Forgotten History-The Battle of Maastricht

Maastricht is well known for one of it’s musicians Andre Rieu and also for the treaty which was signed on 2 February 1992 which shaped the EU.However it was also a battlefield at the start of WWII

netherlands-maastricht-wilhelminabrug-st-servaasbrug

 

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.

fort

The ancient city of Maastricht – the most southern Dutch city [with its Roman roots] – would see a lot of dramatic events on the first day of the war. The main-bridges over the Maas [in the city of Maastricht itself] were some of the main targets in the German invasion plan. These three bridges were the St. Servaesbrug, Wilhelminabrug and the railway bridge to the north. It was considered imperative to take these bridges intact. The German 4th Tank Division – with its 343 tanks – was supposed to make use of these heavy river crossings.

The siege of the bridges at Maastricht was closely connected to the daring plan to raid the Belgian fortress Eben-Emael, only some clicks southwest of Maastricht. This fortress – considered a very important Belgian strong-hold – controlled a large part of the Albertcanal, Maas and adjacent four bridges. With this fortress intact the 4th Tank Division could end up in a very delicate situation.

The imperative significance of the Belgian fortress was the reason for the Germans to develop an integrated plan to take the fortress by surprise, together with the three bridges across the Albertcanal at Vroenhoven, Veldwezelt and Kanne. This task was given to a special battalion of the 7th Flieger Division [of which the main body would be dropped into the Fortress Holland]. A few dozen Fallschirmjäger would be landed in gliders right on top of the fortress. The would bring along a number of hollow charges that could upset the biggest of constructions. At the nearby bridges small task-forces, mainly formed byFallschirmjäger too, would land in gliders and be later reinforced by parachute dropped airbornes. These obviously light forces would find themselves landing in a sector occupied by forces of a Belgian division and the more than 1,000 men inside the fortress. In order to be able to reinforce these light troops as soon as possible and ensure a firm crossing base along the Albertcanal, the seizure of the [intact] Maastricht bridges was imperative.

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

sluis

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.

bikes

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.

tank

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.

brug

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.

The beautiful, ancient St.Servaesbrug – the taking of which the BtlzbV100 and the 4th Tank Division were aiming for – was blown up at 0600 hours, when the first armoured cars appeared in sight. Fifteen minutes later the Wilhelminabrug followed. The persistent German endeavours to seize these two important objectives intact had been in vain.

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.

rifle

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.

Aside the usual horrors of war Maastricht wasn’t spared the horrors of the Holocaust.

Maastricht – the oldest Jewish community in the Netherlands

A Zionist youth organization sprouted after the Nazis took over the Netherlands in 1940. Local police and fellow citizens protected the Jewish community for some time. However, they could not prevent the deportation of large parts of the community between June 1942 and April 1943. Most of the deportees were eventually killed in Auschwitz and Sobibor. Some Jews managed to hide, especially in the countryside; others fled across the border into Belgium.

The Jewish community had severely declined by the end of World War II. Jewish life reappeared after the liberation of Maastricht in 1944, and the synagogue of Maastricht, which had been ransacked and used as a storage depot during the war, was reopened in 1952.

synagogu

Maastricht was liberated on 14 September 1944.

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