After the exploratory actions on the 12th had provided the command of the German 227.ID with the facts and figures about the strength of the Dutch defences in the northern part of the Grebbeline, the Germans determined that their offensive spearhead had to be directed into the area around the city of Scherpenzeel.
The commander of the 18th Army, General von Küchler, was not convinced that the assault of the 207.ID at the Grebbeberg would be successful and therefore he had also instructed the 227.ID to launch an all out offensive against the Grebbeline in the northern sector. In the German plan there was room for six battalions [about 4.500 men] advancing in the first line. Three would stay in the rear of the forward push. The forward six battalions would proceed in the area between the cities Scherpenzeel and Veenendaal. Support would be given by no less than seven artillery battalions [about 70 guns] of which some had been shifted from the 207.ID operational zone.
Prelude to a divisional raid at Scherpenzeel
The sector that was scheduled to be attacked by the Germans was defended by the Dutch 2nd Division. This division was also part of the II.Corps that was commanded by General Harberts. The three regiments involved were [from north to south] the 15th, 22nd and 10th Regiment Infantry. In total seven artillery battalions [about 70 guns] were able to support these troops; a considerable amount of fire power.
The Germans had developed a plan wherein three regiments [two battalions in front for every respective regiment] advanced next to eachother. To the extreme north - at Scherpenzeel - IR.366. In the central sector - around the village Renswoude - IR.412 and to the extreme south - around the village Ederveen - IR.328. ID.207 would support the action and cover the left flank by developing an outflanking assault on the left flank of IR.328 by making use of battalions of IR.368. Altogether a massive force of eight battalions [about 7,000 men] in front and another four [about 3,500 men] in second line. Seven artillery battalions - incorporating two batteries of 21 cm heavy howitzers - would support. These battalions were instructed to lay barrages on the Dutch defences one hour prior to the assault, followed by a brief barrage of the highest density [destructive fire] shortly before the launching of the infantry. In fact the entire operation was the largest single operation of the German army during the May war of 1940 in the Netherlands; larger even than the Grebbeberg operation if measured in numbers [actually deployed].
The defence was quite oddly shaped in the sector in focus. The stopline was a prolonged north-south line, but the frontline was not. South of Scherpenzeel the frontline formed a right-angled curve, after which it ran quite straight into a southeastern direction forming a bulge at Ederveen [sector of IR.328], where it quite sharply turned southwest again. This irregular shape had been caused by the incorporation of the railway slope in the front-line, which forced the line to follow the southeastern direction of the railway. The forward positions - that were available in the entire sector - formed a straight line again, with exception of a saillant at Renswoude. They had been positioned east of Scherpenzeel, west of Renswoude and west of Ederveen, making a western curve in the area of IR.368. In the Scherpenzeel area it was pretty close to the forward positions whereas in the central sector it was at a considerable distance of the forward defences. Northwest of Ederveen the frontlijn was very close to the forward defences once again. That meant for example that in the central sector - where IR.412 operated - a break through would lead to this regiment getting cornered in a cross fire from the frontal sector and left flank. Moreover, should IR.328 be able to penetrate the forward defences in its sector and the Dutch frontline stand ground, the regiment would be pushed northwards against the left flank of IR.412. That undesirable operational situation could only be solved if the three regiments operating on either side and the central sector of the bulge would all three point their assault on the central sector of the bulge. That way they would both prevent flanking fire and - if successful - decapitate the Dutch defence in the entire area. Curiously enough the German plans were pretty straight forward. All three regiments would operate in their own sectors, pointing their advance vectors hard west.
If the Germans were aware of the characteristics of the Dutch defences - which was probably the case - than the divisional strategy can be regarderd remarkably poor. It was a clear show of the negative side of the 'Autragstaktik' in which the commanding General had failed to recognize the opportunities and threats of the bulge in the defence. As such the regiment commanders had received instructions to stick to their regimental sectors rather than combine their forces and objective.
Obviously the poor German tactics would favour the defence. Next to the advantage the bulge offered if an enemy would advance parallel to these defences, the positions had been well prepared and the telephone-lines to the rear had been much better prepared and protected than those at the Grebbeberg. That would keep the lines open and available to the artillery. We shall soon see what difference that made to the defence (if compared to the Grebbeberg battle).
The battle at Scherpenzeel starts
Overnight [12/13 May] Dutch long range artillery [10,5 cm howitzers] had fired about 350 rounds on strategic German positions, especially around the roads near and in the village of Barneveld and some junctions considered vital to German supply. The Germans had not only suffered quite some casualties due to this [5th battery of AR.227 received some direct hits, killing 7 men], but it had particularly hampered their extensive battle preparations. As such the scheduled hour of attack [0800 hrs] was not met by far. It would be around 1330 hours that their infantry finally advanced.
In the morning the 227.ID found out that the 207.ID regiment had already retreated from their left flank after being rejected access to the forward defence area along the main road to the city of Ede. This caused much consternation at the 227.ID staff because it meant that their left flank was exposed.
When IR.366 moved forward in the area east of Scherpenzeel, it stumbled on tough defences by just a handful of infantry defending the forward positions in that sector. The German artillery pounded the small city. The defenders had to pull back on the frontline when the two opposing battalions came to full deployment. When the German point showed its nose west of Scherpenzeel, the Dutch artillery opened up assisted by the heavy machineguns from the frontline. Every time that a German formation tried to move forward it was suppressed by machinegun fire and subsequent well directed artillery volleys. The regiment got pinned down and the attack stalled entirely. The city of Scherpenzeel paid a high price. First it had been targetted by extensive German shelling and after the shifting of occupation the Dutch artillery started taking an aim. House after house was shot to rubble.
In the sector of IR.412 - west of Renswoude - the German attack would be even less successful. They didn't gain a metre once contact was made with the two Dutch companies occupying the forward defence positions. This was partially caused by the fact that the forward units emphasized their advance exactly in the angle of the saillant of the forward defences, which caused them to manoeuvre parallel to the forward positions on their left flank. As such the Germans were caught in a cross fire from the frontal and left flank sectors.
At one point - an old redout of the ancient Grebbeline - the defenders were confronted with an entire battalion [3rd Batt - IR.412] opposing their position. The German artillery overshot the redoubt, but mortar and MG fire punished the position with accurate volleys. The commanding Dutch Captain made the difference here. When his men were on the verge of collapse, he took a machinegun himself and put it on the breast of the redoubt exposing himself. He ordered some men to take over. Next he grabbed a handful of hand-grenades and pitched them well aimed on a number of nearby German concentrations. This show of boldness by their commanding officer boosted the Dutch moral. As a highly contaminating desease the courage of the Captain infected the entire occupation. The Germans that had approached the position within pistol range, suddenly experienced a hellish fire from the Dutch position and moved back. The telephone-line to the rear had been ruptured and so flares were used to request artillery support, but in vain. Nevertheless the German assault was rejected. Again the German artillery started shelling the position, but virtually all grenades fell short or over. A renewed German infantry storm was again rejected, mostly by moving the few light machineguns around the redoubt supporting there where MG fire was most needed.
Yet lack of fortune would seal the fate of the redoubt at Renswoude. During the evening it became apparent that the ammunition stock was depleted and would certainly be insufficient to counter another German assault. The commanding Captain decided that the troops had done their duty and that the only solution would be to retreat to the frontline trenches. He had the one heavy machinegun in the position destroyed and under cover of the light machineguns the men moved out of the rear entrance of the redoubt. Just when they were in the process of this stealthy manoeuvre, the Germans unleashed another assault! The remaining 30 defenders including the Captain were taken prisoner. The commanding German officers showed their disbelieve when the entered the redoubt. They had been under the impression that at least a company size had defended the position and that it had been constructed of reinforced concrete. When they found out that it had been a platoon-size defence in an earth contraption, they uttered their awe to the Dutch Captain. At the end of the day, the German seizure of the redoubt west of Renswoude, would proof to be the only success of the division operation.
In the most southern positions IR.328 would appear late in the afternoon. Their assault was so weak that the Dutch defenders had little problems rejecting it. Only two men KIA on the Dutch side says it all.
In the end the attack never reached the momentum Generalleutnant Zickwolff had envisaged. The IR.366 had failed to push through after taking Scherpenzeel. IR.412 had unluckily been cornered in a undetected right-angle corner of the forward defences and IR.368 had not managed to gain any ground. Moreover the left flank support from 207.ID had been omitted. In stead of having eight battalions raiding the Grebbeline, it had turned out that only five battalions had actually been deployed. And with exception of taking out some forward defences at Scherpenzeel and Renswoude, the main defence was totally untouched. A very disappointing result. In the late evening Zickwolff summoned his regiment commanders at a meeting. He instructed his commanders to prepare a renewed offensive in the very morning of the 14th. Obviously totally unaware that some clicks to the south the Grebbeline had been decisively penetrated by the sister division ...
The Dutch had lost 44 men KIA [3 officers], which had fallen around Scherpenzeel in particular. The village itself was shot to rubble by both German and Dutch artillery.
The Germans had suffered a considerable loss of over 50 men KIA, including 4 officers.
Although the Dutch defenders had distinguished themselves during the battle with 227.ID [especially in the operational area of the German IR.412], it is only fair to say that the negative result for the Germans was much more a result of their own poor battle plan than the toughness of the Dutch defences.