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Schiphol

Introduction

The today well-known main-port Schiphol (Amsterdam) was also in May 1940 already an important civil airfield. Already since the opening of the airfield [1916] it had been a combined civil and military facility. During the late thirties the airbase did not only harbor a few fighter squadrons but it also became the home base for the [only] bomber-squadron that the Dutch airforce had. Schiphol housed a large Fokker construction facility too. The airfield had a very extensive structure of hangars, aircraft-platforms and four runways. It was a modern airport. It was the home base of almost the entire KLM fleet. Many hangars gave room to numerous KLM planes.

Schiphol was the most prominent airbase of the Dutch airforce up until war break-out. It contained three fighter squadrons and the one bomber squadron that flew the Fokker T-V. Hangars were used to shelter all these airplanes. As off September 1939 the civil air-traffic got restricted, although it suffered more of the crisis that resulted from the war break-out. Moreover, the Dutch Government had feared too much damage would come from too strict regulations, particularly of German air-traffic. As such at some point the German commercial airline Lufthansa was offered a possibility to reactive its flights. Only on May 4th 1940 the Dutch GHQ prohibited any further commercial flights by German airlines in the Dutch airspace. Simultaneously AAA was placed around the base as were troops to protect the airbase against foreign air-landings. The squadrons were dispersed over other bases too, leaving only two units on Schiphol.  

The defences

Schiphol was the home base of two squadrons of the airforce and two staff groups. The BomVA [bomber squadron] comprised 16 off Fokker T-V medium bombers. Although this modern bomber (containing a 5 men crew) had only recently joint the airforce, no more than nine bombers were ready for action in the morning of the 10th. Of the remaining seven planes, five were in repair, one was canabalised due to lacking spare parts and the last one was at the training-facility at [the Island] Texel.

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The Fokker T-V strike plane (may 1940)

The fighter squadron [2nd JaVA - e.g. 2nd Fighter Squadron] comprised eleven Fokker D-XXI fighters, of which nine were ready for action. The other two were in repair. Many other military planes were parked in the hangars at Schiphol [including the huge Fokker assembly and maintenance hall], amongst which three Fokker G-1 Wasps [unarmed], three Fokker G-1 Mercury [in repair] and a new bomber prototype [Fokker T-IX, an all steel flying prototype]. Two staff groups were based at Schiphol; the staffs of the 1st Air Regiment and the Strategic Group. The base commander was Major (squadron-leader) Van Hecking Colenbrander.

The ground forces were formed by a battalion of infantry [I-25RI], a few modern anti-tank guns and six armoured cars [M.36 Landsverk]. These forces had been divided over the four corners of the large airfield, whilst the armoured cars were concentrated around the extended base facilities in the southeast corner.

The AAA units around Schiphol were quite numerous. One heavy battery of three 7,5 cm Vickers was stationed at some distance, southeast of the base. A medium battery of three 4 cm Bofors was positioned closer to the field, also in the southeastern corner. Three platoons of AA machinegun - comprising four 2 cm Scotti guns and 12 heavy machineguns Spandau - had been positioned at different locations around the airbase. Late in the evening of the 10th two more batteries of heavy AAA would be added to the Schiphol AA defenses.

The Germans attack

Already at 0200 hours the base commander called his troops and the airforce units to full alert. Engines were pre-heated, planes were positioned for quick scramble and all infantry positions were manned. At 0315 the pilots were called back from their planes because the Airforce Headquarters had failed to confirm the general alarm [!]. The engines were however kept in a pre-heated status.

The German force that had Schiphol as its prime target belonged to KG.4 [Kampfgeschwader]; in total three squadrons [4th, 8th and 9th squadron], probably comprising about 25-30 planes [Ju-88 and He-111]. These planes had all taken a northern route, together with the first strike bombers that would attack the airfields Bergen, Ockenburg, Valkenburg, Ypenburg and Waalhaven in the far west. The air-armada flew north of the Waddenzee and followed the western coastline of The Netherlands maintaining a distance of some kilometres offshore. However one squadron [9 planes] had taken a southern turn in between two Islands in the Waddenzee and followed a centre-line path across the Ysselmeer with direction Schiphol. The other two squadrons came from the direction Noordwijk (west) towards the airbase. The bombers were accompanied by the main force of a Gruppe of Bf-109E fighters [II/JG26], probably two squadrons comprising about twenty planes.

Just as the Dutch pilots were returning to their barracks after the cancelled readiness status, the first three He-111's suddenly appeared at low altitude and dropped the first series of bombs over the hangars. The pilots ran back to their planes and within minutes the fighters scrambled. Additional problem to the fighter pilots was that the first bombs had eliminated the mobile radio truck and as a consequence no ground coordination or communication was possible anymore. Also the T-V bombers managed to take off, with expection of one. These planes were quite capable of defending themselves against enemy fighters [three or five machineguns, one 20 mm Solothurn gun]. One plane had been damaged by the first German bombs and stayed behind; the remaining eight took off successfully.

Air-force action

The T-V bombers were - quite surprisingly - rather successful against the Luftwaffe. The T-V's managed to shoot down at least four planes (and three probables) while they themselves all survived the first sorties. All but one landed on other locations than Schiphol though. Two of the T-V's had received serious damage and would not fly again, another one was destroyed by the Luftwaffe on de Kooy AFB (Den Helder) shortly after it had landed. As such the very modest medium bomber fleet had already been reduced to five planes in the first hour.

Next, four T-V's were ordered to bomb Ockenburg. Three flew departed from the auxilary field Ruigenhoek (near Noordwijkerhout) and one from Schiphol itself. The latter was shot down by German fighters over the Northsea, killing the crew with exception of one pilot-officer who managed to swim to the coast. Later that morning three T-V's attacked Waalhaven, accompanied by D-XXI fighters. Two bombers were shot down minutes after they had dropped their bombs over the target. Consequently only two T-V bombers remained at the close of business on 10 May. These two bombers would still fly some more missions during the May War and eventually the last would be lost after a failed raid against the Moerdijk traffic bridge [13 May]. The one officer [Lieutenant Swagerman] that had escaped death after his T-V had plunged into the Northsea at the 10th, perished with his entire crew. He was awarded posthumously with the highest medal for valor, the MWO.

The fighters of the 2nd Fighter Squadron got [immediately after take-off] engaged with the about 40 enemy bombers and fighters overhead. Peculiarly enough the fighters were far less successful than the bombers. The first war sorties of the nine fighters only contributed to one confirmed loss of a Ju-88. But the Germans were not much more fortunate than the Dutch. One D-XXI crashed due to a pilot error and another fighter was badly shot-up but could later be repaired. Five planes returned to Schiphol, three to other bases. Not a single kill was achieved by the overwhelming German force: not amongst the Dutch bombers or the fighters of Schiphol.

During the first day and the days to follow the fighters of the 2nd JaVA would continue to play a vital role in the Dutch fighter-force. They would be quite successful in shooting down enemy planes [7 confirmed kills in total], whilst themselves just suffering modest battle losses. But those modest losses were enough to decimate the Dutch airforce, for almost no replacements were available ...

During the course of the day the Air Force command decided that all remaining single engine fighters had to concentrate force at the [undetected] secret airfield Buiksloot, north of Amsterdam. This auxiliary strip would become the new home base for the Fokker D-XXI and Fokker D-XVII fighters of the airforce until the field was evacuated [13 May], and the last remaining fighters would start to operate from Schiphol again.

The AAA was active during the entire day. To illustrate the very active role they played all day long, it's interesting to know that the medium battery of three Bofors guns alone fired 1,800 rounds that day. One of the machinegun platoons was badly hit when a bomb destroyed one of the 2 cm positions and the entire 2 cm ammunition stock blew up. During the first assaults by the low flying bombers only two planes were shot down; a modest score.

The airbase itself 

The continuous bombing and strafing raids against Schiphol were extremely furious in their kind. No Dutch held airbase received more punishment than Schiphol during the five days' war. And it was not only the base that suffered, but also the direct vicinity. Many civil houses and farms received extensive bomb-damage. Both the military and civil hangars were punished and huge fires started blazing. The first waves had been aimed at the infantry barracks and the AAA positions around the field, as well as a couple of huge hangars (containing mostly the KLM fleet). The assault on the barracks and AAA had been exclusively assigned to the Ju-88, whilst the He-111 concentrated on the base facilities. The bombers attacked in groups of three, one in the middle [Kettenkiel]. The Ju-88 used 250 kg bombs whereas the He-111's dropped series of four or eight 50 kg bombs at the time after which they flew a circle to once again approach acquired targets.

Shortly after the first raids Schiphol was one blazing inferno. The fire-brigade had the guts to start fighting the fire during the ongoing raids, but when some of the men received lethal wounds from shrapnel the firemen ceased their brave action. Meanwhile fighters landed and took off again - refueled and rearmed. Ground crews started their first repairs of damaged fighters, whilst others started to tow planes out of burning hangars.

The damage after the first day was enormous. The military barracks were totally flattened. The civil houses and facilities at Schiphol village were nearly wiped off the map. Quite a number of civilians had been killed or wounded. The damage to the hangars was of a lesser magnitue, but still quite extensive. Although many planes had been destroyed [amongst which two T-V bombers that were in repair and the new Fokker D-XXIII twin engine fighter prototype] or damaged [two other T-V bombers] quite a number of hangars had survived the extensive German punishment. Of the civil KLM fleet four large DC-3 planes had been totally destroyed, and eleven other planes [mainly DC-2 and FK-43] had been seriously damaged.

The defensive positions around the field had been spared for they had not been prime target of the German bombers [obviously no airlandings had been planned].

Balance

Amongst the infantry units ten men had been killed [eight of I-25RI, two of the armoured car detachment]. All armoured cars had survived the ordeal without substantial damage. The airforce personnel counted four fatalities. At the 10th fourteen airmen were killed [three T-V crashes, one D-XXI crash] amongst the units that operated from Schiphol. The latter were all killed during their second or third mission of the day.

Basically one could come to the conclusion that the German operation had failed to reach its objectives. First and prime objective had been to destroy the Dutch airforce units on the ground. Bearing in mind that only one T-V was prevented from taking off, this objective had failed substantially. Another objective had been to destroy all facilities and make Schiphol useless for prolonged airforce operations. Also this objective failed. The third objective - to silence the AAA around the base - had gained very limited success. One 2 cm gun and a handful of machineguns had been destroyed as well as the main ammo cache for these light guns. The Germans had paid a considerable but bearable price for this failure. Seven bombers had been shot down by [jointly] the airforce and AAA. Two more of the Schiphol attack force collided mid-air over Soesterberg airbase on their return-flight when one of the He-111 was hit by AA fire and flew straight into its neighbour.

Schiphol would become home base to the Dutch fighters again as off the 13th. When the news of the capitulation became public, many planes were damaged or destroyed by the Dutch on the 14th. They had been instructed that evacuation was prohibited. The Germans would soon turn Schiphol into a prominent Fliegerhorst. The base would suffer from numerous Allied attacks during the entire war, starting already just a few days after the Dutch capitulation.