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General Winkelman - Commander-in-Chief of the Dutch armed forces in Holland - may 1940

Commander-in-Chief of the Dutch armed forces in the Netherlands during the period march 1940 up to and including the May War, was General Henri Gerard Winkelman [1876-1952].

Winkelman was a military academy graduate when he was promoted to second lieutenant of the infantry in 1896. In 1931 Winkelman was promoted Generaal-Majoor [Major-General was the most junior General rank in the Dutch army until 1948] when he was appointed commander of the 4th Infantry Division. At the very point of his retirement from the armed forces in 1934 he was promoted to Lieutenant-General. At that point General Winkelman had been one of the general officers short-listed as a candidate for the executive military command [chief of staff] in piece time. That highest military status was however still in firm possession of Lieutenant-General H.A. Seyffard.

The latter would during WWII reveal himself as a turn-coat, resulting in a senior position in the Dutch SS. He was assassinated by the Dutch resistance during the war, which was unfortunately followed by severe German response. One of the Dutch volunteer SS Brigades was named after this fallen General.

In 1936 Seyffard was replaced by Lieutenant-General I.H. Reynders, who would become General and Commander-in-Chief in 1939 [in September 1939, when the mobilization of the Dutch army had become a fact, the chief-of-staff was promoted to full General and Commander-in-Chief [Chief of staff from then on would be the second highest military rank].

When Reynders resigned early February 1940 - after some severe clashes with the Dutch Cabinet - General Winkelman was recalled to duty out of nothing. Simultaneously the Chief-of-Staff had been replaced. This dual replacement of the top two commanders caused a lot of criticism from the senior army staffs who considered the replacement of the two most important officers of the army an irresponsible act during those times of extreme crisis. They were probably right, but eventually the Germans offered the new Dutch command some time to settle in ...

Winkelman proved himself a capable chief-commander and particularly an excellent manager. He successfully pursued some changes to the national defence plan, of which the most significant one was the decision to abandon the Peel-Raamline as a main defence-line. That matter caused quite some dismay amongst the French generals that only found out on 10 May 1940 about the Dutch decision to remove the better part of their field army out of the south back into the Fortress Holland. The French commander-in-chief had borne the knowledge of the Dutch strategy-change long since though. Gamelin had decided not to inform his most principal field-commanders though, realizing that they might have caused the Gamelin envisaged strategy [the Plan Dyle-Breda] to be abandoned in view of the Dutch decision to drop ambitions on persistant defence of the southeast.

When the Government had left the country on the 13th of May 1940, Winkelman became the acting most senior authority in the country on both military and civil affairs. After the capitulation of the Dutch army the Germans had him maintained in this function - although basically stripped from all his authorities - until the 1st of July 1940.

Winkelman opposed much of the German dictated legislation and passively resisted German rule by restricting local magistrates to adhere to German directives. When he had worn a white dianthus on the 29th of June [the birthday of Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands] against German prohibiting instructions to openly support the Royal House, the German authority had finally become fed-up with the General. At the 1st of July he was arrested at his home and immediately after transported to Germany as a prisoner of war.

Winkelman was first enprisoned in Camp Koenigstein, a castle in Saksen. It was a Lager for Generals. His next stop would be Hohenstein, where he was joint by five other Dutch Generals and one Admiral [Lieutenant-General Van Voorst tot Voorst - commander Field Army, Major-General Van Voorst tot Voorst - chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Best - commander air-defences, Major-General van der Bent - commander of the IVth Army Corps, Major-General van Lawick - gouvernor of the Military Academy and vice-Admiral Van Laer - retired].

In 1941 the General group was sent to Poland [Johannisbrunn], where a harsh winter became their share. In May 1942 the Dutch Generals were moved to Lienz [Tirol, Austria], together with 1,100 French officers. Also this stay proved to be brief, when the Dutch were soon after their arrival transported back again to Poland [Posen]. In 1943 the end-station was reached. It was Winkelman's first Lager. Then all senior Dutch officers were sent to Koenigstein, where they would stay until the very end of the war.

General Winkelman had performed his duties more than dilligently during his brief command in 1940. Yet upon his return he was not received with a hero's welcome. Defeat had been his fate in May 1940 and as such he lacked the respect he ought to have had when he set foot on Dutch soil again in 1945. People treated him with basic respect, but not an ounce more.

His post-war fate was honourable discharge from the army but also the extensive questioning by a Dutch parliamentary commission of inquiry that investigated the events in May 1940 quite thoroughly. Furthermore he was frequenty asked for unveiling all kinds of local memorials, which he gladly did. But that was about it.

Also later in time no memorials or statues would be his part. One modest bust was placed near the school where the capitulation had been signed at 15 May 1940. Later an insignificant military barracks was named after him, but when it was closed due to inevitable defence cuts after the end of the cold war, no replacement was found. Only very recently - in 2007 - a new military barracks has been called after the General and his bust was replaced at that same facilitation. Just a few years before, the first biography about the General had been published, and the author of that very book was the initiator of the reinstated 'Generaal Winkelman' barracks. Not a show of awareness amongst the military of one of their distinguished knights, since a civil initiative was required to have Winkelman remembered and honoured by the aforementioned deed.

Winkelman may not be considered forgotten in Dutch military history, but he can certainly not be regadered as one of the Dutch military Great if one evaluates Winkelman's presence in the Dutch national history files. For example, the even less succesfull navy admiral Doorman, who perished with the Java Sea fleet in 1942 after conducting a chanceless navy battle against a formidable enemy, is much more celebrated than General Winkelman, who was after all burdened with a task that not a single General in the world could have brought to a considerably better end.

General Henri Gerard Winkelman perished from a fatal decease on 27 December 1952, hardly recognized as the distinguished gentleman he had been - all his life. Apart from large support from the Royal Family, the General had hardly received any credits from the Dutch people, let alone the Dutch military. His inner circle proclaimed that Winkelman died a rather bitter man, feeling short-done by his fellow country-men, particularly his former brothers in arms.

General Winkelman can be best remembered by the words that come along with the highest military medal that became his share in 1946: Virtus Nobili Tat.

 
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