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Part I: The Peel-Raamline evacuated


The battle at Mill continued overnight and ended on Saturday morning 11 May around 0900, when the last bit of Dutch resistance ceased.

Already in the late evening of the 10th it had become quite obvious that the lineair defences in the Peel-Raamline had to be given up due to the Mill situation. The Territorial Commander Colonel Schmidt had already ordered the evacuation of the northern sectors of the defence-line in order to form a new defence about 15 km to the west, along the Zuid-Willemsvaart. That was a quite narrow trade-canal that had been dug from Den Bosch along Weert across the border to the Belgian Scheld-canal, which ran east to west about ten km south of the Dutch-Belgian border.

Dutch-French coordination

When in the late evening of the 10th Colonel Schmidt still resided in his HQ in Vught [nearby Den Bosch] a French liaison officer arrived. A Dutch liaison officer - a Captain of the Military Police - was ordered to set up a meeting between the Dutch TC and the highest French officers present in Holland at that time. Shortly after Schmidt had given his instructions to evacuate the Peel-Raam line, he moved his HQ to Tilburg.

Somewhere between 0300 and 0400 hrs (11 May) the Colonel had a meeting in Breda with the highest French commander present at that time: Lieutenant-Colonel Lestoqoui [commander of a small battalion size reconnaissance unit]. This meeting - with a Belgian Lieutenant attending as a translator - was held in the townhall of Breda.

The Dutch informed the French about the status of the Dutch defences in Brabant. The fact that the main-defence line had been lost was not covered-up. The Colonel made it perfectly clear that the Dutch troops were in the process of manning an improvised defensive position along the Zuid-Willemsvaart. Upon the Dutch question whether the French were here to operate offensively or defensively, the French officer clearly stated: "defensively". It was the first shackle in a chain of confusion about the French intentions.

When Colonel Schmidt had returned to his new HQ, another Frenchman visited him. It was then around 0600. It was the commander of the French armoured unit 6th Regiment Kurassiers, Colonel Dario. This officer informed Schmidt that the entire French 1st Mechanised Light Division [DLM] was currently deploying to occupy the room between Tilburg and Turnhout [Belgium]. Dario made it perfectly clear that his troops would not go further east than the projected line just east of Tilburg. This meant that a huge gap remained south of the Belgian border between the most southeast Dutch defence [at that point still the Dutch occupied southern extremity of the Peel-Raamline] and the French defences east of Tilburg. A gap of about 25 km! The French confirmed - upon questions from the Dutch - that they were not planning any serious action beyond the line east of Tilburg. They were however prepared to develop some recon activities in the direction of Den Bosch and also informed the Colonel that they would send an armoured squad to Moerdijk that would escort a French General on his way to the Hague. The German occupation of the Moerdijk bridges would be no serious obstacle, so they thought ...

Colonel Schmidt realised that the refusal of Dario to deploy troops behind the Zuid-Willemsvaart would evidently mean that this improvised line wouldn't stand the slightest change of survival against the superior German forces. He therefore rushed to the commander [Général Picard] of the 1st DLM near Oostmalle [west of Turnhout, Belgium], but there he was disappointed again. The Wilhelminakanaal [east of Tilburg] would remain the most eastern French defence-line. The General requested the Dutch to defend the northern leg from Den Bosch to Tilburg. From Tilburg to Turnhout the French would occupy the front.

One detail in particular is remarkable. The French General instructed the Dutch Colonel that no Dutch troops would be authorized to make use of the main route from Tilburg to Roosendaal. This main-road was considered to be reserved for the French only! The area south of Tilburg was even totally off-limits to the Dutch. The Dutch were denied access to a major part of West-Brabant - their own soil - by the newly arrived ally. Modesty was not a word that existed in the dictionary of the French!

The outcome of these three meetings with the French was hard to consume for the Dutch TC. He saw himself assigned a mission impossible. With no telecommunication facilities available whatsoever, he had to redeploy his troops in a totally different pattern than projected before. The troops that had been directed to the south, along the Zuid-Willemsvaart would have to be redirected to a zone north of Tilburg, which meant that these troops would have to march up to 40 km before the would have reached the new defence-line. He decided that he would phase-up the manoeuvre. First the southern contingent would be directed to positions northwest of the Wilhelminakanaal. Then the northern troops would redeploy along the line Den Bosch - Tilburg. After the northern troops had taken position the units behind the Wilhelminakanaal would be shifted northwards, in such an order that the French zone east of Tilburg was left free of Dutch troops - as instructed by the French.

During this entire manoeuvre the Germans would have to be held off, and that would be no walk in the park. Obviously the tiny detail of the lost Mill units would pose another slight problem in manning the new defences, but fortunately the Colonel didn't realize that as of yet. It would have made his day even more miserable.

Basic idea behind the new defence

The French instructions to the Dutch - or rather the instructions given by the commander of the 1st DLM - were matching the Dyle-Breda roll-out. The first French defence-line would be formed east of Tilburg and Turnhout and connect onto the Belgian defences. It was intended to keep Antwerp and the Scheld beyond German artillery range and form a forward defence behind which the French main force could deploy in relative ease. Behind the forward defence-line at Tilburg the 25th DIM [motorised infantry division] would take positions in the sector Breda.

Bearing in mind that this French directive was given exactly according to the Dyle-Breda strategy plan it is quite remarkable that French officers would later rage against Dutch officers (in POW camps) that the Dutch had deserted the French by not maintaining the Peel-Raamline as a main-defence. Particularly in relation to the fact that the French refused - from the first contact on - to proceed more Eastern than Tilburg.

The French force that would come into position between Tilburg and Turnhout was considerable. The 1st DLM was a strong modern mechanized division, comprising two tank regiments with in total about 90 off S-35 Somua tanks [medium battle tank], two regiments of light battle tanks of the type H-35/H-39 with about 90 tanks and a large regiment with 72 off light AMR-35 tanks, a regiment of heavy armoured cars [45 off Panhard, under Colonel Dario] three anti-tank squadrons and three artillery battalions. The strength of this division was in comparison the the German 9th Tank Division about twice the size as it came to tanks, but moreover the French S-35 tanks - which formed the back-bone of the division - were far superior to the German Pz.I and II tanks and it also outplayed the medium Pz.III and Pz.III, mainly due to better armour. The tank battle at Hannut - at the 12th and 13th of May - would proof the technical superiority of the S-35 over the German Pz.III and Pz.IV.

The motorized infantry division 25.DIM - that would form the main-defences at the line Hollands Diep - Breda - Antwerp - comprised three infantry regiments, two anti-tank squadrons, three light field artillery battalions and two heavy field artillery battalions. It was furthermore reinforced with four 25 mm AA companies.

It was quite curious that the French would - in first instance - not assist the northern leg between Tilburg and the Maas [Meuze] river. Not only would this be the most likely sector of German offensives, but also the weak Dutch force would not be able to safeguard the left flank of the French. Most likely the French commander didn't want to spread out his division over too much width, which in itself is quite understandable. It is however also very likely that the left flank was purposely left open to facilitate a German crossing of the Moerdijk bridges. That would after all take off a lot of pressure that would otherwise be pressing on the vulnerable French 7th Army. Since two regular infantry divisions were directed into the rear of 25.DIM and 1.DLM, and another two were covering the northside of Antwerp, the French seal around the north and east of Antwerp would be much more convincing than the deployment in the Netherlands. After all, extending the lines and expanding the area of deployment would relatively weaken the limited force of the 7th Army.

Should the new improvised defensive perimeter be formed in time, it would shape a longitude defence from the Meuze to the most northern Belgian defences south of Turnhout. That had been the basic pre-war idea of French and Belgian strategists when they had tried to convince the Dutch to give up on the Peel-Raam defences and in stead prepare a defence-line east of Tilburg.