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German strategy 10 May 1940


The German battle plan for the invasion of the West of Europe was called Fall Gelb [Case Yellow]. It involved the plans for seizing Holland and Belgium, as well as the capture and destruction of the main Allied force in Belgium and Northern France. The subsequent conquest against the rest of France had been designated as Fall Rot [case Red].

In subject comprised chapter about the German strategy we shall briefly elaborate on the outlines of the German plans in the Fall Gelb scenario, with emphasis on the Dutch theatre.

German army Dutch theatre

The invasion of Holland was part of the operations assigned to Heeresgruppe B and involved two German Armies, the 6th and the 18th Armee, as well as an Air-landing Corps operating directly under Luftwaffe command. The 6th Army would only bear a limited portion of the action, because their main objective was the Belgian territory.

The German forces that came into action in the Netherlands or that crossed the Dutch soil in the south are shown hereunder.

The 6h Army comprised the following formations [Dutch theatre]:

-   4th Tank division (4 AC)
-   7th Infantry division (4 AC)
-   14th Infantry division (11 AC)
-   18th Infantry division (4 AC)
-   19th Infantry division (11 AC)
-   30th Infantry division (9 AC)
-   31th Infantry division (11 AC)
-   35th Infantry division (4 AC)
-   56th Infantry division (9 AC)
-   61th Infantry division (4 AC)
-   216th Infantry division (9 AC)
-   a part of the 269th Infantry division (27 AC)

The 18th Army comprised the following formations:

-   1st Cavalery division (Independant)
-   9th Tankdivision (26 AC)
-   SS "Verfügungs" Division [Waffen SS] (26AC; minus regiment "Der Führer")
-   207th Infantry division (10 AC)
-   208th Infantry division (26 AC)
-   225th Infantry division (26 AC)
-   227th Infantry division (10 AC)
-   254th Infantry division (26 AC)
-   256th Infantry division (26 AC)
-   526th Infantry division (10 AC)
-   SS Leibstandarte "Adolf Hitler" (227.ID, 10 AC; as off 12 May shifted to 26 AC)
-   SS Standarte "Der Führer" (207.ID, 10 AC)

The air landing force [7. Flieger Corps] comprised the following formations:

-   7th Airborne division [7.FC]
-   22nd Air landing division [7.FC]
-   72th Infantry regiment [46.ID, assigned to 7.FC] 

Almost the entire 6th Armee would leave Dutch soil on the 10th and 11th of May. A major part of it only crossed the south of Limburg on its way to Belgium, while the remainder had to fight its way across the (Dutch) Maas. Only three divisions would be longer employed on Dutch soil, mainly to form the German right flank during the main assault of the 6th Armee into Belgium. 

German strategy 

The German strategy regarding the Dutch theatre was shaped around two main manoeuvres.

1) The first one was a massive and unprecedented air-landing and airborne operation right in the heart of the Dutch stronghold Fortress Holland. This landing had two different objectives. The landing around the Hague was intended to attempt taking both the Dutch Government and the Royal Family prisoner into custody. Furthermore, it was intended to eliminate all military headquarters in the Hague and as such decapitating the Dutch armed forces. This operation was more or less independent of the second part of the air-landings.

The second landing and objective was a coordinated series of operations at four designated points: the Moerdijk bridges, the Zwijndrecht/Dordrecht bridges and the main air-field at Waalhaven [Rotterdam south]. The last and fourth one incorporated a landing party that would be dropped by 12 seaplanes to try taking the bridges in Rotterdam across the Nieuwe Maas river. Should the operations succeed, all bridges between the southern defences of the Fortress Holland and the north of Rotterdam would be controlled by the German troops intact. The capture of this chain of bridges was intended to open up the Fortress Holland and convey an open path to a strong land-force that was formed around the German 9th Tank Division and that was scheduled to reach Moerdijk on the third day of the invasion. The capture of the air-field at Waalhaven would facilitate more troops to be flown in and as such the capture of that AFB would be the essential logistic hinge in the operation.

Altogether around 16.000 troops were planned to be flown in, divided over all targets. The individual taskforces were instructed to withstand all Dutch counter-attacks for at least three days. At the end of the third day the German ground forces were scheduled to link up with the troops at Moerdijk. The fact that such a daring and risky operation was planned, with relatively few troops, sketches a clear picture of the low regard the Germans had of the Dutch forces.

2) The second main manoeuvre was the invasion of a strong and well equipped German force through the south of The Netherlands. This force - incorporating the German 9th Panzerdivision [tank division] - was under orders to penetrate the first two Dutch defence-lines along the river Maas and in the Peel-Raamline. After gaining those achievements they were under instructions to push forward to the line Breda-Moerdijk, north-east of Antwerp. The force - brought together under command of the 26th Army Corps - incorporated beside the tankdivision and support formations, four infantry divisions (of which two trailing as reserve divisions) and a SS division.

At the city of Breda, the German force would be divided into three groups which would be commanded by two Corps staffs. 26.AC would be split up into two AC's, 26.AC and 39.AC. Out of 26.AC a small formation - consisting only out of one Waffen SS regiment with some additional support units - was to push forward to the Dutch coast [Zeeland]. The balance of 26.AC would occupy the southwest of Brabant and march against Antwerp. The formation under 39.AC - containing the tankdivision and two infantry divisions and joining up with the remnants of the air-landing corps in the south - was supposed to penetrate Fortress Holland via the airborne held bridges and march on to Rotterdam. From thereon they would have to eliminate the remaining Dutch defences within Fortress Holland. Should the situation require such, all these troops were intended and prepared to fight the French 7th Army, of who's presence the Germans were well aware prior to the invasion. IIntercepted intelligence reports about the French strategy and deployment had been thoroughly analyzed, leaving little room for error.

It is obvious that the Germans had two main objectives for their 18th Army in the south of Holland. The first and most important one being the assignment to cut of the French forces at Antwerp from a northern connection with the Dutch. This manoeuvre would not only result into the French being unable to connect with the Dutch, but moreover it would establish that one leg of the surrounding of the Allies in Belgium would be completed. The major southern push [incorporating 7 tank divisions] through the Ardennes region, via Sedan and to the French coast would form the southern leg. The second objective of the 18th Army was the penetration of the main centre of Dutch defences and force it into surrender.

The air-landing and the southern push were backed up by a massive taskforce of the Luftwaffe. Besides a strike- and fighter force of a few hundred planes, there was the large transport fleet comprising eight wings of Ju-52 transporters. The air-landing itself would be executed in a number of stages. That was due to the limited numbet of transport planes cthat ould be made available, being around 430 planes. Since that fleet could only lift a batch of about 5,500 men at once, at least three full complement return flights were required. Another obstruction to lift in the air-landing troops in a single stage, was that the targeted Dutch air fields [to be used for the air-landing troops] had insufficient capacity to handle all transport planes at the same time.

The first air-lifted batch would include four battalions of airbornes (first strike force) and three battalions of airlanding troops to capture four airfields. The twelve sea-planes carrying two reinforced platoons of air-landing troops straight into the heart of Rotterdam were also part of the first strike forces.

The available strike capacity of the Luftwaffe force had also received strict instructions. Bombers were ordered to attack defence objectives, amongst which the defences of the air fields, the Dutch airforce units, ground-to-air defences and some specific barracks. Fighters were designated to protect the huge transport fleet, strafe air-defence units, eliminate the Dutch planes that would have escaped the first strike and provide direct support to the landed first strike forces. In the five days' war [eight days including Zeeland] the German airforce would involve more than 1.500 planes to the Dutch theatre. This was half the operational force available for the operations on the western front.

Subsidiary manoeuvres

Subsidiary manoeuvres were planned against the central and northern sectors of the Dutch defences. In the centre 10th Army Corps, consisting of two infantry divisions, two Waffen SS regiments [brigade-size], an occupational division and additional units [heavy and medium artillery and pioneers] were designated to force their way through the Ysselline and push on to the Grebbeline. They were to take these defences on the first or second day of the war. From there onwards they were under orders to push to the line Utrecht-Amsterdam, and penetrate the Fortress Holland from the east. Provided that the southern push would be successful and would be able to penetrate the Fortress from the south-west, the central push would claw the Dutch defences in a firm and lethal grip. Interesting detail was that the Germans were unaware that General Winkelman had shifted the defence priority from the Eastfront Fortress Holland to the Grebbeline. The main reason why the Germans expected to be able to penetrate the Grebbeline even on the first day of the invasion.

The far northern manoeuvre was the most insignificant one of all. The Germans were very much aware of the strong opposition they would meet at the modern and strategically situated fortifications on the Afsluitdijk. The fact that the German troops were confronted with just two options to come across the thirty km wide Ysselmeer [Yssellake], being either the successful crossing of the narrow [30 m] Afsluitdijk or crossing the Ysselmeer itself [defended by naval forces] did not get a high success ratio expectation at the planning table. The Germans assigned their obsolete [last] traditional Cavalry division [1st Cavalry Division] - reinforced with some sections of obsolete armoured cars and 8,8 cm artillery - to this task.

German army organisation

A regular German Infantry Division consisted of 15,000 - 17.000 men. This is just a ball-park figure. Basically the German army that invaded the West in May 1940 comprised divisions from the first four levies [Erste, Zweite, Dritte und Vierte Welle], although divisions of up to the eigth levy would be involved eventually. The first and second levies [Erste and Zweite Welle] formed the best divisions. In the Netherlands none of the divisions participating in the main events were from these classes. The balance of the divisions applied at the Dutch front were of the third and fourth levies. That meant that these divisions were non-motorised (with exception of the SS units and obviously the tank division) and equipped with older material and armament. More importantly, the third and fourth levy divisions consisted out of reservists for at least 80%. The average age of the soldiers in these divisions was around 27-28 years.

The 9th Tank Division was one of the four smaller tank divisions. In fact it was the weakest tankdivision of the German army, that in May 1940 had ten divisions and a small tankregiment [Norway] by that time. The 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th tankdivision were previous light divisions, which had been upgraded into full grade tank divisions during the period between the spring of 1939 and January 1940, when the last one, 9th Tank Division, started the process of upgrading. Therefore the 9th was still very much in the middle of the upgrade process. That was the reason why she had only one reinforced tank regiment [about 150 tanks], whereas regular tank divisions enjoyed two of these units. The two infantry regiments in the division were still equipped with trucks in stead of APC's. Only the 3rd and 9th Tank Division had no APC's whatsoever on the 10th of May.

The SS Verfügungsdivision comprised more than 18.000 men. It had a large reconaissance battalion (with AFV's) and three large regiments that had a size that was more like a small brigades than a regiment. These SS regiments were self-sustained fighting units, laid out for agressive reconnaissance and storm-troop duties. The divisional structure was improvised, because the SS-VT division was a hastily formed formation. The division had lost its regiment "der Führer" to the 207.ID. The SS Regiment "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" was self-sustaining and added to 227.ID (on 10 and 11 May 1940).

The 207th and 227th Division as well as 26th Armee Corps had been reinforced with additional pioneers and artillery battalions. Especially 26.AC had received some additional heavy artillery, an additional MG battalion and two FLAK battalions.

Last but not least seven armed or armoured trains had been added to the respective first assault formations. Of these trains some contained a battalion size formation that was designated to be unloaded in the rear of penetrated Dutch defences. Four of these trains were envisaged to penetrate in the south, two in the centre and one in the north. Only few of these trains were armed with guns, FLAK and MG's.

Both the air-landing and airborne divisions were small units. The 7.FD [airbornes] was only 4,500 men strong, the 22nd Air Landing division had 9,500 men (of the airlainding component) and the 72th infantry regiment [air landing reserve] about 2,000 men.

The German navy had not been assigned any seegoing mission in the Dutch theatre. Two navy tasforces, comprising just personnel, had been assigned to respectively the 1st Cavalery Division and the 227.ID. The first taskforce was under instructions to confiscate and man shipping room along the east coast of the Ysselmeer and as such facilitate an amphibious action on the westcoast of the Ysselmeer (north of Amsterdam) with force of the 1st Cavalry Division on board. The second taskforce was assigned a mission to lay hands on shipping room on the south shores of the Ysselmeer and facilitate a possible maritime outflanking operation of the Grebbeline with personnel of the SS Leibstandarte or 227.ID. Last but not least a brown water flotilla of the German Volunteer Navy [that was another organisation than the regular Kriegsmarine] consisting of ten militarized civil brown water ships had been assigned unknown missions on both the Rhine and Waal river. This flotilla would indeed be put into action on the Waal river.

German invasion army strength

The 18th Army - that was the main responsible Army to seize the Dutch territory - comprised a modest contigent of troops, as was already addressed hereabove. It consisted of two Army Corpses and a quite randomly composed cavalery division of an obsolete and temporary nature, the 1st Cavalry Division (1.Kavallerie Division). The cavalry division and its reinforcements comprised no more than a mere 15,000 men. The 10th AC, operating in the Dutch central sector, had a strength of around 50,000 men with another 5,000 or so for occupational duties. The large 26.AC had a strength of around 80,000 men (254.ID, 256.ID, SS-VT, 9.PD and reinforcements). These forces were responsible for the conservative portion of the Dutch invasion. Their strength adds up to a gross 150,000 men. The 208.ID and 225.ID, both army reserve units, could be assigned to 26.AC and as such be added to the 18th Army potential.

The adjacent 6th Army had its operational goals in the Belgian theatre, but since it operated on the left flank of the 18th and had to squeeze its vast formations across the Meuze river between Visé and Roermond, the 6th would have many of its units oppose the Dutch Maas-defence. But, with exception of the 30.ID and 56.ID of 9.AC, its units would soon leave Dutch soil. The formations of 9.AC would however operate on Dutch territory (along the Dutch-Belgian border) until the 13th of May. This three division strong 9th Army Corps was about 55,000 men strong. It did however hardly oppose Dutch forces. Besides some skirmishes on the Maasline and the Weert-section of the Peel-Raam line, the German formations would particularly oppose units of the French 1st DLM near Tilburg.

An important feature of the invasion of the Netherlands was obviously the massive air-landing operation, straight into the heart of the country main defences. The combined operation of the German airborne weapon and 22th Infantry Division, which was partly air-transported into the west of the Netherlands. The envisaged strength of this so called 7th Air Corps had been around 18,000 men, but it had been obvious to the German planners that such a strength would not be met. In fact no more than around 11,500 men airbornes and airlanding troops would be landed in the The Hague - Rotterdam - Moerdijk area of operation. The 7th Air Corps was a Luftwaffe unit, fully commanded as such too. Only on the 14th of May, when the German main force had reached the city of Rotterdam, the 7th Air Corps - or rather its remains - came under army command.

When one adds up the German strength, one gets to a gross strength of around 165,000 men invasion force, with another 55,000 on the left flank only partially getting involved and around 35,000 men as an infantry reserve. These were facing 240,000 Dutch army personnel, most of which were concentrated in the Fortress Holland defences.