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Allied assistance: the French arrive


The French 7th Army commanded by the well-known General Giraud was assigned the safe-guarding of the port of Antwerp and surroundings once a German invasion in the west had become a fact. It's duties came from a strategic plan that was known as the "Manouvre Dyle-Breda" or "Hypothese Breda".

The assigned French units

The two French divisions designated for Zeeland were the 60th [241 RI, 270 RI, 271 RI, 50 RA and 68th Recon Group; under Brigadier-General Deslaurens] and 68th Infantry Division [224 RI, 225 RI, 341 RI, 89 RA, 289 RA and 59th Recon Group, under Brigadier-General Beaufrere]. Both divisions were B-type divisions, formed by older reservists, like the Dutch units at Zeeland. These divisions were generally spoken - and measured to French standards - poorly ranked, trained and equipped. Their units were all relying on bikes, horses and carts for transportation and few staff units were motorised to some modest degree. It would take the bulk of the 60th Division three full days to reach its destination. However, the first batch of the 60th was sent forward by ship and arrived in Flushing in the afternoon of the first day.

The 68th Division - which was originally not a unit of the 7th Army - had been assigned coastal defence tasks along the Belgian coast. One detachment [called Detachment Durand] had been prepared for instant shipment overseas on war break-out. It comprised a small battalion of infantry [II-224RI], a platoon of motorbike recce infantry [from 59th Recon Group] and a battery of 2,5 cm AA guns. This detachment was indeed quickly deployed and embarked in Dunkirk when the news of the German invasion was received. Escorted by small French destroyers [FS l'Incomprise, FS Branlebas, FS Frondeur, FS Adroit, and FS Fougueux] and preceded by French and British mine-sweepers, the large coaster FS Cote d'Azur set sail for Flushing and arrived at 0415 in the early morning of the 11th.

Forward formations arrive

Early in the afternoon of the 10th the first French troops - mechanised units of the 2 GRDI [Groupe de Reconnaissance de Division d'Infanterie; infantry reconnaissance], 9 DIM [Division d'Infanterie Mechanique; mechanised infantry] and 12th and 27th GRDI - under Colonel De Beauchesne - arrived in Breskens port [Zeeuws-Vlaanderen] after a very expeditious trip through blazing Belgium. This group was to be sent to Noord-Brabant once the detachment Durand would have arrived in Flushing. The group De Beauchensne was equipped with a few light tanks and Panhard armoured cars. The Colonel had even rushed ahead of his main-force and arrived at the Dutch headquarters in Middelburg at 1500 hours!

British contribution

During the course of the day an English destroyer [HMS Verity] berthed in Vlissingen harbour unloading a demolishing party under commander Cazalet. They were received with a lot of sepsis. The Dutch and French were quite stunned that all the British appeared to make free from their (alleged) considerable army was nothing more than a squad of demolition-engineers that were only prepared to blow up all what could be of value to the Germans. They moreover failed to bring along sufficient amounts of explosives to perform their tasks. They gathered the Dutch would supply them [which indeed they would do]! The small British delegation would yet stir the moods during their weeks' stay.

Apparently the British had already given up on the Dutch before the war had actually reached Zeeland. Also the behaviour of the small squad gave plenty of reason for a hostile reception. Civilians, Dutch and French soldiers witnessed the British playing a good game of soccer most of the time, while the French and Dutch were occupied offloading ships and clearing debris from passed raids. And when the British party finally had to come into action they proved pretty ill prepared. When a few days later their designated demo-objects were blown-up it turned out that they had underestimated the structures [or over-estimated the charges ...] so much that only minor damage was inflicted on the harbour facilities. They were repaired in no time when the Germans had taken over control.

Giving the fact that later, during the months June to September 1940, the RAF paid quite a number of visits to raid Flushing harbour - killing many civilians and destroying mostly houses and other civil structures (rather than the actual targets) - the British had to be quite patient for receiving the support of these civilians later on ... But they would regain their confidence and support eventually!