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Chapter 6 - Fall Festung

General review

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May 1940 - The battle for the Netherlands

This chapter six – Fall Festung – was written by historian C. (Cees) Schulten. The chapter shapes a reliable and down-to-earth reconstruction of the events around the Hague during the Five-Days war.

The only truly notable criticism sees on some facts and figures. The NIMH – although claiming the book being based on the ‘latest scholarly research’ – has a poor archive when it comes to German sources. They also fail to keep their knowledge up to date with indeed the newest scholarly research results, which speaks from many of the May 1940 related publications from the institute. It is therefore that basically all chapters fail to represent accurate facts and figures, particularly on German army (organisation) issues.

Nonetheless, this chapter six should be generally regarded as a reliable account of the events it describes. 

Criticism

[p.179] The given figures are quite inaccurate and are based on dusty sources and research.

The 22nd Air-Landing Infantry Division [it is referred to as ‘air-transportable’ division in this chapter] comprised around 14,000 men (and not 10,000) of which around 4,500-5,000 remained in the so called ‘Ground Formations’ [Erd Staffel] and around 9,000-9,500 in the so called ‘Air-lifted Formations’ [Fliegende Staffel]. Only the latter was nominated to be airlifted into Holland.

The landing plan for the The Hague district foresaw the landing of IR.47 and IR.65 as well as two-third of the divisional units of 22.(LL)ID, which represented around 5,500-6,000 men (and not 8,300 men) in total. The strength of a full complement air-lifted infantry regiment of the division was around 2,100 men.

It were not six but five companies of airbornes that were scheduled to land in the ‘northern operational zone’ around the Hague. That were four companies of I./FJR.2 (3./FJR.2 at Ockenburg and the balance incl. battalion staff at Ypenburg) and 6./FJR.2 (at Valkenburg). Later on in the chapter it is reproduced rightly, but not in this general introduction.

22.(LL)ID had provided the entire IR.16 and one-third of the division-troops to the ‘southern operational zone’ around Rotterdam, including two-third of the pioneer battalion.

[p.179] It is inadequate to state ‘once the airfields were in safe hands on the first day of battle and enough troops had been flown in, the Germans would break out and advance on the Hague from three sides.’

An incorrect reproduction of the German plans and instructions, totally ignoring that time was of the essence.

The German operation-plan makes clear that after a brief air raid on recognized defences, airbornes would have to seize the airfield defences after which – still within the first hour – air-landing formations would be flown in. Whereas the airbornes would take care of mopping up the last standing defences and occupying strategic junctions and landmarks, the air-landing formations (on Ypenburg) would immediately concentrate on aggressive manoeuvres into the Hague, whereto a special force ‘Sonderkommando Feldmann’ [Abwehr-agent Hauptmann Adolf von Feldmann, leading a team of about 50 men special forces and a few Sicherheitsdienst agents to an unknown number of vital addresses, such as the headquarters in the Hague] would lead the way to the Royal Family, the Cabinet and the GHQ in the Hague (as well as secondary targets like the army and air-force staffs) on flown-in small motorbikes. It was the basic German idea to bash into the Hague, avoiding or surprising organized defences, rather than gradually build up adequate forces to arrange such an operation, as was (falsely) suggested by the citation hereabove.

[p.182] It is not mentioned which air-force units were stationed on Ypenburg AFB. It were three Field Army air-force squadrons. The 2nd Air Recce Group [5 x Fokker C-V and 5 x Koolhoven FK-51 operational], the 1st Fighter Squadron [8 x Fokker D-XXI single engine fighters operational] and the 3rd Fighter Squadron [11 x Douglas D8-3N fighter-bomber operational]. The latter two plane-types managed to scramble, the recce planes had been parked outside the AFB site and as such not stand-by.

[p.182] I./FJR.2 comprised the battalion staff and three companies [1./, 2./ and 4./FJR.2], whereas 3./FJR.2 was scheduled to land at Ockenburg AFB. The 1st and 2nd company only comprised three platoons of 36 men each and a heavy machinegun group with two of such weapons. Together with an about 7-10 men strong company troop, the two regular companies comprised around 135-140 men each and the heavy weapons company only around 80 men [one heavy machinegun platoon c/w four MG’s and one 8 cm mortar platoon c/w four mortars]. The battalion staff was around 40-50 men strong, possibly less. That adds up to around 400 men at the most, and not the ‘more than 500’ stated in the article.

The NIMH – out of which circle this book has come forth – has the whole basis around the strength of the German units wrong. They base themselves on decades old sources whereas researches over the last decade by yours truly and some reputed German historians [Roth, Golla] has shown that the strength of these airborne and air-landing formations was considerably weaker than that of a regular Heer unit. That had much to do with the air-lifting limitations and the organisation behind the air-transport.

Besides, the composition of the companies of I./FJR.2 was specifically mentioned in the battle report of that battalion [bottom front page of the report]. Apparently the Dutch NIMH doesn’t contain that report in its archives, or else the wrong strength figures are quite unexplainable.

[p.185] The strength of the 3./FJR.2 company [162 men, sic] is strongly exaggerated too. That company consisted of a company-troop and three platoons of 36 men each and had no additional heavy MG group. It was therefore of a strength of around 120 men only. Indeed only one platoon managed to land nearby, whereas the rest was erroneously dropped off near Hook of Holland [some 10 clicks to the south] and in between that position and the airfield.

The recapture of Ypenburg

[p.190] It was not an anti-aircraft gun that supported the Maduro action, but an anti-tank gun. Most likely a clerical translation error, because the 2005 edition of the book is accurate in this instance.

The retaking of Ypenburg is given in a nutshell-reconstruction. In fact the battle on the northwest side of the airfield was at first rebuffed by German MG fire, pinning down a large share of the Dutch assault formations. It was only when direct artillery fire started to support the Dutch counter attack that the Germans had to give way and as such forced to move back, forced to surrender shortly after.

The battle for Valkenburg

[p.191] Oberleutnant Hohendorff should read Oberleutnant Hans Hohendorn, platoon commander in 11./IR.47. The footnote was introduced in this English edition, which is good thing. It is hard to understand though why the Hohendorff name was maintained in the main text.

The issue of Hohendorn was one of the pet subjects of Herman Amersfoort and his quest to purify the German invasion army of breaching the Lex Belli. Amersfoort’s ‘truth’ was almost certainly added (or edited) in this chapter by himself. The facts were that the particular German lieutenant threatened a Dutch staff ensign on the phone that the 150 Dutch pow’s held on the airfield would await ill fate should the bombardment by the battalion of 12 cm howitzers not be ceased. The message was obviously received as a threat, which it probably was (though not necessarily a threat to be carried out!). The absurdist addition by Schulten / Amersfoort that the GHQ was to be condemned for referring to the matter in an official announcement as a breach of the Lex Belli, is a further proof of the holy Amersfoort quest – against all odds – to define new truths (e.g. his own). The GHQ had, in the hours before, been confronted with an invasion without declaration of war, countless commando raids along the border regions where German infiltrations had occured before the invasion hour and had caused many bridges to be threatened or actually lost, countless reports on so called Fifth Columnists and reports on Germans being dressed in civilian or Dutch military clothing. What were the GHQ to think when the Hohendorn threat was received? Oh, but that is a token of good sportsmanship; that particular German officer is showing good class, clearly expressing his concern about our captured comrades? The latter is exactly what Amersfoort claims in his terrible booklet on the breaches of the Lex Belli in May 1940 [2005 edition of ‘Ik had mijn roode kruis-band afgedaan’]. According to Amersfoort the German lieutenant had been genuinely worried over the fate of his pow’s and out of shear humanity he had phoned the Dutch staff in Katwijk to warn them that they were taking the chance of hitting their own. I leave it to the reader of this review to make up his own mind on the rationality of this Amersfoort theory …

[p.191]the five hundred or so airborne troops’.

This term ‘airborne troops’ is inadequate. Unlike the British airborne weapon the Germans had a clear separation between airbornes (parachutists) and air-landing troops (air lifted regular infantry). Only during operation Merkur (battle of Crete) large numbers of German airbornes would be lifted in by gliders, but qualified and fully trained German airbornes were only parachuted in during the May war (with exception of a handful at Eben Emael). The distinction between the two branches should be made, for their level of skills differentiated considerably. The IR.47 and IR.65 regiments were nothing more (or less) than air lifted regular infantry, not trained for the specific light combat in hostile territory like the airbornes were. Only IR.16 – that landed at Rotterdam – was specially trained in air-landing combat, such as additional street- and night fighting skills, entrenching skills and basic pioneering as well as additional physical training. At Valkenburg (village) only around 50 airbornes survived the first stages of the battle. The balance were ordinary infantry men of IR.47 and/or division formations. Another bit of the initial airborne company was at the Haagsche Schouw (near Leiden).

The bridge at Haagsche Schouw (Leiden) was retaken by artillery depot troops from Leiden. The Dutch Major Mulder, personally leading the few men assault on the Germans holding the bridge, received the highest medal for valour for this action.

Ockenburg back in Dutch hands

[p.196] The cited affaire was one of few clear breaches of the Lex Belli by the Dutch in which the effects of the breach were severe and causing death amongst the Germans.

Conclusion 

[p.201] The German losses [KIA] are quite thoroughly known. These losses were 130 men in the Katwijk – Valkenburg area, 56 man at Ockenburg/Loosduinen and 193 men in the Delft/Ypenburg area. Around 380 men KIA, with a small number to add, who died in the margins of these battle-zones. The most painful losses were the about 1,200 men German POW transported to the UK, of which around 1,000 men originated from the The Hague air-landing operation.

[p.201] It is good to see that regarding aircraft losses this edition finally shows a reliable overview of reputed sources. The NIMH itself recently produced – in cooperation with private organisations – a thoroughly developed inventory of German (and other belligerents) aircraft losses over Holland during the five years of war. That same inventory substantiates the German losses – including recoverable losses such as damaged or immobilised air planes – well above 500. Indeed the (older) Brongers inventory comes very close to that and also that inventory is very well documented. All these inventories more or less agree on the fact that the nett losses suffered (after recovery and repair at 1 January 1941, e.g. six months after the Dutch capitulation), mounted to a number of around 350-375 air-planes to be total write offs.

[p.202] The analysis of the tactical practises on the Dutch side is entirely true and accurate. Also the comprehensive analysis on the German side of the coin seems appropriate although perhaps it could have been mentioned that considerable contingents of the German air-landing formations, around Ypenburg in particular, seem to have surrendered quite lightly. There are quite some records showing small groups of Dutch soldiers capturing platoon-sizes of air-landing forces. It were in any case no crack soldiers that landed around the Hague as has sometimes been suggested by Dutch historians (but not those editing the subject book).

The famous last words on the presumed exaggerated German breaches of the Lex Belli goes uncalled for in this chapter. It must have been an edition by editor Amersfoort, who fights his own little war for acknowledgement through this book. Yours truly possesses and bears knowledge of virtually all books written on the May War that bear any significance and none seems to overdo on German breaches of the Lex Belli as it comes to the battle around the Hague. The affaire at Valkenburg with the German lieutenant Hohendorn is usually mentioned, but so is the Dutch crime at Ockenburg where some Germans were shot whereas waiving of white flags had disturbed some Dutch soldiers. That seems to balance the matters on that issue and so the final two paragraphs should be addressed as personal notes of Herman Amersfoort and his own little quest.