. A swift defeat would also free troops for other front sectors.

Though it was thus on 17 January 1940 decided to conquer the whole of the Netherlands, few units could be made available for this task. The main effort of Fall Gelb would be made in the centre, between Namurmarker and Sedanmarker. The attack at central Belgium was only a feint; and the attack at Fortress Holland only a side show of this feint. Although of Army Group B 6th and 18th Army were deployed at the Dutch border, the first, much larger, force would move south of Venlomarker to Belgium, leaving just 18th Army under General Georg K.F.W von Küchler to defeat the Dutch main force. Of all German armies to take part in the operation this was by far the weakest. It contained only four regular infantry divisions (207th, 227th, 254th and 256th ID), assisted by three reserve divisions (208th, 225th, and 526th ID) that would not take part in the fighting. Six of these divisions were "Third Wave" units only raised in August 1939 from territorial Landwehr units. They had few professional officers and had little fighting experience apart from those among the 42% men over forty that were WWI-veterans. Like the Dutch Army most soldiers (88%) were insufficiently trained. The seventh was 526th ID, a pure security unit without any serious combat training. Even when accounting for the fact that the German divisions, with a nominal strength of 17,807 men, were half as large as their Dutch counterparts and possessed twice their effective firepower, the necessary numerical superiority for a successful offensive was simply lacking.

To remedy this, assorted odds and ends were used to reinforce 18th Army. The first of these was the only German cavalry division, aptly named 1st Kavalleriedivision. The mounted troops of this unit, accompanied by some infantry, were to occupy the weakly defended provinces east of the river IJssel and then try to cross the Afsluitdijkmarker (Enclosure Dike) and simultaneously attempt a landing in Holland, near Enkhuizenmarker, using barges to be captured in the small port of Stavorenmarker. As both efforts were unlikely to succeed, the mass of regular divisions was reinforced by the SS-Verfügungsdivision (including SS-Standarten Der Führer, Deutschland and Germania) and Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, which would serve as assault infantry to breach the Dutch fortified positions. Still this added only 1 1/3 division to the equation. To ensure a victory the Germans resorted to more unconventional means.

The Germans had trained two airborne/airlanding assault divisions. The first of these, 7th Fliegerdivision, consisted of paratroopers; the second, 22nd Luftlande-Infanteriedivision, of airborne infantry. First, when the main German effort was still to take place in Flanders, it was considered to use these for a crossing attempt over the river Scheldtmarker near Ghentmarker. This operation was consequently cancelled and it was now decided to use them to obtain an easy victory in the Netherlands. The airborne troops would on the first day secure the airfields around the Dutch seat of government, The Hague, and then capture that government, together with the Dutch High Command and the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina. German officers actually took lessons on how to address royalty on such occasions. The plan, Fall Festung, had been developed by Hitler personally, embellishing an earlier idea to let an envoy offer "armed protection of the Dutch neutrality", i.e. to become a German protectorate. In case this would not bring forth the desired immediate collapse, the bridges at Rotterdammarker, Dordrechtmarker and Moerdijkmarker would simultaneously be secured to allow a mechanised force to relieve the airborne troops from the south. This force was to be 9th Panzerdivision, with 141 combat tanks the only German armoured division having just two tank battalions, one understrength, in its single tank regiment, that was to exploit a breach in the Dutch MDL created by 254th and 256th ID, together forming XXVI. Armeekorps, on the Gennep – 's-Hertogenboschmarker axis. At the same time an offensive would be staged against the Grebbe Line in the east by 207th and 227th ID, united in X. Armeekorps, binding the main bulk of the Dutch Field Army and, despite lacking numerical superiority, forcing it back to the East Front of the Fortress Holland or beyond. Eighteenth Army expected, if the Dutch would not already capitulate on the first day, to enter the Fortress Holland on the third day from the south and thereby ensure victory; there was no strict time table for the total destruction of Dutch forces. A peculiar aspect of the command structure was that the airborne attack was solely a Luftwaffe operation; the airborne forces would initially not be under operational command of the German Army — but the attack on Rotterdam was ultimately to be an Army operation and considered by it as the Schwerpunkt of the campaign in the Netherlands; 18th Army saw the airlandings as primarily subservient to the XXVI. AK advance.

Of all operations of Fall Gelb this one most strongly embodied the concept of a Blitzkrieg as the term was then understood: a Strategischer Überfall or strategic assault. Also, like Fall Gelb as a whole, it involved a high risk strategy.

The Oster affair

The German population and troops generally disliked the idea of violating Dutch neutrality. The German propaganda therefore justified the invasion as a reaction to an Entente attempt to occupy the Low Countries. Some German officers had an aversion against the Nazi regime and shared the uneasiness about the invasion. One of them, Colonel Hans Oster, an Abwehr (German intelligence) officer, from March 1939 informed his friend, the Dutch military attaché in Berlin Major Gijsbertus J. Sas, of several German plans. These informations included the attack date of Fall Gelb. Via other military attachés Sas again informed the Allies. However, as the date would be changed many times, because it was postponed to wait for favourable weather conditions, both the Dutch government and other nations became insensitive to the series of false alarms; Sas' correct prediction of the date of the attack on Denmark and Norway went largely unheeded. Though he indicated a German armoured division would try to attack the Fortress Holland from North Brabant and that there was some plan to capture the Queen in some operation, the Dutch defensive strategy was not adapted and it was not understood these were elements of a larger scheme. On 4 May Sas again warned that an attack was imminent; this time it coincided with a warning from Pope Pius XII. When in the evening of 9 May Oster again phoned his friend saying just "Tomorrow, at dawn", only the Dutch troops however were put on alert.

The battle

10 May

The geography of the landing areas: at the coast is The Hague; Rotterdam is at n, Waalhaven at 9 and Dordrecht at 7; h indicates the Hollands Diep
On the morning of 10 May 1940 the Dutch awoke to the sound of aircraft engines roaring in the sky. Nazi Germany had commenced operation Fall Gelb and attacked the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Luxembourgmarker; in the case of the Low Countries without a declaration of war given before hostilities; France already was at war.

In the night the Luftwaffe violated Dutch airspace. One squadron, KG 4, traversed it and then disappeared to the west, giving the Dutch the illusion that the operation was directed to England. But above the North Seamarker it turned to the east again to stage a surprise attack on the Dutch airfields, together with the other squadrons. A dozen Dutch aircraft were destroyed on the ground. The Dutch planes that were able to take off shot down thirteen German aircraft, but most were lost during the fighting or by emergency landings necessitated by the fact that the airforce facilities had come under ground attack.

Immediately after the bombardments, between 04:30 and 05:00 AM, paratroopers were landed near the airfields. Dutch AA batteries shot down numerous Ju-52 transport planes of the Luftwaffe's Transportgruppen. German Ju 52 losses in the entire battle amounted to 125 destroyed and 47 damaged, representing 50% of the fleet's strength.
Burning German Ju 52s at Ypenburg
The attack on The Hague ended in operational failure. The paratroopers were unable to capture the main airfield, Ypenburgmarker, in time for the airborne infantry to land safely in their Junkers. Though one armoured car had been damaged by a bomb, the other five Landsverks, assisted by machine gun emplacements, destroyed the eighteen Junkers of the first two waves, killing many occupants. When the airstrip was blocked by wrecks the remaining waves aborted the landing and tried to find alternatives, often putting down their teams in meadows or on the beach, thus dispersing the troops. The small auxiliary airfield of Ockenburgmarker that was only lightly defended, fell at once to the German attack. The airfield of Valkenburgmarker was likewise quickly occupied, the morale of the defenders shaken by the bombardment, but proved to be still under construction and unmetalled: those planes landing there sank away in the soft soil. None of the airfields was thus capable of receiving substantive reinforcements. In the end the paratroopers occupied Ypenburg but failed to advance into The Hague, their route blocked by hastily assembled Dutch troops. Early in the afternoon they were dispersed by fire by three Dutch artillery batteries. Dutch batteries likewise drove away the German occupants from the other two fields, the remnant airborne troops taking refuge in nearby villages and mansions.
German losses on Waalhaven airfield were limited
The attack on Rotterdam was much more successful. Twelve Heinkel He 59 seaplanes, crowded with ninety men, landed in the heart of the city and unloaded assault teams that conquered the Willemsbrugmarker, a bridge over the Nieuwe Maasmarker, to occupy a bridgehead. At the same time the military airfield of Waalhavenmarker, positioned south of the city on the island of IJsselmondemarker, was attacked by airborne forces. Here an infantry battalion was stationed, but so close to the airfield that the paratroopers landed near its positions. A confused fight followed. Four planes of the first wave of Junkers were destroyed but this time the transports continued to land. In the end the Dutch defenders and tankettes were overwhelmed. The German troops, steadily growing in numbers, began to move to the east to occupy IJsselmonde and eventually make contact with the paratroopers that had to occupy the vital bridge at Dordrecht. Although the Royal Dutch Navy intervened, first the torpedo boats Z5 and TM 51 attacking the Willemsbrug and then the destroyer HNLMS Van Galen sailing up the Nieuwe Waterwegmarker to bombard the airfield at short range, this only resulted in the Van Galen foundering after being bombed. A plan to commit the gunboats HNLMS Flores and HNLMS Johan Maurits van Nassau was therefore abandoned At the Island of Dordrechtmarker the Dordrecht bridge was captured but in the city itself the garrison held out. The long Moerdijk bridges over the broad Hollands Diepmarker estuary connecting the island to North Brabantmarker province were captured and bridgeheads fortified on both sides.

German landings in Rotterdam
The Germans, executing a plan made by Hitler personally, tried to capture the IJssel and Maas bridges intact, using commando teams of Brandenburgers that began to infiltrate over the Dutch border previous to the main advance, in some occasions already in the evening of 9 May. In the night of 10 May they approached the bridges: several teams had a few men dressed as Dutch military police and pretending to bring in a group of German prisoners, so to fool the Dutch detonation teams. Some of these "military policemen" were real Dutchmen, members of the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging, the Dutch nazi party. Most of these attempts failed and the bridges were blown, on two occasions with Brandenburgers and all. The main exception was the Gennepmarker railway bridge. Immediately two armoured trains crossed it, drove right through the Peel-Raam Position at Millmarker and unloaded an infantry battalion behind the defence line.

The Dutch released the reports of German soldiers in disguise to the international news agencies. This caused a fifth column scare, especially in Belgium and France. However, unlike the situation later on in those two countries, in the Netherlands there was no mass exodus of civilian refugees, clogging the roads. Generally German soldiers behaved correctly towards the Dutch population, forming neat queues at the shops to buy goods rationed in Germany, such as chocolate.

After the generally failed assaults on the bridges, the German divisions began crossing attempts over the rivers IJssel and Maas. The first waves typically were destroyed, due to insufficient preparatory fire on the pillboxes. A secondary bombardment at most places destroyed the pillboxes and the infantry divisions crossed the river after building pontoon bridges; but at some, as Venlo, the attempt was aborted. At Arnhemmarker, Leibstandarte Der Fuehrer lead the assault and that day advanced to the Grebbe Line, followed by 207. Infanteriedivision.

Even before the armoured train arrived, 3rd Army Corps was already planned to be withdrawn from the Peel-Raam Position taking with it all the artillery apart from 36 8 Staal pieces, though each of its six regiments would leave a battalion behind to serve, together with fourteen "border battalions", as a covering force, called the "Peel Division". This was to have taken place during the first night after the invasion, under cover of darkness, but due to the rapid German advance an immediate retreat was ordered at 06:45 AM, to avoid 3rd Army Corps becoming entangled with enemy troops. The corps joined six battalions already occupying the Waal-Linge line, the so-called "Brigade D" — and was thus brought up to strength again. It would see no further fighting.

The Light Division, based at Vughtmarker, was the only mobile reserve the Dutch Army possessed. It was decided to let it counterattack the German airborne landing on IJsselmonde. Its regiments thus biked over the Maas and Waal bridges and then turned left through the Alblasserwaardmarker, to reach the Noordmarker, the river separating this polder from IJsselmonde, in the evening. There they discovered that the sector near the only bridge, built in 1939, was not strongly occupied by the airborne troops, as the Germans because of outdated maps simply had not known of its existence. It was however decided to postpone a crossing-attempt till the next day, when the artillery would be ready to support it. No attempt was made to establish a bridgehead.

Meanwhile, on the evening of the 10th, around 22:00, the first elements of the French 1st Mechanised Light Division, reconnaissance elements using the Panhard 178 armoured car had started to arrive at the Dutch border. This division was the most northern part of the French 7th Army; its mission was to ensure contact between the Vesting Holland and Antwerp. Attempts to coordinate its advance with the military commander of the Dutch troops on Noord-Brabantmarker, Colonel Leonard Johannes Schmidt were largely unsuccessful however, as, apart from the fact he could not be reached that day, Dutch defences there were already collapsing. At Mill, 256. Infanteriedivision at first could not exploit the opportunity offered by having a battalion in the back of the defenders because it failed to locate it. An assault at the MDL was initially postponed to the next day because most artillery had not yet passed the single pontoon bridge over the Meuse, clogged by a traffic congestion. In the early evening in a sudden change of plans it was decided to attack even though artillery support was absent apart from one 105 mm battery. An unrequested Stuka attack that also hit the Mill sector, then just prior to the advance routed some Dutch defenders, creating a weak sector in the line, from which the Dutch troops were dislodged. The Germans were slow to exploit the breakthrough but Colonel Schmidt at 20:30 ordered the Peel-Raam Position to be abandoned and his troops to fall back to the west on the Zuid-Willemsvaartmarker, a canal.

In the North, by the end of the day, 1. Kavalleriedivision had reached the line MeppelmarkerGroningenmarker, more delayed by logistical problems and Dutch demolition teams blowing up 236 bridges than by the weak border troops.
Despite the destruction of the Wilhelminabrug at Maastricht, German troops relatively quickly passed this vital traffic hub
In the extreme south, the six border battalions in the province of Limburgmarker only slightly delayed the advance of the German Sixth Army; by the end of the day the area had been overrun and the strategic city of Maastrichtmarker been surrendered, opening the way for the German feint offensive into Central Belgium; however the failure by the Germans to capture the main bridge intact, forced them to delay the crossing by 4. PD till the next day.

11 May

On 11 May the Dutch commander General Winkelman had two priorities. First of all he wanted to eliminate the German airborne troops. Though the strategic assault had failed, he feared a further enemy build-up via Waalhaven and saw the German possession of the Moerdijk bridges as a serious impediment to the movement of allied reinforcements to the Fortress Holland. The second priority was closely related to the first: enabling the French army to build up a strong defensive line in North Brabant, to connect the Fortress Holland with the Allied main force in Belgium.

However, in both respects, little was achieved this day. The planned counterattack by the Light Division against the airborne troops on IJsselmonde failed. In the nick of time the bridge over the river Noord had been prepared for defence by the German paratroopers, and it proved impossible to force it. Several attempts to cross the river by boats only managed to establish some isolated bridgeheads, and at 10:15 AM, the Light Division was given permission to break off the attack and ordered to reinforce the Dutch troops on the Island of Dordrecht, where it arrived in the night.

Earlier during the day, two attempts were made by Dutch battalions to carry out an attack against the western flank of the German perimeter. The first battalion, withdrawn from the Belgian border, partly crossed the Oude Maasmarker at two points (Oud-Beijerlandmarker and Puttershoekmarker) and partly tried to storm the bridge at Barendrechtmarker into IJsselmonde; the second, taken from the Fortress Holland forces positioned at the Hoekse Waardmarker, had already crossed the Dordtse Kilmarker into the Island of Dordrecht the previous day, using the ferry at Wieldrechtmarker and now tried to expand its bridghead. Although the crossings as such were successful, the first lacked artillery support and the advance was executed only hesitantly; the troops were ambushed and dispersed, many men being taken prisoner. A French reconnaissance unit, 12e GRDI, in the afternoon attempted with assistance of another Dutch border battalion an attack on the southern Moerdijk bridgehead, but the armoured cars of 6e Cuirassiers with which it was reinforced, were heavily bombed by German Stukas and had to retreat.

In Rotterdam, though reinforced by an infantry regiment, the Dutch attempts to completely dislodge the German paratroopers from their bridgehead on the northern bank of the Maas failed. Despite a permission by General Student, the German commander in Rotterdam refused to evacuate this bridgehead and the few German defenders held fast in a single office building, protected by a canal in front of them and covered by fire from the south bank. The two remaining Dutch bombers failed to destroy the Willemsbrug. The Germans also held out near The Hague, where none of the attempts to eliminate the isolated groups of in total about 1600 paratroopers met with success.

In North Brabant, the situation swiftly deteriorated. The French had expected that Dutch resistance at the Meuse and the Peel-Raam Position, by a force about five divisions strong, would have gained them at least four days to build up a defensive line near Breda. They were unpleasantly surprised to learn that the best three divisions had been moved to the north and that the remainder was already in full retreat. The withdrawal of the Peel Division from the Peel-Raam Position to the Zuid-Willemsvaartmarker, a canal some ten to thirty kilometres to the west, meant leaving behind well-entrenched positions, as well as all artillery and heavy machine guns, in exchange for a totally unprepared line. Moreover, the eastern bank of the canal was higher than the western bank, providing excellent cover for the attackers. Finally, the order to withdraw never reached the troops at Mill; this caused one sector of the canal, near Heeswijkmarker, to be left undefended; as this sector contained a bridge which was not demolished, the Germans were effortlessly able to cross the canal around 13:00. A second crossing at Erpmarker, against opposition, led to a general collapse of the line. By the end of the 11th, the Germans had crossed the Zuid-Willemsvaart at most places and the Peel Division had largely disintegrated. Plans by Colonel Schmidt to concentrate his forces on the line Tilburgmarker-'s-Hertogenboschmarker thus came to nothing. As the French refused to advance further to the northeast than Tilburg, apart from some reconnoitering armoured cars that went as far as Berlicummarker, this created a dangerous gap. Winkelman therefore requested the British government to sent an Army Corps to reinforce allied positions in the area and bomb Waalhaven airfield.

All the efforts in the south were made on the assumption the Grebbe Line would be able to beat off attacks on its own; its reserves had even been partly shifted to the counterattack against the airborne forces. However, already there were some indications that in this sector also a problem was developing. Motorised elements of SS Standarte "Der Fuehrer", preceding 207. Infanteriedivision, had reached the southernmost part of the Grebbe Line, in front of the Grebbeberg, on the evening of the 10th. This MDL sector had no inundations in front of it and had therefore been chosen as the main attack axis of the division. It was instead protected by a line of outposts (voorpostenlinie), manned by two companies of infantry. At about half past three in the morning of the 11th, German artillery started shelling the outposts, followed at dawn by an attack by two battalions of Der Fuehrer. As the German shelling had cut the telephone lines, no artillery support could be requested by the Dutch defenders. Defence was further hampered by the fact that the terrain had not yet been cleared from vegetation, offering a good cover for the attackers. At noon a breakthrough was accomplished at the extreme north of the outpost line and the Dutch positions were then slowly rolled up from behind. The outnumbered and inferiorly armed companies resisted as well as they could, but by evening, all outposts were in German hands. The commander of 2nd Army Corps, Major-General Jacob Harberts, failed to react adequately. Convinced, by ignorance of the fact motorised SS-troops had been involved, that the outposts through the cowardice of the defenders had been surrendered to a small probing German force, he ordered a nightly counterattack by the single reserve battalion of 4th Division. This was eventually abandoned, because on its approach it was fired upon by Dutch troops manning the main line, that had not been notified. However, heavy preparatory Dutch artillery fire had the unintended effect of causing the Germans to abandon a nightly attack also.

Meanwhile in the North, 1. Kavalleriedivision advanced through the province of Friesland, towards the final Dutch fall-back line, the Wonsstelling, reaching Sneekmarker in the evening. Most Dutch troops had been evacuated from the north over the Enclosure Dike.

12 May

On the morning of 12 May General Winkelman remained moderately optimistic. He still assumed a firm defence line could eventually be established in North Brabant with the help of the French and expected a good progress could be made in eliminating the airborne forces, while not being aware of any special danger to the Grebbe Line. During the day he was to be deceived in his hopes.

In the two previous days, 9. Panzerdivision had seen no action. It only crossed the Meuse in the early morning of 11 May and during that day was unable to advance quickly over roads that were congested by the supply trains of the infantry divisions. As the Dutch front had dissolved, the armoured division now decided to launch itself in an attempt to link up with the airborne troops. In this it would not be hindered by the French forces. Because time was lacking for a proper preparation and the German 6th Army was threatening its right flank, Gamelin ordered 7th Army to withdraw to the south the 2e Brigade Légère Mecanique, part of 1 DLM, that had arrived at Tilburg, and halt the advance of the 25e Division d'Infanterie Mecanisée at Breda, to progress no further to the north than the river Mark. As the initial order to occupy the Geertruidenbergmarker sector had not been followed upon, the route to the Moerdijk bridges would thus not be blocked and the German armoured division would not be engaged by its stronger French counterpart. The reconnaissance elements of 9 PD effectively exploited this opportunity: at dawn they surprised north of Tilburg, near Loon op Zandmarker, Colonel Schmidt and took him prisoner; the Dutch troops in the province hereby lost all unified command. At 16:45 the German armoured cars had penetrated forty kilometres to the west and reached the southern Moerdijk bridgehead, cutting off the Fortress Holland from the Allied main force. The northern part of that force would not long remain in the region: at 13:35 Gamelin had ordered a complete withdrawal to Antwerp of all French troops in North-Brabant, who would now limit themselves to rear-guard actions.

The Light Division tried to systematically reconquer the Island of Dordrecht by advancing on a broad front, using four battalions with little artillery support. On its left flank, where there was almost no enemy presence, the advance went according to plan, but the battalion on the right flank ran into an attacking German force of battalion strength that General Student had accidentally ordered to circle around the outskirts of the city to relieve the pressure by the Dutch garrison on his troops holding the Dort bridge. In confused street fighting the German troops gained the upper hand and drove the battalion back; the other units then halted their advance around noon. Though higher command soon ordered a better concentration of forces instead of some mopping-up action, due to a lack of clear lines of command, no subsequent attack materialised that day.

In Rotterdam and around The Hague again little was done against the paratroopers, most Dutch commanders, still afraid of a presumed Fifth Column, limiting themselves to security measures; indeed they had been ordered not to stage any attacks above company level.
The Grebbeberg seen from the south; the slopes facing the attackers in the east were more gradual
While the situation in the south was becoming critical, in the east the Germans made a first successful effort in dislodging the Dutch defenders on the Grebbeberg. After a preparatory artillery bombardment during the morning, a battalion of Der Fuehrer around noon attacked an eight hundred metres wide sector of the main line, occupied by a Dutch company. Exploiting the many dead angles in the Dutch field of fire, it soon breached the Dutch positions, which had little depth. A second German battalion then expanded the breach to the north. Dutch artillery, though equal in strength to the German, failed to bring sufficient fire on the enemy concentration of infantry, largely limiting itself to interdiction. Eight hundred metres to the west was a so-called Stop Line, a continuous trench system from which the defenders were supposed to wage an active defence, staging local counterattacks, but due to a lack of numbers, training and heavy weapons these all failed against the well-trained SS-troops. By the evening the Germans had brought the heavily forested area between the two lines under their control. Spotting a weak point, one of the SS-battalion commanders, Obersturmbannführer Hilmar Wäckerle, suddenly attacked with a hastily assembled force of about company strength and in, for this battle, a rare instance of infiltration tactics broke through the Stop Line, quickly advancing a mile to the west until being halted by a final fall-back line along the Rhenenmarker rail road. The breakthrough caused a panic among the defenders who largely abandoned the Stop Line; but as Wäckerle had had no time to coordinate his action with other units, it was not further exploited. Order was restored at the Stop Line and the SS-company became isolated and surrounded. The general German advance caused the main line to be abandoned for over two miles to the north because the troops there feared an attack from behind.

It had been well understood by the Dutch that the forces occupying the Grebbe Line would not be sufficiently strong to repel all attacks by themselves; they were intended to delay an offensive long enough for reserves to reinforce them. Due to the failure the previous day to understand that the German main assault was imminent however, these reserves would mostly not arrive in time to intervene in the fight for the defence zone between the two trench systems. This was all the more serious as the Stop Line had no depth and lacked large shelters to accommodate enough troops to stage a strong frontal counterattack. In the late evening it was therefore decided to execute a flank attack from the north the next day.

In the North, the Wons Position formed a bridgehead at the eastern end of the Enclosure Dike; it had a long perimeter of about nine kilometres to envelop enough land to receive a large number of retreating troops without making them too vulnerable to air attack. On 12 May units with a combined strength of only two battalions were still present, so the line was weakly held. This was exploited by the first German unit to arrive, the single bicycle battalion of 1. Kavalleriedivision, that at noon in a concentrated attack quickly penetrated the line, forcing the defenders to withdraw to the Enclosure Dike. For some the German advance cut off this escape route; they sailed away from the small port of Makkummarker taking the last remaining vessels on the eastern side of Lake IJssel, denying the Germans any means for a crossing attempt, which plan was now abandoned.
Burnt-out Shell oil reservoirs
In the afternoon General Winkelman received information about armoured forces advancing in the Langstraat region, on the road between 's-Hertogenbosch and the Moerdijk bridges. He still fostered hopes that those forces were French, but the announcement by Radio Bremenmarker at 23:00 that German tanks had linked up with the paratroopers ended those hopes. At last he began to understand the essence of the German strategy. He now ordered the artillery batteries in the Hoekse Waard to try and destroy the Moerdijk bridges and to sent a special engineer team in Rotterdam to blow up the Willemsbrug. Pessimistic about the general Dutch situation at this point, he also ordered the vast strategic oil reserves of Royal Dutch Shell at Pernismarker to be set on fire. Earlier in the afternoon having been informed by Winkelman of his concerns, the Dutch government had asked Winston Churchill for three British divisions to turn the tide, but the new prime minister answered that he simply did not have any reserves; however, three British torpedo boats were sent to Lake IJssel.

The German command to the contrary, was very satisfied. It had been feared that the third day of the operation might become a "crisis day", XXVI AK having to overcome near Breda the resistance of several French and perhaps some Belgian or even British divisions. Therefore von Bock had desired to reinforce this effort with another Army Corps When this was denied by chief of staff Franz Halder, he had arranged that at least an extra Army Corps headquarter would be formed to direct the complex strategic situation of both having to fight the Allies and advancing into the Fortress Holland over the Moerdijk bridges. As on 12 May no actual crisis seemed to materialise, von Bock decided that XXVI AK would be responsible for pursuing the French south towards Antwerp, while some forces would be directed by the new headquarters, Generalkommando XXXIX under command of General Rudolf Schmidt, advancing north with 254. ID, most of 9. PD, and SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler.

13 May

In the early morning of 13 May General Winkelman, advising the Dutch government, considered the general situation to be critical. On land the Dutch had been cut off from the Allied front and it had become clear no major Allied landings were to be expected to reinforce over sea the Fortress Holland; without such support there was no prospect of a prolonged successful resistance. Also, German tanks might quickly pass through Rotterdam; already Winkelman had ordered all available antitank-guns to be placed in a perimeter around The Hague, to protect the seat of government. However, an immediate collapse of the Dutch defences might yet be prevented if the planned counterattacks would seal off the southern front near Dordrecht and restore the eastern line at the Grebbeberg. Therefore the cabinet decided to continue the fight for the time being, giving the general the mandate to surrender the Army when he saw fit and the instruction to avoid unnecessary sacrifices. Nevertheless it was also deemed essential that Queen Wilhelmina was to be brought to safety; she departed around noon from Hoek van Hollandmarker, where a British Irish Guards battalion was present, on HMS Hereward, a British destroyer, and when sea mines made it too dangerous to try to reach Zealand, eventually went to England. The previous evening, as had been arranged before the invasion, Crown Princess Juliana, together with her husband Prince Bernhard and children, had departed from IJmuidenmarker on HMS Codrington for Harwichmarker. As the Queen constitutionally was part of the government, her departure confronted the cabinet with the choice whether to follow her or remain. After heated discussions it was decided to leave also: the ministers sailed at 17:20 from Hoek van Holland on HMS Windsor, having conferred all governmental authority over the homeland to Winkelman, eventually to form a government in exile in London.

While two tank companies of 9.PD remained with XXVI AK to pursue the withdrawing French, the other four began to cross the Moerdijk traffic bridge from 05:20. The Dutch made some attempts to indirectly block their advance. The last operational medium bomber, a Fokker T. V, around 06:00 dropped two bombs on the bridge; one hit a bridge pillar but failed to explode; the bomber was shot down. Dutch batteries in the Hoekse Waardmarker, despite dive bomber attacks, tried to destroy the bridge by artillery fire, but the massive structure was only slightly damaged. An effort to inundate the Island of Dordrecht failed, as the inlet sluices were too small.

The Light Division tried to cut the German corridor by advancing to the west and linking up with a small ferry bridgehead over the Dortse Kil. However, two of the four battalions available were wasted on a failed effort to recapture the suburbs of Dordrecht; when the other two battalions approached the main road, they were met head on by a few dozen German tanks. The vanguard of the Dutch troops, not having been informed of their presence, mistook the red air recognition cloths strapped on their tops for orange flags French vehicles might use to indicate their friendly intentions — orange being seen by the Dutch as their national colour — and ran towards the vehicles to welcome them, only understanding their error when they were mowed down. The battalions, already wavering because of a bombardment, fled to the east; a catastrophe was prevented by 47mm and 75 mm batteries destroying with direct AP fire two Panzerkampfwagen II, after which the remainder of the German tanks fell back. The Light Division then successfully completed an ordered withdrawal to the Alblasserwaardmarker around 13:00. In the early afternoon eight tanks reduced the ferry bridgehead. A tank company also tried to capture the old inner city of Dordrecht, without infantry support audaciously breaching barricades, but was beaten back in heavy street fighting after two PzKpfw. IIs had been destroyed and three other tanks heavily damaged. All Dutch troops were however withdrawn from the island in the night.

German armoured forces advanced north over the Dordrecht bridge into IJsselmondemarker island. Four tanks, three PzKpfw. IIs and a Panzerkampfwagen III of the staff platoon of the 1st Tank Battalion, from there stormed the Barendrecht bridge into the Hoekse Waard, but all of them were lost to a single 47 mm antitank-gun. Though the Germans did not follow up their attack, this area also was abandoned by the Dutch troops.

In Rotterdam a last attempt was made to blow up the Willemsbrug. The commander of the 2nd Battalion Irish Guards in Hoek van Holland refused to participate in it as being outside the scope of his orders. Two Dutch compagnies, one of them of Dutch marines, stormed the bridgehead. The bridge was reached and the remaining fifty German defenders in the building in front of it were on the point of surrender, when the attack was abandoned because of heavy flanking fire from the other side of the river.

In the North, the commander of 1. K.D., Major General Kurt Feldt, because of a lack of ships faced the unenviable task of having to advance over the Enclosure Dike. It was blocked by the Kornwerderzand Position, which protected a major sluice complex regulating the water level of Lake IJssel, which had to be sufficiently high to allow many Fortress Holland inundations to be maintained. The main fortifications contained 55 mm antitank-guns. In front of and behind the sluices to the right and the left long channel piers projected; on these pillboxes had been built which could place a heavy enfilading fire on the dam, which did not provide the slightest cover for any attacker. On 13 May the position was reinforced by a 20 mm AA-battery. It had been Feldt's intention to first destroy the position by a battery of siege mortars, but the train transporting it had been blocked on 10 May by a blown railway bridge at Winschotenmarker. Several air attacks on 13 May had little effect; in the late afternoon five bicycle sections tried to approach the main bunker complex under cover of an artillery bombardment, but soon fled after being fired upon; the first was pinned down and could only retreat under cover of darkness, leaving behind some dead.

In the East the Germans tried to overcome the resistance in the Grebbe Line by also deploying the other division of X. AK, 227. Infanteriedivision, that had to break through a second attack axis near Scherpenzeelmarker, where a dry approach route had been discovered through the inundations. The line was defended by the Dutch 2nd Infantry Division. Two regiments were to attack simultaneously, in adjacent sectors. However, when the regiment on the right, 366. Infanterieregiment, had already positioned itself for the attack, the other, 412. Infanterieregiment, became delayed by flanking fire from Dutch outposts, the position of which had not been correctly determined. It allowed itself to get involved in fragmented firefights; though eventually also the reserve regiment was brought forward, little progress was made against the outpost line. Meanwhile, the waiting 366. IR was pounded by concentrated Dutch artillery fire and had to withdraw, resulting in a complete failure of the attack by 227 ID.

More to the south at the Grebbeberg, the Dutch during the evening and night had assembled about a dozen battalions for a counterattack to retake the main line. These forces consisted of the reserve battalions of several army corps', divisions and brigades, and the independent Brigade B, which had been freed when the Main Defence Line in the Land van Maas en Waal had been abandoned as part of the withdrawal of III Army Corps from North Brabant. However, not all of these units would be concentrated into a single effort. Some battalions had been fed immediately into the battle at the Stop Line, others were kept in reserve, mainly behind the fall-back line near the Rhenen railroad, and four were to be used, under command of Brigade B, for the flanking attack from the north. This attack was delayed for several hours and when it finally started, late in the morning of 13 May, it ran right into a comparable advance by two battalions of Der Fuehrer, which brigade, unaware of Dutch intentions, had shifted its attack axis to the north to roll up the Grebbe Line from behind. A confused encounter fight followed in which the vanguard of the Dutch troops, poorly supported by their artillery, around 12:30 began to give way to the encroaching SS-troops. Soon this resulted in a general withdrawal of the brigade, which turned into a rout when the Grebbeberg area was from 13:30 bombed by 27 Ju 87 Stuka.

Meanwhile, at the Grebbeberg itself, for the first time 207. Infanteriedivision was committed to battle when two battalions of its 322. Infanterieregiment attacked the Stop Line. The first wave of German attackers was largely beaten off with serious losses, but a second wave managed to fragment the trench line, which then was taken after heavy fighting. The regiment afterwards proceeded to mop-up the area to the west, delayed by resistance by several Dutch command posts, but withdrew in the late afternoon, just as the SS-battalions further north, to redeploy for a renewed attack after a preparatory artillery bombardment, shifted to a more western position, to take the Rhenen fall-back line and the village of Achterbergmarker. However, these preparations would be prove to be superfluous: the Dutch had already disappeared.

The same Stuka bombardment that made Brigade B rout also broke the morale of the reserves at Rhenen, which already in the morning had shown severe discipline problems, units disintegrating and leaving the battlefield because of German interdiction fire. In the late afternoon most of 4th Infantry Division was fleeing westwards. Dutch command suffered such a loss of control that any thoughts to plug the line, as the Germans had expected them to do — it had indeed been considered to shift two regiments of 3rd Army Corps for this — had to be abandoned. In it a five mile wide gap had appeared. Fearing that otherwise they would be encircled, Van Voorst tot Voorst ordered at 20:30 that the three Army Corps had to immediately abandon both the Grebbe Line and the Waal-Linge Position and retreat during the night to the East Front of Fortress Holland, the New Holland Water Line. The Germans however, did not at once exploit their success; only around 21:00 had it become apparent to them that the gap even existed, when the renewed advance had met no enemy resistance.

14 May

[[Image:Duitse inval.png|250px|right|thumb|Dutch situation just before the Bombing of Rotterdam.Legend:


Despite his pessimism expressed to the Dutch government and the mandate he had been given to surrender the Army, General Winkelman tended to await the outcome of events, avoiding to actually capitulate unless it were absolutely necessary. In this he was perhaps motivated by a desire to bind the opposing German troops for as long as possible, to assist the Allied war effort. In the early morning of 14 May, though the situation remained critical, as yet no acute crisis had developed. A certain calm was evident in the Dutch Headquarters.

In the North, German artillery from 09:00 again bombarded the Kornwerderzand Position. However, the German batteries were forced to move away after being surprised by counterfire from the 15 cm. aft cannon of Hr. Ms. Johan Maurits van Nassau, that had sailed into the Wadden Sea. Feldt now decided to again take up the plan for a landing on the coast of North-Holland. A few barges were found; only after the capitulation however, was the crossing actually executed. During this operation one barge foundered and the remainder lost their way. Fears for such a landing caused Winkelman on 14 May to occupy the Amsterdam Position, the North Front of the Fortress Holland, with weak forces.

In the East, the field army under cover of a ground fog had successfully been withdrawn from the Grebbe Line to the East Front, without being bombed as had been feared, and disengaged from the gradually pursuing enemy troops. The new position had some severe drawbacks: the inundations were mostly not yet ready and the earthworks or berms, needed because trenches would be flooded in the peat soil, to accommodate the much larger number of troops, had not yet been constructed, so defences had largely to be improvised.

On IJsselmonde the German forces prepared to cross the Meuze in Rotterdam, defended by about eight Dutch battalions. Crossings would be attempted in two sectors. In the centre of the city the main attack would take place, 9. PD advancing over the Willemsbrug. Then Adolf Hitler would cross to operate on its immediate left and east of Rotterdam a battalion of 16. IR of 22. LD would cross on boats. These auxiliary attacks might prevent a concentration of Dutch forces, blocking 9. PD's advance through a densely built-up urban area, intersected by canals. In view of these conditions and the limited means available, there was a major emphasis on air support. Already on 13 May, Von Küchler, fearing that the British might reinforce the Fortress Holland, had instructed Schmidt: "Resistance in Rotterdam should be broken with all means, if necessary threaten with and carry out the annihilation [Vernichtung] of the city". In this he was to be supported by the highest command level as Hitler would state in Führer-Weisung Nr. 11: "On the northern wing the power of the Army of Holland to resist has proven stronger than had been assumed. Political as well as military grounds demand to quickly break this resistance. (...) Furthermore the speedy conquest of the Fortress Holland is to be facilitated through a deliberate weakening of the [air] power operated by Sixth Army" Kampfgeschwader 54, using Heinkel He-111 bombers, was accordingly shifted from Sixth to Eighteenth Army.

Generals Kurt Student and Schmidt desired a limited attack to temporarily paralyse the defences, allowing the tanks to break out of the bridgehead; severe urban destruction should be avoided as it would only hamper their advance. However, Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering, worried by the fate of his surrounded airborne troops, hoped to force an immediate Dutch capitulation by a much more extensive bombardment. His head of operations, General Otto Hoffman von Waldau, described this option as a "radical solution" [Radikallösung]. Despite misgivings by Albert Kesselring about its scope and necessity, on 11:45 ninety Heinkels took off for a carpet bombing of the inner city of Rotterdam.
The Dutch envoy to the German positions on the Noordereiland
German troops advance through a destroyed area in Rotterdam
At 09:00 a German messenger crossed the Willemsbrug to bring an ultimatum from Schmidt to the Dutch commander of Rotterdam Colonel Pieter Scharroo demanding a capitulation of the city; if a positive answer had not been received within two hours the "severest means of annihilation" would be employed. However, Scharroo only received the message around 10:30. Not feeling inclined to surrender anyway, he asked Winkelman for orders; the latter, hearing that the document had not been signed nor contained the name of the sender, instructed to send a Dutch envoy to clarify matters, which might gain time. At 12:15 a Dutch captain handed this request to von Choltitz. Schmidt already at 12:00, on the return of the German envoy, had sent a radio message that the bombardment had to be postponed because negotiations had started. Just after the Dutch envoy had received a second ultimatum, now signed by Schmidt and its time being set at 16:20, around 13:20 two squadrons of Heinkels arrived, not having received any recall orders. This was later explained by the Germans as a result of their having already pulled in their tow aerials. Schmidt ordered red flares to be fired, as a sign that the bombardment was to be broken off, but only the squadron having to make the bomb run from the southwest abandoned its attack after the first three planes had dropped their bombs; the other 54 Heinkels, approaching from the east, continued to drop a grand total of 1308 bombs, destroying the inner city and killing 814 civilians. The ensuing fires destroyed about 24,000 houses, making almost 80,000 inhabitants homeless. At 15:50 Scharroo in person capitulated to Schmidt. Meanwhile Goering had ordered a second bombardment of the city — a group of Heinkels had already left — to be carried out unless a message was received that the whole of Rotterdam was occupied. Schmidt on hearing this hastily sent an uncoded message at 17:15 claiming that this was the case, although it yet had to take place, and the bombers were then recalled just in time.

The surrender of the Dutch Army

The phases in which Dutch territory was occupied

Even though he had allowed Rotterdam to capitulate and German forces from there might now advance into the heart of the Fortress Holland, Winkelman at first intended to continue the fight. The possibility of terror bombings had been considered before the invasion and not been seen as a ground for immediate capitulation; provisions had been made for the continuation of effective government even after wide-spread urban destruction. The perimeter around The Hague might still ward off an armoured attack and the New Holland Water Line had some defensive capability; though it could be attacked from behind, it would take the Germans some time to deploy their forces in the difficult polder landscape. However, he soon received a message from Colonel Cuno Eduard Willem baron van Voorst tot Voorst, the commander of the city of Utrechtmarker, part of the East Front, that the Germans demanded its surrender; on leaflets dropped by propaganda planes it was announced that only unconditional surrender could "spare it the fate of Warsaw". Winkelman concluded that it apparently had become the German policy to devastate any city offering any resistance; in view of the fact that it was his mandate to avoid unnecessary suffering and the Dutch military position was hopeless anyway he decided to surrender. At 16:50 by telex all units were informed and ordered to first destroy their weapons and then offer their surrender to any German units they were in contact with. At 17:20 the German envoy in The Hague was informed. Around 19:00 Winkelman in a radio speech informed the Dutch people and only now the German command also became aware the Dutch had surrendered: the Dutch troops had generally disengaged from the enemy and had not yet made contact.

Winkelman acted both in his capacity of commander of the Dutch Army and of chief executive of the homeland. This created a somewhat ambiguous situation. Already in the morning of 14 May the commander of the Royal Dutch Navy, Vice-Admiral Johannes Furstner, had left the country to continue the fight; Dutch naval vessels were generally not included in the surrender, eight ships and four unfinished hulks had already departed, some smaller vessels were sunk off and nine others sailed for England in the evening of 14 May, the Johann Maurits van Nassau being sunk by German bombers while crossing. The commander of the main Dutch naval port, Den Heldermarker, Rear-Admiral Hoyte Jolles, concluded that his base, with a naval garrison of 10,000, its own air service and extensive land defences, should continue to resist also. Only with some difficulty did Winkelman convince him to obey his surrender order. Large parts of the Dutch Army as well were reluctant to believe or accept the surrender, especially those units that hardly had seen any fighting, such as 3rd and 4th Army Corps and Brigade A.
At 05:00 on 15 May a German messenger reached The Hague, inviting Winkelman to Rijsoordmarker for a meeting with von Küchler, to negotiate the articles of a written capitulation document. Both quickly agreed on most conditions, Winkelman declaring to have surrendered army, naval and air forces. When von Küchler demanded that pilots still fighting for the allies should be treated as francs-tireurs, Winkelman's refusal made it clear to the Germans that only the armed forces in the homeland would capitulate, not the country itself. On other points a swift agreement was reached and the document was signed at 10:15

The fighting in Zealand

Excepted from the surrender was the province of Zealandmarker where fighting continued in a common allied effort with the French troops. The Dutch forces in the province, commanded by Rear-Admiral Hendrik Jan van der Stad who was directly subordinated to Winkelman, comprised eight full battalions of army and naval troops. The area was under naval command because of the predominance of the naval port of Flushingmarker on the island of Walcherenmarker which controlled the entrance of the Western Scheldtmarker, the access to Antwerp. While the northern islands of the province were almost undefended apart from some platoons and the defence of Zeeuws-Vlaanderenmarker, the Dutch part of Flanders, was largely left to the Allies, in Zuid-Bevelandmarker, the peninsula east of Walcheren, the main Dutch army forces would be concentrated to deny the enemy this approach route to Flushing. Zuid-Beveland was connected to the coast of North Brabant by an isthmus; at its eastern and most narrow end the Bath Position had been prepared, occupied by an infantry battalion, at its western end the longer Zanddijk Position, occupied by three battalions.

From 11 May the area was reinforced by two French infantry divisions: the 60e DI, a B-class division, and the newly formed naval 68e DI. Part of their equipment was brought by ship through Flushing harbour. Most troops of these divisions would however remain south of the Western Scheldt in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen where also two of the eight Dutch battalions were present and two border companies: only two French regiments were sent to the northern bank. On 13 May the Dutch troops were placed under French operational command and 68e DI transferred to the 7th Army. The cooperation between the two allies left much to be desired, plagued by poor communications, misunderstandings and differences on strategy. The Dutch considered the Bath and Zanddijk Positions to be very defensible because of the open polder landscape and extensive inundations but the French were not convinced of their value and positioned their troops at more conspicuous obstacles: one regiment, 271e of 68e DI, in the evening of 13 May occupied the Canal through Zuid-Bevelandmarker and the other, 224e of 60 DI, the Sloe straights separating the island of Walcherenmarker from Zuid-Beveland, even though the time failed for an adequate entrenchment. This prevented an effective concentration of allied forces, allowing the Germans, despite a numerical inferiority, to defeat them piecemeal.

On 14 May the Germans had occupied almost entire North Brabant. SS-Standarte Deutschland, quickly advancing to the Western Scheldt and cutting off the retreat of 27e GRDI, which unit was subsequently destroyed defending Bergen-op-Zoommarker, reached the Bath Position. The morale of the defenders, already shaken by stories from Dutch troops fleeing to the west, was severely undermined by the news that Winkelman had surrendered; many concluded that it was useless to keep resisting as the last remaining province. A first preparatory artillery bombardment on the position in the evening of 14 May, caused the commanding officers to desert their troops; these then fled also.

In the morning of 15 May Deutschland approached the Zanddijk Position. A first attack around 08:00, on outposts of the northern sector, was easily repulsed, as the Germans had to advance over a narrow dike through the inundations, despite air strikes by dive bombers. However, the same bombardment put the battalions in the main positions to flight, and the entire line had to be abandoned around 14:00 despite the southern part being supported by the French torpedo boat L'Incomprise.

On 16 May Deutschland, some miles to the west of the Zanddijk Position, approached the Canal through Zuid-Beveland, where the French 271e RI was present, only partly dug in and now reinforced by the three retreated Dutch battalions. In the morning of that day an aerial bombardment again routed the defenders, before the ground attack had even started; the first German crossings around 11:00 led to a complete collapse. However a first attempt in the evening of the same day to force the eight hundred metres long dam over the Sloe, over which most of the French troops had fled to Walcheren, ended in failure. On 16 May also the island of Tholenmarker was taken against light opposition, the next day Schouwen-Duivelandmarker.

While the commanders of the remnant of the Dutch troops on South-Beveland refused direct commands by their Dutch superior to threaten the German flank, on 17 May a second, night, attack across the Sloe dam again failed at 03:00. The Germans now demanded the capitulation of the island: when this was refused they carpet bombed Arnemuidenmarker, Flushingmarker and Middelburgmarker, the province's capital city, despite it being a totally undefended city. The heavy bombardments demoralised the largely French defenders and the Germans managed to establish a bridgehead around noon. The few Dutch troops present on Walcheren, about three companies, ceased their resistance. The encroaching Germans in the evening threatened to overrun the French forces having fled into Flushing, but a gallant delaying action by brigade general Marcel Delaurens, in which he was himself killed, allowed most troops to be evacuated over the Western Scheldt.

After North-Bevelandmarker had surrendered on 18 May, Zeeuws-Vlaanderen was the last remaining unoccupied Dutch territory of the homeland. All Dutch troops there were on orders of the French withdrawn on 19 May to Ostendmarker in Belgium, as their presence would be demoralising and confusing their own forces. On 27 May all of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen also had been occupied.


Following the Dutch defeat, Queen Wilhelmina established a government-in-exile in England. The German occupation officially began on 17 May 1940. It would last five years, during which over 250,000 Dutchmen died, before the country was liberated.

See also


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  • Herman Amersfoort & Piet Kamphuis, ed., (2005) Mei 1940 — De Strijd op Nederlands grondgebied, Den Haag: Sdu Uitgevers
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  • Lou de Jong, 1970, Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, Deel 3: Mei '40, Amsterdam, Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie
  • Hooton, E.R. (2007). Luftwaffe at War; Blitzkrieg in the West. London: Chervron/Ian Allen. ISBN 978-1-85780-272-6
  • Jentz, Thomas L., 1998, Die deutsche Panzertruppe 1933 – 1942 — Band 1, Wölfersheim-Berstadt: Podzun-Pallas-Verlag, ISBN 3-7909-0623-9
  • Dutch history site

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