Frequently Asked Questions
In this section one finds a number of FAQ answered.
1. How many casualties fell during the May War in the Netherlands?
The Dutch army lost 2,300 men KIA during the five days of war in the Netherlands (including the eight days in the province Zeeland). The number of WIA is not specifically known, but over 7,000 men were treated for wounds suffered during the war days. Probably a significant number suffered only light wounds and were not registered at all.
The German army losses during the battle for the Netherlands were almost identical to the Dutch losses. About 2,100 registered KIA, perhaps slightly higher.
The number of German military WIA is unknown. The benchmark ratio KIA:WIA gives an average of one KIA to 3,5 to 4 WIA, which would lead to a German WIA ratio of 7,000 - 8,000 men.
The Dutch expedited around 1,300 German POW's to the UK. These men were German write-offs for the duration of the war. The bulk of this number comprised Luftwaffe personnel as well as airlanded infantry of 22nd Infantry Division and airbornes from the Hague theatre of operations.
The French army lost 206 registered KIA in the Netherlands. In Noord-Brabant 62 and in Zeeland 154. The number of wounded is unknown, as is the number of POW's. Numbers of 800 WIA are mentioned in the buzz, but have up to now not been substantiated by reliable sources. Some estimates say that around 3,000 Frenchmen were captured in the Netherlands during the periode 10-18 May 1940. But these estimates are non-substantiated either and probably too low.
2. What were the strengths of the opposing forces?
The Dutch army had a total force of around 280,000 men under arms in May 1940. Often foreign sources erroneously mention figures of 350,000 - 400,000. That is wrong and very inaccurate.
The Dutch army comprised 240,000 men and around 40,000 men in other branches (army air force, coastal artillery defences, volunteer formations). The navy and marines (in the Netherlands) had some 10,000 more, not included in the 280.000.
The Dutch army was only partially organized in field army units. Often foreign sources only mention the major field army units, being eight infantry divisions (organised in four army corpses), one independant division (Peel-division) and one light (mobile) division. Besides these large units there were three field army brigades (A, B and G) and 30 independant border infantry battalions and companies. The fortress army had no divisional structure. It was organised in companies, battalions and regiments only. The fortress army, that occupied the defences within the Fortress Holland and Zeeland province, contained the bulk of elder reservists.
The Dutch army had 48 infantry regiments (2,200 - 2,500 men each), 24 independant Border Infantry Battalions (around 700 men each), a number of Border Infantry Companies and two regiments of bicylce infantry. Furthermore 2 regiments of motorbike-infantry, 6 regiments of cavalry (partially horse, partially bicycle mounted), 15 independant regiments of artillery comprising three battalions each, 4 independant regiments of artillery comprising two battalions each and 8 independant artillery battalions. The total number of active artillery pieces was 692 (excluding the obsolete 8-staal guns; excluding 6-veld and AT guns).
Next to these combattant forces there was a large representation of non-com formations, like engineers, pioneers, logistics, medical troops, etc.etc..
For further specifics we refer to the Introduction chapter on this website.
The German army assigned the 18th Armee to the Dutch theatre. This army comprised 10.Corps (two infantry divisions, two SS regiments, one occupational division of brigade strength), 26. Corps (six divisions, including one tank division and one SS division) and the independant 1st Cavalry Division. The Luftwaffe provided the 7th Flieger Korps comprising the (two regiments strong) 7th Airborne Division and the 22.Infantry Airlanding Division (reinforced by a battalion of IR.72). The strength of the 18.Armee was about 180,000 men. The combined Airlanding Corps had an operational strength of about 12,000 men (3,500 airbornes; 8,500 airlanding troops).
On the first two days of the invasion two divisions of the 6th Armee covered the left flank of the 26.Corps in Noord-Brabant. Furthermore the bulk of the 6th Armee crossed the most southeastern province of the Netherlands (Limburg), where on the first day some units opposed the few Dutch battalions defending the Meuse region in Limburg. Although these numbers are significant, they should not be added to the invasion force for the Dutch theatre, for they were designated to invade Belgium.
All in all the strength of the German invasion force opposing the Dutch was around 200,000 men landforces (including Students' Airlanding Corps).
3. Who were the most principal commanders on either side?
The Dutch Commander in Chief was General Henri G. Winkelman. He was commander of the Dutch land-, air- and navy forces in the homeland. He had become CiC in February 1940. His was preluded by General I.H. Reynders, who was sacked in January 1940 over a dispute (with the Dutch cabinet) on the defense strategy.
The commander of the Field Army was Lieutenant-General J.J.G. (Baron) van Voorst tot Voorst. His younger brother General-Major H.F.M. (Baron) van Voorst tot Voorst was chief of the army staff. Commander Fortress Holland was Lieutenant-General J. van Andel.
Commander of the Air-Defence and Army Air Force was Lieutenant-General. P.W. Best.
The commander of the Dutch navy was the chief of navy staff Vice-Admiral J.T. Furstner.
The four army Corpses were led by General-Major N.T. Carstens [1.Corps], General-Major J. Harberts [2.Corps], General-Major A.A. van Nijnatten [3.Corps] and General-Major A.R. van den Bent [4.Corps].
The German Commander in Chief of the operations in the Netherlands was the commander of the 18.Armee, General der Artillerie Georg von Küchler. His direct superior was the Commander Heeresgruppe B, Generaloberst von Bock.
The operations of the 7th Fliegerkorps [commanded by Generalleutnant der Flieger Kurt Student] in Fortress Holland were developed and led by the Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe Hermann Göring (and his staff), and the Commander Luftflotte 2, Generalleutnant von Kesselring was commander of the Luftwaffe operations in the Netherlands.
The most principle German units were commanded by Generalleutnant K. Student [7th Airborne Corps and commander of 7th Flieger Division], Generalleutnant Graf von Sponeck [22.ID], General-major Kurt Feldt [1.Cav.Div.], General der Artillerie Christian Hansen [10.Corps], General der Artillerie Albert Wodrig [26.Corps], Generalleutnant Schmidt [commander of 39.Corps, which was activated as of 13 May 1940] and Generalmajor Ritter von Hubicki [9.Panzer Division].
4. Was the Lex Belli [or Ius in Bello, law of war] often infringed by the belligerents, or was it generally respected?
The internation code, mainly given shape by Geneva and Hague conventions, was mandatory to and (generally) respected by all belligerents in May 1940 in the Dutch theatre.
There were the inevitable occasional infringements too. The Dutch and the Germans both recorded some infringements of the other side and for both sides there is proof of some incidents that were mild, or occasionally gross, infringements in itself. Here and there a prisoner of war was abused, assaulted or even shot on the spot (both sides were guilty of those occasional attrocities), and quite a number of incidents were recorded where either side abused the white flag or the international sign of the red cross.
There is one remarkable exception, where the Ius in Bello was quite generally disregarded by one particular German unit. This occurs during the operations of the SS regiment Der Führer during the three days' battle of the Grebbeberg. There is sufficient proof that the laws of war were poorly adhered to (to say the least) during the SS operations on 11, 12 and 13 of May 1940. There were several incidents involving massacres in the trenches (especially on the 11th of May), systematic abuse of POW's and particularly the common use of POW's as human shields against opposing fire. These infringements were reported and sometimes proven in such an overwhelming quantity that it is very likely that some sort of methodical abuse was applicable. This only applies for the Battle of the Grebbeberg though. The estimated death toll as a consequence of these abuses is between 35-60 KIA on the Dutch side. This large 'variety' is caused by one accusation of a formation of two dozen of Dutch defenders that were captured and massacred. Although indications point quite convincingly towards an SS execution, this cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
About the French side there is no known report of abuse whatsoever. This excludes the looting of civilian proporty by French and Belgian soldiers. That was reported on numerous occassions, particularly in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (Zeeland).
The looting of civilian property was more often seen by Dutch, Belgian and French military than German troops. German troops were very disciplined as it came to looting, and relatively many cases are known of strong disciplinary sanctions on German troops who looted anyway, including one or two executions.
Generally spoken both sides respected the international code and occasionally even a very courteous attitude amongst officers of opposing sides was recorded. Particularly the traditional German officers showed a very gentleman like attitude.
Rumours about massive abuse of the international codes by the German army during the Westfeldzug in the Netherlands are false.
5. Was the 14 May 1940 German raid on Rotterdam a straight out infringement of the international code?
The large air-raid on Rotterdam on the 14th of May 1940 is often referred to as a gross infringement of the international code. Those claims, usually by Dutch and British historians, are biassed and basically non-substantianted. These claims are more a moral or emotional stance than anything else. According to the international law in place in May 1940, a German air offensive against the defended city of Rotterdam was allowed. Some elements of the raid do however qualify as mild or gross infringements of certain rules of engagement, such as the ample warning to civilians authorities and the undiscriminate bombardment of churches, schools, hospitals and other protected landmarks.
The city of Rotterdam was a defended position. As such a basic 'right' to assault the Dutch held perimeter was applicable. That right did not exclude a massive artillery or aerial bombardment.
People who claim the raid to be a genuine infringement often refer to the (a) non-discriminate bombardment of the entire northend of Rotterdam, basically aimed at civil areas and buildings, (b) the fact that the raid was executed during the process of negotiations, and that (c) the ultimatum window granted by the German local command was by far too short.
The non-discriminate bombing of the city (a) was indeed an infringement of the international code, although the conventions had already shown the awareness amongst participants that these rules about 'protected landmarks' were quite hard to maintain with modern armament. The code anno 1940 did not incorporate the effects of a mighty artillery bombardment and/or massive surface air raids. As such the raid on Rotterdam could be addressed as an infringement of the clause C-14 [the restiction that a bombardment of any kind should spare buildings of public, religious and medical character and function] at the time. On the other hand, during WWII, all belligerents would abuse this clause in such a way that in fact it could be regarded as voided and not applicable during WWII. The usual defence of the opponents of this conclusion - that the Germans were the first to apply massive and non-discriminated raids on public areas - is unfair and hard to maintain. There are plenty of pre-war records showing the RAF considered massive raids on the German Ruhr area, but refrained from such attrocities on mere political grounds rather than anything else. Plans that were frozen due to US and French opposition and the fear of massive German retaliation on French and British cities. Moreover, close to the end of WWII the Allies used the very method of massive terror raids to force both Germany and Japan to yield for the Allied might.
The fact that the Rotterdam raid was executed during a process of negotiations (b) is the most genuine complaint of all and is probably indeed a significant infringement of the code by the German side. Clearly this abuse was not to blame on the local German command, but on the Luftwaffe high command in Berlin. It was the ObdL Hermann Göring himself who deliberately demanded the air raid to be executed notwithstanding the ongoing negotiations. German historians who deny this - usually referring to ill communication means on board the bombers - apparently discriminate the fact that the bombers were sent in whilst the knowledge of ongoing negotiations was borne at the Luftwaffe headquarters. Moreover, a second wave sent in the early evening, was successfully called back when the local German commander had transmitted the news that his troops had entered the north of Rotterdam. Suddenly the communication flaws had disappeared ...
That the grace period for the ultimatum had been too short (c) is also true. In fact national and international specialists on the matter agree that a grace period of 12 to 24 hours should have been given according to implementation of the war laws. Nonetheless, this argument is often pushed forward as a pointer towards the non-possibility granted to the Dutch to evacuate the city. That may be true, but the Dutch themselves had denied the population a large scale evacuation during the four days before, fearing that the vast columns of civilians could intervene with the Dutch military operations and logistics. A fair consideration, but on the other hand the city was under siege and raided all the time by German assault planes and more intensive raiding could not be ruled out or should perhaps even have been considered very likely, bearing the knowledge of earlier Guernica (1937) and Warsaw (1939) events. Nevertheless the lesser of two evils was opted for and as such no evacuation was summoned on the Rotterdam population in an earlier phase. Since that was the case it is quite unfair to put the entire blame on the Germans for granting too little time for massive evacuation.
One might conclude that the Germans did not fully adhere to the international code and that the Rotterdam raid was - as such - a war-crime. Perhaps it was to some extend, but certainly not the straight out war-crime that it is often claimed to be.
One remarkable event in the (apparent) same context was the German combined artillery and air raid on Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland, on 17 May 1940. Or, that what the Germans were accused of. This raid, that caused Middelburg to lose its ancient city heart, was long blamed on German doing. Recent historical research has however shown the very likeness of an entirely different cause ... French long range artillery covered French retreat from the island of Walcheren by shelling the entire Middelburg sector, hitting the ancient time with numerous rounds. Also lighter French shells were found in Middelburg soil and ruins after the war. It appeared that it were most likely not the Germans but the allies that caused the historical city to lose it's heart ...
6. What were the different time-tables in May 1940?
The Dutch used a very peculiar time table in 1940. It was the so called Amsterdam time (actually the Gorinchem Time), which was an exact measurement of the meridian time on the central axis of the Netherlands. That time was 20 minutes ahead of the GMT. In other words, 20 minutes later than UK time (excluding summer-time addition).
The German time was MET, Mid European Time, being one hour later than GMT or 40 minutes later than the Dutch. The French and Belgians had the GMT and as such the same time table as the British. All three had already applied summer-time and so had Germany.
On 10 May 1940 the Dutch had not yet added the summer-time hour. It was scheduled to be applied as off 16 May 1940. This means that the time table comparison on 10 May 1940 was as follows:
NL: 1200 hrs - Ge: 1340 hrs - UK: 1240 hrs - Fr: 1240 hrs - B: 1240 hrs.
7. Why did the Dutch army have no tanks whatsoever? Were there serious plans to procure tanks?
In 1935 and 1936 the (then) Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Reynders listed up requirements for the fast and imperative upgrade of the army weapon arsenals. Amongst the long list of requirements were medium and light tanks. In 1937 the final inventory was passed on to the Minister of Defence, incorporating a desired minimum number of 65 light and 36 medium tanks next to 51 armoured cars.
Although the Dutch defence budget had been upgraded in 1937 already, it was considered not yet sufficient enough to procure the long list of requirements the General had filed.
The procurement of tanks was postponed. Not just because of budget matters, but also because of an odd advise by the military head of the staff of the Department of Defence. The particular official who's advise we are talking about was the (then) Major Dyxhoorn, who would become Minister of Defence in 1939. He added a personnel advisory memo to the demand list of the Chief of Staff stating that tanks should be considered the weapon systems of yesterday's war. The development of powerful anti-tank measures as well as the tank (German Pz. I) practises of the Spanish Civil War had shown - so he stated - that the days of the tank were already numbered. How wrong he was! But it was like music in the ears of the Ministery of Defence that somehow had the obligation to temper the vast list of demands by the military. A demand list the Minister could not possibly sell to the Cabinet ...
The procurement of tanks did not reappear on the wish-list of the Department, due to the dismissing authority of the Department staff itself. The military didn't give up though. They demanded that after the procurement of armoured cars [which led to the purchase of 14 off L.180 Landsverk and 24 DAF Pantrado M.39/M.40 additionally to the only 12 AFV's that were already operational] light tanks should be the next weapon systems to be obtained.
The Swedish producer Landsverk was requested by the military whether it was possible to deliver two of their L.60 tank design [8,3 ton tank with a 3,7 Bofors main-gun] to the Dutch army. It was the intention to use those for training exercises for AT-gun crews and infantry. But the Ministry again laid off the matter. Meanwhile Dutch manufacturer DAF was also requested by the military whether it would be able to develop a tank version of the Pantrado [M.39/M.40 AFV]. DAF confirmed and prepared a quotation for the design and fabrication of two prototype tanks. It was again laid off by the Minister of Defence. The Minister - by then it was Dyxhoorn - considered tanks no urgent weapon systems to be obtained for reasons explained hereabove. The introduction of tanks in the Dutch army was therefore again postponed.
Meanwhile the Netherlands East-Indies (NEI) army had already tanks in use as well as vast orders (around 600 tanks) filed with the international industry [Vickers, Marmom-Herrington). What a difference the opinion of one man - a Minister - could make was clearly shown in this instance.
As such only one tank would ever serve in the Dutch army before WWII. In the late twenties one Renault FT-17 tank - a WWI type - had been bought for the single purpose of testing inundations and tank barriers. That should have shaped an accurate analysis of the negiotability of Dutch defences by opposing tanks. This one tank was later abandoned and its whereabouts on 10 May 1940 are unknown.