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French-Dutch command

Introduction

In the morning Brigadier-General Durand arrived at the headquarters of the Dutch commander-in-chief Zeeland [Rear-Admiral van der Stad]. From that moment on the Dutch and French had not choice but to coordinate matters among both commands. It would soon be clear to the Dutch that coordination on equal terms and a firm basis of mutual respect was out of the question with General Durand.

Général Durand sets the pace

Général Pierre-Servais Durand hard arrived in the morning of the 11th with a regiment of 68.DI and a company of 60.DI supported by six 2,5 cm AA guns. They had left France overnight in a number of mailboats and were escorted by Allied destroyers in order to make a safe journey to Flushing. Général Durand had been assigned the overall command over the French formations in Zeeland by the GQG in Versailles - so he claimed. Previously he had been commander of the artillery of IX Corps.

The General complained about the Dutch forces he had witnessed on his way to the Dutch HQ. He thought their strength and shape was far below minium requirements. He made clear that he was under instructions to organise the defence of the northern Westerschelde zone [Walcheren and Zuid-Beveland]. Rear-Admiral van der Stad accepted the French explanation of authority (but failed to verify it).

General Durand briefly set forth that he would abandon the Dutch defence plan. He disagreed with virtually all its roots. Van der Stad on his behalf tried to convince the Frenchman that the plan - although modest in itself - had been carefully thought through. Both commanders clearly appeared to be in conflict about the operational plan. Nevertheless the Dutch Admiral transferred the operational command of the Dutch troops on Walcheren and Zuid-Beveland to the French Général. A peculiar action, one would say, but understandable given the situation. The Dutch General Headquarters had not instructed Van der Stad whatsoever in respect to joint operations, let alone in relation to the executive command in Zeeland. The French on their part seemed to have a pretty one-sided vision on joint operation; if that was to be the case, it would be under French command alone. Since the French were about to deploy considerable organised troops in Zeeland, Van der Stad considered it wise to adhere to the demands of his French counter-part. For the time being that was ...

Durand had profiled himself as a grumpy, stubborn and uncooperative Ally. All Dutch officers present - and even some French - gave witness of that. The French General expressed his fundamental doubts about the selected defence-lines and considered the inundations of no value whatsoever. The Dutch had anticipated a German assault to be emphasised at the Kreekrakdam [the main causeway]. Durand was all but receptive that the Germans would attack over land and lectured his Dutch counterpart that it was far more likely that they would assault by an amphibious attack to the rear of the defence-lines. He therefore informed the Dutch commander that the French troops would not reinforce the existing defence-lines, but that they would deploy along the coast-line. Also, he had his troops take positions behind the canal [just west of the Zanddijkline] that he considered a much better and more natural defence-line than the Dutch had chosen some clicks in front of the canal. The Dutch had left that option a year ago due to the fact that the eastern dike of the canal was higher than the western dike. As a consequence the defenders would not have any view into the approach area of the canal. It was quite obvious that the Frenchman commanded from his map, not knowing the local situation, and that information about the actual situation - given to him in response by the Dutch officers - was not conceived by him. The French General persisted in his view that the Dutch had made a mistake and maintained his orders as given. Durand also moved one of the three Dutch battalions in the Zanddijkline to the northern coastline; in expectance of the anticipated German shore-landings. Durand instructed the Dutch to blow up all bridges over the canal as a measure of precaution, but fortunately that plan was successfully countered by the Dutch staff.

The Durand anticipation on a German maritime operation showed little vision on his behalf. The island of Tholen - from which such an operation was to be launched in the French perspective - was occupied by indeed only a small Dutch force and the few light navy patrols in the [very wide] Oosterschelde were to some extend neglectable military assets. But why - and moreover - how would the Germans organise a large scale maritime action when speed and simplicity were their main objectives? Besides speed as a prime drive, the land-option - being the most simple and straight forward operation - was still wide open to the Germans. The common German practise was to first try things the direct and easy way rather than doing it the hard way, unless some sort of strategic suprise was required. In this instance such a surprise was out of the question. The straight forward land option would make a lot of sense since also the Germans were well aware of the weakness of the Dutch forces in Zeeland. That weakness was all but clear on the sea, where no Kriegsmarine support was to be expected, let alone shipping available to organise a maritime operation. And besides the fact that the Germans felt superior on the ground, they had gained air superiority over Holland as off the first hour. Moreover, Durand's vision also seemed to be contradicting. On one hand he dismissed the value of inundations, but on the other hand he thought the Germans would prefer a maritime operation. Perhaps his thoughts were that the inundations would force the Germans into outflanking the two defence-lines by the anticipated amphibious operation. The details of Durands considerations are not clear enough to solve that matter.

The French General later proved to have been wrong on all points. But at that early stage the Dutch were very much overwhelmed by his extreme arrogance and stubbornness. His executive command over the operations was accepted by Van der Stad and his officers handled forthwith.

French navy command

The relation with army General Durand may have been extremely poor, the maritime cooperation between the French and the Dutch was cordial from the start.

The French commander of naval operations - Rear-Admiral [Contre-Admiral] Platon - and the Dutch Rear-Admiral Van der Stad got along in a very professional and cooperative manner, assisted by the French liaison Lieutenant-Commander Loranchet, a Dutch speaking French officer in the Platon staff.

Although Platon shuttled between Dunkirk and Flushing all the time, the coordination between the two Allied staffs continued going smoothly. Curious was the meeting Platon and Brigadier-General Beaufrere - commander of the 68th Division - had at Breskens in the late evening of the 11th. Beaufrere had requested [his superior] Platon to take general command over the French Zeeland forces, for he considered Durand totally inapt for this task. It would have no consequences ... yet. It should that the French also felt uncomfortable with the peculiar General Durand.

On the 11th also the French Brigadier Deslaurens - commander of the 60th Division - paid his first visit to the Dutch HQ in Middelburg. The relationship with this fine officer would proof to be very cordial and valuable in a later stage of the battle.