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Dutch ground forces


The ground forces in the province Zeeland were obviously not involved in actual ground battles yet. Airbornes and airlanding troops had not landed nearby, and the German main force in Brabant was still far away. Yet there was plenty to stir up things.

The second day of the war would proof very confusing for the Dutch forces in Zuid-Beveland. They suffered an air-raid that was aimed at their position at the Bathline, but at the same time witness punishment for the Luftwaffe coming from the new Ally. On one hand they would be confronted with the first Dutch military refugees from Noord-Brabant - although still in small numbers at this stage - and on the other hand they would witness the impressive force [parts of 27th GRDI, 2nd GRDI, 12th GRDI and elements of 9.DIM] of Colonel de Beauchesne progressing through their lines, who went eastwards towards Bergen op Zoom.

Punishment in the Bathline

In the Bathline the already nervous troops of the 14th Border Infantry Battalion were confronted with plenty of action overhead. Contineous passing German bombers and fighters that were on their way to targets in the west or returning from those missions. On one occasion the buccaneers in the sky aimed at the Bathline positions though. The attack of the junction just west of the Dutch position was the first real shocking experience, but the men were overjoyed to witness the French interception of the returning bombers. Still the bombs that did fall did some damage to communication lines.

In the evening of the 11th, the first retreating - or should we say running - Dutch troops from the Peel-Raamline made quite an impression on the soldiers in the Bathline. Although the better part of the retreating forces had hardly seen any fighting with exception of the ocassional fighter strafing - at the overrun portions of the Peel-Raamline the majority of forces had been captured by the Germans - they poured the most amazing stories of an overwhelmingly strong and mighty enemy over the men in the Bathline. Many of the refugees had no weapons anymore and some of them were merely dressed in rags. The lot of them made a devastating impression on their comrades in Zeeland. And they were just the first lot of many to come ... At the same time the long stretched procession of De Beauchesne's force pulled eastwards. Their process of relocation to Bergen op Zoom would last until the first beams of light appeared at the 12th.

In between the Luftwaffe actions overhead, the troops were mostly occupied with fortifying their positions, preparing air-raid shelters and pioneering new mine-fields. Overnight two victims had fallen due to careless handling. A cadet-officer had shot himself in the foot when cleaning his pistol, and a soldier was shot by a sentry upon his return to the line after admitting to natural urging which he had decided to do in the dark fields in front of the position without warning his comrades of that. Last but not least a third man died from fatal wounds after he was hit by a bullet of his own machinegun while positioning the weapon. No enemy yet, but already three casualties [a fourth casualty would later fall in the Zanddijkline when an officer was blown up during a mine-laying operation]. A clear show of tension and nervous operation.

Further draining of forces

In the afternoon of the 11th the Chief-of-Navy Staff in The Hague had ordered Rear-Admiral Van der Stad to embark a section of the 1st Navy Battalion and a full infantry company of the army on board the civil HrMs Prinses Juliana. The vessel would ship the troops to Ymuiden, in anticipation of anticipated German landings on the west shore of the Yssellake [Zuiderzee]. The 1st Company of the 2nd Battalion of 40RI was chosen to be the company that would leave with the navy troops. The company was stationed in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen and it was therefore selected, since plenty of French units had meanwhile reached this area.

The unit was first shuttled from Breskens to Vlissingen, and afterwards boarded the designated troop-vessel. We shall run a little ahead of schedule in order to finish this story. At 0400 hours at 12 May the HrMs Prinses Juliana left for Ymuiden. At bright daylight the vessel was attacked by at least ten bombers of KG.30 about six miles off the coast of Hook of Holland. Although no direct hits were scored by the German planes, one near-miss caused a collapse of one of the steam boilers. A huge explosion followed, fire broke out and the vessel started to list over heavily. #

Two British destroyers [amongst which the HMS Wild Swan] approached full steam and their AA batteries chased off the German bombers. The HMS Wild Swan - assisted by a navy auxilary vessel and a rescue boat - picked up all sailors and men that had been on board the unfortunate vessel. Amazingly enough no fatalities were suffered [although an older sailor on board the civil vessel later died from a heartattack]. All weapons and equipment had been lost. The company would not see any further action anymore. Before the ship sank it was stranded by two tugs. It would later during the war be used as a German practise target.

French services required

In the late evening the Dutch Commander-in-Chief Winkelman contacted Rear-Admiral Van der Stad at his HQ. He required information about the general situation in Zeeland, but also instructed Van der Stad to contact General Giraud, commander of the 7th Army. Van der Stad was instructed to emphasize the imperative need of French assistance in the retaking of the Moerdijk bridges. General Winkelman's personal interest in the situation in Zeeland seemed to be mere given in by his desperate attempts to get in touch with the French high command than that he really took a genuine interest in the rather stable Zeeland situation.

The instruction given to Van der Stad was executed by using Durand as an intermediate. At first the Frenchman refused to be a messenger between Van der Stad and Giraud, but after some convincing he accepted the request. He conveyed General Winkelman's message, or at least that is what he made Van der Stad believe. If he indeed contacten General Giraud or his chief of staff is untreacable. It probably shan't have mattered.

The French take over in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen

Zeeuws Vlaanderen was the part of Zeeland south of the Westerscheld and the only part of the province entirely connected to Belgian soil. Some Belgian troops were already there as well as French land forces. The Dutch had only occupied that piece of land as a pre-war precaution not to have Belgian troops take possession of it before the Netherlands had actually entered the state of war with Germany. The point of having troops there was - at least from a strategic point of view - gone after both the Netherlands and Belgium had entered into the war with Germany simulteneously on the previous day. The countries were after all from that moment on, allies. On the second day Van der Staf had decided to withdraw all troops in Zeeuws Vlaanderen, with exception of a few very small detachments, to Walcheren. That would gain him two companies.

After the witdrawal of the main body of both the 14th and 38th Border Infantry Companies to Walcheren, Van der Stad put all remaining troops - little over a company size - in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen under French command. In other words, the French from then on controlled that piece of the province entirely and would continue to do so for another to weeks, until the last French soldier left the area.

The 38th reinforced the Zanddijkline - where an entire battalion had been redirected to the northern shore of Zuid-Beveland by Durand's doing. The 14th came to the disposal of the central sector at Walcheren, near the Sloedam [Sloe causeway].