Print this page

Part IV: The German air-landing plan

Introduction

In order to create more perception for the events to follow, we shall first set the stage with a brief introduction of the German air-landing plan for the West of Holland and the Dutch defence status in the projected area of operations.

In order to make life easier the landing of air-landing troops [22nd Luftlande Division - lifted in by transport planes] and airborne troops [7th Flieger Division - parachuted in] shall be collectively addressed as "air-landing" troops. Only if distinction between the two is required they shall be specified addressed with the respective applicable titles.

Original air-landing plans

Around the year 1936 the first genuine German developements were seen in creating a number of airborne companies for use in the smaller ranges of the tactical spectrum. Both Luftwaffe and Heer developed separate plans, which would eventually melt together and form the basis of the first genuine airborne division in 1939. It was only when Generalmajor Kurt Student came in the picture for the leadership of the new airborne weapon that also a strategic significance started to gloom for the airbornes.

The German high command [usually referred to as the Oberkommando des Wehrmacht for the whole of the armed forces and Oberkommando des Heeres for the army branch only] saw little charme in the aiborne weapon. 'Spielerei' ('toys') was the shortest way that they addressed the matter. It was the hand of the Führer himself that lifted the airbornes out of the margin. At some point he witnessed a tactical airborne landing that upset the (exercise) leader of the opposing side. It struck Hitler - who loved to pick his fights with established army generals - that the army was quite  presumtuous about this new feature. When he saw an army general being cornered by a company of airbornes landing in his back, Hitler saw a chance to create some friction with the Generalstab over the issue as well as a sincere tactical novality of which Hitler had the tendancy to embrace it beforehand. He sanctioned some funds to be made available to boost this airborne item into a serious unit. It was the start of a short lived high for the German airborne weapon. Kurt Student, the envisaged father of the corps, would make use of this to quickly materialize on the opportunity. He was however very keen on keeping it all a secret, for he had very bold plans.

Student was not at all pleased to see his formations added to the reserves during the Poland campaign. The airbornes saw some limited ground action, not in any way related to their special capacities. Shortly after the Poland fell and Hitler summoned Student to prepare extensive plans for airborne operations in the West during the upcoming Westfeldzug.

Student was instructed to design operations in the Belgian and Dutch theatre. Studies and plans were developed to drop airbornes west of the outstretched Ardennes forests, meant to assist the main force in its attempts to swiftly crumble the Meuse (Maas) defences. Also major airborne operations in the Belgian rear defences, between Antwerp and Gent [Reduit Nationale], and a special operation to take the strategic fortress at Eben Emael by a limited but bold airborne action were considered and worked out. Soon enough Hitler decided that the latter would definitely be on, causing Student to raise a task-force from prominent airbornes and to-be-trained sappers to execute the operation. This taskforce would covertly seperate itself from the airborne division mainbody.

In this early phase of developing the plans for the Westfeldzug, Hitler and his Generals still focussed on a German push which had the obvious signature of the WWI plan that had been originally designed by Von Schlieffen. Holland was mostly to be spared, the main thrust would go through narrow Belgium. Student however already started studying operations in the Netherlands way before he was officially instructed so. When finally - end of January 1940 - Hitler gave orders to Student to leave the Belgian theatre (with exception of Eben-Emael) and focus on a massive operation in the Netherlands, Student had already done much of the work.

End of January 1940 the outlines of the plans were already available. Eben Emael in Belgium would be left in and was to be undertaken by a special battalion that was mainly formed from the most seasoned airbornes and a whole bunch of specialist-engineers, to be assisted by a land task-force for the quick link-up on the ground. The bulk of the small airborne division was however foreseen to be dropped straight into the heart of the Dutch defences, the Fortress Holland, although also plans were briefly studied for airborne drops at the west side of the Enclosuredijk (under Den Helder), west of the Grebbeline, near Utrecht, west of the Meuse at Roermond and Venlo and even in the province of Zeeland. All these options were stricken and the massive operation in the Fortress Holland remained.

The first plans had been limited to a large scale operation at the so called southern front of the Fortress Holland, between the large bridges of Moerdijk and the city of Rotterdam. At the last moment Hitler would see to it that a more daring component was added. A surprise air-landing assault on the Dutch administrative and governmenntal centre of The Hague, where the Royal Family, the Government and all major Military Headquarters (including the General Headquarters) were situated. Hitler desired to force the Dutch into a quick capitulation by seizing the Royal Family and Cabinet, possibly even taking out the entire military command structure too.

Student embraced this opportunity to proof the potential strategic meaning of his airbornes. He realised that the operation incorporated the chance of defining an unprecedented new feature in the spectrum of both strategic and tactical operations and that absolute secrecy was imperative to safequard the essential surprise element. He was therefore shocked to lern that an earlier scheduled Scandinavian campaign would demand a considerable portion of his ready airborne-companies and that these forces would indeed jump into action, unveiling their very existance and potential. Student feared that the veil of secrecy would be lifted and the Allies would get the warning of this added 3rd dimension in the German potential.

Indeed the Operation Weserübung - the invasion of Norway and Denmark - intervened considerably. It did not only warn the West for the German possession of significant intentions of using airbornes and airlanding troops, but the operations also demanded the loss of quite a number of well trained airbornes and many valuable transport planes too. Nevertheless, particulalrly the limited use (and knowledge) of the airbornes caused the Allies to nearly overlook the potential of this instrument. That was quite different for the massive airlift-troop landings at Norway, which were not missed by the Western countries intelligence. It helped a lot that a Dutch KLM pilot was an eye witness of a large scale airlanding operation near Oslo. His report to the Dutch intelligence would cause an extended package of counter measures in Holland during the month of April 1940. Many of these precautions would pay off less than a month later, when Holland would be on the receiving end of a German airlanding operation.

On one hand the Germans had reveiled their new feature. On the other hand Student and his staff had gained valuable lessons too. Besides the losses, that formed the most tragic lessons learnt, the most important experiences came from the hard felt lessons that were caused by poor delivery of the airbornes by the Luftwaffe. That experience moved Student to reassure himself of the vital importance of accuracy of the Luftwaffe transport fleet, particularly during the first wave of the operation when the airbornes were to profit most of the surprise element. It caused the Luftwaffe to decide adapting the altitudes and to drop the assault jump-level in the Dutch theatre to the bare minimum of around 100m only. That this incorporated addition risks to both the jumpers and the airplanes would have to be absorbed whereas it would decrease the operational risk of straddled landing of vital combat-formations. In that respect - the crucial element of the success of the first phase - the Dutch operation would differ little from the even more daring Eben-Emael operation, which incorporated gliders (which the Dutch theatre did not!) that had to land on a virtual brief-mark size landingstrip, on top of the fortress ceiling. A pin point operation of the highest thinkable standard, but launched even before Zulu-hour in order to gain total suprise.

The final plan

When the plan for the Holland campaign gradually developed and gained a more firmly shape, it grew into an airborne operation of magnitude. It would see airbornes being dropped at six main targets and air-landed troops at four locations. Assault planes followed by airbornes would set the ball rolling, sweep most of the Dutch air-to-ground defences, after which the air-landed troops would have to push the play home. This operation was divided into two theatres of operation, Fall Nord (Case North) - a mainly airlanding operation - and Fall Süd (Case South) - a mainly airborne operation. The two operations would be executed independantly to begin with, but Kurt Student would be overall commander. Besides, a second phase could bring both operations together.

Operation 'North'

The northern component was lead by Generalleutnant Graf von Sponeck, commander of 22nd (Luftlande) Infanterie Division. It comprised two-third of the air-landing troops of the 22nd and five companies of airbornes of the 2nd Airborne Regiment (FJR.2).

These formations would have to seize three airforce bases (AFB) around The Hague: Ypenburg AFB (between The Hague and Delft), Valkenburg AFB (between Leiden and The Hague) and the auxilary strip at Ockenburg (at the direct outskirts of The Hague near the coast). After seizure of these AFB's, strong combat-taskforce would invade the Hague from three directions, and a special taskforce would search and capture VIP's on the extended list of Royals, Ministers and Generals. Should the operation be successful, the governmental and military capitulation of the Netherlands could probably be enforced or it would at least cause a major set-up in the Dutch military command structure. It was specifically determined though that the Queen of the Netherlands and her Family would remain unharmed and treated with the highest esteem possible. Should the plan fail, the troops would have to tie the nearby bulk of the Dutch 1st Corps in the vicinity of The Hague.

Operation 'South'

The second sector of operations was under command of Generalleutnant Kurt Student himself and was formed by one large regiment of airbornes and one regiment of airborne troops of the 22nd with a further auxilary airborne regiment (IR.72) on call as a reserve.

This southern component had to seize multiple bridgehead ahead of the large ground operation that was to be executed by the German 26th Corps (XXVI.AK). That AK comprised a small tank division (9th), a motorised SS-infantry division (SS-V), two regular second rate infantry divisions (254, 256) and a further two infantry divisions (208, 225) in reserve.

The 26.AK, commanded by General der Artillerie Albert Wodrig, had to negotiate the lightly defended Meuse between Gennep and Nymegen, subsequently breach the Dutch main defences in de Peel area (Peel-Raamline) and speed towards the Breda area, where it would reach its first critical target-line. From there on the Corps would have to make connection to the airbornes at Moerdijk and shield the Breda area from potential French and/or British threats from the Antwerp regio - if any. If possible it had to take the Zeeland penisula of Zuid-Beveland and Walcheren too. Of its six divisions only a few would actually have to acces the Dutch Fortress Holland. For that purpose the OKH had made an additional mobile corps staff - the 39th AK staff - available, under Lt-Gen Rudolf Schmidt.

The southern theatre would get the bulk of the airborne division. Beside divisional units, it comprised nearly four battalions, being the entire 1st Airborne Regiment (including a reserve airborne company, but excluding the 1./FJR.1 which was stuck in Norway) and two reinforced companies of the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Airborne Regiment (II./FJR.2), of which the 6th Company was occupied with the landing at Valkenburg AFB in the northern theatre. One full battalion (II./FJR.1) was scheduled to land at Moerdijk, another (I./FJR.1 minus 1st Company) at Dordrecht and two (III./FJR.1 and elms of II./FJR.2) at Waalhaven AFB [of which II./FJR.2 would be airlifted and not dropped]. The only available reserve airborne company for this theatre would be at Student's disposal (and eventually be dropped during the battle). The 1st Company of FJR.1 failed, because it had been put out of action in Dombas (Norway) in April. One regiment of airlanding troops of the 22nd ID [IR.16] was scheduled to land on Waalhaven AFB. The I./IR.72 - a reserve airlanding battalion of 46.ID - would be lifted in on the second day together with an additional company of the 2nd btl of that regiment. The support troops of the 7th Airborne Division would be landed on Waalhaven AFB in the second wave, with exception of half a company of medics, which were parachute dropped under Dordrecht on the first day.

Click here for larger picture
Map of the German invasion (may 1940)

The airbornes were scheduled to land on both sides of the Moerdijk bridges, at three locations near Dordrecht, at AFB Waalhaven south of Rotterdam and in the south of Rotterdam near the Feyenoord football stadium. Air-landing troops would land on AFB Waalhaven and a special party of about 90 men was to be airlifted by sea-planes and flown in right into the heart of Rotterdam, on the Nieuwe Maas river. This landing party was designated to take four bridges that connected the South and the North of Rotterdam, but more importantly, formed the only strategic connections between the south and the north of the country within the entire Fortress Holland.

These four main landing locations in the south of the Fortress Holland had to gain the Germans a chain of bridges that could facilitate the bulk of the XXVI.AK to enter the Fortress Holland without the huge challenge of crossing wide rivers which were easy to defend. In fact the operation was the perfect original for the future Allied operation Market-Garden. That Allied plan by Montgomery, to force an entrance into Germany by taking the Rhine crossing at Arnhem, was nothing less than a carbon copy of the German 1940 airlanding plan that was supposed to force Holland on its knees in a very short time. Curiously enough good old Monty would try 'his' plan on the very designer of the first plan, Kurt Student, by then commander of the 6th Airborne Armee of the Germans and on the receiving end of particularly the American operations of Market Garden. But back to 1940.

The entire German plan was most ambitious. It involved a little less than 15,000 men, of which almost 4,000 were airbornes of the 7th Flieger Division, 9,500 men airlanding troops of the 22nd Luftlande Division and about 1,000 men airlanding troops of the attached 72th Infanterie Regiment. The latter had not been trained for airlanding operations and were an operational reserve unit that would be flown in during the later stages of the battle.

This operation would obviously demand a massive fleet of transport planes. That fleet would be the Achilles-heel of the whole plan. The Germans were well aware of two major liabilities. The first and foremost was the limited capacity of the targeted AFB's. These could not handle the entire fleet at once. The much intersected Dutch fields and meadows could not provide alternatives. The total fleet that was available for the Dutch theatre was not larger than about 450 transporters, all of the Ju-52/3 type, with only a modest reserve of a few dozen planes. These Ju-52 planes could carry 12-14 fully equipped airbornes or 14-16 equipped air-landing troops, but flights with equipment would demand much capacity too. It meant that - taken some losses into account and bearing in mind that plenty of heavier equipment, weapons and ammo had to flown in continously - at least three full waves had to be executed to bring in the bulk of the men with their equipment. Follow up flights would fly in the rest and continous refurbishing and supply flights had to be executed too. The Ju-52 fleet would be assisted by two or three squadrons of He-111 bombers of KG.4, which could drop 'supply bombs' from their bomb racks. The entire airlift operation would request very much of the flying personnel and the planes, as well as the necessary fighter protection. The air lifting operation had therefore been spread out over two full days.

The Germans made a classic mistake in assessing their opponent. They grossly underestimated the potential of the Dutch ground to air defences. Most German planners, including Student, though lightly about the Dutch capacity and were quite convinced that the shock and awe of the first events would have them running like they had seen most Norvegian defenders leave their posts on assaulted airfields a month earlier. Although the German assessment would be accurate to some extent - the defences at Valkenburg AFB and Waalhaven AFB would easily crumble - it would proof to be dead wrong at the Hague, against a massive price to German troops involved and their equipment.

Quite remarkable was the command arrangement. The entire operation, including even the flying formations, was lead by Generalleutnant Kurt Student. He was directly commanding the operations in the southern sector, but he was also commander in chief of the northern operation and the logistics of the flying formations that formed the umbilical with the homeland. A massive responsibility which would have to be facilitated by substantial high quality C&C facilities, which however utterly failed. A mere three long range radio sets on board of even so many Ju-52 were available. One would be lost during the first wave, the other two would provide a much hampered long range radio link between the commander-in-chief of the operation and his homeland staff.

The arrangements being as they were saw Student command his wide spread own formations, the transport fleet and, to make things even more interesting, a large Luftwaffe tactical fleet at his disposal too. That fleet was commanded by Generalmajor der Luftwaffe Putzier situated under the 2nd Luftflotte [Generalleutnant Kesselring]. It contained the entire KG.4 (three Gruppen of He-111 and Ju-88 bombers), a Gruppe of Ju-87 Stuka's and a number of Bf-109 and Bf-110 formations.

All in all it becomes clear that the operations in the heart of the Dutch defences would be entirely a Luftwaffe operation. The Luftwaffe air potential that was available for the first day exceeded the amount of 1,500 planes, more than half the available fleet during the Westfeldzug. The entire Luftwaffe land-component was involved too. It would be a gigantic and unforgettable show of force, that however demanded an unprecedented scope of coordination and control. It goes without saying that Airmarshall Hermann Göring had more than a modest say in and eye for the operation. A fact that would very dramatically materialize when on the 14th of May 1940 about 100 German bombers would appear over the heart of Rotterdam and smash it to pieces ...

The defences

We shall adress the defences against the German battle plan starting with the northen sector.

Defence-sector North

The three to be targeted Dutch AFB's were all provided with an army occupation. The defences at Ypenburg and Valkenburg both comprised a full regular infantry battalion whereas the auxilary field Ockenburg had a modestly trained infantry company of young recruits. When it came to ground-to-air defences Ypenburg in particular had an adequate AAA shield. It comprised both heavy and light AAA units, which were positioned around the AFB, most of in the Delft area, which lay mostly alongside the main landing strip. Valkenburg lacked any AAA which was caused by the fact that the field was not yet in use. It had been constructed and drained only recently and was still in too much of a swampy state to be used by fighters, let alone bombers or strike planes. Ockenburg was nothing more than an auxilary strip. It was mainly in use as a test and construction base where newly procured and/or overhauled air-planes were (re)assembled, armed and tested. The airplanes on Ockenburg all were in a state of maintenance or assembly, none being operational as they were. Ockenburg lacked AAA too, with exception of a number of heavy machineguns. Apart from AAA around the AFB's quite a number of batteries were positioned in the close vicinity of The Hague. Most of these would see plenty of targets in their sights before the first day of the war would be over.

Of the three AFB's involved only Ypenburg had a ready active service status. It was one of the main AFB's and homebase to a squadron of adequate Fokker D-XXI fighters, a squadron of Douglas D8-N reconnaissance / light strike planes and a recce group with elder bi-planes. The Douglas light assault planes had been assigned for fighter duties also because of the hard felt shortage of fighters. They were totally unsuited for this odd role though, which made it a silly decision to sacrifice these modern planes to a role that they were totally not suitable for. Yet it had been decided so.

In the west of the country lay the bulk of the 1st Corps of the Field Army. It had been assigned as a strategic reserve at the disposal of the General Headquarters. It meant that three infantry regiments and two artillery regiments were positioned within a 15 km range of the Hague area. Additionaly a regiment of motorbike hussars was made available by detaching it from the Light Division. It was stationed at Wassenaar (nearby Valkenburg AFB). A number of depot (training) battalions were available in the cities of Leiden, the Hague and Delft. All in all, about 20,000 men trained troops and some thousands of recruits were stationed near the projected German area of operations. That was about twice the size of the total of envisaged German troops for this theatre.

Defence-sector South

To the south the defence situation was much more disturbing. The South-front of Fortress Holland was occupied by forces of the reserve army only. These were more or less stationary forces merely comprising older reservists who had less modern weapons and less machineguns at their disposal than the Field Army divisions. The South-front was considered to be quite safe in the first stages of the battle, but that very way of thinking was derived from classic, conservative strategic considerations. The Dutch commander in chief had however little options. The Dutch landforcec comprised a mere 280,000 men of which only about half were field army. Those troops had to take positions in main defences or at least defences where the enemy would appear in the first stages of an invasion. The South-front of the Fortress, pointing towards Belgium and with the entire Dutch province of Brabant as a long stretched buffer in front of it, seemed to be relatively safe. As a consequence the area had been very thinly occupied with troops until April 1940. Mid April another brigade strength had been added to the South-front, but still these forces were considered shielding formations that would be reinforced with field army formations when the war would gradually shift into this corner. It was a very conservative approach, but taken from a position where the CIC had to make a choice between evils in order for him to coop with the limited means that he was dealing with.

The sector south of the Island Ysselmonde [that is the Island on which the south of Rotterdam as well as Waalhaven AFB are situated] - the genuine South-Front that lay directly north of the Meuse river - contained about 8,000 men of troops, of which about 6,000 in the main branches of infantry and artillery. About 90% of these troops were older reservists. These about 8.000 men had to defend a frontline that stretched out to over 50 km of which about 17,5 km was likely to be raided from a perspective of conventional warfare. That was the area between the acient village Willemstad in the southwest and the south side of the Island of Dordrecht in the southeast corner. Taking in account the 17,5 km width of the frontline, a mere 6.000 combatants was no more than a very modest defence potential. They had however one significant perk: the wide Meuse river at this point, called Hollandsch Deep in this area. The width was over 1,000m on the narrowest point and strong currents would prevent easy crossings in any circumstances. Besides the Dutch did have quite a number of batteries to support the river defences, although many of these batteries were older guns. They were installed in fixed positions, with quite fixed fields of fire. Every sector of the Meuse river had at least three to four batteries capable of pounding its shores, making every crossing attempt a daring event.

Only two AAA batteries with Vickers 7,5 cm guns were positioned on the southern front sector. One at Moerdijk and one on the island called Hoekse Waard [in between the Hollandsch Diep and the Island Ysselmonde]. At the bridges near Moerdijk three heavy machinegun platoons with four 7,92 cm MG's each were present to protect the bridges against low altitude raids.

On the Island of Ysselmonde only the Waalhaven AFB and the Pernis oil tank park had an active military occupation. An infantry battalion, reinforced with two bren carriers and a number of AAA platoons (comprising both 2 cm AA guns and MG's) were stationed on and nearby the AFB. Two 7,5 cm AAA batteries were positioned nearby too, a couple more in a wider range. The Pernis oil tank yard was defended by an infantry company. In the southern part of Rotterdam an infantry company and a company of non-combattants formed the only military presence. The rest of the Rotterdam garisson was located north of the Meuse river.

Rotterdam - north of the Nieuwe Maas - had around 6,500 men military personnel in its midst. Rotterdam was the logistical centre of the Dutch army and it also housed many recruit barracks of several branches, not to mention a large navy representation. Since Rotterdam was the army engineer and logistics city, most of the 6,500 men on the north shore that were available were non-combatants. Three infantry companies and about 450 marines [professional soldiers of the highest standard] were the only trained combatants in the city north of the Maas. The city was not prepared for defence, not the least due to the fact that an enemy was not expected this far ahead of the outer defences of the Fortress. The city garisson of 7,000 men in total was commanded by a Colonel (Pieter Scharroo) of the Engineering Corps, who had only three officers in his staff. The navy and marines fell beyond his command. They were led by a Colonel of the Marines Corps. This inconsistent command structure between the two Colonels had been addressed by Col. Scharroo, but to no evail. The Hague had left him dangling, not solving the issue.

The southfront along the Hollandsch Diep (Meuse) had been prepared for defence. A vast number of concrete shelter casemates had been constructed along the northern shore of the Hollands Diep and more inland. Four heavy casemates (block-houses) were available on the north side of the Moerdijk bridges, of which one was actually constructed on the extreme southeastern point of the adjecent island Hoekse Waard. Two of these block-houses contained only heavy machineguns, the two others contained both a capable modern 5 cm AT gun and a heavy machinegun. On the Island of Dordrecht, on the northern landhead of the Moerdijk bridges, some shelter casemates had been constructed inland. To the south of the Moerdijk bridges a slightly fortified perimeter had been constructed, merely comprising semi-permanent field reinforcements, occupied by two infantry companies. When it came to heavier weapons the defence had only two 57 mm infantry guns at its disposal next to a modest amount of heavy and light machineguns. The position was scheduled to be taken over by the 6th Border Infantry Battalion that guarded the border with Belgium south of Breda. That battalion had some AT guns too.

It is of importance to consider that it was not in the Dutch plans to defend the southend of the bridges in case of a conventional German invasion. Such an invasion would see a gradual German development in the south, pushing back the remaining defences in that area. When the Germans would be nearby Moerdijk, the last forces would be withdrawn to the north side and the bridges blown up. Only to prevent sudden German actions - which were expected but basically coming over Belgian soil with a sudden move from the flank into the Moerdijk area - a shield of light troops had been placed south of the bridges. A German airborne assault was hardly considered, let alone in the magnitude of four full companies falling from the sky. The Dutch defences were therefore not at all prepared for the things to come. It does explain why there was such a light occupation of the south end of the bridges.

The bulk of the availabe 8.000 men troops on the South-front was stationed in the area called Hoekse Waard and the Island of Dordrecht. The entire area between Moerdijk and Dordrecht was occupied by a force that was designated as Group Kil (commanded by Col. Van Andel), containing about 4,500 men of the total number of 8,000 men. In the city of Dordrecht itself about 1,500 men. They were all - but about 100 men railway engineers and 30 men of two AA MG platoons - recruits of the army Maritime Engineering (pontoneers, river crafters, naval sappers) which had its depot in Dordrecht. The city garisson was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Josephus Mussert. This officer was a brother of Anton Mussert, the leader of the Dutch national-socialistic movement [NSB, Nationale Socialistische Beweging]. Lt.-Col. Josephus Mussert was entirely loyal though, although, obviously under suspicion by many.

It was briefely addressed before. The South-front of the Fortress Holland had quite a contingent of artillery at its disposal. About 80 guns in the calibers 7,5 cm, 12 cm and 15 cm were divided over the sector between the western and the northeastern front extremity. Many of these guns were of an old or even obsolete type though. No less than 60 guns - all the 12 and 15 cm - dated back to the 1880's, although slightly modified in between. They were still capable of delivering a lethal load, but only capable of slow firing-rate and besides, fitted with fixed mounts, preventing these guns from participating in dynamic fire-missions. Only the available 20 off 7,5 cm guns were able to produce prolonged rapid fire, if required. Closer to Rotterdam a modern artillery battalion with 12 off 10,5 cm howitzers was available too. These capable weapons were able to deliver loads across distances of over 16 km and could produce prolonged rapid fire as well.

General features

As a direct result of the fact-findings learnt from the German Scandinavia campaign, the Dutch army organised large scale obstructions on the more significant secondary roads and the few highways that Holland contained in those days. Every so many hundred meters carts, trucks or other vehicles were placed, so that these paved stretches were no longer useful for airlanding. Airfields all over the country, that were not in use, were ploughed up and/or obstructed with a dense formation of obstructions or obsolete vehicles. MG crews had been posted at some strategic positions during evening and night hours and airfield commanders received instructions that German operations in Norway had shown the substantial use of airlanding troops up to contigents of a few thousand men at a time. Unfortunately the same instruction only referred to small tactical airborne operations, up to max coy size, but usually considerably less. Commanders were instructed to have at least one platoon ready and mobile to counter these small airborne landings. So there it was: excellent preparation to counter or prevent larger airlandings, poor preps as it came to larger airborne ops.

Until half April 1940 the Sout-front Fortress Holland had had its own integral command. When in April large troop shifts occured, due to the revised strategy, the command over the South-front troop contingents had moved back to the Commander Fortress Holland in The Hague [Lt-Gen Van Andel - not to be mixed with the commander of Group Kil, a far family member with identical family name]. As such the integral command of the Dutch defences in the future southern operation sector would be situated as far away as the Hague. Locally each sector had its own commander, three in total. That was far from ideal.

Save the aforementioned measures of precaution against airlanding operations, the Commander Fortress Holland had decided that the troops on the South-front Fortress Holland would have their ammo safely locked away in central caches, not to be opened unless the highest of readiness was on or when war had actually broken out. Only guard duties were done with a ration of live ammo. The Commander feared accidents with live ammo! This unexplainable measure would not really have mattered if indeed - like the Field Army and the strategic outer defences - the Fortress Holland units had been elevated onto the highest alert in the late evening of May 9, 1940. But the Commander Fortress Holland considered that the troops could use another good night of sleep and decided that the Fortress Holland would stay in the second alert status in expectance of the things to come. That meant that the ammo caches remained locked ...

The airforce and AAA units, commanded by Lt-Gen Best - commander of the Dutch air-defences - were under a different regime. That made sense, since the air defence had tasted action already during the formal neutrality phase [Phoney War period], which had been applicable since 1 September 1939. The Dutch aerospace had been patrolled and guarded by the airforce and heavy AAA batteries had seen quite some action against foreign intruders of the Dutch airspace. Therefore the air defences were under orders to be on alert [stand-by fighter flights, AAA batteries manned and battle-ready] half an hour before dawn. In May 1940 this meant that at 0315 hrs (Dutch time) stand-by crews and AAA positions had to be on high alert.

Unlike the Belgian and French army, the Dutch army did not suffer from extreme leave percentages amongst the mobilized army units. The activated Belgian (625,000 men) and French (3,300,000 men) armies, which were much larger than the modest size Dutch army (280,000 men), demanded much more of their economic work forces than the Dutch army, that due to its limited size left plenty of healthy men available for labour and other economic duties. Also the Dutch leave system was quite rigid, particularly for the border infantry formations that were supposed to keep up a very high percentage of readiness. In the Belgian and French armies up to 15-20% leave ratio were no exception, even amongst strategically vital units. There was also the fact that the Dutch high command was convinced (in the late evening of the 9th of May 1940) of the upcoming German invasion, whereas the Belgian army was quite reluctant to believe the 9 May warnings and started warning troops well into the early hours of the 10th. The French even denied the imminent thread at all. Gamelin went to bed without putting his army - and the BEF for that matter - on a higher state of alert and would even hesitate to do so when the first news of the German invasion would reach his GQG in the morning of the 10th. With exception of the unwise decision by the Commander Fortress Holland to leave his Fortress troops on the second highest alert, the entire Dutch army was as ready as it could be (save its inert limitations) for the things to come.

Balance

The German airlanding operation that would be unleashed in the early hours of May the 10th 1940, would be the first acquaintance the world would make with large scale airlandings in both the tactical and the strategic spectrum. The ambition to land about 15,000 men with their material right in the heart of the opposing defences would make quite an impression on the Allies, although the magnitude of the operation would in fact never be weighed to its actual proportions during the war.

The Germans would set a trend between May 1940 and May 1941. They themselves would only repeat this kind of operation once more, exactly a year later in Crete. Like in Holland that operation would be costly, but Crete would demand an even higher price. It would close the book on large scale German airlanding operations. The Germans considered that the costs didn't earn the gains and realized that a well prepared opponent would be able to counter this kind of operations.

The Allies though just started their own little plans after Crete. They had been impressed by the German successes, apparently unable to rate these successes fairly and blind for the operational challenges and flaws. They overrated the gains and underestimated the costs and risks. In those days the western Allies started building their own airlanding units, which would see operations in North Africa, Sicilia, Normandy, Holland and finally Germany itself. Apart from operation Varsity that was launched during the time the German resistance was collapsing, all these operations would turn out to be only very modest successes or total failures. The costs would indeed be high, very high.

Kurt Student was a firm believer in his new weapon, back in 1939/1940. He had designed a daring plan and found a perfect appliance. The water-rich country of Holland, that had always benefitted of the strength of the water-ally, was a perfect theatre to test the first large scale operation possibilities of a large contingent of airlanding troops dropped deep into enemy territory. Besides, the Dutch army was regarded an opponent of little significance. That would leave some room to learn on the job, whereas the opponent would most likely not be able to benefit from the inevitable German mistakes.

Notwithstanding it's modest capacity, the Dutch army had been the best prepared Allied force as it came to anticipation on larger airlandings. The Belgian and French army were ill prepared for such an operation, but to their fortune - apart from Eben Emael - they would not be the target of this new device. They were however treated on other 'first offs', like the armoured fist that hit them in the lower belly.

At around 0230 hrs on May 10th, 1940, the engines of about 450 Ju-52 transport planes were fired up. Planes were boarded and when the signal came to lift off, a giant air armada got airborne. The world was about to be introduced to yet another feature of warfare ...