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Part III: Capitulation


The 14 May Luftwaffe raid on Rotterdam is often mentioned as the direct and main cause of the Dutch decision to capitulate. That is not accurate.

The General Headquarters were very much impressed by the events in Rotterdam, but especially when - soon after the bombardment - it became clear that the Dutch forces in Rotterdam were virtually unharmed and still in position to maintain there lines along the Nieuwe Maas, there was no doubt in the mind of General Winkelman to continue the defence of the country.

Status at 1500 hrs

It may seem odd, but there were some optimistic sounds in the staff room around 1500 hrs that very May 14th. The Field Army had been evacuated successfully from the Grebbeline. The troops and positions in the Waterlinie were more or less ready to renew the outer defence of the eastfront of Fortress Holland and the Rotterdam defences seemed to have endured and survived the ordeal of the Luftwaffe raid.

Also a newly formed defence-line was in full preparation around The Hague and Leiden. This would function as a fall back for a faltering Rotterdam frontline [which would of course a little later be a fact due to the capitulation of Rotterdam].

Two major assaults were planned against the German strongholds within the Fortress, Overschie and Valkenburg. The mop-up of German troops at these locations would make the 1st Corps - for as far not occupied in the defences elsewhere - available for reinforcement of both the east-front and the front at Rotterdam [later the line The Hague-Leiden].

On the other side, there was a lot of awareness that the Dutch military situation had grown extremely delicate. The strategic measures that had been taken over the last two days in respect to improvising two new defence-lines [screen defences at The Hague and the Eastfront Fortress Holland] did not provide for any feasible alternative once these positions would be lost.

Furthermore - and highly important - some serious shortage of ammunition started to occur. The Dutch war-stocks had been very modest, bearing heavily on anticipated Allied assistance. Besides, no strategic planner or visionary had expected the Dutch army being occupied on numerous fronts at the same time. The fact that basically the whole country, with the exception of the northwest, had seen battles rage on during the first days of the invasion, had consumed much of the ammunition stocks beyond any expectation. Obviously though, the stocks had been critically low on many ammo types to begin with.

The indigenous ammunition plant capacity was far below minimum requirements. The only fully capable plants available [The "Artillerie Inrichtingen / Hembrug"] were located in Delft and Muiden. Some auxiliary facilities were available, but basically it all came down on the two aforementioned plants - especially for munitions that contained HE loads [AAA, artillery, infantry guns and mortars]. These factories started working 24/7 when the German invasion was a fact, but the production had to be stopped every now and then due to air raid threats. Still, the capacity of the combined plants was no more than 5% of the consumption rate. In respect to AAA ammo even closer to 1%. And it was especially the AAA ammunition stock that had almost been depleted.

It seemed a miracle that the Germans did not endeavour to destroy the plants, which must have been known by them. They must have thought that the Dutch resistance would be broken well before the Dutch ammunition depots would be depleted. The production capacity could then be applied for Wehrmacht purposes [which indeed would be the case only days after the capitulation].

The airforce had virtually ceased to be of any significance whatsoever. On the first day about 60 of the 140 servicable planes had been put out of action one way or the other. The losses had mounted during the following days and at the 14th no more than about 30 planes - of which only 10 were fighters - with any strike capacity remained. The flying personnel was close to utter exhaustion though. As little as the airforce could have contributed to begin with, was its significance on the fifth day melted to almost nothing.  

But yet the General Command hoped for the best. They thought that they would be able to manage keeping the Germans out for another couple of days. And General Winkelman was felt committed to do so in order to at least tie considerable German forces to the Dutch theatre in order to keep them away from the main inferno in Belgium.

The idle hope for Allied support was still quite vivid, although the hope for British army support had never been strong. With the knowledge of today - knowing the fact that the Allies had huge problems themselves to keep up - it is hard to justify the hopes of the Dutch General Command. But the picture that today lies so clear in front of us, was more or less a complex puzzle at those very hours that would seal the fate of the Netherlands, that very afternoon of the 14th ...

A dramatic turn

The developments of the late morning and early afternoon, which gradually would come to the attention of the General Command, quickly diminished the moderate optimism that had still been glooming in the staff rooms before.

First the magnitude of the raid on Rotterdam shocked the Generals and staff [1600 hours the news was confirmed]. Although the sacrifice of civilian lifes and the city of Rotterdam itself was mourned, the military situation had not been effected decisively by the matter. The city had capitulated, and much of the 10,000 men precious troops with it. Still faith was strong that a renewed defence could be organised on a line The Hague - Amsterdam.

Then news arrived - this time over the telephone [around 1615-1630 hours] - that also Utrecht had been threatened by the Luftwaffe. The text that was printed on air dropped flyers was read to Winkelman [translation is literally taken from the document]:

To the commander of Utrecht

The Dutch defence-line at the Grebbe has been taken. Superior German troops are standing-by, from the East, South-west and the South, supported by the strongest possible Tank- and Airforce (bombers and Stuka's) units and are ready to attack the city of Utrecht.

I hereby summon the Commander of Utrecht to give up the pointless opposition and to surrender the city in order to save the city from sharing the fate of the inhabitants of Warsaw.
I summon you to transmit word of your unconditional surrender [Frequency 1102 kHz, call sign: HOL].

Otherwise I shall be forced to consider the city of Utrecht defended and authorise an all out assault on the city applying all available means.

The burden of responsibility for all possible consequences of such shall be exclusively yours.

The German Commander-in-Chief 14 May 1940

At 1630 hours [probably some minutes later] Winkelman called a meeting with his most trusted officers. Major-General van Voorst tot Voorst [Chief-of-Staff Army] and Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson [Chief Operations] and the Commander-in-Chief himself briefly evaluated the situation. Winkelman reminded the two other officers that the Government had instructed him - prior to their departure to England - that he was authorised [instructed] to capitulate once a point would be reached where further resistance would not contribute to any justifiable cause anymore. Pointless blood shed had to be prevented.

The General considered that this critcial point had been reached. He very much realised that his army and airforce would not be able to defend themselves - and the Dutch population - against the might and power of the German military machine. Especially the German threat against the major Dutch cities was the basis for this sober analysis. The General feared - and probably rightly so - that the Germans would not hesitate to have cities like Utrecht, Haarlem and The Hague share the fate of Rotterdam. The German non-discriminative bombardment of Rotterdam had shown their ruthless and scrupulous attitude towards such operations. Given the fact that later that day Den Helder and on the 17th the city of Middelburg would indeed be on the receiving end of large bombardments against civil targets, proved Winkelman's consideration accurate all along.

After the brief recap with his two closest commanders, the General consulted the Commander of the Fortress Holland and the Commander Field Army. They both concurred of the decision that Winkelman was about to take.


The moment had come that the decision to capitulate was taken and it had not been opposed by any of the senior army officers. All realised that the General was right that any further resistance would only contribute to higher losses and sacrifices and gain the Dutch nor the Allies any measureable benefit.

The fact that no further Allied assistance was to be expected shortly did support Winkelman's decision as a very understandable and sensible one. When the formal decision was made it was clear that all land-, air- and naval-forces [in The Netherlands] would lay down their arms, with exception of the Dutch and Allied forces in Zeeland. Since the French had taken over command in Zeeland [see: Zeeland 10-17 May] Winkelman had no longer unlimited authority over this part of the Dutch soil [and waters].

Remarkable detail in the whole process was that Winkelman - being Commander of Army and Navy Forces in the Netherlands - failed to inform [or even consult] the Navy Commander [Vice-Admiral Furstner, and as off 14 May, Rear-Admiral Heeris]. The Navy learnt about the capitulation when a telex was received bearing that very news ...

Winkelman ordered his senior commanders at 1650 hours to lay down their arms and destroy their weapons. Most of the troops in the field were only informed of this news around 1900 hours.

The Germans were informed by radio transmission via their highest diplomat in The Hague, who had been confined in Hotel "Des Indes". The latter informed the Berlin office [and the OKW, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht] that the Dutch army in The Netherlands would cease fire at 1900 hours [Dutch time], with exception of Zeeland.

General Winkelman addressed the nation at 1840 hours. His proclamation mentioned the achievements of the Dutch forces, the sacrifices the military and the civil population had made and the bombardment of Rotterdam. Winkelman made clear that any further resistance would have been in vain and - moreover - would have been costly. His proclamation ended with the words "Long life Her Majesty the Queen! Long life the Fatherland!" Then the national anthem followed. Never a more dramatic moment was shared by so many at the same time in Dutch history ...

The country - civilians and military - were stunned. Not a soul had realised that the odds had been so bad, the situation so desperate, that this ultimate deed of submission to the aggressor was imment at that very hour already. Many people felt betrayed. Betrayed by the Queen - who had so conveniently left the country for a safe haven - the Government - that had failed to prepare the country for war - and last but not least the military, that had yielded so 'early' in the battle. Those emotions were particularly felt by the about 100,000 soldiers that had not been in in sight of the German army. The men of the 3rd and 4th Corps, occupying the northern Grebbeline and Eastfront as well as those along the Linge river. The strongly defended fortress town of Den Helder - under navy command - saw the same feeling amongst its determined defenders. Its commander in chief furious over the capitulation process in which he and his branch had had no vote whatsoever. These voices of frustration and straight out fury towards the countries responsible authorities, would soon find out that Winkelman and the Queen had taken wise decisions.

At 1900 hrs all hostilities were ceased, except in the province Zeeland. The battle of Holland had ended.