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An Introduction

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Map of the German invasion (may 1940)

The German campaign in Western Europe in May and June 1940 is - beyond the borders of the Netherlands - particularly known from the Ardennes break-out and the massive Dunkirk evacuation in France, perhaps also from the tank battles at Hannuit, Arras and Montcornet. That these milestones of the Westfeldzug are so well known in contrast with - for example - the large German airlanding operation in Holland is not surprising. The aforementioned battles played important or even decisive roles in the outcome of the campaign and the quick defeat of the Netherlands did not.

The particulars of the German campaign in the Netherlands were quite poorly covered in the gigantic number of of books written on the topic of the German invasion of northwestern Europe in 1940. Even these last couple of years, during which again many new-style history books saw the light of day (usually based on new research and a more professional approach of reproducing the past) the brief battle of the Netherlands is hastily addressed and usually very inaccurate with packs of classic errors and cliches.

Particularly the most interesting component of the German campaign in the Netherlands, the very ambitious full scale air-landing operation between the Hague and Rotterdam, is often poorly covered. That is quite amazing, when one realizes that four years later nobody else than Bernard Montgomery would copy-cat that very same operation when he hastily designed operation Market-Garden. An operation that was basically an identical copy of the German operation in May 1940 in the Netherlands. And miracle or not, the commander of the German air-landing division that raided the west of the Netherlands in May 1940 - General Student - was opposing Monty's airbornes in September 1944! If Monty would have read his periodic Bletchley Park summaries (which contained intercepted German radio traffic) - which he, stubborn as he was, specifically did not - he would have known that he was scheduling Students battle plan for May 1940 and use it against this very General too. It is tempting to conclude that the reason why the German operation in the Netherlands in May 1940 - that first War over Holland - is hardly addressed in British history-books is quite obvious: the second War over Holland in September 1944 was after all simply a cheap copy-paste operation and silly enough applied against its own designer, Kurt Student! 

The German campaign in Holland

It is quite common knowledge that the Netherlands capitulated on the 14th of May 1940, the fifth day after the German invasion. Only the most south-western province of Zeeland was excluded from the armistice - due to the fact that the French army was in charge in that region - and would finally cease all further resistance on the 17th of May too. One slide of Dutch soild (Zeeuws-Vlaanderen) would only fall into German hands on the 27th of May.

Beyond the borders of the Netherlands it is hardly known though that a massive German air landing operation took place in the crucial western part of the Netherlands, involving 10,000 - 12,000 troops and over 1,250 dedicated transport- and support planes. The fact that this particular German operation wasn't just a walk in the park, that they suffered defeat around the Hague and that the Luftwaffe lost hundreds of planes during the campaign, is news to many. Also, the fact that Dutch forces were able to withhold a German attack in the central frontline of the country - at the Grebbe-line - for a prolonged period of three full days shall be a novelty to many.

A walk in the park - a statement that many foreigners - even many native Dutch citizens - attach to the five days' war in May 1940. It may be so, but at a considerable German cost of alomost 300 airplanes [about 10% of their able fleet in those days] lost beyond repair, over 2,000 men killed in action, about 7,000 wounded and 1,250 men [mainly airborne troops and pilots] captured and shipped to British prisoner-of-war camps. It resulted into a battered German airborne weapon.

Material losses suffered during the campaign in the Netherlands would contribute to altering important details of the invasion plans for Great Britain, because the existing plans for airborne and air landing operations in Northern Ireland and England had no longer been feasible due to the suffered losses. Material losses that had been replaced - but had prevented expansion at the same time - when a year later Crete was invaded by airbornes and airlanding troops. The Crete campaign again demanded heavy losses of transport planes. Losses that were more than a year later hard felt when the 6th Army had been surrounded at Stalingrad and had to be fed from the tit of the Luftwaffe cow. That cow had lost its healthy fat though. The chain of events, the fact that replacements had to fill gaps rather than expand the German fleet, was a chain that had started to grow with its first shackles. These first shackles had - amongst others - been the sustained heavy losses of German transport airplanes and trained pilots during the campaigns in Norway and Holland.

The French involvement

The French 7th Army, that came to aid of the Belgian-Dutch forces around Antwerp, found itself heavily involved in the chaotic practise of war in this region. Their complex manoeuvres in the extreme northern field of operations out-manoeuvred them from playing a vital role in the rear of the French defences around Sedan. That detail of the campaign may well have been a decisive feature of the Allied failure to stop the German surge through the north of France after the devastating German break-out from the Meuze region.

Some divisional commanders of the French 7th Army would later rage against Dutch generals whilst being prisoner of war in Germany and accuse the Dutch of betrayal. The Dutch were supposed to have maintained their southern defences and were blamed for not doing so. The Belgian high command was similarly blamed for its decision to capitulate on the 28th of May without consulting the French. The French blamed everyone but themselves. Were they right to do so?

In real life, the French supreme command had known all about the Dutch strategy well before the German invasion. Gamelin knew that the Dutch would evacuate their main defences in the south. He had been informed of this in the spring of 1940, when the Dutch attache in Paris consulted the GQG twice. The Dutch had decided to evacuate the southern defences due to the fact that the Belgian defences did not connect to the Dutch (and v.v.). Belgian generals had refused to extend the Dutch main defences in the south near the city of Weert and invited the Dutch to re-arrange their defences near Tilburg. That couldn't happen, so late in the day. As such the prepared Dutch defences in the regio Den Bosch - Eindhoven were entirely exposed on their right flank. The Dutch defences could be easily outflanked by a southern sweep around the lines across an undefended part of Belgian soil. The Dutch were therefore forced to retreat almost immediately after the German invasion in order not to jeopardize their considerable force in the south. The French generalissimus Gamelin knew that the Dutch would retreat on Invasion-Day+1 but considered it wiser to not inform his field-generals for he feared their refusal to execute the Dyle-Breda strategy upon that intel. As a result of this the French divisional commanders of the 7th Army were kept in the dark and expected to find at least some capable Dutch field army units in the south to join forces with. Their utter disappointment that these forces were not there in real life is fully understandable.

The French Dyle-Breda strategy role-out prescribed that French troops had to move forward to an imaginary line between the Dutch city of Tilburg and the Belgian city of Turnhout. There had been strict orders on the French side not to go beyond that sector, with exception of reconnaissance and forward defence units. Support of the existing Dutch defences between Den Bosch and Eindhoven was therefore out of the question for local French commanders. That would cause very anxious Dutch respons in the field, for on their part, the Dutch were not aware of the French restrictions and plans.

Perhaps even more significant was the strong pre-war protest that the 7th Army commanding officer - Général Giraud - and the commander of the French northern army - Général Georges - filed at their GQG about the plans for the 7th Army. Their opinion was that the assignment of the 7th Army in the far north of the spectrum would rule out any change of applying this quite capable French Army in the vulnerable central sector of the front between Dinant and Sedan, should the operational reality demand such an interdiction or intervention. Their protests were in vain. But at the same time their protests had been accurate.

The political importance of the Dyle-Breda strategy prevailed over the genuine and valid strategic concern of the executioners of the French instructions. Facts and figures that only a few can count to their personal knowledge, even today.

The website

The maker intended to shape a reliable and objective summary of the May 1940 war in the Netherlands. An introduction of both the German and the Dutch preparations of war is given, in order to present a clear overview of the opposing armed forces with reliable information. An extended introduction with plenty of information for anyone who 'eats data', which can be easily skipped if one goes for the core of the information, which are the extensive day-by-day summaries of the battle for the Netherlands. These summaries are divided over the eight days in May 1940 that the Netherlands were defending themselves against the invader.

The website is called 'War over Holland' because the German invasion was particularly experienced as a surprise attack from the skies. The massive airlanding operation in the West and the devastating carpet bombardment of the large harbour-city of Rotterdam on the 14th of May are, still today, seen and felt as the most significant features of the Five Days' War that couldn't be won, but ... had to be fought.

The content of this website has been composed by applying the best sources available. Dutch and German battle reports, governmental research reports, first class publications and numerous subsidiary sources. Facts and figures have been put in a modest context and much effort has been given preventing exaggeration and/or incorporation of unreliable sources. The content is purely non-political and intended as a reliable historical source of information.

The author has chosen to set the narratives of the day-by-day events in a standard of medium detail level. Ocassionaly an event required a higher degree of detail, some minor events were left out. In the end the reader can be secure that the important events have all been covered.

Food for thought ...

It is important to bear in mind that the author strongly feels that it is of paramount importance to realise that the German Third Reich could not be disabled and destroyed in one blow. It would take the western and eastern Allies six years of fierce fighting and amazing sacrifices to force the Germans on their knees. The firmly founded and constructed house of the Third Reich had to be demolished brick by brick. The author likes to think that every bit of opposition and resistance - no matter how insignificant in itself - scraped away some of the cement between the bricks of that house...

It is also important to stress that Germany was an enemy to the Dutch between 10 May 1940 and 8 May 1945. Prior to and after that specific era Germany was and is no enemy of the Dutch nation. If occasionally the vocabulary of this website contains the word "enemy" it should be perfectly clear that this refers to the German forces in that particular era. In general the website contains vocabulary like 'opponents', 'opposing forces' and 'belligerents'.

The narratives shall also reveal that many German tactical decisions and actions are highly regarded for their brilliance and/or their courage. Often historical files or publications forget to admit that although Germany was considered the enemy, they managed to produce some stunning generals and formidable units, and hardly ever it is admitted that they had at least as many brave souls in their midst as us, former allies, suggest we had. And ... after all ... also German soldiers were husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and loved-ones.

We have endeavoured to maintain that objective view and invite any of the visitors of this website to inform us should they feel offended by any part of the content or any suggestion read from it. We shall be glad to adapt our wording once we have established that old wounds are opened or people feel genuinly offended.

Contact

We hope that we can offer you an interesting and informative website and invite you to make use of the contact button or online forum [English section] elsewhere on our site to post your questions and/or remarks.

Allert Goossens - author and webmaster

This website is a member of the website-family mastered by the Dutch war-history foundation ' Stichting Kennispunt Mei 1940'