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Willemsbrug - traffic bridge - may 1940

The (former) Willemsbrug in the heart of Rotterdam, with on the left hand the railway bridge.

The rail- and traffic bridges in the heart of Rotterdam were the main objectives of the small German air-landing company that landed on the Nieuwe Maas in sea-planes in the early hours of 10 May 1940. Possession of these bridges would mean that all crossings between the Moerdijk bridges in the south and these bridges in the north would be in German hands, so that the 9.Panzer Division would be able to roll straight into the heart of Fortress Holland.

These bridges were the swivel-point around which a blazing battle raged on for the full five days of the war. They would only fall in German hands after the devasting Luftwaffe raid on Rotterdam, whcih was followed by capitulation of Rotterdam. Many Dutch and German troops were killed during the fierce fights on and around these bridges and the adjacent Noordereiland.

The old Willemsbrug does no longer exist today. It was replaced in the last decade of the 20th century by the huge Erasmusbridge. Yet it is a major merit on the regimental colours of the Dutch Marines. It were especially these crack professional soldiers of the Dutch Marines Corps that played a key role in retaking much of the German northern stronghold and defending these bridges.

The few hundred Marines were assisted by the Rotterdam garrison comprising engineering-recruits, airforce and navy auxilary forces and a few battalions of regular infantry, mainly send in as off the second day of the invasion. On the German side the battle was fought by the 3rd battalion of Infantry Regiment 16 (22nd Airlanding Infantry Division), supported by one platoon of airbornes (of the 11./Fjr.1) and the additional support of only a few infantry guns and AT guns. Although many reports speak of over 1,000 Germans occupying the bridge area and the adjecent Noordereiland, in fact no more than around 500 men were present at any given moment during the battle. At the peak of the battle, the Dutch had more than a six fold of troops available along the Maas in Rotterdam.

Category Gallery / War scenes (127 images)