Chapter 11 - Myth and reality
Chapter 11 – Myth and Reality – was written by Herman Amersfoort [Ph.D]. Professor Amersfoort teaches Military History at the Dutch Defence Academy and at the University of Amsterdam, speciality Military History of the 19th and 20th Century.
Amersfoort is a well-known but controversial authority on WWII history in the Netherlands, operating within a select circle of historians aiming for a so called demythologizing of written history. Aforesaid aim brought him in conflict with many historians outside his limited circle of sympathizers, mainly due to his particular modus operandi of creating self-acclaimed myths in order to get the desired attention for his work. Besides his tendency to claim virtually anything beyond his own acceptation as a myth, he is (ill) reputed for his top-down approach of researches, dismissing the value of battle-reports as to the level of virtually irrelevant biased sources. The fact that veteran accounts are considered biased accounts – which they obviously are (and what source is not?) – causes him to claim that even numerous battle reports on a specific event only represent a collection of biased accounts and as such merely qualify as a marginal source of information. By doing so Amersfoort has created his own 'room to manoeuvre', because when sources are disqualified as valuable to the historian, he creates the room to fill in history himself. And there where a scientist of reputation would leave it to theses, Amersfoort claims his reconstructions (usually) to be facts. Working in such a manner is the reason why Amersfoort claims that a scientific approach of historical reconstruction should be done by a top-down approach, in stead of constructing an analysis on the comparison of battle-reports of both sides, projected on the main-milestones of an event (bottom-up). This highly controversial approach has caused many of his students to produce papers and dissertations of highly questionable quality with a typical tendency to first create a (non-existent) myth and subsequently demythologize their own creation, meanwhile dismissing or even ridicule existing historical reconstructions. This modus operandi of said professor is so aggressively advocated by himself and his (small) inner circle that – within the small country and the subsequent limited research group on WWII history – a very dominant mainstream has been created that caused the military history scene to be partially recalibrated according to Amersfoort’s own questionable standard. The fact that the Dutch Ministry of Defence institutionalizes Amersfoort’s style and research by the explicit support of his work as well as of publishing the first editions of ‘May 1940 – the Battle of the Netherlands’ as the ‘new standard’ on the May War history, hasn’t improved the unbalance in the Dutch military history recording. The subject chapter eleven of the book is an illustration of Amersfoort’s highly tendentious way of working, publishing and teaching.
In this chapter 11 a quite extended number of so called myths are said to be broken by him and his co-authors. These matters shall be reviewed hereunder, also when yours truly agrees with Amersfoort. Should the introduction have caused the reader to think that all that Amersfoort publishes could be addressed as tendentious or otherwise untrue, this should be corrected here and now. A considerable share of Amersfoort’s work, even some of his myth-busting, is supported by undersigned and others. In respect to subject chapter review, the differences of opinion shall soon be clear as will be the agreements.
After reading this chapter 11 (and perhaps this review) one can only conclude that Herman Amersfoort should be sorted amongst the poorest of military-history analists as it comes to WWII. One should however realize that Amersfoort is in fact not a WWII specialist, although he does keep up those appearances. His nyche is however the late Middle Ages.
Myths about the Dutch defeat
Amersfoort has a good point that the Dutch cherish many myths about the circumstances in May 1940 that would have caused the quick defeat. Myths like the presumed excellence of the German army units, the massive appliance of elite forces against the Netherlands and the archaic Dutch army equipment and weaponry. Matters that are, in reality, either untrue or much exaggerated.
Other matters are no myth but simply slight exaggerations or only partially true, like the breach of the international codes and the effect of the raid on Rotterdam.
Amersfoorts states that no elite units were deployed in the Netherlands, with exception (possibly) of the airbornes. He considered the fighting elements of the SS (soon after addressed as Waffen-SS) not to be elite forces, but on the contrary, inexperienced, and their usefulness quite low. That is motivated by repeating the political statements of that kind, erupted from ordinary German army sources in that very era.
It is true that the air-landing forces were not elite troops and could be considered regular (well trained) troops simply shuttled onto the battlefield in an unorthodox way. Airbornes were indeed elite to some degree. They received additional training and had been specifically educated in their typical kind of small force operations.
As to the quality of the SS yours truly begs to differ with Amersfoort. The latter totally relies on the Heer Generals degrading the early Waffen SS as a poor fighting formation, which was mainly born out of a political resentment of the fact that the Heer – even by German constitution and law – was supposed to be the only arm in the Reich not to have any side organisation in competition alongside. The Waffen SS was generally seen as a threat to the regular army, which it was partially intended to be too, by Himmler. Yet, the SS formations already proved in Poland that beside some backlog on the aspect of battle tactics, they were determined to pick the hardest of fights. They proved to be excellent storm troops, a task that regular army outfits hated for its high risk profile. The SS drill training, notorious for its realism as well as physical and mental demands, was considerably superior to that of the best regular army units. What it lacked was the experience of seasoned officers in particular and as such of 'intelligent battlefield tactics'. Many of the SS officers were quite juvenile and less or not at all built out in the tradition of the Prussian tactical thoroughness. On the other hand, SS officers were trained along side their men and went through the same rigid boot camp, which caused the mutual respect and 'comradery' amongst SS units to grow high.
Notwithstanding the aforesaid limitations, the Waffen SS proved to be much more determined in close combat than their regular army comrades. In the Netherlands that coul be seen on two occasions. The first and most convincing was during the battle of the Grebbeberg. On the first day of the battle the SS regiment Der Führer still showed some hesitance as to the tactical side of affairs, but it managed to overrun the Dutch forward defences without considerable losses. On the second day of the battle two SS battalions easily breached the main defence line of the Grebbeberg, effectively clearing it and again without heavy losses. When on the next day the SS on the slope (Grebbeberg) had been replaced by two regular infantry battalions and the SS had moved to a sector more to the north, the regular infantry took all day to decisively break through the last weak defences and lost more men than the SS had lost during the three days of battle before. Meanwhile two SS battalions had countered a Ducth counter-attack up north, rebuffing four Dutch battalions, again while only sustaining mild losses.
If one compares the SS methods with the regular army, the SS was much more effective and far more professional in dealing with trench-line breaking warfare than the regular infantry, notwithstanding the SS applying much more aggressive and risky tactics at the focus points of their attacks. The SS its virtual ignorance as it came to operational losses caused it to remain determined and focussed whereas the regular infantry tended to get impressed by losses and call off or stall an assault, causing it to again suffer the inevitable losses of a storm assault on a follow up attempt. The latter was a ‘natural’ reaction to losses seen in all armed forces, but it was typical for the early Waffen SS to ignore losses and push on. It was exactly that mentality that two years later jeopardized the very existence of that particular Waffen SS feature, because the losses had caused virtually all initial SS forces to be depleted. The second example of the SS being much determined to comply with the high expectations was seen in the province of Zeeland, where irrespective of the challenging landscape (narrow dikes and causeways, flat open polders) and sometimes heavy shelling SS units pushed on hardly ever breaking off an assault. It caused only two SS battalions to push away a force of more than quadruple their size, with only relatively light losses sustained.
Although both examples are no proof of the profile of an elite formations, the Amersfoort position that the SS was in fact a low value outfit totally goes without substantial evidence and intervenes with the battle results of these outfits. He rides the old horse of the former Heer Generals dismissing the SS as a fighting formation, mainly out of envy rather than out of reason. The same SS that only shortly after would be embraced by most of them, because it ‘suddenly’ had proven itself the excellent fire-brigade on the most challenging corners of the battlefield. The SS was not an elite in the sense of the nowadays accepted title given to special forces, but it was an earned title to a highly loyal and most dedicated elite of formations that were excellently drilled and trained in storm trooping and aggressive recce missions. When later during the war battle tactics had been improved, some SS units would grow to a true elite level.
The elaboration about the operational value of the airbornes is a typical example of the tendentious style that Amersfoort applies. He doesn't conclude from a scientifically sound analysis, but works towards (e.g. along) his own conviction.
[p. 396 /p.397] Amersfoort claims that the Dutch theatre was a side-show of the German invasion plan Case Yellow (which in itself is true) and that that was the reason why the 'operationally unreliable airbornes' were used in the Dutch theatre and not elsewhere. Apparently Amersfoort forgot to study the first three issues of the German battle-plans. When Hitler ordered his Generals to design a battle plan against France and the low countries end of September 1939, he quickly after instructed General Kurt Student to come up with a number of scenarios where his new ‘toy’ – being the airborne and airlanding troops – could fit in. Student came up with a number of options, all focussed on the Belgian theatre. The Netherlands were not considered, particularly not because the first German plans only involved the partial seizure of the country below the large floods. The main basic plan-designs that Student came up with were major landings behind the (lower) Maas river, behind the Dyle line and even inside the so called Reduit Nationale – the western Belgian fortress sector. These designs were later cancelled for numerous reasons (amongst which the emergency landing of a German Bf-108 at Belgian Maas-Mechelen containing part of the German invasion plans), but not – as Amersfoort falsely suggests – for the reason of strategic camouflage of the Manstein plan. That plan was after all only an ingredient of the fourth German strategy version, the same one that for the first time incorporated the entire occupation of the Netherlands. The reasons why the main airborne assaults in Belgium were scrapped were mainly caused by the fact that landing to the rear of the Maas river – in the first three battle plan versions – caused too little a benefit to disclose the secrecy of a large airborne weapon. The in depth landing, behind the Dyle line or even the Reduit National, was too risky. The landed forces would not only oppose the main bulk of allied formations but particularly the time window to link up with main land forces coming from the east was considered far too extended. Rational reasons not to apply the airbornes in Belgium in a massive operation. When the German battle plan (3rd version) was caught by the allies in January 1940 after the unfortunate plane crash in Mechelen-aan-de-Maas, the entire plan was tilted. Only then the Manstein component (the Schlieffen mirror-plan so to speak) and the entire Netherlands occupation came up. It was only then that was decided that the water-rich Netherlands would pose an excellent theatre for introducing a massive operationally used airborne weapon. That didn’t happen because the Netherlands were a side-show, but because the strategic and operational picture in Belgium did not fit the operational value ánd risk of a large airborne operation. These German considerations ahead of a large scale airborne operation would always remain the considerations given by belligerents when airborne assaults were planned later in the war: the suitability of the theatre for airborne deployment and the relatively short time-frame in which it should be self-contained. Amersfoort though, makes his readers falsely believe that it was the relative value of the Dutch front that formed the most principle consideration to deploy the airbornes in the Netherlands. Untrue and not substantiated in any way.
Amersfoort claims that the German decision to execute the raid on Eben Emael was – together with the airborne operation in the Netherlands – a clear and substantial part of the German set-up of louring the allies into Belgium and make them believe that the Schlieffen plan would find its repetition. That would be a defendable and plausible theory if the Germans had designed the Eben Emael raid in January 1940 when the fourth invasion strategy plan was in development. That was not the case. The Eben Emael raid had been in from the start and for good reason. A reason that Amersfoort apparently doesn’t appreciate. The modern and quite powerful fortress at Eben Emael controlled the entire Maas valley, both on the Dutch and Belgian side. The Visé – Maastricht region was controlled by this strategic fortress, on the south side supported by another two fortresses near Liege. The first three German plans saw the main forces of the army once again pressed through this narrow valley, as it had been the case in 1914. The fortresses were able to shell the entire valley and as such seriously hamper German logistics. The Eben-Emael fortress was therefore an obstacle of magnitude. It had to be taken out in order not to jeopardize the massive troop concentrations that would be formed on the eastern Maas bank and moreover to be able to force a quick Maas crossing on either side of the fortress without all bridges and approached being shelled by the Fortress guns. When the fourth plan version was developed, where the emphasis of mechanized units switched from the northern to the lower Maas region, the quick taking of the Maas fortress at Eben Emael was still of paramount importance. Not specifically to mislead the allies, but because the Germans realized that an early break-through in the Maas – Albert Canal angle would be essential to deploy enough forces in the northwest of Belgian to at least be able to repel a potential allied counter offensive in that region. That at the same time the entire north-eastern concentration and phoney emphasis would contribute to louring the allied forces into Belgium, was indeed of importance too, but not the main issue to take Eben Emael by surprise.
Amersfoort is not the only historian abusing the Eben-Emael raid for (over)compensating the myth-building around May 1940 though. Many others came to similar conclusions, partially marching on, on the excellently paved path of the German historian Karl-Heinz Frieser. The difference between Frieser and Amersfoort (and a few others) is significant though. Frieser's work [Blitzkrieg Legende] is a shear master-piece on the operational side of Case Yellow, hitting the nerve of the genuine myth building on both the German and (former) allied side. His analyses almost all hit home, mostly because they are down to earth and a thorough analysis of source material. Unlike Amersfoort, Frieser did not largely rely on suggestion, but in stead on hard or plausible evidence and knowledge, although Frieser is also not fault-free. Particularly the material side of his book is quite poor, but that is of little significance against his masterly operational analysis.
[p.397 / p.398] Amersfoort continues his very tendentious ‘rap’ about the apparently insignificance of the airborne operation by stating that all ten German tank divisions were in the end [Fall Rot] involved in France. I cannot see the point in that note; I find it irrelevant. Apparently more arguments were necessary to convince the author himself. The fact that the German forces opposing the Dutch were relatively weak made a lot of sense, once Amersfoort would have taking the picture of the allied deployments in front of him. In Belgium and the north of France about 3 million allied military were assembled, in the Netherlands around 300,000 and the latter lacked any tanks. So what is the point of making an argument that only one – the weakest – German tank division was deployed in the Netherlands?
[p.398] Amersfoort devaluates the heavy losses of German aircraft over Holland. Those losses were more than considerable. About 30% of the transport fleet of the Luftwaffe was crippled or destroyed. Amersfoort dismisses this loss by stating that this was of minor significance as to the losses of battle-planes elsewhere. Indeed, the losses of the combat units of the Luftwaffe were of direct importance and those in the transport fleet weren't. But Amersfoort seems not to have been studying the Operation Merkur – the invasion of Crete (May 1941). By that time the Luftwaffe had just been able to compensate the losses of the Fall Gelb operation as it came to transport planes. In stead of considerably expanding the transport fleet in the relatively quiet period between July 1940 and March 1941, they had been compensating losses. These transport-plane losses were hard felt during the entire war, like German research by Speidel [NARA: the Campaign in Western Europe 1939-1940]confirms, not the least due to the low priority the transport planes got in production. It, for example, caused Operation Merkur to be designed as a far too complicated multi air-lift operation, it was later causing painful shortages of transport planes when the German lines of communications had been stretched to North Africa and the Sowjet Union. If there was one thing – one aspect – where Germany did suffer during the invasion of the Netherlands, then it was the paramount loss of over 30% of its transport-fleet and many of its seasoned pilots. The fact that the Germans lost 7,5% of their entire built transport plane fleet (5.000 Ju-52) in those lousy five days' war in the Netherlands cannot be dismissed as a minor inconvenience. That mattered a lot. It hampered German training of airbornes and airlanding troops, it caused much industrial capacity to get focussed on replacing lost Ju-52 during 1940/1941 and it caused much pilots - of which hundreds had been lost including many instructors - to be replaced.
It takes basic knowledge of war economics to grasp such an issue. This basic knowledge of logistics and war-economy seems not to have landed with Amersfoort, what he clearly proofs with his poor analysis on plane losses. A clear matter of over-compensation while being on a quest to demythologize …
Breaches of war law
[p.400 / p. 401] The matter of Dutch and German infringements of the international codes – the 'lex belli' set forth in the Geneva and Hague conventions – has always intrigued Amersfoort beyond anything else. As already addressed in the introduction of this book review, the hottest potato that the first edition of this book produced was the overcompensation of both editors Amersfoort and Kamphuis, when it came to putting the issue of war crimes back into perspective. They certainly had a point that German breaches had been grossly exaggerated in many Dutch historical files and that the weight of those infringements, which were actually verified (or considered likely), was all but decisive on the outcome of things. So far so good. But as with many myth busters, Amersfoort and Kamphuis overcompensated to end up on the other end. After the extensive and sometimes emotional criticism – that peaked around 1999-2000 – against their 1990 edition, Kamphuis seemed to have readjusted his position. Amersfoort on the other hand published a book on the matter in 2005, a months before the second edition of ‘May 1940 – the Battle for the Netherlands’ saw the light of day. There where the second edition of the latter showed the NIMH to have taken a few steps back, and bringing things back into the right perspective, Amersfoort’s ego document proved to be even worse than the 1990 edition of ‘May 1940’. In a very tendentious way, Amersfoort tried to claim his rightness. It goes beyond the essence of this book review to step aside and evaluate the Amersfoort book on war crimes during the May War, but the reader may take it to the bank that it was a product of a battered ego, trying to get square with his critics. He failed.
Also in this Chapter 11 Amersfoort fails to separate the ‘regular’ mild breaches of the international law from the deliberate or gross infringements. The sometimes poor (Dutch) treatment of POW’s, denying them a meal or glass of milk, is no comparison to the German murdering of survivors in a sieged trench. Waiving a white flag to cover one’s own behind during a flight from the front is not the same as shielding behind POW’s while the latter are being pushed to the front in the direction of their own shooting comrades. Even evacuating a handful of men from a tricky battlefield position under the (false) coverage of the Red Cross sign is by far not as evil as forcing POW’s to pull infantry guns to the most forward front-line. Indeed, it were all matters of breaching the war laws, but the intentions were quite different amongst the breaching belligerents. Probably most readers will see that difference between these degrees of breaches of the international code, but not Amersfoort, who operates like a preacher man stating that a sin is a sin. All for the purpose of getting square. Pathetic, obviously, but typical for the historian Amersfoort is.
The very tendentious analysis that Amersfoort brings about in this very topic is of such certified baloney, that it is not even worthwhile to reflect on it in too much detail. It has been proven that he hardly studied battle-reports, that he mixes up events and makes the oddest of reconstructions. His naïve perception of the SS mentality as to the moral towards war laws is stunning. It was no incident that the SS – a brilliant storm troop as they were – massively breached the international codes at the Battle of the Grebbeberg. Very reliable estimates show that around 40-50 Dutch soldiers were killed from those infringements, and probably a few dozen more, which cannot be proven though. Numerous soldiers were wounded from these actions. Altogether it means that more than 10% of the Dutch casualties during the Battle of the Grebbeberg got killed as a direct consequence of war-crimes, and probably more. Also during the fighting along the Maas-Waal canal numerous SS crimes were committed, like forcing POW’s to march in front of AFV’s having them shouting to their comrades to surrender. An officer been put on the hood of a heavy armoured car, forcing him to convince Dutch soldiers to lay down their weapons. During the same campaign, at Le Paradis and Wormhoudt other massacres of POW’s by the SS. No coincidences, not at all.
Let there be no mistake about one thing. The SS was not structurally committing war crimes during the campaign in the Netherlands. It was not the evil bunch that some Dutch journals or history books make of them. Amersfoort has a point that in the role of storm trooper, when adrenaline is gushing out of one’s mouth and ears, the finger on the trigger can be much ‘happier’ than with the regular soldier fighting from a more considerable distance. Close combat does incorporate the considerably higher risk of crossing the line. The Dutch hardly got the chance to get there but certainly proved not to be immune either, when about seven to eight years later they were fighting an aggressive war in the East Indies. War crimes are usually committed in a context. But save that same context, it cannot be so that gross infringements of the international codes are compared to mild infringements of the kind that the Dutch army committed. The recorded German infringements were of the aggressive kind, often causing death and suffering. Almost all Dutch infringements were of the kind of saving one’s own bacon or in the worst case, denying some POW’s a proper meal. The incidents where German soldiers were harmed or even killed were genuine incidents, involving only a few casualties. Amersfoort didn’t get that and probably never will. Finally it needs to be said though, that the regular German army adhered to the international codes and that - on the larger picture - also the German (mainly SS) infringements were incidents.
[p.401 – p.403] As to Amersfoort his elaboration on the Dutch perception of the Rotterdam raid, I largely agree with his point of view, although I reject his – and Van der Doel [Chapter 7] for that matter – doubt whether the Rotterdam bombardment was of a tactical or strategic nature. It is perfectly clear that it was not tactical anyway, and not intended to be either. On certain details my opinion about affairs doesn’t entirely match Amersfoort’s, but that shouldn’t bother anyone. slight difference of opinion are there to be accepted.
[p.404 – p.405] Amersfoort says true things about the exaggeration of German losses. I totally share his views.
Analysing the military operations
[p.405] Many true things are said about the positive distinction of the Dutch army as it comes to effective mobilisation and general combat willingness.
[p.405 / p.406] The conclusions about the ‘small but well-trained, well-functioning unit at the top of the pyramid of command, namely General Winkelman and his General Headquarters’ are not at all shared with Amersfoort. It is a controversial conclusion.
First of all the average officer at the Dutch GHQ was all but well trained. The Dutch (professional) officer was only adequately trained – maybe even well trained – as it came to technical matters or issues of strictly bureaucratic nature. As it came to operational or tactical – or for the matter of GS officers ‘strategic’ - knowledge and training, it could be best said that there was ‘much to be desired’. In fact the knowledge of tactical and operational management was well below requirements.
Amersfoort even dares to claim that the fact that the GHQ kept their cool and that they held on to the pre-war strategy could be addressed as a virtue. A statement that diametrically opposes the basics of the Clausewitz theory, whereas the latter prominently addresses the voidances of a standing strategy once the first bullet has been fired. Clausewitz made a fundamental issue out of the dangers that come along with the rigidness of strategists against a dynamic war-theatre. Amersfoort though seems to know better. Notwithstanding that the Dutch were confronted with a surprise air-landing operation in the west, a sudden penetration of the Peel-Raam position at Mill and an overwhelming air-offensive, Winkelman's strategy remained unchallenged at his GHQ. Amersfoort apparently doesn’t dare to challenge the very same attitude of the GHQ against the surprise elements of the German invasion. Wouldn’t it have been much smarter if the GHQ would have reconsidered the evacuation from the south of the Netherlands, bearing in mind that the seized bridges at Moerdijk and Dordrecht preluded on a more than likely strike through the south in endeavour of linking up with those ‘open gates’? Why was it – again according to Amersfoorts conclusions – a virtue not to adapt the strategy as to blocking the road to Moerdijk for as long as possible in stead of moving the 3rd Corps into a dead and unchallenged corner of the Fortress Holland?
Besides the non-adaption of the strategy against the battle developments, the strategic plans in respect to the reaction to the air-landings, particularly in the south, were totally inapt. In fact the counter strategy was only shaped in head-lines, whereas the operational fine print was entirely delegated to the utterly inapt commander of Fortress Holland. The latter had a tiny staff, considering the fact that he had a gigantic theatre of operations to lead and in the end about one third of the Dutch army under his operational command.
Keeping one’s cool is a virtue in crisis situations when it leads to wise assessments and acting. That was not the case at all. The Dutch GHQ kept its cool but showed no adequate vision when it came to assessing the enemie's intentions. The speed of the German push through Brabant was totally overlooked, the reliance on the French offensive in the same province a total submission to the highly speculative successes thereof and the focus on a quick and decisive counter offensive against the German occupations within the Fortress Holland was totally absent. The Hague came with nothing more than instructing the commander of Fortress Holland to retake Waalhaven, whereas Moerdijk would be left to the French. Eventually troops were assigned to support the Commander Fortress Holland as well as the commander of the Rotterdam garrison. But how remotely involved the GHQ was, was not better shown than that the Rotterdam garrison commander was only provided with three adequate staff officers during the second day of the battle.
In summary – even with the mildest tone of voice – one cannot understand that Amersfoort claims the Dutch GHQ to be a ‘well trained, well functioning unit (that) kept their cool and (continued) the chosen strategy.’ That is a conclusion of a layman, of an ‘analist’ that hasn’t heard the penny drop.
Save the aforesaid one can also not justify the Amersfoort conclusion to a ‘general attitude of professionalism’ by the Dutch senior command. Even on the eve of battle, when the two most senior generals were convinced that on the 10th of May the German invasion would become a fact, more junior GHQ officers thought it fit to go out for a drink, disbelieving the warnings of the Dutch attaché, that was generally ridiculed by many at the GHQ. The preparation of adequate instructions and outline plans for the execution of the Winkelman strategy had been extremely poor, even incorporating the standpoint of secrecy as a motivation not to issue those instructions beforehand; but when push came to shove the instructions proved not to be there at all!
[p.406] The first paragraph suggests as if Winkelman hadn’t known beforehand that his passive defence strategy was not to last longer than perhaps a few weeks. That suggestion is false. Winkelman’s decision to modify the strategy as to the removal of the main field army formations out of the south of the country was already a fruit of ill expectations as to the joint operations with the (future) allies. It caused the Belgian chief of staff to state that the Dutch were aiming for an independent defence, a defence of isolation. Winkelman knew very well that the chances of the allies being able to turn the tide on a German invasion into a counter offensive reaction – within a period wherein the Dutch could hold up their own – were between slim and none. It is absurd (and for that matter, unsubstantiated) that Amersfoort claims this to be occurring to the CIC during in stead of before the battle. Another show of his all out poor analysis of these complex matters.
[p. 405 / p.406] Right assessments of the total absence of dynamical warfare skills within the Dutch army, both Field Army and stationary army.
[p.406] Amersfoort claims that the Dutch at the battle of the Grebbeberg had a gradually growing numeric superiority. A false and unbalanced assessment once again [which shall be addressed and proven in chapter 8]. It is therefore (the unbalanced assessment) that Amersfoort’s analysis of two generals failing to benefit from gained numeric superiority is wrong (again). What isn’t wrong is the fact that indeed with the number of units available at the Grebbeberg sector, little was achieved in terms of dynamic defence and counter offensives. It had little to do with the balance of units amongst the belligerents, but all to do with the inability of both staff- and field-officers to coordinate anything beyond company size. Numerous examples of utterly failing offensive moves can be recorded during the Five-Days war substantiating that issue.
[p.407] The ‘consequence’ in the last sentence of the page, is of genuine Amersfoort nature. Inadequate and suggestive. Sensible countermeasures are not those taken from a strictly theoretical point of view, such as those directed from the military top in those days. Sensible countermeasures are those which are developed along the pattern of realism, facts and anticipation.
How sensible was it that Winkelman instructed his Commander Fortress Holland to focus on Waalhaven in stead of on Moerdijk? How sensible was it to remove the entire Field Army from the south when hours before the enemy had opened the very gate to Fortress Holland at Moerdijk and Dordrecht and your countermeasures only open the way to that gate? How sensible was it to lead the Light Division onto Waalhaven via three river-crossings and across an enemy controlled sector around Dordrecht? How sensible was it that the 1st Corps units within the Fortress Holland were brought under instructions not to operate counter-offensively beyond company level? Where were the sensible countermeasures to arrange concentric attacks on the air-borne corridor in the south? Why did Winkelman totally rely on the French to set things straight in the south, even when contradicting intel was received? Where were the sensible countermeasures of keeping the 3rd Corps in Brabant and as such at least considerably slowing a German advance to the south? Where were the countermeasures to set all cards on Moerdijk rather than on an airfield that could be bombarded out of action?
[p.410] The efficiency of the German communication-system wasn’t as reliable as is suggested by Amersfoort. The vertical communication system worked quite adequately, but particularly the ground-to-air and cross-unit communications failed time and again, in the Dutch theatre but in Belgium too. In the Netherlands numerous examples of failing CU communications were seen along the rivers Ijssel and Maas (often resulting in pointless and costly local battles), at the Grebbeline (where 227.ID remained unaware of the breach of the defences until the next day), the Maas-Waal Canal and the Peel-Raam positions (where adjacent units remained unaware of the breaches at Mill). The reason why this didn’t hamper but possibly even boosted the German offensive, was found in the virtues of the Auftragstaktik. The hampering communications sometimes caused local commanders to push even beyond their objective, gaining even more extraordinary battle-field results than initially intended. That doesn’t however justify the Amersfoort claim that the German communications were of such high standard. They were not. Even more so, the often failing communications were one of many German lessons from the Case Yellow operation.
[p. 410] The comparison between the Dutch and German commanders being far respectively close to the first echelons is just and accurate. It should also have been mentioned that this fundamental difference between the two sides was moreover strongly accelerated by the fact that a German commander – irrespective of his position – was allowed to self-assess a situation as long as he stayed within the objectives of his unit, whereas the Dutch officer or NCO had to await his superiors directives as was the case with the Belgian and French officer.
[p.411] First paragraph (on the Colonel Schmidt). ‘Colonel Schmidt had no opportunity to straighten things out’.
That is untrue and inaccurate. Schmidt had failed to work out a pre-war fall-back scenario in case of a Peel-Raam position collapse, notwithstanding the fact that he and his chief of staff had been informed of their new responsibility (border region ánd Peel-Raam position after the evacuation of the field army) almost two months before the invasion. Moreover, the only adequate operational counter measure that the Colonel could have taken when he was confronted with a decisive breach of the same position in the evening of the 10th of May, would have been to block and defend the three to five crucial road junctions west and southwest of Mill. He failed to do so (although he blamed the senior command of not supporting suggested strategy after the war!) and responded to a decisive breach of the Peel Raam position at its most disclosed region (the Mill region contained the most adequate road-map of the entire Peel position) by a secondary line defence behind the Zuid-Willemsvaart. The potential for a clustered regional defence of strategic road junctions was not even considered. Colonel Schmidt had had the opportunity to set things straight, or at least fix a German penetration temporarily, but failed to materialize on that. He simply lacked the operational and tactical skills.
Pre-war defence policy: does it require re-evaluation?
[p.412] Although the comparison between the German army and the Dutch army as from the start-point (of limited numbers) of both armies cannot be called inaccurate, the analysis gradually starts tilting into shear nonsense again.
The German army compensated much of its back-log in comparison to for example the French army, but it is clear nonsense to state “While the Third Reich had its fast growing army and air force gain operational experience (…) the Western allies would only be able to breach the gap in rearmament in the longer term.”
There was no gap in rearmament between the Germans and the French (in favour of the Germans), the most formidable of the allies. This myth has already been decisively busted by substantiated analyses of reputed international historians. As it came to motorization, tanks, artillery or even modern assault and fighter planes, there was a domination on the allied side. Such a basic statistic doesn’t obviously incorporate the means of appliance of these weapons and/or weapon-systems, but the fact that Amersfoort speaks of a gap to be closed on the allied side proofs him uninformed and wrong.
[p.413 – 415] Amersfoort makes a major issue out of the options the Netherlands would have had – as a small nation with a small army – as to what extent (larger) investments into the army would have contributed to a more plausible deterrent to an aggressor such as Germany. In itself an interesting analysis, with true and valuable ingredients. The conclusion (or rather – rhetorical theses) formulated in the last sentences on the bottom of pg 414 and top of pg 415 is quite pathetic though. Amersfoort leaves the reader with the cheap platitude that should the Dutch have invested more – considerably more – that it wouldn’t have mattered a bit, for the battle would only have lasted a few days more.
This conclusion is similar in style to stating that it is not worth while as an individual soccer player to train for better skills, for alone one wouldn’t stand a chance against the opposing team. Isn’t it the root thought behind alliances that every individual ally contributes his bit and jointly as such a force is being shaped to rebuff a powerful opponent?
The Germans – or at least their leadership – considered themselves ready to seize the northwest of Europe near the end of 1939. One of the reasons for Hitler to be so optimistic was the fact that his intelligence service reported that the value of the Norwegian, Danish, Dutch and Belgian armies was neglectable or marginal, that the value of the large French army was overrated and that only the British army was to be expected a tough opponent. Only the latter proved a wrong assessment, for the German intelligence about the British army was inaccurate, much overrating the in fact weak British forces and (ready) resources. Should the smaller states have invested more in their armies and the French have convinced the Germans more of their capacity and moral, it is more than likely that the Germans wouldn’t have invaded the west in the spring of 1940. It is hard to predict what the alternatives would have been, but the only reason why Hitler was convinced that he could win a quick victory over the three western European nations (supported by the UK) notwithstanding the equal balances in men and material, was the fact that he only saw a small core of the French army and the BEF as serious opponents. And the facts proved him right. Would Hitler have permitted himself the same weighing of powers if Norway and Denmark would have had genuine armies, and if the Dutch and Belgian forces had been well trained and equipped armies? Probably not. That was exactly the whole basic idea under the NATO treaty a few years after WWII. The true and reliable bond of nations that guaranteed each others safety against foreign aggression. Notwithstanding the shear power of the US, the contribution of every member counted.
[p.415] Amersfoort almost seems to be advocating the irresponsible Dutch 1922 militia laws, which cut back the investments into the army to virtually non-existent. There where he found a match in the German challenges during the interbellum to train a small core of professional military as a basis for a rapid future expansion, that match seems to be out of (his) vision as it came to assessing the Dutch options for keeping up a well trained basis for a Dutch conscript army. An army that has its conscripts formed and trained in less than six months time, during which all kinds of excuse- and alternative trainings were incorporated too, simply neglects the basics of maintaining an army in general. Amersfoort simply forgot – for (his) argument sake – that the 100.000 army in German had to coop with all kinds of restrictions and the most limited funding thinkable, yet managed to build a core of NCO’s and officers able to train and lead an army of a mere 3 million in less than five years time. It all comes back to inventiveness. The German soldier who was trained for AFV services, was trained in an ordinary car chassis, occasionally with a phoney hull on top of it to imitate the AFV. The (future) tank crews were trained in quartets, marching in strict formation across a would-be battlefield as if they were sitting in their tank. The intention was to have them drill the close interaction amongst them when they would eventually sit in a genuine AFV. The Dutch on their behalf skipped any rudimentary form of field exercise, lacked any form of inventiveness but instead focussed on the collective peeling of potatoes for dinner and extensive marching or riding. It was not a matter of funding, but particularly a matter of mentality. How much that argument counted was shown by the tiny Finnish army shortly before the war in the west broke out.
[p.415] “Other great powers such as France and Britain also lagged behind Germany when it came to arms.”
It is repeated once again. Untrue, and certified nonsense. The French had twice as many tanks – particularly of the heavy and medium types – double the amount of artillery, triple the amount of motorised pools and only slightly lagged against the Luftwaffe in airplanes (although about 1,000 French planes were kept in reserve). In ordinary infantry weapons both sides didn’t differ much, the only type of weapon that showed a clear German dominance were anti-aircraft guns. The British army was indeed much lagging behind. The British had a strong navy and fast-growing air force but were weak as it came to their ground forces. In fact the English contribution to land forces would remain (relatively) low for the duration of the war, particularly bearing in mind that the Commonwealth would deliver relative large contingents.
[p.415] Amersfoort makes another amazing statement when he follows up on the quote cited hereabove: “It was more fitting for a minor power such as the Netherlands to follow the example of these countries than to outdo them”.
Outdo them?! France invested between 20-40% of its GNP in defences or defence related affairs during the interbellum, whereas the Netherlands never exceeded a mere 9% of its GNP. Even Belgium had almost double that percentage during an extended period of investments. A comparison of the year 1936 shows the French investment in guilders per inhabitant to be 40 against the Dutch 8 guilders. Only Greece and Poland spent less than the Dutch (within Europe). If only we would have followed the example of the great European powers …
Amersfoort furthermore states that by lacking comparisons it seems that countries like Belgium seemed not to have invested more in their armies. One way or the other, but it once again proofs him wrong. If it would have been true that Belgium had invested equal amounts (which they did not: in 1935 17% of their GNP against 9% of the Dutch, in 1936 the amount of 11 guilders per inhabitant against 8 in the Netherlands) it is amazing that they could – with about 90% of the population – raise an army of 630,000 (against the Dutch only 280,000), which was at least equally or even slightly better armed. Or is this proof that the earlier Amersfoort statement fails that the Dutch couldn’t have prepared their army better with the limited funding; because the Belgians proved to have double output out of the same funding?
[p.415 / p.416] The comparison between the Dutch capitulating in five and the Belgian army in 18 days is presented in such a speculative manner that it is not worth while commenting on it. Obviously any comparison of such shallow nature fails. The Dutch capitulated after 5 days, had an army of 280,000 men and were opposed by a mere 200,000 Germans after the first day. In Belgium all but the Dutch belligerents met, throwing millions into battle. How could anyone compare those two entirely different situations in one simplified paragraph?
[p.416 / p.417] The rest of this chapter is growing (shrinking) to a highly questionable level of speculation, assumption and guessing. It is not worth while reflecting on it. The well educated reader can quite simply establish for himself what a poor analyst this author must be ...