Print this page

Ockenburg

Introduction

Part IV was introduced with the outline of the German plan to take the city of The Hague by surprise and force the Government and Militairy supreme command into capitulation. In order to achieve that highly ambitious plan, extended airlandings had been planned at Ypenburg AFB and Valkenburg AFB as well as a smaller landing at Ockenburg auxilary AFB.

In this chapter the landing at Ockenburg will be addressed.

The defences

Ockenburg airfield lay to the southwest of The Hague, near the village Loosduinen [nowadays part of The Hague]. It was very close to the sea, less than 500 metres from the beach, NW of the air-strip. The 'airfield' had only recently been 'fabricated' - as it were -  by interconnecting a series of available soccer-pitches. It had purely an auxilary function, mainly as assembly and test facility for newly purchased airforce planes and military planes that were undergoing modifications or maintenance. A modest  number of planes was parked along the northern outline of the field, all unarmed and not operational. It were five recently assembled Douglas 8A-3N's and two Fokker G-1 (Wasp) fighter-cruisers. These planes were parked outside, without camouflage or protection.

Click here for larger picture
Airfield Ockenburg 10 May (may 1940)

The airfield had no significant infantry occupation. The small contingent that was present hadn't arrived until the 8th of May. That day a depot company [22nd Depot Company under Captain Boot] had arrived to relief two platoons of Grenadiers. The company was under strength. It only comprised 130 men and five officers. The men had been enlisted since last February and had only finished the first phase of basic training. This contingent had no more than four light machineguns at its disposal. One platoon including one machinegun group was sent to a communications centre nearby in the morning of the 9th. This left 96 men and three machineguns on the airfield when the Germans attacked. Besides the depot company, a small contingent of airforce ground-crew was available, but hardly equipped for adequate self defence.

The only AA defence of significance in the total surroundings of the base was an AAA battery 2,000 metres to the northeast. Much closer to the base, near the entrance of the base, was a section of a search lights platoon (including an aircraft hearing device), assisting the aforementioned AAA battery, of which the 20 men crew had carabines as personal arms. They had only limited ammo available though, like most air-defense units had usually no more than 20-30 rounds per man.

Unlike the active AFB's, Ockenburg was not on the alert status. Since it contained no active squadrons or air-defences, the alert-status telegram that had been sent a few days before, had not been applicable to Ockenburg AFB. That caused the depot company not to be on the ready when the Germans invaded the country. The only measures of precaution were the guard posts at the gate and airfield facilities as well as the two-men posts at the machinegun positions. The balance of the company rested in one of the airfield buildings. The search-light section was on full alert though. All men were available around the position of the light.

The opponent

The airfield was a subsidiary target for 22.(LL)ID, but nevertheless of some significance. Ockenburg's capacity was limited and that had prevented the Germans from planning a large scale landing, although Ockenburg had the best odds for a quick access to the Hague. A stone toss away from the base ended the main traffic road that leads straight into the strategic heart of the Hague, the so called 'Laan van Meerdervoort'. Following this main road the Germans would have been able to reach virtually all main targets in no time. Peculiarly enough the German plans had not forseen this advantage, but were regarding the Ockenburg landing specifically lined up to have the entire northeast of The Hague blocked to repel Dutch counter measures from troops stationed north of the city.

The planned force to land on Ockenburg comprised around 135 airbornes [the entire 3./FJR2] and a reinforced battalion [II./IR.65 - minus one company - plus 13./IR.65 and two platoons bike-recce troops of AA.22], altogether a mere 800 men.

Ockenburg would not be bombed. The defences were regarded obsolete and bombing the field could have hampered the use of it by the about 70 transporters that had been scheduled to land (in several waves).  

The landing 

At around 0430 hrs four Dutch planes from Ypenburg AFB landed on the - at that moment - still quiet base. It were two Fokker D-XXI fighters and two Douglas planes. The airmen of these planes expected to be able to get new ammo and fuel for their aircrafts in order to be able to take off again, but fuel was not available (!).

Soon after the four planes had landed, a squadron of Messerschmitt Bf-110's dove down on the modest airfield defences and the parked planes. The boogies strafed the ground targets a couple of times and disappeared again. Due to the total lack of AA the men on the receiving end stood defenceless and had to take cover. Directly following this raid a flight of Ju-52 transporters appeared overhead and dropped one platoon of airbornes [commanded by Oberleutnant Genz] in the dunes just west of the airfield. The other two platoons that had been scheduled to land had been on board planes that had been forced to divert south and east, probably due to Dutch airforce presence. These airbornes eventually landed as far off target as Hook of Holland.

A few of the airbornes that were actually dropped around Ockenburg accidently landed in the Northsea, of which a number drowned due to the strong currents. The about 25 airbornes that had been able to land in one piece first had to make their way back to the airfield, where only one plane load had been able to land nearby its target. Upon their arrival they immediately got engaged in battle with the defenders.

A mere 15 minutes after the airborne jump, eighteen Ju-52 transport planes landed on the field, carrying about 250 men air-landing troops. This first wave was soon followed by another eight planes, carrying about 130 men, mainly of the division staff. The few men defending the airfield itself were quickly overrun by the hundreds of Germans swarming from the landing place.

The brave Dutch commander - Captain Boot - kept on firing up his men, jumping form one ditch into the other to support them personaly, during which he got one of his hands hit by a bullet. Although the defenders put up a tough fight, they didn't stand a change against the Germans who had soon put many machineguns and a few mortars in position against the few defenders. The Dutch Captain ordered his men to evacuate the threatened trenches and move back to the entrance of the field. Here - behind an earth wall - the men took new positions, but the professionally manoeuvring Germans had already outflanked the Dutch and attacked them from the rear. The Captain was amongst the first to get killed from this sudden rear-assault.

The men that had been forced to remain on the airfield itself were also overrun. The Germans had managed to eliminate or drive off the entire defence at 0745 hrs. About 50 men were captured (18 of them wounded), 28 [including 4 men of the air force ground-crew] had been killed and just a few dozens had managed to get away in one piece. A remarkable event was the instruction that a few POW's received from a German officer to bury their Captain right away. After the Dutch commander had been buried the German paid a traditional tribute to his grave; a remarkable show of honour and respect.

Dutch counter measures

In the meantime one of the Dutch pilots that had landed on Ockenburg in the early morning, had grabbed a bike and peddled towards the first military communication means he could find and informed the proper authorities of the ongoing events. Counter measures were taken right away. The north-eastern entrance to The Hague and the village of Loosduinen had been sealed-off by a blended forces of units that each had been alerted by the first German attack. These troops had quite an arsenal of heavier weapons at their disposal, such as a number of heavy machineguns, six 8 cm mortars, four 5,7 cm infantry guns and four 4,7 cm anti-tank guns. They were all part of the Regiment Grenadiers.

Click here for larger picture
The Fokker T-V strike plane (may 1940)

The Germans meanwhile focussed their attention to the village of Loosduinen, SE of the base. They managed to overrun a section of [two] mortars, but the next Dutch position - where the defenders had a number of light guns available - blocked their way. Freshly arriving heavy machineguns made this position impregnable for the ill equipped German infantry. Also other German assaulting actions against the defenders of Loosduinen were quite easily rebuffed. Not caught out by these surprisingly firm Dutch rejections the invaders tried to force an entrance into the village by probing a southern approach. It was around 1000 hours when the Germans came under the impression of having found a weak spot in the Dutch defences, but just as they were about to materialize on it by entering the centre of the village the entire 1st Company of the 1st Battalion of Grenadiers arrived at the scene! The Germans were chased off and the village secured. The Germans then decided to re-group and leave the village and the outskirts of The Hague, not to return. Their mission to seal off the city in the north-west was no longer feasible.

Meanwhile the German strength had continued to grow. Many German planes had landed in the vicinity; the dunes or fields to the north or south of Ockenburg. In total the human loads of 47 Ju-52 assembled at Ockenburg, where also Generalleutnant Hans Graf von Sponeck had landed at 0700 [although he had been scheduled to land at Ypenburg]. Altogether their strength must have been around 600-650 men, still below the envisaged strength of the Ockenburg landing force.

At around 0730 hours a Dutch air-strike of three Fokker T-V bombers [preluded by a fourth one that had missed the three previous at the rally point] had created an inferno on the landing strip. The bombs of 50 and 100 kg ignited many fires and destroyed quite a number of Ju-52 planes. Some Germans had been killed. One of the bombers was shortly after shot down by German fighters some clicks offshore. Only the navigator - Pilot Officer Swagerman - survived. He would be commander of the last remaining T-V that on 13 May 1940 raided the Moerdijk traffic bridge with three 300 kg HE bombs, after which this unfortunate bomber was downed on its way back to Schiphol AFB, killing most of the crew.

Counter attack

East of the airfield was a road-junction that had been occupied by the Germans. A farm-house and a small factory close by had been fortified by them too. A company of Grenadiers tried to approach the road junction but a combined effort of German infantry weapons and strifing fighter-planes prevented the Dutch from gaining early success.

Click here for larger picture
Airfield Ockenburg 10 May counter-attack (may 1940)

The counterattack that was about to be launched hereafter was executed by troops of two battalions [a battalion of Grenadiers and a battalion of Jagers, both originating from traditionally named rifle men regiments ]. The Jagers engaged the enemy that had occupied the woods south of Ockenburg. As such they would not participate in the actual retaking of the airfield, but they did occupy a large contingent of the German forces. At Poeldijk [3,000 m from the scene] three batteries of 12 cm howitzers received orders to support the assault by intensive shelling of the airfield itself. The batteries produced an intensive [observer-directed] barrage across the entire length of the airstrip and caused the destruction of at least twelve Ju-52 planes. But the artillery-positions were discovered by the Luftwaffe. The following rain of bombs did however leave the men and guns untouched and when the planes disappeared with empty bomb-bays the barrage continued as if nothing had happened.

The available infantry units - two companies - were then ready to advance onto the airfield. a third company was still occupied in the village Loosduinen, so it was all up to the other two. They received some additional forces from a freshly arrived company of recruits. An unprecedented assault was launched, in which the two companies stormed forwards, totally overrunning the German strongholds at the road junction and occupying the German held trenches on the east-side of the airfield. The Germans that had not been captured [about 35 POW's] fled and covered between the wreckages on the landing strip.

Some skirmishes at the airfield itself followed. At one scene the Dutch clearly broke the international code when some Germans waved a white flag, although others continued firing from roughly the same direction [which - in itself - may also be interpreted as an infringement of the code]. Some of the Germans around the white flag position were killed in rage, others were made prisoner and treated harshly. This particular Dutch action casted a slur on the previous brave achievements.

The Grenadiers had managed to completely cut off the remaining German airfield occupation from their mainforce - that had withdrawn into the dunes and woods nearby. The Dutch captured about 120 men on the base itself, about 160 in total whereas around 20 Dutch pows had been liberated. Around 1430 hrs Ockenburg was in Dutch hands again. The assault itself had demanded the lives of 12 Dutch soldiers.

Of the 28 Ju-52 on the airfield, six had managed to take off again. The balance of 22 Ju-52 had been destroyed or damaged to such extent that they were immobilized. Another 20 Ju-52 or so, landed on fields around the airbase, were not able to take-off either. Of these only a few had actually been damaged or destroyed. Most of these planes could be recovered after the Dutch capitulation on the 15th.

Generalleutnant Graf von Sponeck and about 350 of his men had managed to escape the defeat at the airfield. When the Dutch artillery had started punishing the occupation of the airfield, many Germans had found shelter in the woods to the southeast. Here - and at a slightly higher ground [on the estate called Belvedere] - these men dug-in and prepared defences to all sides.

Fights in the forest

The woods southeast of Ockenburg had already housed plenty of action before a considerable number of Germans fled from the airfield into the same forest. As we addressed before the Battalion Jagers had advanced [from Monster] to Ockenburg and this unit had suddenly found itself engaged by enemy groups occupying the woods. Some of the Jager platoons advanced along the coast, through the dune area. All that time the Battalion received punishing attacks from fighter-planes that continued to fly overhead.

The first German positions the Jagers bumped into - amongst which a machinegun post on the edge of the forest - were rapidly eliminated. The other two companies were however denied further progress by some tough German defences in buildings on the Ockenburg estate [which was situated in the extended forest that covered the entire south of the airfield]. One company managed to chase the Germans - that had used Dutch POW's as cover - out off the Ockenburg estate and were able to proceed another narrow kilometre. But then the entire advance of the battalion was halted by a tough German defence on the Belvedere hill. On some locations it even came to genuine man-to-man fights, and for a long time the dense forest was a hellish environment of close quarter fights between the two forces.

Unexpectedly the Dutch Battalion commander was instructed to break-off the fight and report to Loosduinen. The airfield had been retaken and the troops were considered too valuable to expose them any longer to risky and unnecassary forest-fighting. The order did mean however that the company close to Belvedere had to return along the very hill where they had a few moments before fought their socks off to get through! Very cautiously the first unit sneaked along the foot of the hill, but much to their surprise nothing happened! It appeared that the German occupation of the hill had moved away. The company was now able to reach Loosduinen without further opposition, bringing with them 15 POW's.

One remarkable occurance should be described. The two platoons of 3./FJR.1 that had not been dropped over Ockenburg but around Wassenaar and Hook of Holland in stead, had partially managed to re-group and fight their way through to Ockenburg. The German company commander [Oberleutnant Arnold von Roon] of 3./FJR.1 had managed to negotiate his men - of which around 45 had landed near Hook of Holland - between numerous Dutch outfits on the way north, and link up with the Ockenburg formation in the late evening. It meant not only a welcome reinforcement (of around 70 men airbornes and other picked up stranglers) for General Von Sponeck, but it also brought him the insight that it could be possible to break out of the Ockenburg pocket, once that might be necessary. The other mis-dropped platoon had ended up joining forces with the Valkenburg formations. It had been dropped between Wassenaar and Katwijk aan den Rijn and was unable to get to the other side of the Hague.

Around 2100 hrs Von Sponeck's wire-less operators had managed to get into contact with Germany and receive the instruction to break out of the Ockenburg pocket into the direction of Overschie, near Rotterdam.

Balance

The battle around Ockenburg and Loosduinen had ended. The Dutch could again look back on a modest local success. The German force around the airfield had been largely defeated, the remainder forced into isolation, and the German endeavours to penetrate into The Hague had been prevented. There was however still a German force to be reckoned with, isolated in the woods and dunes. Probably about 400 men (including the Von Roon party) had managed to escape captivity [or worse]. And they would be seen back.

The battle for Ockenburg had been a bloody enterprise for the Germans. Exactly 60 [registered] men had been killed, many more had been wounded and around 200 men had been taken POW by the Dutch.

The Dutch had also paid quite a bill. At the airfield itself 28 defenders had been killed, followed by 12 men from the Grenadiers during the storm assault on the road junction and on the east side of the airfield. The Jagers had lost 22 men KIA during the fighting in the woods. These figures add up to a total of 62 men killed. They paid the macabre price necessary to have the second German airlanding around The Hague fail.