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Part I: The south


On the previous day the large German 26.AK had reached Moerdijk and Breda. The spearhead of the 9th Tank Division had crossed the Moerdijk bridges and shaken hands with the besieged airlanding forces. The tanks would follow in the early hours of the 13th.

At Tilburg the Germans had not even noticed that there had been quite a formidable force opposing them. The French units of the 7th Army had mostly withdrawn upon the first contacts with German reconnaissance teams. The French had decided that their troops would not jeopardize their integrity beyond Breda. As such French forces had been drawing back from the area between Breda and Tilburg.

Dutch organised forces in Brabant had vanished. The remnants of the Peel-division had lost any shape or organisation after the terrible failure to defend the improvised Willemsvaart line. Many had been taken prisoner, but also considerable numbers had reached the far West of Brabant or even the province Zeeland. Others had drawn into Belgium, where the majority had been disarmed (!) and pointed directions toward France. Few managed to reach the northern defences of Fortress Holland. Those who had, had passed the last Dutch held bridge, the one at Keizersveer - some clicks east of Moerdijk. That bridge was still firmly occupied by Dutch forces on the 13th.

The 26.AK splits up

After the Germans had reached their primary objective - the bridges at Moerdijk and the city of Breda - they reorganised their forces according to plan.

The troops that were under orders to operate against the Fortress Holland [9th Tank Division, SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, 254th Infantry Division, 7th Air borne Division, 22nd Air Landing Division] were designated XXXIX Corps, and came under the joint command of Generalleutnant Schmidt. The XXVI Corps [SS Verfügingsdivision - minus SS Der Führer and minus SS Germania - 256.ID, 208.ID and 225.ID] was ordered to stay in Brabant and the northwest of Belgium and defend the general direction of Antwerp against hostile initiatives. The SS Standarte Germania [about 6.000 men] - part of the SS Verfügungsdivision - assisted by some reinforcements and divisional units - was under instructions to operate against the French troops in the province Zeeland and reach the Northsea shores soonest.

The Breda defence

We left the French troops when they had experienced their first contact with the German forward units south of Breda. Basically the French - here and there supported by some small Dutch units - had formed [again] an arc shaped front with its most eastern point at Breda, after which it was continued onto Belgian soil. In the north it was curved well away from the German forces at Moerdijk. The western extremity of this improvised line of defence ended in front of the Dutch outer-defences [Bath line] in the province of Zeeland. In a way the small bulge of the German pocket at Moerdijk was well respected. The French defensive force had its northern boundaries effectively along the main road between Breda and Roosendaal.

The French units north and northwest of Breda mounted up to strength of two battalions. Around Breda one could find the entire French 25th Motorised Division. The Dutch forces incorporated in the defence-line, mainly concentrated west of Breda, were no more than a battalion strong.

The city was being evacuated. That didn't go without much trouble and some dramatic scenes. Some people didn't want to leave but were forced to do so. A long trail of packed civilians massed along the road from Breda to Antwerp, whereas the Luftwaffe increasingly raided the area since the French armed forces had been spotted in large concentrations west of Breda. Bombers dove down on ellaged French units, also in the city of Breda. During these raids many civilians perished too.

But the tragedy around Breda was paid with unnecessary blood. Once again the French plans for an intended defence - this time of Breda - were altered. When the German progress in Belgium became clear to the French command, they decided to retreat west of the Scheld, this time to the city of Bergen op Zoom. This was the most western city in Brabant, and close to the mouth of the river Scheld that leads to Antwerp. The ordered evacuation of Breda had therefore served no purpose whatsoever.

The French decision to retreat to the west, was frustrated by the fact that units of the 25th Motorised Division had already made contact with the Germans south of Breda. That's why an additional screen of mobile troops was temporarily shuffled a little eastwards, in order to take over the defence of the town, and retreat hastily once the other troops had successfully moved towards the line Bergen op Zoom / Roosendaal. The few Dutch troops that assisted the defence along the small river Mark [Breda] were not informed of this all.

The retreat in the northern sector went prosperously, which made sense because no enemy had been spotted. The units that were engaged in battle, in the eastern part of the city of Breda and to the southern region of the city, were not able to disengage the fight easily. The southern column of the 9th Tank Division had been fully deployed [the northern column had already passed the Moerdijk bridge into the Fortress Holland]. Soon the Germans tried to make a southern swing around the French troops at Ginneken and they also occupied the defences north of this zone. The battle that raged on at the bridges in Ginneken would be the one and only location in the province of Brabant where the French would stand firm and show their fighting spirit. Both sides suffered considerable losses, both men and material. At least two German tanks had been destroyed [Pz.II en IV], as well as two French armoured cars [Panhard]. In the meantime the French succeeded in taking their troops back, although this took them the entire night and early morning [of the 14th]. After this, the Germans occupied Breda and cleared it of all resistance. A French unit - also equipped with some armoured cars - was overseen, but apparently felt powerless against the Germans. The commanding officer ordered his troops to destroy their armoured cars (!) and sneak out of town by foot. Just outside Breda they were spotted and captured.

The additional manoeuvres in Brabant

The retreating French were not pursued by the Germans. The latter had other priorities now the bridges at Moerdijk and Zwijndrecht had been successfully passed. All units of the 9th Tank Division - with exception of the Group Lüttwitz that remained south of the Moerdijk bridges - were directed towards Rotterdam, followed by other German units. The SS Standartes Germania and Deutschland stayed just west and north of Breda. Further to the east parts of the 256th, 56th and 216th infantry divisions followed. The 208.ID and 225.ID were also reaching to get to the north of Belgium.

The German tactical air force also presented itself all the time during this fourth day of the war. Many raids against French troops in Breda, the road Breda-Roosendaal and on the village of Etten [French local HQ] were experienced. Also some French airforce action was seen over Brabant. A number of German planes were shot down by Curtiss fighters. One French fighter crashed. Some German fighters too.

A little to the northwest some additional German activity would develop. The reconnaissance group of Lüttwitz - equipped with some heavy armoured cars of the 231 type - executed some aggressive reconnaissance in the western region of Brabant. A number of local skirmishes followed. The Dutch troops still present in Brabant also got involved in some fire-fights with these German armoured cars. The majority could flee the scene, but some were taken prisoner. At Steenbergen some more serious contacts were made with French/Dutch forces, where also the Luftwaffe contributed. The local French commander [Lieutenant-Colonel Moslard] got seriously wounded during one of the Luftwaffe strikes and would soon after succumb to his wounds.

The bridge at Keizersveer

The last action that we shall describe of the war in the southern provinces on the 13th, developed at the bridge at Keizersveer. Already the day before the defenders had been confronted with some German curiosity when a reconnaissance squad [of the 9th TD] had a brief encounter with a Dutch cavalry patrol that had endeavoured to reach the French troops in Brabant at Geertruidenberg. Both sides had swiftly broken off contact and gone either way.

In the morning of the 13th the Dutch decided that the failed attempt to contact the French on the previous day had to be followed by yet another attempt to establish the French whereabouts. They planned and prepared a patrol [5th Squadron 2nd Cavalry], reinforced with two motorised anti-tank guns and a section motorised heavy machineguns. After the patrol had gone on its way, their forward scouts soon spotted the enemy. At that very moment the main force of the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler was just passing Geertruidenberg [to the south of Keizersveer] in order to join up with XXXIX Corps. As one shall remember, these SS troops had been assigned to X Corps in the central front until they had been called back in order to join the southern push of the 18th Army.

The Dutch hussars opened fire and totally surprised the Germans. The latter first thought that accidentally some of their own troops had opened fire. Abuse and swearing amongst the SS men could be heard in the Dutch positions and caused some amusement. Although taken by surprise the SS men soon recovered from the confusion and started returning fire. For some time an intensive duel unfolded, during which the Dutch hussars soon realised that an orderly retreat was imperative against their far superior opponent. They succeeded in taking back the entire patrol. No casualties had been suffered on their side.

The action of the hussars at Geertruidenberg had the same effect as poking in a hornet's nest. The SS was furious about the brutality of the action and quickly organised a considerable taskforce [over a battalion size with additional support] to chase and destroy the enemy.

The Dutch had prepared a well dug-out trenched complex at both sides of the bridge at Keizersveer. Two heavy river casemates with 5 cm guns were able to assist the defenders. The brdige was prepared for demolition and besides two large and heavy iron fences were installed that - in closed status - protected against small arms fire. The approach zone of the bridge was totally open and flat. The defending troops, all together about 200 men, consisted of some police troops [casemates], hussars of the 2nd Cavalry and a number of retreated soldiers who had previously been part of the Peel Division [defenders of the Maasline and the Peel-Raamline] as well as some regular troops of the extended bridge guard.

At about 1400 hours the first German units appeared at gun sight. They were received by anti-tank fire that destroyed a truck and a motorbike. Hereafter the SS men started deploying in the approach areas in front of the Dutch trenches on both sides of the road. Very skilled and courageously they negotiated the terrain and the heavy Dutch fire, seemingly without fear or hesitation. The SS was supported by mortars and a few pieces of artillery [10,5 and 15 cm guns]. A few Luftwaffe fighters produced enfilading fire through the Dutch trenches. When the first SS men came well inside eye sight they were halted by dense machinegun and rifle fire. They retreated and again called in artillery support.

At 1830 hours again the SS went forward. During their second assault it started to get dark and this was especially to the benefit of the well trained assaulting force. The Dutch received order to retreat over the bridge [that was prepared with charges under two of the three sections]. At 1945 hours the first men started the retreat, protected by the armoured doors that had been installed for this kind of manoeuvre. Some defenders missed the order to retreat and continued to withstand the SS assault. It may have been a miracle, but still these last courageous defenders managed to escape German captivity and safely returned to the north.

At 2025 hours the bridge was blown up and the SS broke off the assault to return on their way to Moerdijk. The Dutch had suffered two fatal casualties.

The German report shows no victims at this theatre. The SS Leibstandarte victim list shows an astonishing limited list of KIA in May and June 1940, notwithstanding the fact that they got engaged in a number of fights and were ambushed a number of times in the Netherlands alone. Although many German casualty reports are very reliable, the SS Leibstandarte certainly is not. The total list for May 1940 in Holland shows 6 registered KIA and 7 unregistered KIA. A total of 13 of which supposingly 6 would have fallen at Rotterdam during a friendly fire incident. Nobody believes this limited record. It would mean that the intensive battles on the Veluwe, the fights at Keizerveer and Geertruidenberg and the preluding battles on the first day of the invasion would only have costed them seven men KIA. It is certain that quite a number of casualties fell in both Geertruidenberg and at Keizersveer. Many witnesses saw German KIA laying in the open fields. The fight had lasted for more than six hours and the SS had attacked in open space! The SS Leibstandarte was Hitler's personnel unit. It makes a lot of sense that they covered up their losses.

With the destruction of the bridge at Keizersveer, the last Dutch organised defence east of Moerdijk had ended.