Battle of the Netherlands

Battle of the Netherlands

Battle of the Netherlands

Battle of the Netherlands (the German invasion of the Netherlands) formed a part of the German plan Fall Gelb, the so-called “yellow case”, i.e. the attack ordered by Adolf Hitler in the west after having won the Polish campaign, and that the Wehrmacht would have led to the conquest France, through the violation of the neutrality of the Netherlands and Belgium. The campaign, which began on May 10, 1940, was carried out quickly, according to the dictates of the blitzkrieg, with a combined armored and airborne troops, completing the conquest of the country in just five days.

 

Stasis on the Western Front

At the end of the campaign of Poland, Adolf Hitler gave messages of peace to France and Great Britain, but these were rejected by their governments on 11 and 12 October. A similar fate had the following month, the offers of mediation of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, the period that followed both sides of the preparation for a ground offensive on the German Western Front, a period that was nevertheless no significant operations along the Franco-German border, so as to be remembered in history as the “strange war”.

 

The Allied Supreme Council decided to guard the Antwerp-Meuse line in case of a German attack through Belgium, while Germany, with the Directive No. 6 of 6 October 1939, established the plans to invade France, using the same strategy employed during the First World War, namely the violation of Belgian neutrality in order to circumvent the French defense line on the Franco-German border. The plans were discovered by the Belgian authorities, however, on January 10, 1940, following a plane crash that allowed the recovery of secret documents relating to the so-called Fall Gelb. Even with this important discovery Belgium did not allow the British and French troops crossing the border, not to provide a casus belli to Germany.

 

More intense was the activity on the seas, the Germans conducted a massive operation to lay magnetic mines on the routes leading to the landing for the British ships, the pocket-battleship Admiral Graf Spee, after a series of nine sinkings of merchant shipping Atlantic Ocean, was scuttled in the estuary of the Río de la Plata, not considering a clash with Allied naval forces mistakenly believed to be higher, and, after the company of Lieutenant Günther Prien in the British base at Scapa Flow, increasingly intense he proposed the activities of U-Boot.

 

The operations of the Wehrmacht in the West

The occupation of Denmark and Norway

The Führer, in early 1940, decided to postpone the attack on France in the spring to concentrate on the Scandinavian Peninsula, as the Allies were doing. The casus belli that allowed him to justify to the world the attack on Denmark and Norway (Operation Weserübung) was found on February 16 with the incident Altmark, German ship was boarded in Jøssingfjord in Norwegian territorial waters, from the British destroyer HMS Cossack. About 300 British prisoners who were on board were released, and this gave Hitler the pretext for accusing Norway of conniving with the Allies and to begin preparations for the attack.

 

German troops began the invasion of two countries at 5.20 on April 9, General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst commanded the expedition for the invasion of Norway, including five infantry divisions, two divisions of the mountain, an army corps air plus a large naval deployment. Two divisions of infantry, commanded by General Leonhard Kaupisch, were instead used for the occupation of Denmark. King Christian X of Denmark, finding resistance useless in a country almost totally devoid of the armed forces, signed the capitulation to General Kurt Himer at 14.00 the same day, while Norway, despite the help brought by France and Great Britain, withstood until June 10 when, following the surrender, was established a puppet government led by Vidkun Quisling Quisling.

 

The plan of attack to the west

The German attack in the west, was originally supposed to be Hitler immediately after the defeat of Poland, and should have taken off 12 November 1939 but, given the difficulty of re-organization of the armored divisions, the movement of troops to the west and especially of winter approaching, joined to the objective comparison of available forces that saw the Germans considerably disadvantaged compared to the Allies, the Oberkommando des Heeres (the supreme command of the army) at the summit was Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch , believed to date too far ahead to the possibilities of the German armed forces, and even the original draft of the plan presented some issues still unresolved.

 

It provided, in a way very similar to the Schlieffen Plan (the German attack occurred during the First World War) the deployment of three armed groups: the Heeresgruppe C, commanded by General Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, who was positioned behind the French border, in front of the Maginot Line, to simulate a frontal attack and thus prevent the movement of French troops to the north, while the Heeresgruppe A, commanded by General Gerd von Rundstedt, was to attack through the Ardennes forest, occupying Luxembourg and southern Belgium, and the Heeresgruppe B, commanded by General Fedor von Bock, he invaded the Netherlands and northern Belgium, heading for the Channel.

 

The discovery of the plan of attack by the Allies after the crash led the Führer to cancel and request a replacement, based on speed and surprise, General Erich von Manstein revised the plan by changing the position dell’Heeresgruppe A, which, after passing through the Ardennes forest, crossed the Meuse River and broke through the Allied front in the field of Sedan, was diverted to the north, in order to close a bag in the Allied troops, meanwhile attracted to Belgium and Holland B Heeresgruppe the attack, creating the so-called Sichelschnitt, the “stroke of the sickle.” Hitler learned the details of the plan, approved it and ordered to General von Brauchitsch and Franz Halder, his chief of staff, make it operational, and fix a date for the attack on February 24, 1940, weather conditions and the reorganization of the divisions led to several postponements and the date of commencement of operations was finally arranged for May 10.

 

The events preceding the attack

The news from Berlin and Hitler’s decision

In the days before the start of hostilities, the authorities of France, Belgium and the Netherlands received a large number of press reports and indicating the date and place of the German: May 3 Colonel Hans Oster, a member of the Abwehr The German military intelligence service, and at the same time the resistance, had informed Bert Sas, military attach at the Dutch embassy in Berlin, the impending attack and provided identical information, the next day, the apostolic nuncio in Brussels the King of Belgium, news of which was further confirmed on May 6 by Pope Pius XII, who informed the Princess Maria Jose, the same day he reported to his brother Leopold.

 

On 8 May in Brussels came two encrypted messages, from the Belgian ambassador in Berlin Jacques Davignon, in which he referred to the preparation of an ultimatum to Belgium and that Hitler had confirmed the order to attack. These messages, and they were not initially taken into consideration, as it was considered a stratagem of propaganda Joseph Goebbels, were late and decrypted, the Belgian authorities proclaimed a state of alarm when the first units become airborne Germans had begun to descend on Holland and Belgium.

 

At 12.00 am on 9 May, the Führer stared in 5:45 indomani time of the attack, the same evening, at 21.00, all the commands of the western front came the code word Gdansk, which indicated the beginning of hostilities.

 

The forces and strategies

The Dutch Army (Koninklijke Landmacht), commanded by General Henri Winkelmann, was almost totally devoid of aviation, it was not only to not be an armed force independent but integrated into the army by the name of Luchtvaartafdeling, possession of just 155 aircraft obsolete, of which only 125 were operational at the German attack. Only two types of aircraft were relatively modern: the Fokker GI heavy fighter, delivered in just 36 examples, and the fighter Fokker D.XXI, designed for colonial use and available in 28 specimens that, during the campaign, he added another 8. During the riots of May 10 were shot down 37 German planes, most of which Junkers Ju 52 transports. The army, moreover, was completely devoid of tanks and armored vehicles, and could field only 10 divisions, with 676 pieces of artillery, with a total workforce of about 280,000.

 

The Netherlands, in contrast to Belgium and France, had fortified the border with Germany, trusting that its neutrality would be respected as in the first World War, and his defense strategy was based only on parts of its territory and on the destruction of bridges, with the purpose of slowing down the German advance and to fold towards the inside of the flooded areas that would surround Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

 

The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, Hitler’s place in the supreme command, had led by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, as commander in chief of ground forces was Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch for a while Großadmiral Erich Raeder and Field Marshal Hermann Goering were placed respectively at the head of the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe. The Wehrmacht, in front of the Dutch German border, had deployed the Army Group B, strong total of 28 divisions, 759 tanks, 1,150 aircraft and 1,378 guns, for a total of 750,000 men.

 

The Army Group B was formed by the 18 th, commanded by General Georg von Küchler, and the 6 th Army, commanded by General Walther von Reichenau.

 

The 18 th Army was composed of 9 divisions: 6 infantry, 1 cavalry, 1 battleship and the SS Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, commanded by Brigadeführer Josef Dietrich, these forces were supplemented by the 22 th Division, commanded by General Hans von Sponeck, but placed under the responsibility of General Kurt Student, who, stronger than 4,000 paratroopers and 12,000 infantry, he was commissioned to conduct airborne operations, and the 2 nd SS Division Das Reich, commanded Oberstgruppenführer Paul Hausser. The 18 th Army had the task to advance faster in the north with its vanguard armor, represented by the 9 th Armored Division of General Alfred von Hubicki, heading towards Rotterdam and the capital Amsterdam, while the 6 th Army, composed of 18 divisions and 2 armored and 1 motorized, would have crossed the border in Maastricht, with the dual task of pointing to Brussels and to protect the left flank of the 18 th Army, blocking an Allied counterattack through Belgium.

 

The invasion of the Netherlands

May 10, 1940 The airborne operations

The German invasion of Holland took off during the night with an intense aerial bombardment on airports: airplanes in the middle of the already weak Dutch air force was destroyed on the ground. Although at 03.00 am departments of Dutch genius had blown up several bridges on the border with Germany, at 04.30 am certain airborne divisions, according to the prearranged plan by General Student, they landed at The Hague and Leiden in order to win the main roads communication, while others were launched at Rotterdam, Dordrecht and Moerdijk in order to occupy and keep intact the bridges, which were essential for the subsequent passage of ground troops, at 05:35, in accordance with the provisions of Hitler, the Heeresgruppe B moved across the border between Germany and the Netherlands provoking the reaction of the Allies, who immediately sent some units to the north in order to meet the German advance.

 

The speed in the conquest of airports was essential to the successful operations, since, if the Allies had time to install their own air bases throughout the Netherlands, presumably would have taken the air supremacy to the Germans, a key condition to occupy the main objectives and start the operation of isolation of the Allied forces, according to the plan drettive Fall Gelb, in this context is explained by the significant deployment of airborne troops behind the first line of defense in the Netherlands. In order to avoid the slow retreat of the Dutch army, to the Fortress Holland, i.e. the major cities located on the sea about 160 kilometers from the German border, which could be defended with the help of vast areas flooded placed before them, the 22th Division was launched with a dual role: to seize airports and bridges leading to Rotterdam, the main communications hub of the country, and hold them pending the arrival of the 9th Armored Division, and to occupy The Hague, where he resided the government, with the aim of capturing the political and military leaders in this way by skipping the entire administrative apparatus, the country’s political and military .

The paratroopers were launched at low altitude, about 130 meters, in areas covered by the plan of Student: Moerdijk in the area were conquered a road bridge and a railway sites on Hollandsch Diep waterway, which linked the rivers Waal and Meuse, which constituted The main access road to the fortress and the Netherlands in Rotterdam, just 20 kilometers, Dordrecht, about 7 km north of Moerdijk, other units were dropped and the city was occupied rapidly. The main drop zone in the Rotterdam area was formed from Waalhaven, located in the south of the city, and, in deference to what Student had called the “short method”, a battalion of paratroopers launched directly on the track landing in order to occupy it and to enable the fastest possible way the action of the 22 th Infantry Division, which would be coming up at the event of success, the first units that they landed immediately attacked the Dutch garrison, while the other aircraft approached, disturbed by the action of the flak, at noon they landed about 100 aircraft carrying three battalions, totaling about 1,200 infantry soldiers. One of the battalions pointed directly toward the center of Rotterdam, with the mission to bring reinforcements to a department of about 120 soldiers, composed of infantry and elements of genius, who was holding the bridge Willems: The department had come on board at 07.00 of flying boats that were lying on the river, allowing the soldiers to reach the shore aboard rubber dinghies and occupy both sides of the bridge, only to suffer a counterattack shortly after the Dutch.

 

Groped for the bridge to free the Dutch navy sent a patrol boat and a torpedo boat with instructions to bombard the two bridgeheads and destroy German seaplanes. The action was supported by a destroyer and a gunboat, sailed from the port of Hoek van Holland, with the additional task of opening fire on the airport area Waalhaven, where in the meantime the Germans continued to pour men and equipment to , including several pieces of artillery, the arrival of the ships away but did Stuka. Less fortunate was the other airborne units dropped in the area of te Hague, about 24 kilometers north-west of Rotterdam, a unity that was supposed to occupy the airport in order to allow the landing of two infantry regiments, composed of about 10,000 men, who should have been directed towards the city and capture Queen Wilhelmina, after the conquest of Valkenburg airport by parachute, however, the first aircraft landed it got stuck in the mud, unable to take off and preventing the landing of those who followed. Even more serious problems there were in the area of the airports and Ypenburg Ockenburg: the launches were carried out at about three kilometers away from runways and aircraft carrying the infantry began to fall while the paratroopers were still fighting for occupy them, the planes had to land in the countryside and the roads on the outskirts of the city, while the Dutch resistance began to intensify, so that mid-afternoon was ordered to von Sponeck to stop the attack on the Hague.

 

The ground attack

While airborne operations were already being taken off the ground offensive: to the north the 18 th Army was tasked to advance rapidly in the Netherlands, breaking through and overcoming it is the first line of natural defense, represented by the rivers IJssel and Meuse, the second, prepared by the army Dutch, which Grebbe line to the north and south Peel the line, which stretched from the Zuiderzee to Maastricht, reaching the third line, the Dutch fort, before they were opened the dykes and the foiling danger that flooding of seawater prevented the passage of German troops, the first objective was to capture intact the bridge over the River Waal at Nijmegen and the sites on the channel of the Meuse to Neerbosch, Hatert, Malden and Heumen but these were made readily jump from the Dutch and only those with Heumen Hatert and could be used.

 

On the south side of the grid the German 6 th Army advanced towards Maastricht along the Belgian border, protecting the left flank of the 18 th Army, threatened by the possible attack of the 7th French army, commanded by General Henri Giraud, who was moving north, although slowed by the Luftwaffe, the 3 rd Armored Division, commanded by General Horst Stumpff, and the 4 th Armored Division, commanded by General Johann Joachim Stever, placed in the XVI Panzer Corps, commanded by General Erich Hoepner, began bypassing from right channel Alberto, covered their left flank of the assault on the fort Eben-Emael paratroopers, while the only armored unit of the 18 th Army, the 9 th Armored Division, he was beginning the same maneuver on the left side.

 

The advance of the 9 th Armored Division German

The German general Alfred von Hubicki, commander of the 9th Armored Division, the protagonist of the rapid advance towards RotterdamIl General von Sponeck, after the attack on the Hague had been interrupted, was ordered to go to Rotterdam to meet with departments Student at that time were fighting inside the city, in order than form a reinforcement pending the arrival of the 9 th Armored Division, the forces at his disposal at that time amounted to about a thousand soldiers and the march towards cities, in addition to being slowed down by frequent clashes with Dutch units have been established to Rotterdam, could only be done with supplies parachuted.

While the small section of the 22 th German division continued in the direction of the city the spearheads of the 9th Armored Division, which had previously broken through the defenses of the Dutch to the East, they went quickly to the Rotterdam area to join the paratroopers, but simultaneously also vanguards of the 7 th French army were converging towards the same point, in order to bring help to the army Dutch French troops, however, were apprehended in the Breda, about thirty kilometers south of Moerdijk, by the combined action of the 9 th Panzer Armored Division and the attack from the sky of Stuka, and were forced to stop the first gear and then to fall back in the direction of Antwerp.

 

The retreat left open the unit the French way through Moerdijk, allowing the rapid advance of the 9th Armored Division, whch reached the city on May 12 by meeting with the forces of the 22nd Division which parachuted from two days were holding the bridge, and continuing it march northward in the direction of Dordrecht where the same day reached the outskirts of Rotterdam, in the meantime the department von Sponeck, after a march lasting two days, had succeeded despite great losses to reach the suburb of Overschie, but was forced to stop not being able to attack the city itself.

 

Reached the outskirts of the city, and joined forces at that time available, the 9 th Armored Division was prepared to prepare the attack on Rotterdam, whose garrison forces were continuing to resist. The rapid advance of the only armored unit available to the 18 th army was aided by the equally fast-paced action of the 6 th Army in Belgium, whose armored units, consisting of the 3rd and 4th Division, managed to cross the bridges over the Albert canal before Belgian engineers were able to blow them up, and the attack on May 10th Airborne who had consented to a department of only 78 men under the command of Lieutenant Rudolf Witzig, to capture the fort Eben-Emael, considered until then impenetrable.

 

The conquest of Holland in Rotterdam and the yield

The breakthrough work by the 9th Armored Division Germany neutralized the possibility of an Allied intervention in the Netherlands and quickly led to the collapse of the Dutch army, whose lines of defense represented by the rivers were quickly exceeded; May 13 Queen Wilhelmina, along with members of his government, he abandoned the country is fled to London aboard two British destroyers, but the army chief, General Henri Winkelmann, refused to surrender and gathered all the strength available in the fortress Holland, fell back into the area between Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht groped for the purpose of a last defense. The same day, Hitler ordered the attack to Rotterdam, where the defense was still intense and the passage over the bridge Willems still blocked by the resistance of Dutch departments, providing that the advance of the tanks should have been preceded by intense air bombardment carried out by the 03.00 on May 14.

 

The attack on Rotterdam was delayed because, during the morning, were initiated by the military negotiations for the surrender of the fort that the Dutch army: the commander of the defense of Rotterdam, Colonel Pieter Scharroo, was informed of the possibility that a ‘ further resistance would have resulted in the destruction of the city, but he decided to resist, he rejected the German offer of surrender arguing that it had no name, date and signature. But immediately after he agreed to resume negotiations, and at noon on May 14 he sent an officer, Captain Bakker, at the command of General Rudolf Schmidt, Baker drove for about an hour after returning to Rotterdam with the conditions laid down by the Germans.

 

The expectations of the Dutch response to Schmidt led the General to request the postponement of the air, but his order came when the squadron of bombers Heinkel He 111, belonging to Luftflotte 2 of General Albert Kesselring, was already in flight; troops Germany, is presently in negotiations warned that the bombing was imminent, they launched the rockets red that made up the signal cancellation of the air, but these were not seen immediately and at 14.00, for the next eight minutes, 97 were launched tons of bombs that caused the deaths of some 900 people homeless and caused 80,000 and only after those few minutes Lieutenant Colonel Otto Höhne, commander of the second flock, he sighted the flares and ordered the bombers return to base.

 

After the bombing of the first units of the 9 th Armored Division made their entrance in Rotterdam, meeting with departments of the paratroopers who four days resisted the city by engaging the Dutch forces, in the early afternoon was declared by General Henri Winkelmann surrender of the armed forces Dutch , while the final capitulation of the town was made official the next day.

 

The fighting in Zealand

The yield forces Winkelmann May 14 did not end the fighting in the Netherlands: in the southern region of Zeeland were in fact still present strong contingent of the 7th French army, backed by a number of Dutch troops, and several units of Koninklijke Marine, commanded by Rear Admiral Jan Hendrik van der Stad. The Zealand held a strategic importance, as it controlled the access road to the port of Antwerp, and also the estuary of the Scheldt housed major shipyards of the nation, in defense of the region had deployed two French divisions, the 60 Second, a unit of reservists, and the 68 th, with the newly created units of different origin, while the Dutch had two regiments of infantry and a mixture of units of border guards, anti-aircraft, coastal artillery and naval infantry .

 

The French General Pierre Durand-Servais took command of the Allied forces, but failed to achieve coordination was between the French and Dutch, and this compromised the possibility of creating a cohesive defense, van der Stad had to have his forces to defend the island of Walcheren and Zuid-Beveland peninsula behind two fortified lines already set: the Bathline the base of the peninsula and Zanddijkline 15 km further west, but Durand preferred to concentrate the bulk of French troops in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, the part of Flanders belonging to the Netherlands to the south of the Scheldt estuary, sending only two regiments in support of the Dutch.

 

The Zealand was only marginally involved in the fighting of the early days of the campaign: the Luftwaffe attacked several times the airfields and naval base in Flushing, being opposed by a few Dutch aircraft available and some of the Hawker Hurricane British Royal Air Force. After completing the occupation of North Brabant, May 14 the 18th German army sent against the positions Allied Zealand training, commanded by Colonel Felix Steiner, made by the regiment SS Deutschland, detached from the 2nd SS Division Das Reich, reinforced with units additional artillery and engineers, which, on the same day, occupied Bergen op Zoom, beginning to approach the Dutch advanced lines. Demoralized by the news of the surrender of Winkelmann and under enemy artillery fire, the Dutch defenders left large tracts of Bathline Zanddijkline on folding. On the morning of May 15 the Germans attacked the second line of defense, coming upon rejected, but thanks to the support of the Stukas, led the Allied troops to abandon the line around 14:00, which retreated to the west, the next day the Germans renewed their attacks along the Zuid-Beveland, and in the afternoon broke the defensive line last ally on the canal running through the peninsula and on the same day, almost without fighting occupied the island of Tholen, north of the peninsula, followed the day after the close Schouwen-Duiveland.

 

On the morning of May 17 the Germans subjected the remaining Allied troops stationed on the western tip of Walcheren and Zuid-Beveland to heavy aerial bombardment and ground, causing serious damage to the city of Vlissingen and Middelburg Arnemuiden, that same afternoon, the Dutch troops ceased all resistance, while the survivors of the French force at once embarked on the southern shore of the Scheldt. Under control Ally was just the strip of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, where troops evacuated from Zealand were now trapped between the SS placed on the Zuid-Beveland and vanguards of the 6 th German army advancing through Belgium, the bulk of the surviving Dutch forces were evacuated by sea between 18 and 19 May, 22 May followed by the two French divisions, which retreated in the direction of Dunkirk. The region was then completely occupied by the Germans between 24 and 29 May, marking the end of the fighting in Holland.

 

The activities of Koninklijke Marine

The Royal Netherlands Navy ships operating that were in his country in time of the German anti-aircraft participated in the Rotterdam, and some units were sent to the defense of the bridge groped Willems. A destroyer, the Hr Ms. Van Galen, was sent to carry out a bombing raid against the Germans who tried to occupy the airport Waalhaven but was attacked by aircraft of the Luftwaffe and, after being severely injured, managed to reach the port of Merwedehaven where she sank.

 

On the eve of the armistice all ships capable of keeping the sea sailed to Great Britain and between these various destroyers, which were later assigned to fleets of the Royal Navy, and the cruiser Hr Ms. Tromp.

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