10 - 18 May 1940 - Province Zeeland


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 for the Scheld"] the Allies tried [and succeeded in] clearing the south-west of Holland of all German forces.

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Province Zeeland - 10 May 1940 (may 1940)

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 tha 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 AlliedĀ 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, RotterdamĀ 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 summary that follows about Zeeland has not been set in a tone of rehabilitation or epos. The events that we present the reader are very level-headed and humble.