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Dutch army unit organisation


In this section we shall give a brief and general summary of the unit organisation of the Dutch army and show the most common features of the infantry and artillery units. Mind you that the Dutch army knew numerous types of units. We have limited the elaboration to the standard infantry units and artillery battalions.

The Dutch military organisation

The Dutch army had its general headquarters [GHQ] in the city of the Hague, where the Commander in Chief [CIC] and his staff had their command and control centre. The CIC [General Winkelman] had the supreme command over all three branches: Army, Airforce and Navy [in Dutch continental waters]. The Navy was considered a separate branch [although residing under the CIC], but the Airforce was an integral part of the  Army. 

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General Winkelman - Commander-in-Chief of the Dutch armed forces in Holland (may 1940)

All three branches were commanded by each an individual commander [chiefs-of-staff] with their own staff. The Chief of Staff [COS] of the Army was Generaal-Majoor H.F.M. Van Voorst tot Voorst, the commander of the Airforce and ground-to-air defences was Luitenant-Generaal Best and the Chief of the Navy staff [Navy in Dutch continental waters] was Vice Admiraal Furstner.

The army was organised in basically two main branches: the Field Army and the Stationary Army. 

The stationary army formations [fortification troops, coastal troops, depot troops, training units] were commanded by the Commander Fortress Holland, Luitenant-Generaal Van Andel. As a direct result of the German air-landing operation in the west he would also get direc command over the 1st Corps as off the first day of the invasion. He had his own staff, which was obviously laid out on a limited number of units residing under its authority. Stationary army formations comprised only high numbered regiments, e.q. regiments with the older reservists. These were the infantry regiments 25 up to 48, although some of the regiments in this range had been attached to the Field Army, particularly in the Brigades A, B and G.

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Lieutenant-General Baron J.J.G. van Voorst tot Voorst - Commander Field Army (may 1940)

The non-stationary troops were organised under the commander Field Army, Luitenant-Generaal J.J.G van Voorst tot Voorst [the elder brother of the Army Chief-of-Staff]. More than half the entire army forces were organised under his command and were designated as the Veldleger [Field Army]. Also a portion of the small Dutch airforce was residing under the direct command of the commander Field Army. The balance remained under direct authority of the General Headquarters. The Field Army comprised all low numbered infantry and artillery regiments. The infantry regiments Jagers, Grenadiers as well as regiments 1 u/i 24 were part of the Field Army. As said before, some higher regiments had been added too.

The best part of the Dutch navy was stationed outside the Dutch waters, mainly in the Netherlands East Indies [NEI, nowadays Republic Indonesia] and a few units in the Dutch West Indies [Suriname and the Dutch Antilles]. All but one of the light cruisers [the largest surface units of the Dutch navy] were part of the NEI fleet. 

The first 24 infantry regiments [including the two named regiments Jagers and Grenadiers] and the first 12 artillery regiments represented the bulk of the Field Army. These units had the largest organisations and usually the youngest levies in their ranks. The second batch of infantry regiments [with numbers 25 through 48] contained the elder levies. They were somewhat smaller and had a slightly lesser armament. The artillery regiments 13 through 27 were the regiments that had often received the older ordinance and elder reservist [some exceptions though]. Only a limited number of those had been incorporated in the Field Army formations. The balance had been assigned positions in the provinces Noord-Brabant and Zeeland (two regiments in total) and the Fortress Holland.

The Field Army was organised in four Army Corpses, each comprising two divisions of infantry and two regiments of artillery, as well as division support units. There were two brigades of about 5,000-6,000 men each, designated for the Betuweline and Maas-Waal line. The third and smaller bridgade G was stationed in the Eastfront Fortress Holland but basically intended to replenish III.Corps after it would have moved back into Fortress Holland and left four battalions as rear-guard units in the Peel-Raamline. The Light Division and the Peel-Division as well as the main bulk of border infantry were also residing under the Field Army. 

It may be necessary to elaborate a little more on the typical Dutch border infantry units. There were 25 border infantry battalions [each about 600-700 man strong] and 16 border infantry companies [each about 150 men strong]. These were partially formed from young conscripts, but especially the higher numbered units also contained elder reservists. These formations had been formed for the strategic security of the country. The strategic defence had been given shape in 1936. Should an enemy unexpectedly invade and the conscript army not have been mobilised yet - or still be in the process of deploying its troops - the country would have been unprotected without a safety shield along the border areas. That's why the border infantry formations had been formed. The largest part of these units were stationed alongside the eastern and southern border, but also the coast-lines and some of the islands in the Waddenzee had border infantry units. The border infantry units were better equipped than the average infantry battalions. Because the were self-sustaining and not supported by regimental or divisional support units, the were - beside  the standard riflemen companies and heavy machinegun company - often equipped with an additional infantry gun battery as well as an AT gun battery. Sometimes a section of three mortars too. The total number of men involved in the border infantry units was about 20,000. A modest force, almost entirely under the wings of the Field Army. 

Also some specific Groups [not to be misunderstood as a formation of Army Corpses] had been formed with specific front zones as their designated area of operation. These Groups were more or less task forces and no consistent composition can be given for them. The most important two were the Group Kil and Group Spui, both defending a section of the Southfront Fortress Holland. Both were about brigade size. 

The Dutch headquarters were all situated in the Governmental capital the Hague, with exception of the headquarters of the Field Army [Zeist]. The Hague was also where the Royal Family resided since the general mobilisation of the army in August 1939. Before the mobilisation the Queen was often residing in her palace in Apeldoorn. But that city was well in front of the main defences.

The army consisted for more than 95% of conscripts. The ranks were filled with only a small number of career officers and NCO's. Basically all lower personal [below the rank of NCO] was formed from mobilized drafted troops. In 1940 conscript from the levies 1924 to 1940 formed the ranks. This meant that boys, who were 18 years old in 1924, served as 34 or 35 year old men. Compared to the Belgian and in particular the French army the average age of the Dutch soldier cannot be considered too high. Professional cadre was find through the lines, but especially the officers were concentrated in staff units. Because of the staff officer requirements, career officers were required. This obviously resulted in field commanders often being reservists. Those reservists were not limited to low ranks only. Reservists (that had never been careerd officers) were found up to the ranks of Lieutenant-Colonel. Many of the reservists of the rank Major or higher had been recalled retired career officers. They were nevertheless referred to as reserve-officers. Professionals in de lowest (non)rank of soldier were not available with exception of two specific trades: the marines and the police troops.

On 10 May 1940 the Dutch Army, Airforce and Navy [in Dutch waters] would be able to mobilise a force of a mere 280,000 men to oppose the German invader.


Although every respective unit differed more or less from the other, basically one could say that an Army Corps consisted of 25,000 men, a division of 10,000 men and a brigade of a mere 6,000-7,000 men. 

Divisions [commanded by a Colonel] usually comprised two or three infantry regiments [commanded by a Lieutenant-Colonel, comprising 2.200-2.600 man each], one or two artillery regiments [500-700 man] and supporting units. An infantry regiment consisted of three battalions [commanded by a Major, comprising 700-750 man each] and supporting units. Battalions were formed by three [or more] companies [usually 150-180 man] with some support units. Companies were divided into three or four sections [nowadays called platoons], and sections into three or four groups [nowadays called squads or sticks]. A heavy MG company was divided in three sections of either three MG's each (low number regiments) or four sections of two MG's each (high number regiments and independant MG companies)

An infantry regiment [up to and including 24.RI] had a staff [130 men], a light infantry gun battery [40 men, 4 x 5,7 cm Krupp], an AT company [70 men, 6 x 4,7 cm Böhler AT gun], a mortar company [90 men, 6 x 8,1 cm Stokes-Brandt mortar] and three battalions of infantry [700-750 men; 3 x infantry company and 1 x heavy machinegun company]. The infantry regiments 25 through 46 had slightly smaller staffs, lesser support units and slightly smaller infantry battalions. They had usually about 300-400 men less than the low numbered regiments. 

A standard infantry battalion in the first 24 regiments was formed by a staff [75-80 men], a heavy machinegun company [190 men, 12 x 7,9 mm Schwarzlose] and three riflemen companies [each 180 men, 12 x 6,5 mm light machinegun Lewis]. In the high numbered regiments a staff [60-65 men], a heavy machinegun company [150 men, 8 x Schwarzlose or Vickers] and three riflemen companies [each 150-160 men, 8 x 6,5 mm light machinegun Lewis]. 

The infantry companies - commanded by a Captain - were all formed in rifle- or light machinegun sections. A section - commanded by a Lieutenant, candidate officer or senior NCO - had three or four squads. These squads were usually 9 - 12 men strong and were commanded by a sergeant. Rifle squads all had a Steyr rifle, whereas light machinegun squads had one Lewis light machinegun operated by a gunner and assistant gunner [both with a pistol] and the balance of the squad armed with the Steyr rifle.

A standard 7,5 cm light field gun artillery battalion in the first 8 regiments [9 thru 12.RA were different] had a staff including ammo train [120 men] and three batteries [each 140 men, 4 gun 7,5 cm Krupp and 2 x 6,5 mm light machinegun Lewis]. A standard 12 cm or 15 cm howitzer artillery battalion had a staff including ammo train [120 men] and three batteries [each 140 men, 4 x 12 cm howitzer Bofors or Krupp and 2 x 6.5 mm light machinegun Lewis]. The same battalion but equipped with the 15 cm Krupp howitzers had a staff including ammo train [110 men] and three batteries [130 men, 4 x 15 cm howitzer and 2 x 6,5 mm light machinegun Lewis].

The cavalry had a large variety in organisational units. We shall not be able to give the full specification on that. Basically units were formed in regiments that were either formed by four, five or six squadrons [equavalent to company, but smaller]. Squadrons were divided in platoons. The cavalry units were either equipped with horses, bicycles or motorbikes or a mixture of those. The armoured car squadrons were equipped with 12 off AFV's and one ACV, and were sub-divided in platoons of each three cars and a platoon of motor-hussars. The available section of five UC's [Cardon-Lloyd] had been sub-divided into three different sections. Two equipped with two UC's and one with the last remaining carrier.