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Drenthe

Introduction

In the province Drente the main German force was scheduled to operate. Three pushes had been planned. The most northern push [2nd Cavalry Regiment] against the area of Emmen, the second one [1st Cavalry Regiment] versus the sector Coevorden and the last most southern advance [22nd Cavalry Regiment] at the sector Hardenberg. The 21st Cavalry Regiment operated in the rear of the last two formations. All these forces were ordered to break through the Dutch defences at the Q- and F-line, and proceed north-westwards to the province of Friesland.

Many border detachments were able to either blow up bridges and / or hold up a delaying defence. Due to these brave and persistent units the more western stationed units in the Q-line were often timely warned of the German border crossings. We shall not address all these local events for - brave as they were in itself - do not represent the significance to be described in detail here.

Coevorden

In the central sector Coevorden was immediately confronted with a massive German invasion. The city was lightly defended by some border units. It was an important junction of roads and a canal that ran straight through the city. The Germans - well aware of the significance to take some bridges intact - had assigned a number of infantry parties with the task to take three bridges over the canal to the south of the city.

Two of the three bridges were seized by the invaders; the third one was destroyed by the Dutch. The bridges in the town itself were all blown up before taskforces were able to take them by surprise. One remarkable event is worth addressing in a little more detail.

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Germans of 1.KD at Coevorden

When it became clear that the Germans were in possession of the bridges to the south of Coevorden and the ones in the town itself had been destroyed, the border units were ordered to fall back to the Q-line. One small group of four men - lead by a sergeant - had however not received news of this order and remained in position. They defended a small bridge 3 km west of Coevorden. German scouts did not notice the camouflaged position of the men, and as such a large exposed column of hussars appeared on the opposite canal side in front of the Dutch team. The anxious defenders waited for the Germans to come close and then opened fire with three rifles and a light machinegun. The effect was devastating. A considerable number of attackers was either killed or wounded and a motorbike was destroyed. Three consecutive German assaults were rejected by the four men!

Then a nasty and unfortunate misunderstanding occurred. A pub-owner that saw his establishment shot to pieces by German anti-tank guns and mortars panicked. The owner was foolish enough to waive a white blanket from his window, which the Germans - understandably - considered a sign of surrender from the defenders [which were not very far from the building]. The Dutch soldiers - facing east - did not notice the sign above and behind them. When some Germans showed themselves in reaction to the white signal, they were shot.

Shortly after this unfortunate event the invaders looked for another way to cross the canal, a little to the north. They managed to reach the west side of the canal - out of sight of the four defenders - and at the same time that these Germans approached the four defenders from the north two armoured cars appeared on the east side of the canal. Surrendered as they were, the defenders still did not give way. But at around 0815 their ammunition-stock had been depleted and the four brave men surrendered.

The Germans did not believe that only these four men had been the total defence-force that they had wasted three hours fighting against. Their casualty rate had been considerable, and besides that they were still outraged about the treacherous Dutch white flag incident. An incident had caused them to lose a highly respected and popular officer [Leutnant von Kockritz]. As a result of this tragic event the four men were pushed against a wall and an executing squad was formed. Then fortunately enough the mayor appeared and brought the Germans the news that the pub-owner was the one that had waived the white flag. The present German officer then cancelled the execution. All four defenders [Sergeant Van der Baaren; Privates Beetstra, Schuiling and Vugteveen] were recognized for their outstanding performance [by friend and foe] and received decorations after the war. They appeared to have slowed down three squadrons of hussars for four hours!

Hardenberg

The southern push of the German division was directed to the sector Hardenberg after which they were scheduled to march on Meppel. The area southeast of the Q-line was defended by some units of border guard units. The majority of the small bridges had not been destroyed due to lack of explosives.

In Hardenberg itself Dutch troops barely managed to destroy the bridges in time. The Germans had appeared extremely quick after X-hour and the first hussars were already in the small town when the Dutch demo parties arrived. Quite a number of Dutch soldiers were captured, some were killed.

At the villages Sleen and Noordsleen [west of Emmen] the first engagement [0600 hours] in the Q-line would unfold. The 2nd Cavalry Regiment operated here. Two casemates and three heavy machineguns as well as about 50 men infantry defended positions along the narrow canal [vaart]. Soon the first casemate was eliminated by a direct hit from an anti-tank gun. Not long after the second casemate was surrounded by the Germans and forced to give up. The Germans grew stronger and stronger and applied field-guns and mortar fire to destroy the Dutch positions. After two of the three machineguns had been silenced [around 1000 hrs] due to mechanical problems, the sign for the retreat was given. Many men were taken prisoner though. About twenty managed to escape.

Close to Schoonoord [two clicks to the north] a less determined Dutch unit defended the canal [Oranjekanaal]. When the enemy arrived at the canal [the bridge had already been destroyed long before] the commanding Dutch Lieutenant ordered his troops out of their trenches in order to retreat to Schoonoord. His company commander - to which the Lieutenant reported - was very upset about the light resistance that had been put up - and directed the Lieutenant back to his position. The incapable young officer reluctantly went back, but moments later he and his unit had disappeared. A new order was given to another [1st] Lieutenant to execute the same operation. He quickly assembled his group and went on his way. Within minutes he found himself engaged with a strong enemy. Reports proof that the few Dutchmen were opposed by about 300 German hussars. In a brief but very intensive fight the group of the 1st Lieutenant distinguished itself. They fought on until the last bullet was fired. At 1000 hrs the remaining men surrendered. All the other Dutch soldiers to the rear of this position managed to escape to the northwest.

More to the south - near the small village of Oosterhesselen [bteween Coevorden and Emmen] - a [destroyed] bridge was defended by a small platoon. They had one old 57 mm gun at their disposal. Two casemates with light machineguns were situated close to the bridge. At 0730 the Germans appeared. The commanding Dutch Lieutenant had his men hold their fire until the enemy was close enough. At less than 200 m he ordered the unit to open fire, with devastating effect. All six vehicles and motor-bikes of the German recon group were destroyed within a few seconds.

The Germans received reinforcement of one squadron hussars under Rittmeister [Captain] Schulz, accompanied by four 75 mm guns and some anti-tank guns. When the newly arrived units deployed in the fields east of the canal the Dutch positions were sprayed with led. Light field guns, mortars and heavy machineguns prevent the Dutch from showing any square inch of themselves. Still they were able to launch some volleys in the direction of the gradually advancing hussars. The earth cover of the Dutch infantry gun collapsed due to the hits of German 75 mm infantry guns, and as a consequence the crew had to move out of their position and leave the gun.

Another German cavalry squadron arrived and also this unit started to creep forward. At this stage no less than three full squadrons [5th, 6th and 7th Squadron Hussars] were deployed and still no sign of decreasing resistance! Then gradually the effects of the anti-tank gun hits on the casemates started to pay off for the Germans. The 5th squadron managed to reach the canal and the 6th was nearly there too. During this German manoeuvre the last mentioned unit lost its commander [Rittmeister Schulz], who had been hit by a machinegun round in the chest. In the meantime the Germans succeeded in finding an alternative crossing of the canal at a small foot-bridge some distance upstream. This was the opportunity they needed and they quickly brought forces to the rear of the Dutch positions. Only some time later the defenders were all taken prisoner [minus one KIA].

The German losses are again not known. It is certain that the Rittmeister was killed, but other casualties are unknown. According to the German records he was the only KIA, but this seems hardly believable. The fight took hours and the Germans had to cross open terrain. Furthermore, it's almost impossible that the totally wrecked trucks and motor-bikes [all shot up by direct gun hits] did occur without a single casualty. POW's later gave estimates of 50-70 KIA and WIA. This also seems exaggerated. We shall conclude that the fight must have been relatively costly to the Germans.

At many other locations the Germans succeeded in penetrating the Q-line. Sometimes brief skirmishes went along with these penetrations, however on some occasions no defence had been prepared.

Fights in the F-line

In the F-line only a few engagements are to report. The line ran from the city of Hoogeveen to Meppel along the Hoogeveensche Vaart [narrow canal], in other words from the border westwards to the east side of the IJsselmeer. The sector was largely uninhabited, and basically open.

At the Rumt bridge half a platoon of defenders got involved in a brief encounter with some hussars. Between 1100 and 1320 several German attempts to cross the small canal were rejected. Then the defence has to surrender to the superior German force. One Dutch NCO got killed. German figures are unknown again, but civilian reports mention 14 men wounded. Brief engagements were also seen at Weteringsbrug and the hamlet of Oshaar. The defenders at these two locations were quickly captured. At some other locations the few remaining defenders retreated in time to escape captivity.

The Territorial Commander [Colonel Veenbaas] had not been able to coordinate any of the operations. The nature of the defences and the total lack of sufficient telecommunications prevented him from leading the troops directly or even master a rough battle plan. The units were more or less left to their individual assignments and as we have seen many did not disappoint their commander. After it had become clear that the enemy had penetrated the first defence lines it became imperative that the general retreat of the F- and Q-lines was ordered. In all sorts of ways the units were informed, and it may be called a miracle that many indeed received word of the TC orders.

Balance of a day

At 1345 the TC command post in Groningen was evacuated by the Colonel and his small staff. The general retreat had been sounded.

The rest of the day the Germans would spend on their logistics and the advance to the northwest. Some local skirmishes that occurred [with retreating units or small isolated groups] are not significant enough to address here. The delaying actions in the eastern defence lines had not been very impressive. Here and there some units excelled, but then again occasionally one could witness failure. All in all the task that had been born by the small defensive force in the eastern defence lines and along the border had been fulfilled. The enemy was delayed and many bridges had been blown. The defences to the west were able to prepare themselves for the confrontation with the enemy.

This summary sums up what three entire cavalry regiments managed to perform against a few hundred defenders. Like the German progress in the province of Groningen, the progress in Drente was well below expectation.