Forgotten History-the Battle of the Netherlands

Now I am not claiming that the battle of the Netherlands was forgotten but there are some facts which are virtually unknown outside of the Netherlands in indeed forgotten by a great number of Dutch citizens.

The German campaign in Western Europe in May and June 1940 is – beyond the borders of the Netherlands – particularly known from the Ardennes break-out and the massive Dunkirk evacuation in France, perhaps also from the tank battles at Hannuit, Arras and Montcornet. That these milestones of the Westfeldzug are so well known in contrast with – for example – the large German airlanding operation in Holland is not surprising. The aforementioned battles played important or even decisive roles in the outcome of the campaign and the quick defeat of the Netherlands did not.

The particulars of the German campaign in the Netherlands were quite poorly covered in the gigantic number of of books written on the topic of the German invasion of northwestern Europe in 1940. Even these last couple of years, during which again many new-style history books saw the light of day (usually based on new research and a more professional approach of reproducing the past) the brief battle of the Netherlands is hastily addressed and usually very inaccurate with packs of classic errors and cliches.


Particularly the most interesting component of the German campaign in the Netherlands, the very ambitious full scale air-landing operation between the Hague and Rotterdam, is often poorly covered. That is quite amazing, when one realizes that four years later nobody else than Bernard Montgomery would copy-cat that very same operation when he hastily designed operation Market-Garden. An operation that was basically an identical copy of the German operation in May 1940 in the Netherlands. And miracle or not, the commander of the German air-landing division that raided the west of the Netherlands in May 1940 – General Student Bernhard-Hermann Ramcke, Kurt Student– was opposing Monty’s airbornes in September 1944! If Monty would have read his periodic Bletchley Park summaries (which contained intercepted German radio traffic) – which he, stubborn as he was, specifically did not – he would have known that he was scheduling Students battle plan for May 1940 and use it against this very General too. It is tempting to conclude that the reason why the German operation in the Netherlands in May 1940 – that first War over Holland – is hardly addressed in British history-books is quite obvious: the second War over Holland in September 1944 was after all simply a cheap copy-paste operation and silly enough applied against its own designer, Kurt Student!

The German campaign in the Netherlands

It is quite common knowledge that the Netherlands capitulated on the 14th of May 1940, the fifth day after the German invasion. Only the most south-western province of Zeeland was excluded from the armistice – due to the fact that the French army was in charge in that region – and would finally cease all further resistance on the 17th of May too. One slide of Dutch soild (Zeeuws-Vlaanderen) would only fall into German hands on the 27th of May.

The Battle of the Netherlands was part of Case Yellow , the German invasion of the Low Countries(Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) and France during World War II.


The battle lasted from 10 May 1940 until the main Dutch forces surrendered on the 14th. Dutch troops in the province of Zeeland continued to resist the Wehrmacht until 17 May when Germany completed its occupation of the whole nation.

The Battle of the Netherlands saw one of the first major uses of paratroopers to occupy crucial targets prior to ground troops reaching the area.


The German Luftwaffe utilised paratroopers in the capture of several major airfields in the Netherlands in and around key cities such as Rotterdam and The Hague in order to quickly overrun the nation and immobilise Dutch forces.

The battle ended soon after the devastating bombing of Rotterdam by the German Luftwaffe and the subsequent threat by the Germans to bomb other large Dutch cities if Dutch forces refused to surrender.

The Dutch General Staff knew it could not stop the bombers and surrendered in order to prevent other cities from suffering the same fate. The Netherlands remained under German occupation until 1945, when the last Dutch territory was liberated.

The province of Zeeland was exempt from the surrender; fighting continued there in a common allied effort with French troops.


The Dutch forces in the province comprised eight full battalions of army and naval troops.They were commanded by Rear-Admiral Hendrik Jan van der Stad,

who, being a naval officer, had been directly subordinated to the Dutch chief of sraff Henri Winkelman.


The area was under naval command because of the predominance of the naval port of Flushing on the island of Walcheren which controlled the access to Antwerp via the Western Scheldt. The northern islands of the province were almost undefended apart from some platoons. The defence of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, the Dutch part of Flanders, was largely left to the Allies. The main Dutch army forces would be thus concentrated in Zuid-Beveland, the peninsula east of Walcheren, to deny the enemy this approach route to Vlissingen. 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; this was mainly intended as a collecting line for possible Dutch troops retreating from the east. At its western end was the longer Zanddijk Position, occupied by three battalions.

The province of Zeeland – more in particular Walcheren – especially comes back in the WWII history books when we look up the year 1944. British and Canadian divisions – assisted by a number of smaller allied units [Norwegian, French, Polish, Belgian, and Dutch commando troops] – would undertake a daring and unprecedented assault on the Island in the months of October and November of that year. As part of operations Switchback, Infatuate I and II [better known as “the battle ot the Scheld“] the Allies tried [and succeeded in] clearing the south-west of Holland of all German forces.

On the island of Walcheren this operation was paired with a very particular preparation. The Germans were flushed away! Some weeks prior to the launch of the ground-operations Allied planes bombed the dikes and coastal defences of Walcheren [over 9,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped]. As a result of these massive bombardments almost the entire island was flooded, thus forcing the Germans to move all their mobile units off the island or on very visible high positions. This preparation was followed by the main attack overseas, during which the forces landed on three different locations on the Island and clearing it in a couple of days of fierce and bloody fighting of all German occupational forces. The price the island and its inhabitants [as well as the battling forces] paid was huge. Walcheren 1944 saw one of the bloodiest battles of WWII in the west. But let’s go back to 1940!

The story of the battle in the province Zeeland in May 1940 has been described in just a handful of Dutch books about the war. Outside the Netherlands it is probably not even known to the best informed historians that Zeeland continued to resist the Germans beyond the Dutch capitulation of the rest of the country. Its significance in comparison to the whole [war] picture is neglectable..

The primary reason for the modest history-book representation should probably be defined as a result of shame and dishonour. Both the Dutch and French forces in Zeeland would perform extremely poor during the eight days of war that this province experienced in May 1940. Of course, a number of smaller units – such as one or two AAA batteries – performed diligently, some even outstanding; but they were exceptions. Also, some individuals – like the French General Deslaurens – distinguished themselves exceptionally.

Generally speaking however, the battle of Zeeland is no invitation to write a “good selling story” about. It would have been a story of utter disappointment, chanceless defeat and many events where the Dutch and French troops embarrased their colours.

The story of Zeeland May 1940 is formed by a huge series of disappointing performances by both the Dutch and French armies. We nevertheless find it of the utmost importance that the story is told, especially since Zeeland was a joint Allied theatre of operations in those early days of the ground-war. There where the Dutch may find justified pride in their achievements during the battles for The Hague, Rotterdam or at the Grebbeberg, one should at the same time not lose awareness of the failures that occurred elsewhere – at almost the same time.

The Battle of Maastricht was one of the first battles that took place during the German Campaign on the Western Front during World War II. Maastricht was a key city in order to capture the Belgian Fort Eben-Emael and split the allied armies in half.

Maastricht, Panzerkampfwagen
Maastricht. Deutsche Panzerkampfwagen als Sicherung an der Maas. 10. 5. 1940 vorm.

The German goal of the operation was to take the bridges over the river Maas intact, in order to have an easier road to France.

Therefore, the Germans sent in teams disguised as civilians whose jobs were to sabotage the bridge charges. However, they were spotted and arrested, and when they attempted to run, shot.

The sluice complex at Borgharen—just north of Maastricht—was another water-works that could not be destroyed.

A section infantry was stationed here. Close to the bridge, one casemate with a machine gun could assist. In the early morning hours, a patrol of six motorised infantry-men approached the eastern guard post. They were a reconnaissance party of the Hocke squad. They were ordered to stop and four of them were taken prisoner. The other two were able to escape. The Dutch Lieutenant was confident that more would be coming, and he ordered his men to remain prepared. Not so much longer later, more German soldiers appeared on motorcycles. The Dutch let them approach to within 50 m (55 yd) of their ambush and opened fire with two machine guns and every rifle available. The Germans temporarily retreated. However, when the Germans brought in reinforcements, the squad was overwhelmed. The defenders tried to draw back to the sluice. The move was difficult under the ever increasing German fire. The occupation of the sluice itself was able to resist the Germans, but the south-eastern squad—which defended the northern entrance into Maastricht—had to give in when their machine gun failed. The gap that now existed in the outer defences of the city was soon penetrated by the majority of the Germans that had agitated against the sluice

The 4.Panzerdivision had encountered some resistance around Gulpen and this delay cost hours.

A southern column—which was instructed to advance against Maastricht from the south—was able to move forward quicker. They appeared in front of the outer defences at Heugem. Here, the barricades had been sealed and locked as instructed. The defending unit was ordered to move back behind the Maas, because it had become clear that the outer defences had been penetrated.

It was now up to the rearguard of the outer defences to slow down the German advance. The rearguard managed to destroy two armored cars and block the road for the remaining cars. When the German infantry had almost reached its position the commanding Dutch sergeant ordered an organised retreat. The squad safely reached the westbank of the Maas a little later.

By this time, only the railway bridge remained intact. The Germans felt that it could be a very useful crossing point for tanks, and only 35 Dutch soldiers defended it. As the Germans advanced to the bridge, they were briefly held off by the Dutch defenders. A few German soldiers were killed. However, the Dutch soon fell back because of overwhelming numbers. As the Germans began to cross the bridge, the charges were planted and the bridge fell into the river. After all of the bridges over the Maas River were destroyed, the only task that remained was to hold off the Germans as long as they could.

At the destroyed bridges in Maastricht, some stray Dutch units continued piecemeal attacks on the Germans; the Dutch had spread over many strategic points, including a sniper squad in the towers of the bridge. When the Germans boldly placed an anti-tank gun in front of the bridge, aimed at the adjacent St. Servaasbrug, the Dutch instantly killed the crew.

A new crew shared the same fate. A small number of rubber boats tried to cross the Maas but were shot to pieces. Then the Germans retreated from this location.

At the destroyed railway bridge, the heaviest fighting would be seen. What remained of the German squad that had tried to take the bridge was soon reinforced by the German main force. Two armored cars tried to approach the east bank but were destroyed by two anti-tank rifles. Also a light tank was put out of action by the AT rifles. The German losses were high. However, soon after, three more German armored cars approached. The situation for the light Dutch infantry had become critical. Many defenders were killed or wounded by the German fire, and soon one of the two anti-tank rifles was destroyed by a hit. The headquarters were contacted to report the situation. From this contact, it became clear that the Dutch resistance at Maastricht had been ordered to cease.

Lieutenant colonel Govers—Territorial Commander (TC) of Limburg—had called a meeting later in the day. The German battle plans had been found on a German POW in the morning. All German units were mentioned in the plans and maps with directions had been part of the catch. It was clear that all bridges had been destroyed. It was also clear than an entire German Tank Division was deployed in South-Limburg. The TC had only two companies left under his command, without anti-tank guns or artillery. The ancient city of Maastricht—with all its cultural heritage—should not suffer more than necessary. The outcome of the meeting was that all further opposition to the Germans in and around Maastricht—the last standing defences in Limburg—would cease. The TC himself went to the Wilhelminabrug under the banner of truce. Soon, contact was established. A few hours later, all Dutch troops in Maastricht and its surroundings capitulated.

The battle in South-Limburg (Sector Roosteren – Maastricht) had cost the lives of 47 Dutch soldiers (two officers, seven NCOs, 38 corporals and soldiers). The German losses are again not known in detail, although at some scenes accurate figures are available. It is estimated that between 130-190 Germans died due to the fighting in the south. After the battle, it was reported that 186 German bodies were found. It is confirmed from German material-states that nine armored cars and tanks were destroyed in Limburg. Also, 10 German aircraft—mainly Junkers Ju 52s and Ju 87s—crashed or were shot down in Zuid-Limburg.


The Battle for The Hague took place on 10 May 1940 as part of the Battle of the Netherlands between the Royal Netherlands Army and Luftwaffe Fallschirmjäger (paratroops). German paratroopers dropped in and around The Hague in order to capture Dutch airfields and the city. After taking the city, the plan was to force the Dutch queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands to surrender and to thus defeat the Kingdom of the Netherlands within a single day.
The operation failed to capture the Queen, and the German forces failed to hold on to the airfields after Dutch counterattacks. The main body of surviving troops under Von Sponeck
retreated toward the nearby dunes where they were continually pursued and harassed by Dutch troops until the Dutch supreme command, due to major setbacks on other fronts, surrendered five days later.
The Germans planned to surprise the Dutch and so catch them off guard, allowing them to isolate the head of the Dutch Army. It was their intention to fly over the Netherlands, in order to lull the Dutch into thinking that England was their target. This was to be followed by approaching the country from the direction of the North Sea, attacking the airfields Ypenburg, Ockenburg and Valkenburg to weaken potential Dutch defenses before taking The Hague. It was expected that the queen and the commander in chief of the Dutch forces, Henri Winkelman, might agree at this point to surrender. However, if the Dutch did not surrender, the Germans planned to cut off all roads leading to The Hague in order to quell any subsequent Dutch counter-attack.
According to plan, the Germans flew over the Netherlands in the early hours of the morning on 10 May, but rather than lulling the citizens of The Hague, their passage alarmed them.The Germans circled back and, at approximately 06:00, bombed the airfield at Ypenburg.
Immediately thereafter, their transport planes dropped paratroopers in several waves into the field and its surroundings, though Dutch machine gun fire inflicted casualties on these arrivals and scattered their landings. Many planes landed and were damaged or destroyed by the defenders, blocking further arrivals. The paratroopers attacked and occupied the base’s main building, raising the German flag to signal their victory. In spite of this, the Dutch managed to prevent the Germans from advancing beyond Ypenburg to enter The Hague.At around the same time, German paratroopers were dropped at the airstrip in Ockenburg.

The defenders of Ockenburg were unable to prevent the Germans taking the airfield, but they were able to delay them long enough to ensure that the Dutch infantry units arrived to prevent the paratroopers from advancing into the Hague. As the Germans were using the Ockenburg airfield to strengthen their numbers, the Dutch bombed it to prevent the landing strip being used further.

The Valkenburg airfield was only partially constructed. As with Ypenburg, the Germans troops bombed the airfield prior to dropping paratroopers, causing heavy casualties among the defenders. Though the subsequent waves of paratroops also sustained heavy losses, the defenders were unable to prevent the Germans taking the field. However, as the airfield remained under construction, the Germans could not fly their transport aircraft from it and further transports were unable to land. Many landed on the nearby beaches and were destroyed by Dutch planes and fire from a Dutch destroyer. Following several ground skirmishes, the German troops occupied the village of Valkenburg as well as some of the bridges and buildings at Katwijk, along the Old Rhine river.

A walk in the park – a statement that many foreigners – even many native Dutch citizens – attach to the five days’ war in May 1940. It may be so, but at a considerable German cost of alomost 300 airplanes [about 10% of their able fleet in those days] lost beyond repair, over 2,000 men killed in action, about 7,000 wounded and 1,250 men [mainly airborne troops and pilots] captured and shipped to British prisoner-of-war camps. It resulted into a battered German airborne weapon.

Material losses suffered during the campaign in the Netherlands would contribute to altering important details of the invasion plans for Great Britain, because the existing plans for airborne and air landing operations in Northern Ireland and England had no longer been feasible due to the suffered losses. Material losses that had been replaced – but had prevented expansion at the same time – when a year later Crete was invaded by airbornes and airlanding troops. The Crete campaign again demanded heavy losses of transport planes. Losses that were more than a year later hard felt when the 6th Army had been surrounded at Stalingrad and had to be fed from the tit of the Luftwaffe cow. That cow had lost its healthy fat though. The chain of events, the fact that replacements had to fill gaps rather than expand the German fleet, was a chain that had started to grow with its first shackles. These first shackles had – amongst others – been the sustained heavy losses of German transport airplanes and trained pilots during the campaigns in Norway and the Netherlands


  1. Jan Brouwer says:

    15 May 1940 Not capitulation of The Netherlands or the Dutch but of the Dutch armed forces ecxept those in the province of Zeeland.


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