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British and French Airforce operations over Holland 10-17 May

We already memorised the arrival of a British demo-party at Pernis. This was not the only contribution our new Allies would offer. In the morning of the 10th six Blenheim 1F fighter-cruisers [Manston airbase, No.600 squadron Auxiliary AF - SL James Wells] had been directed to Waalhaven. These planes were equipped with six machineguns [7.7 mm]. The planes left Manston at 1030 hours. They would never reach Waalhaven, for the Messerschmitt Bf-110's of 3/ZG1 [Cmdt: Oberleutnant Streib] would intercept the British planes over Pernis. Five of the six Blenheims were shot down; the sixth plane escaped with heavy damage. (*)

(*) Our source gives the following register:

(+) = KIA, (POW) = Prisoner of War, (e) = escaped from Holland by HMS Hereward
- BQ-R: S/L Wells (+), Cpl Kidd (+) and Sgt David (e) - crash Pernis
- BQ-L: P/O Anderson (+), LAc Hawkins (+) - crash Hoogvliet
- BQ-K: F/O Rowe (POW) and P/O Echelin (+) - crash Piershil
- BQ-N: P/O Haine (e) and P/O Kramer (e) - crash Herkingen
- BQ-W: P/O Moore (+) and Cpl Isaacs (+) - crash Waalhaven
- BQ-O: F/O Hayes and Cpl Holmes - returned to Manston

Later that day [1500] eight light bombers [Blenheim IV] did manage to penetrate the Dutch airspace and they successfully bombed the airfield [each dropping four bombs of 250 lbs each]. The news of the siege of Waalhaven had even penetrated the British staff-room in France, where the BAFF [British Airforce France] ordered this airstrike against Waalhaven. They feared that the airbase would be used by the Luftwaffe strike-planes in assaults to British troops in Belgium and France. The eight bombers (**) of the 15th Squadron [Afb. Wyton] managed to find a Lufwaffe clear sky and dropped their bombs on the airfield. According to their reports sixteen Ju-52 were hit on the ground and 50 men killed or wounded. The first figure has probably been established from aerial photography; the second figure strikes us as a "very wild estimate".

(**) Our source gives the following register:

- P6912: F/L Chapman, Sgt Stephens, Cpl Sutcliff
- P6917: Sgt Hall, Sgt Perrin, LAc Fagg
- L9030: F/O Oakley, Sgt Avent, LAc Woods
- L8849: S/L Lawrence, Sgt Hopkins, LAc Thomas
- L8852: F/O Jones, Sgt Box, LAc Watts
- L8853: F/L Webster, Sgt Stone, LAc Hunter
- L8850: F/O Eames, Sgt Phillips, LAc Austin
- N6151: Sgt Pepper, Sgt Booth, LAc Scott

During the late evening and the night several bomber flights from the RAF paid a visit to Waalhaven (***). These 36 Wellington medium bombers dropped a total of 58 tonnes (!) of bombes [each plane dropped 18 off 200 lbs bombs] on the airfield itself and the direct surroundings. The only enemy opposition they faced was the light FLAK that had been flown in during the 10th [2 cm AA]. The majority of the planes operated from an altitude of 2,000 - 2,500 feet - well within the range of the FLAK. The raids started around 2230 hours and lasted until about 0400. No aircrafts were shot down and only one crew member returned home wounded [from shrapnel].

(***) Our source gives the following register:

- 6 Wellingtons No.9 Sq. Afb. Honington [S/L Peacock]
- 3 Wellingtons No.37 Sq. Afb. Marham [jointly with 75 Sq., S/L Glencross]
- 6 Wellingtons No.38 Sq. Afb. Marham [F/L MacFadden]
- 3 Wellingtons No.75 [NZ] Sq. Afb. Feltwell [jointly with 37 Sq., S/L Glencross]
- 6 Wellingtons No.99 Sq. Afb Newmarket [S/L Bertram]
- 6 Wellingtons No.115 Sq. Afb. Marham [unknown]
- 6 Wellingtons No.149 Sq. Afb. Mildenhall [S/L Harrie]

Witnesses claimed that the airfield was looking quite messy after the raids had ended. Civilians claimed to have seen many destructed transport planes and stated that smoke poured out of every building that was still standing. Indeed plenty of known pictures from the scene in the morning of the 11th show dense black and grey clouds of smoke pouring from destroyed buildings, facilities and destroyed planes at Waalhaven. The Germans would however still manage to operate the airbase, which again proved how difficult it was [is] to make conventional airfields useless without unleashing massive air-raids.

Also elsewhere on the 10th the RAF supported the Dutch cause. After the Dutch had reported to London - via liaison officers - that Ypenburg AFB had been captured by the Germans, the RAF responded by scheduling a bombing-mission to that target, which had to be performed by no. 40 squadron. Twelve Blenheim Mk. I L light bombers - originating from Wyton AFB again - appeared over Ypenburg AFB at around 1510 hours and dropped their loads over the field. Unfortunately the Dutch had retaken Ypenburg from the Germans whilst the British bombers were in transit to their objective. An attempt by the British liaison in The Hague [at 1450 Dutch time] to cancel the raid came too late; the planes could not be called off. Three Blenheims were shot down by German Messerschmitts. Fortunately on the receiving end no Dutch casualties were suffered.
At 1730 hours an unknown number of Blenheims Mk.IV and Mk.I bombed and strafed landed German Ju-52 transporters on the beach near The Hague. The bombing Blenheims [IV] were of the no. 110 squadron and were escorted by the MK. I's of no. 600 squadron. The latter must have represented no more than about six planes, for the other six of the squadron had been lost or damaged in the morning raid to Waalhaven. Again during the evening mission one Blenheim Mk.I [L 1517] was shot down by German fighters and crashed near Wassenaar. The RAF planes claimed four enemy planes shot down, but these must have been registered as probables, for no firm claims could be made.

The Fighter Claims of the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe claim a number of RAF / L'Armee de l'Air losses on May 10 over Holland. These losses we cannot connect to specific missions, but still we would like to list them up for your information:

  • II/JG26 (Messerschmitt Bf109D night fighter - Oberleutnant Johannes Steinhoff): one Blenheim over The Hague
  • 5/JG27 (Messerschmitt Bf-109E - Leutnant Emmerich Fluder and Oberleutnant Hans-Christoph Schäfer): two Blenheims west of Nijmegen about 1130 hrs local time (gun-film confirmed kills)
  • 6/JG27 (Messerschmitt Bf-109E - Unteroffizier Heinz Uebe): one Blenheim south of Rotterdam at 1250 hours local time (gun-film confirmed kill)
  • 1/JG51 (Messerschmitt Bf-109E - Leutnant Hans Strehl): one Amiot 143 (twin engine bomber) south of Rotterdam at 1245 local time
  • 6/JG27 (Messerschmitt Bf-109E - Leutnant Werner Wenzel): one Blenheim at 1255 local time over Rotterdam (gun-film confirmed kill)

It may well have been the case that not only the Bf-110 fighters of 3/ZG1 were responsible for the destruction of five Blenheim fighters at Rotterdam. At least two of the above mentioned kills (JG27) match the time and location of the Blenheims over Rotterdam.

Due to the fact that over the period of 11-14 May only a limited number of known missions were flown over Holland we shall address them here, with exception of one fighter-sweep on the 13th which has been addressed separately on the day of the event because it meant a significant clash between the RAF and the Luftwaffe over Dutch soil.
At the 11th yet another bombing mission against Waalhaven was executed, this time by Coastal Command. After the Dutch had begged the British for RAF ground-support at Waalhaven, a raid was scheduled incorporating 15 strike planes; six Bristol Beaufort Mk. I light bombers [no. 22 squadron] and nine Fairey Swordfish Mk. I bi-plane navy-bombers [no. 815 squadron], carrying a payload of two 500 lbs bombs each. The planes took off from Bircham at 1950 hours [Dutch time] and safely returned at 2250 hours.

At the 12th - 14th a number of fighter patrols were executed over the coastal area in particular by Spitfires, Hurricanes, Blenheims and Defiants. With exception of the later to be addressed mission on the 13th there is little to be said about these patrols. Records show no details other than that at the 14th a flight of nine Hurricanes of no. 32 squadron was seen over Hook of Holland. Also the Luftwaffe air victory claim list incorporates some [6] apparently affirmed claims of shot down Hurricanes in the Rotterdam area at the 11th. We have not been able to substantiate those claims.
The Dutch had requested the British in the morning of the 10th to station some four squadrons of fighters and some RAF striking units at Dutch bases, within the Fortress Holland. That request was obviously denied, for the RAF had already overstretched its power over its forces in Norway, Belgium, France and the home front. No spare units could be made available. At the 13th again a strong request was filed at the British liaison at The Hague for permanent British fighter support. Again it was denied, but moreover it was established that - apart from other logistical challenges like the required availability of spare-parts and suitable ammo - the Dutch lacked 100 octane fuel [Dutch planes used 90-92 octane levels] that was commonly used by British engines. When in the afternoon of the 13th again contacts were made with the British embassy, it turned out that the military liaison officer in charge had already routed and had boarded a Royal Navy vessel.
In the south of the Netherlands more RAF activity was registered. Maastricht - the most southern Dutch city that had been captured by the Germans in the morning of the 10th after fierce fighting - was a logistical key location for the German troops pouring into Belgium. When the Germans had succeeded in constructing some pontoon bridges, over which tanks and armoured troops were crossing the Meuze river, the Allied recce planes [that managed to survive German fighter and FLAK screens] spotted the German moves. These developments stirred-up things at the Allied HQ's and soon a number of missions for airstrikes against these crossings were scheduled. At 11 May a Belgian attempt with Fairy Battles to reach the bridges near Maastricht, Veldwezelt and Vroenhoven failed and ended in heavy losses. Two following British attempts were more successful. First at around 1500 hours No 110 squadron Blenheim Mk.IV's from Wattisham attacked the Maastricht bridges, soon followed by identical planes from No. 21 squadron from Watton. Two Blenheims were shot down, eight heavily damaged. Results were not reported. At 1800 hours the French airforce sent in twelve Leo-451 bombers, escorted by some fighters. These courageous crews operated at 800 meter altitude in order to increase their accuracy, but they were battered by the German FLAK. One Leo was shot down, the remaining eleven were all shot to pieces and barely made it back home.

The bridges meanwhile remained intact, although some minor damage from near misses may have caused inconsiderable delay on the German side. In the early morning of the 12th nine Blenheims of No 139 squadron - based in France - patrolled over the northeast of Belgium and attacked German troops moving into Belgium coming from the direction of the Maastricht bridges. The planes approached from medium altitude, in order to evade the German light FLAK that had been brought-in in large numbers by then. Nevertheless the mission ended in disaster. Whilst roaming over the target-zone and selecting their targets, German fighters dove down on the bombers and no less than seven were picked from the sky. At 0900 no less than two complete Blenheim Mk.IV squadrons [unit numbers unknown] from Bomber Command attacked the bridges at Maastricht. It was again a bloody confrontation. Of the 24 planes no less than ten were downed. Simultaneously five old Fairey Battles Mk.I light bombers of no 12 squadron attacked the nearby bridge at Vroenhoven. All five these [very vulnerable] planes were shot down. Aerial photographs taken during the Blenheim mission showed that all 96 bombs had missed their targets. The last Allied endeavour of the day was performed by the French. During a strafing and bombing mission of German troops just west of Maastricht by eighteen Brequet-693 bombers eight planes were lost by FLAK and Luftwaffe doing. An extremely sad and bloody day had ended.
Also on another front one mission was flown against the Germans at Breda. The withdrawal of the French VII Army from the Netherlands was covered by a mission of some Fairy Battles south and west of Breda. One or two of these planes were reported to be shot down. Also escorting Moranes ran into German counterparts. Two were shot down, whilst also two Germans smashed into the ground.
During the night of 13 and 14 May two separate missions were flown by Handley Page units. One mission, comprising three planes of No. 144 squadron and three of No. 61 squadron, bombed German lines of communication between Eindhoven and the German city Aken, just over the border. Six planes of No.50 squadron bombed the bridges at Maastricht and Maaseyk. Two planes returned with their loads still onboard, for they had not been able to locate any targets. The results of these missions are unknown.

In the cause of the next day six Blenheim Mk.IV bombers [No.82 squadron from Watton] attacked German targets on the roads north of Breda and Tilburg. All returned home safely. During the following night Hampden MK.I's [two of No. 50, two of No.61 and two of No.144 squadron] raided the roads around Breda again, which were packed with German troops. Another flight of six Hampdens [three of No.44, one of No.49 and two of No.83 squadron] assaulted German units spotted near Roosendaal [west of Breda]. Last but not least Maastricht was again attacked, and this time by six Wellington Mk.I medium bombers of No.99 squadron from Newmarket. This time hits were reported. All planes returned safely.

During the French evacuation of Zeeland some clashes between the Anglo-French airforces and the Luftwaffe were reported. Two French navy-squadrons had been dedicated to cover the evacuation and operations; AB1 and AB2. AB1 was equipped with 12 off Vought V-156 B-1 dive-bombers, and AB2 with 12 off Nieuport LN-40 bombers. During the period 14-17 May these two units operated several times above Dutch soil and water, and lost eight planes. Also French fighters roamed the skies over the provinces of West-Brabant and Zeeland during the period 12-17 May, covering the French troops. During these patrols some air-battles with the Luftwaffe were paid with the price of lost planes and men. Especially at the 17th at one particular clash no less than four Hawk-75 fighters were shot down over Middelburg.

The above registry of Allied airforce missions over Dutch soil during the raging battle in the period 10-17 May is probably far from complete. Especially the actions in the three southern Dutch provinces are covered only partly in the above summary.