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Island of Dordrecht and Hoekse Waard

Introduction

We left the area when the Germans had succeeded in seizing the bridges west of Dordrecht and formed a bridgehead around these objects. The 1st Regiment staff under Oberst (Colonel) Bräuer had established its HQ at Tweede Tol, a hamlet halfway the Island of Dordrecht alongside the main road between Moerdijk and Dordrecht.

The Dutch troops outside Dordrecht had been more or less paralyzed. Large contingents had been captured during the battles in the morning of the 10th and the local commanders had been amongst those POW's. It left the remaining troops beheaded of all field command beyond their own officers. As such, they had remained quite passive in the heart and east of the Island during the rest of the 10th.

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The bridges at Zwijndrecht / Dordrecht (may 1940)

In Dordrecht itself the about 1,400 men - mostly pioneer recruits - had made a firm stand. They had managed to take out the main body of the German 3rd Company and had formed a defensive seal around the German pocket at the bridges. The local command was in the hands of Lieutenant-Colonel Mussert, the garrison commander. Weak attempts to retake the bridges had all failed. These elevated structures were hard to approach in the open space around the bridge ramps.

In the south of the Island of Dordrecht the Germans controlled the bridgehead around Moerdijk. There was no immediate Dutch threat from the northwest side. The entire German defence emphasize was therefore pointed south. Only one company north of the bridge, three airborne companies and a platoon of airlanded engineers on the south, assisted (as off the first war night) by one platoon of 3,7 cm AT guns and two light field howitzers. These light troops lacked mortars and AAA. These three small airborne companies, quite battered from the battle of the 10th which had demanded about 100 men KIA and WIA, had been located in a western, central and eastern sector of the southern bridgehead. Altogether about 350 men south of the bridge and a mere 100 on the north end.

Reinforcements on both sides

The Dutch received two batalions of infantry overnight. In the north a battalion of bicylcle infantry of the Light Division crossed the Merwede overnight. It comprised three companies of mobile infantry, a motorised heavy machinegun company, a mortar squad and an AT squad. The battalion was immediately put to use. One company was instructed to sweep the southwest quarter of Dordrecht and clear the area of insurgents, whereas the other two companies were instructed to take positions on the southside of the city near the remnants of the two artillery battalions (without their lost guns) that were holding positions there.

Overnight another battalion had been sent over, from the Group Kil, which was situated west of the Island. It was commanded by Major Ravelli - a career officier - and under orders (from the Group Kil) to assist the Dordrecht garisson. The battalion arrived on the island in the evening of the 10th and moved into the Dordrecht outskirts just before dawn on the 11th. Since the Major wasn't aware of the local situation he decided that it was better to await the first light before moving further into Dordrecht, but his superiors had a different opinion and summoned him to proceed right away. We shall later see where this would lead to.

The Germans on their part did also recieve some reinforcement. Without the knowledge of overall commander Generalleutnant Kurt Student, the only available airborne reserve company - commanded by Oberleutnant Moll - was dropped east of Tweede Tol around 0600 hrs Dutch time. Its arrival was a disaster. Half the unit was lost on the way to the dropzone (three shot down Ju-52's, three planes turned back to base) and the balance [about 70 men] was dropped in the wrong spot, directly in front of Dutch positions. The company was decimated by these early losses. Eventually only a few dozen men would later be able join their own side. The three planes that had initially returned to base, later returned and dropped the remaining platoon of airbornes on the southside of Dordrecht. That landing took place around noon. These airbornes failed to make contact with fellow airborne units and therefore tried to penetrate Dordrecht in the southeastern corner. They met heavy opposition, causing some of them to be killed, many others to be captured. Misfortune and defeat was the fate of most of these junior airbornes.

In the north the Germans had received reinforcements from parts of an airlanding battalion that had been sent to Zwijndrecht and Dordrecht to assist by the bridge defence. A company of IR.16 (the 7th) was given positions in Zwijndrecht assisted by a battery of (two) 7,5 cm mountain howitsers. Some units were also sent to Moerdijk, as was already addressed in the introduction; a squad of engineers and an AT squad. Another battery of two 7,5 cm mountain howitsers joint these two outfits. The 3rd Battalion of airbornes was also sent to Zwijndrecht in the early morning of the 11th. We shall see them back when they would meet the Ravelli battalion.

All in all both sides received almost equal reinforcements. It would only elevate the scale of fighting, but it did not tilt the balance into either one's advantage.

The Ravelli Battalion

Major Ravelli had formed a march-formation of his battalion and proceeded north along the main road that led straight to the traffic bridge west of Dordrecht. He expected the enemy to have concentrated near the bridge and as such the Major considered it unnecessary to form a battle formation with his companies until his point unit had reached the direct bridge area. A very unwise decision, what again showed the poor tactical awareness of senior (career) officers in the Dutch army in those days. Particularly when the opponent has concentrated his force, it matters to outflank such a concentration rather than approach it head on. By approaching in column formation (!) head-on - without a flanking component - one does not only lose much of the fire power of the point-formation, but one leaves the own formation liable for outflanking manoeuvres of the enemy too. The Major decided otherwise. He even failed to establish smart MG positions nearby the bridge approaches in order to be able to give suppressing fire.

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Map of the city of Dordrecht (may 1940)

When the point formation passed the Zeehaven on their left side, the road elevated slightly into Dordrecht. About 500 m away from the bridge ramp the road slightly climbed to a junction where the old and new main road merged and side roads crossed the main road. The airbornes had meanwhile caught a Dutch messenger, who, after interrogation, gave away the pending arrival of the battalion. The airbornes prepared an ambush from their positions at the highest point [bridge ramp] and from the main road extremity, from where they could take a perfect aim at the approaching Dutch. When dawn gloomed and the visibility increased the Dutch had reached up to the main junction, a few volleys were fired. The Dutch dove into cover along the road side, but couldn't do more than press themselves to the ground for no obstacles were available for coverage. Precious minutes passed and then suddenly all hell broke loose. The point company was caught in German cross fire. Within seconds about 10 men got killed by the murdering fire, many others wounded. There was nowhere to hide. The ambush was perfectly prepared. The point platoon was virtually annihilated, the next platoons badly hammered too. Hastily the rest of the battalion retreated in total disorder. Small German formations immediately materialized on the Dutch disorder and progressed on to the elevated crossing of roads. There they killed another ten Dutch soldiers and captured about 70 men. Also male civilians around the location were captured. The Germans did however stall their advance right there. They were under orders to adhere to a strict defensive mode. They took the POW's back with them. Meanwhile almost the entire point company of the Dutch formation had been lost. They were either killed, wounded or taken prisoner. It was the worst single loss incident of the May war in the south. In only a few minutes time one-and-a-half company had been taken out of action.

The Dutch battalion gradually regrouped and then formed a defence around the Zeehaven [see map] complex, on the southwest side of Dordrecht. There it would enjoy a lull in the fighting which gave some time to recuperate from a totally unexpected blow. But meanwhile the 3rd Battalion of FJR.1 was in arrival in the north and strated crossing the traffic bridge. Although it suffered losses of around two dozen KIA and WIA during the exposed bridge crossing, most of the formations managed to reach the Dordrecht side safely. After a quite long pause, it was then set in motion against the Dutch Zeehaven position. In the meantime two companies of the other Dordrecht reinforcements had been directed from the city south side to the Zeehaven complex, in order to assist sealing off the area against any German push southwards. But these companies had not received adequate intel on the presence of the Dutch battalion in that same area. The Ravelli battalion suddenly received flanking fire into its ranks. It very much suprised the officers, who for a moment thought that they had been outflanked from a direction where only Dutch troops had been expected. Eventually it turned out that it were the bicycle infantry men of the Light Division who had reached the eastside of the Zeehaven complex and had opened up, in anticipation of enemy occupation of the complex. The Ravelli men soon realized that they were shot at by friendlies, but they couldn't manage to identify themselves without risking their lives. Then the battalion buggle player started playing the national anthem! After that the confusion was quickly resolved. Fortunately no casualties fell.

Then Major Ravelli himself attempted - and evenually succeeded - to contact the garrison commander of Dordrecht in order to reaffirm his orders. The Lieutenant-Colonel was quite clear. Retake the bridges in full force. When the battalion, in adherence of those orders, was in process of preparation of moving forward once again, the men suddenly witnessed two trucks appear on the road ahead on which seemingly Dutch soldiers were loaded, with another bunch running behind it. Major Ravelli, who was slightly south of the scene and was triggered by again the distinct sound of Dutch rifles and MG blazing, thought that again they were held for enemy troops and a such assaulted by their own. The rifle volleys were however caused by an event that occurred from the same event. On the road leading from the east to the Zeehaven complex, a Dutch company commander and his aid had crossed the viaduct towards the Zeehaven when they too had witnessed the trucks with Dutch soldiers. They were however totally taken by surprise when from behind the trucks suddenly heavily armed airbornes appeared that took them prison. It were witnesses east of that position that opened up on the Germans. That very event made Major Ravelli come under the impression that again friendlies were battling each other.

Ravelli had summoned most of his officers to a point southeast of the Zeehaven complex in order to discuss the ordered assault on the bridges. The officers did not know what to think of the event occuring in front of them. Fire was opened, men were seen tumbling off the truck, but then white flags were waived and when the truck approached even closer the men realized that it were Dutch soldiers on top of the truck and close behind it. They ceased fire. The Major thought that the men in front of him were reinforcements sent from Dordrecht. The Major decided to go down the road and settle the matter for once and for all. Three officers and a officer-cadet carelessly joint him. When they were close to the first truck, suddenly German airbornes appeared from the shallows of the road and stuck up their rifles and sub-machineguns. The Dutch officers had no alternative but to surrender. It appeared that a German formation of two companies - both of III./FJR.1 - had stealthily approached the Dutch positions. The Dutch POW's of the earlier morning had been abused to create doubt amongst the Dutch defence.

The 'brave' officer in charge of the airbornes was Hauptmann Karl-Lothar Schultz, commander of the 3rd Battalion Airbornes of FJR.1. This officer had already been responsible for at least three similar war-crimes on the first day of the offensive, around Waalhaven. He had copied his criminal behaviour at Dordrecht. He pointed a pistol on the chest of Major Ravelli and ordered him to instruct the remains of his companies to surrender. The Major refused and protested against the cowardess attitude of his opponent. The German Hauptmann was not criminal enough to shoot the Major, but on his command all officer POW's were forced in front of the German airbornes and ordered to turn into the direction of Krispijn [southwest quarter of Dordrecht], where one of the companies of the Light Division had taken a stand of which their commanding officer had been taken prisoner moments before.

The men of the Light Division were not planning on surrendering though. They opened up irrespective of Dutch POW's being amidst the airbornes. Again the Hauptmann jumped forward, put a pistol on the chest of the Dutch Major and summoned him to walk to the resisting Dutch company in front of him. The Major refused and stated 'are you afraid, Captain?' The German did not respond, thought for a moment and turned about. Some minutes later the Dutch POW's were taken back and put under guard. In the end the Major had shown that his poor tactical talent was not typical for his courage. He had finally shown a true leader. The airbornes moved back to the west, where another mopping up operation caused them to bring in another batch of prisoners.

The event had an interesting aftermath. The Dutch Major was appalled by the behaviour of his German counterpart and filed an official complaint at the Germans. He and the German Hauptmann were both heard on the 14th of May at the Rijsoord HQ of General Student. The outcome of the matter shall have been 'protest noted', because the German Hauptmann Schultz was days later decorated with the Knightscross to the Iron Cross. Clearly the prerogative of the victoreous side that war-crimes were taken for granted. It has to be said though, that Hauptmann Schultz, although at least a four-time war-criminal during the May War, was an exception amongst his fellow airbornes. Most airborne officier showed themselves officers and gentlemen. It were the exceptions like Schulz - an SA Feldhernhalle airborne - that put a shadow on the clear sheet of the German airbornes. 

War-crimes or not, the Ravelli battion had suffered much though. In the early morning it had lost one of its companies and two more platoons, and in the early afternoon again a strength equalling more than a company. It had moreover been virtually beheaded since all but three of its officers had been captured or killed. The remnants of the battalion - about 150 men - did manage to escape capitivity, for the time being. They would make another stand at Wieldrecht, about three km southwest of Dordrecht. But the 'battalion' had not come to the end of its ordeal yet. When the evening fell a German assault was unleashed. From two sides the Dutch positions at Wieldrecht were overrun and during the intensive fight that followed the last commanding officer in the battalion received a fatal head shot. The airbornes progressed to the outskirts of the village and managed to isolate a number of squads, that were one after the other forced into surrender. When the last remnants of the company were captured around 2000 hrs, the Ravelli battalion had formally ceased to exist. With exception of a few platoons, all had been taken prisoner or fallen victim to German fire.

One entire Dutch battalion had lost more than 75% of its strength without the slightest success gained over the opposing force. No more than merely one hundred men managed to escape from the Germans. The latter had not only managed to get rid of the Dutch threat on their southern perimeter, but also regained control over the north-south axis between the two bridge-pairs at Moerdijk and Dordrecht. In short - a full tactical success to the German side.  

The central sector of the Island 

On the southeast side of the Island a company of 28.RI still occupied its original position. It had been involved in two engagements on the first day with the fresh landed airbornes. During these engagements they had lost a number of men including the company commander, who had been wounded. They had inflicted some damage on the enemy too, and the latter had retreated in the late afternoon of the previous day to a strategic crossing in the southeast of the island, controlling all traffic towards the German bridgehead in that corner. After these events little more than half the company had been taken over by a candidate officer [Ensign Marijs]. The other have was commanded by a Lieutenant. Marijs let the men form a defensive perimeter in expectance of the things to come. And those things came, from the sky. When in the morning of the 11th the Lieutenant received instructions that the entire company had to move to the northeast in order to assist in a mopping up operation across the centre of the Island of Dordrecht, the company was buggled to assemble. Marijs his platoons had to come from the extreme south side, a sector called 'Tongplaat'. In the midst of that assembling operation, suddenly six Ju-52 appeared overhead. Whereas the Lieutenant and his platoon moved to the north to join another company - as instructed - Marijs and his two platoons (including a heavy machinegun grew) took positions along the dikes in the open field.  

The reserve airborne company of Oberleutnant Moll was dropped right in front and sight of the men of Ensign Marijs. It were about 60-70 airbornes [see above], many of them unseasoned or even trainees. They were met by the blazing rifles and machineguns of the Dutch, that killed four or five of the airbornes instantly and wounded many. The Germans were immediately forced into the defensive. In the end the Dutch managed to capture another 15 airbornes, amongst whom Oberleutnant Moll and two other officers. Meanwhile the extensive fight had lasted more than half a day and the Dutch were running out of ammo. Moreover other Dutch formations in the east of the island had moved away and left Ensing Marijs alone in fighting the shrinking opposition. An event that raised many eyebrows after the war ...

At that point in time, when the sun was setting, a rare ocassion of ancient chivalry occurred. Oberleutnant Moll - being a POW - had received a personal guard, a Dutch sergeant. At some point Ensign Marijs realized that the Oberleutnant was no longer in their hide out and asked the sergeant where the officer was. Much to the upset of the Ensign the sergeant replied that the Oberleutnant had persuaded him that - on his word as an officer and a gentleman - he would be allowed to return to his men to order them into a cease fire. The sergeant was severly addressed but some time later indeed the Oberleutnant reappeared holding a white rag. The German officer suggested to arrange a cease fire in order to take care of the wounded and killed on both sides. The Ensign did not favour the proposal, but at the same time realized that his ammo cache situation left him no other option. Both sides agreed to assemble at a large farm house, where they treated the wounded [about 30 men] and burried the assembled dead [5 Germans, 1 Dutch]. A few red-cross flags were placed and - like there was no war on - both sides sat around the farm house in relative harmony. During the night a dual guard post was set around the farm, two German and two Dutch posts. Henri Dunant would have had a field day! Moll and Marijs had furthermore agreed that the next morning the fate of the matter would be settled by the first party appearing. Would that be the Germans, the Ducth would surrender; if it were the Dutch appearing first, the airbornes would surrender. It is unclear whether Moll had been so cunning as to slip out a messenger that could reach the German lines and expedite a German party to settle things in German favour. It is however known from a German staff report that in the late afternoon or evening of the 11th about ten men of the Moll company appeared in the Tweede Tol camp. They might have informed Oberst Bräuer of the arrangement. But at the same time it is possible that these ten men originated from the platoon of the Moll company that had been dropped hours later directly south of Dordrecht.

The story continued on the 12th. For context-reference sake it is better to address that episode here too. In the morning of the 12th a German formation approached the farm house. The Ensign realized that he would not be able to hold this force off with the few ammo clips still at hand. In a furious state of mind he surrendered with his about 60 men. Oberleutnant Moll brought his tribute to the Dutch though and stated that they were allowed to keep their arms and that they would be allowed to march with the Germans to Tweede Tol in marching order. Upon their arrival in Tweede Tol, Oberst Bräuer witnessed the column coming in and got extremely mad at Oberleutnant Moll for letting the Dutch keep their weapons. When his rage had passed, the Oberleutnant explained the odd event to the Oberst, who than turned to the Ensign. He apoligized for his previous rage and excused himself that the soldiers had to be disarmed. The Ensign was allowed to keep his side arm (traditional sword) though, as a tribute to his performance and chivalry. It was a rare show of oldfashioned respect and chivalry in a modern conflict.

In the mid section of the Island a considerable Dutch force had shown its teeth on the 10th already. It were the remnants of two artillery battalions that had seen their guns lost to the airbornes, and a company of 28.RI. This formation had a strength of about 300 men and was determined to gain back the artillery pieces from the Germans. When the men of the Light Division arrived in the morning of the 11th, they were even more determined to regain the momentum and to start operating offensively again. But already during the operational planning meeting, that had quickly been initiated, a message came through that the Light Division units had to assault on the Zeehaven, where German forces were suspected. These units would later be the force that linked up with the Ravelli battalion after an odd friendly fire incident.

In the early morning the artillery men had managed to contact two platoons of the Lieutenant belonging to the same company as Ensign Marijs. Jointly the commanders decided to launch a large scale assault on the heart of the Island, where the 20 guns were positioned. Obviously the squads under Ensign Marijs could not come along, since they had been surprised by the German airborne landing, but the other formation managed to proceed towards the area where the batteries were still placed and succeeded chasing of the few Germans guarding the terrain, killing a few and capturing a dozen. The Dutch even managed to get eight of the 12 cm guns back in their own hands. The other four had been tumbled into a ditch by the airbornes. In total about 20 Germans were captured and some Dutch POW's liberated. Although the gunners were anxious to start using the intact guns, German mortar or light arty rounds soon landed around the regained artillery positions, which made the use of the artillery pieces impossible. The Dutch retreated and were shortly after instructed to regroup on the southeast side of Dordrecht in expactance of a full LD regiment to arrive overnight [11/12 May].

Hoekse Waard

Especially the artillery in the Hoekse Waard - the island west of the Island of Dordrecht where the army formation 'Group Kil' was situated - contributed to the defence on the second day. It continously shelled established or suspected German positions on the Island of Dordrecht. The Willemsdorp barracks and the Moerdijk bridgehead were constantly pounded by 7,5 cm and 15 cm artillery. Although this constant shelling did not demand many victims amongst the airbornes, their reports did state the nuisance it caused in the logistics.

The Germans had conveyed their worries considering the very lifely Dutch artillery by long-wave wire-less radio to Germany, where the Luftwaffe was called in. The three Dutch batteries near Strijen (3 km from Moerdijk) received a pin-pointed Luftwaffe strike that brought them 60 bombs that fell within the confines of the three battery positions. Fortunately the only two guns that were hit had already been put out of action by serious mechanical malfunction. Two more were out of action since the previous day already. Also the 7,5 cm batteries, a little more up north, were struck by several attack planes, but none of these airstrikes contributed to any loss of men or material other than a few houses damaged. When the Luftwaffe had disappeared, the guns opened up again, as if they liked to state their proud survival.

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Barendrecht bridge (may 1940)

Meanwhile the Group Kil command had realized that it had lost basically all its offensive power. The Ravelli battalion had been destroyed, which became clearl when some survivors that had swum across the Kil and reported back to HQ. The action of the 3rd Border Infantry Battalion overnight - against Waalhaven - had failed too, after an initial succesful crossing of the Oude Maas river in one sector. They had ran into serious German mortar fire south of Waalhaven and lost quite a number of men. It forced the company back to its starting point. Another company that had been ferried over east of Barendrecht, had already withdrawn after their inapt commanding officer had received civilian reports on strong German occupation of the road ahead (that was in fact not the case at all). Upon his return the commanding officer of the company was treated on a raging Group Commander. Eventually a force of about one-and-a-half company strong - supported by two AT guns, about two platoons of heavy MG and a platoon of mortars - executed a storm assault of the Barendrecht bridge itself. Originally that assault had been scheduled to be supported by the already withdrawn company on the right flank, that had been assigned the task of charging the German left flank at Barendrecht. When that company failed to appear, the also present chief-of-staff of the Group Kil ordered the main force to launch the attack anyway. A battery of light field artillery preluded the attack. Under cover of suppressing fire from the machineguns, two platoons stormed ahead across the 400m long bridge. But after a mere 50 m had been covered, the German MG's and mortars opened up. It caused the assault to be rebuffed instantly. The almost entirely open bridge was a murderous place and any further progress was share suicide. The men returned, leaving some KIA and badly wounded men behind.   

The battalion had returned from the bridge, disappointed by the poor result. Two companies were left on either side of the bridge area to form a defence. The other two companies were held in reserve. It was by then the only remaining offensive force of the Group Kil. All other outfits, altogether a size of no more than about two battalions, were occupying the right flank of the Group Kil along the Kil waterway.

Summary

The second day had brought the Dutch disappointment all along. With exception of the insignificant local success in the retaking of some previoulsy lost artillery pieces in the heart of the Island of Dordrecht, all confrontations with the Germans had resulted in lost units or retreats.

Almost the entire battalion Ravelli [II-28.RI] was put out of action. That was a heavy loss to the Group Kil that had hardly any reserves left after that. Besides, the loss of the battalion had not contributed to any objective nor had it weakened the Germans in any way.

The Germans managed to strengthen their grip on the Dordrecht bridges and re-establish their control over the Moerdijk - Dordrecht corridor.

The attempt to assault Waalhaven from the territory of Group Kil had failed and a secundary attempt to cross the Barendrecht bridge had been unsuccessful too. It only contributed to a binding of certain German units along the Oude Maas shores, now that the Germans had become aware of Dutch ambitions in this area.

The Germans had on one hand all reason to be relieved that yet another day had passed without losing one of their objectives. Reports received from the homeland confrmed that the 26.AK was on schedule to link up with the Moerdijk airbornes on the 12th. On the other hand the Germans were still anxious what the Dutch had up their sleeves yet. There seemed to be no reason yet to sit back and simply await the arrival of the ground forces.