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British forces in Hoek van Holland


The British contribution to the war in the Netherlands in May 1940 was very modest when it came to army land forces. The British navy and airforce were much more active in comparison to their land forces, although the far majority of these activities were purely meant to serve British interest. The British were very much aware that an occupied Holland would mean a hostile coast and country opposing their own.

The [RAF and Navy] airforce executed numerous patrols along the Dutch coast line. Also mine sweeping and mine laying operations were executed by British planes. Especially on the first day of the war a number of aerial bombardements punished the German occupants of the Dutch airfields. These operations were only partially intended as direct support of the Dutch cause. The Waalhaven raids overnight [10/11 May] were sanctioned by the BAFF.

The British navy had received extensive instructions to patrol the Dutch coastline for signs of German maritime operations. Also the safeguarding of the Dutch goldreserves and Royal Family had been assigned to the Royal Navy. Both these 'precious transports' had been pre-war coordinated between the British and Dutch navies - in case of ... .

The modest representation of British landforces assigned to the Dutch theatre had not been assigned any other task than a) safeguard the evacuation of British diplomates and citizens, b) assist in the destruction of the Dutch harbour facilities in the Dutch cities Vlissingen [Flushing], Ymuiden, Amsterdam and Rotterdam and c) destruct the Dutch petrol and other fuel reserves in the Rotterdam and Amsterdam harbours.

For the first task a battalion [Irish Guards] had been assigned, to be assisted by a few dozen Marines. Their commanding officer had been restricted in his room to accept modest Dutch request. The other two matters had to be taken care of by a few dedicated demolition taskforces, shipped in by a number of V&W class destroyers. These demo parties proved quite poorly prepared and came with inadequate volumes of charges and a few odd instructions, like blowing Dutch possessions right under their nozes whilst the Dutch would be in the middle of a defensive war against the Germans. This quite dominant feature of these raiding parties was not at all appreciated by the Ducth and would cause some friction here and there.

The British battalion

A British battalion [Irish Guards] had been dropped in Hook of Holland during the May War [overnight 11-12 May]. They were designated as 'Harpoon Force.' It was 651 men strong.

Their task was primarily to assist there where British interests were at stake.  The battalion commander [Lieutenant-Colonel Haydon] had been instructed [by the Imperial General Staff] to safeguard the return of the British diplomates and citizens and - if required - assist the Dutch in safeguarding their Government and Royal Family. To what extend the latter two objectives would be facilitated would however be up to the judgement of the battalion commander in regard of his reasonability to risk his unit or not. The battalion commander soon learnt that The Hague had been secured by the Dutch themselves and as such ordered his troops to dig in close to the quay in Hook of Holland. His troops were not to intervene in any act of war except when challenged by German doing.

The battalion was lightly armed. It had taken no vehicles along, with exception of one or two signal trucks, and the heaviest weapons available were a handful of 3" mortars. Together with the standard Brenguns and the occasional 'Boys' AT gun, the mortars formed the entire 'heavier' arsenal at hand. Obviously available ship's armament could assist in arty support, if required.

In the morning of the 14th the British navy had shown some continuous activity near Hook of Holland. The light cruiser HMS Calcutta cruised along the coast and fired off some rounds at some parked German planes when they got into range. The ship also shelled some Dutch positions by accident. Fortunately no victims resulted from this blue-on-blue incident.

The German Luftwaffe was quite active, also around the Hook. When the Germans aimed a few series of bombs at Hoek van Holland and other positions alongside the Nieuwe Waterweg, the impressed Irish Guards left their arms and equipment and ran to the docks. Here they boarded the British ships available [HMS Whitshed, HMS Vesper, HMS Malcolm]. The Guards had suffered eleven men KIA and twenty wounded.

The Dutch soldiers who witnessed the British panic grew very confused and worried. The Dutch took over the previous British positions. With the departure of the Guards the last Allies had left the Fortress Holland. They wouldn't return at this location for five long years...

Another battalion had been scheduled to leave for Holland. A battalion of the Welsh Guards. Their departure had been cancelled however, after news of the Dutch capitulation was received.

The British complement had been completed by a representation of the Royal Marines, the first British foot soldiers to set ground on Dutch soil during the siege of the country. An outfit of 200 randomly assembled Marines - mostly non-com's - had been hasitely sent to Hook of Holland to prepare a perimeter-bridgehead for the Guards and demo parties to follow and to safeguard a potential evacuation of the Dutch Royal Family. It arrived during the night 11/12 May 1940. It was commanded by Major B.G.B. Mitchell.

The demo teams

The demolition squads sent to the Netherlands had not been requested for, but were a purely British initiative. Local Dutch commanders were quite shocked to learn that these parties had been instructed to start demolition on their own account without prior Dutch approval. These teams were - at all locations - quickly called to order by the Dutch.

These demo teams were of the specialist Kent Fortress Royal Engineers. A company that was commanded by Major Clifford Brazier and comprising of mainly engineers. The formation had been born out of a desire to prevent the German army from occupying vast fuel storages in Scandinavia, the low countries and France. All that in anticipation on a German offensive into the West of Europe that most likely would not successfully be countered by the Entente. Bright thinking one could say.

The operation to destroy Dutch resources was booked under the code name 'XD Operations' with an extrension like 'Party A' for a location. The fuel reserves in Amsterdam and Rotterdam were the prime two targets in the Netherlands. The Amsterdam party was to be shuttled in to Ymuiden [by the HMS Whitshead] from where it had to organise transportation to Amsterdam harbour. The party was 99 men strong, lead by Commander Goodenough. It would eventually reach the Amsterdam port and assisted by some Dutch get permission to destroy the storages one day prior to the Dutch capitulation. Only a limited volume of the fuel stocks would indeed be lost, since the Germans soon managed to extinguish the fires.

The Hook of Holland party was considerably smaller than the Amsterdam one. It was 44 men strong, including four officers. It was brought in on board the HMS Wild Swan.

In Rotterdam the British team suddenly turned up to destroy the petrol tanks in the large Pernis facility, but were sent away by the Dutch commander of the guarding company. When days later the Dutch informed the British that they were about to evacuate the Pernis plant, the British team joint up with some Dutch engineers and set off charges on the vessels and facilities. The Germans succeeded in extinguishing most of the fires within days. In the end only about 10% of the stock had been burnt.

Meanwhile the British team in the Hook had assisted in safely bringing a share of the Gold reserve of the Dutch National Bank on board a Dutch utility vessel. On board the vessel in Vlaardingen a few British reps sailed towards the Hook, when the boat triggered a magnetic mine and broke into two. Two British on board were killed, together with a dozen Dutch sailors. The Gold ended up on the canal bed, and would partially be retrieved by the Germans during the war.

The demo party sent to Zeeland [on board HMS Verity], at Flushing, shall be addressed in the Zeeland section. The last formation [17 men under 2ns Lieutenant Wells] of the KFRE was sent to Antwerp, on board the HMS Brilliant].

Last shipment of POW's

Many German POW's had been assembled at several locations at The Hague and a few elsewhere in the country. When it became clear that the war was about to come into its final stages, an order was filed that the POW's were to be evacuated to England in order to prevent them from being freed by their comrades. The previous day the main bulk had been shipped to the other side of the Channel. The 14th another 339 POW's were transported from The Hague to IJmuiden. The men were boarded in IJmuiden on the steamship Hr Ms Texelstroom. At 1900 hours the ship departed for England.

In fact the transport was an infringement of the prelimenary armistice [terms] that had been agreed before. But the Dutch did not pay much attention to this. The occupational force that soon came in place found out that the Hr Ms Texelstroom had left port after the capitulation and launched an investigation to the matter. The responsible Dutch Lieutenant was heard by the SS and stated that he had not been aware of the capitulation when he had sent off the ship. The Germans did not believe him, but when he stated that would he have known about the capitulation that he would not have stayed in the Netherlands but boarded the vessel himself, they believed him.

In total about 1.350 German prisoners had been shipped to England. Of these men the majority had belonged to the German landing party at Ypenburg. The far majority of the POW's was member of an airborne or air landing troop, and then of course many Luftwaffe crews were amongst them too. All in all the Germans lost quite some well trained and fit young men when these men were taken away to POW camps in England [later Canada].