Print this page

Strategic and tactical picture


The 13th was the fourth day of the German invasion and would later mark the beginning of the end as far as it was the Dutch theatre concerned. The French refusal to assist (substantially) to the retaking of the Moerdijk bridges had sealed the fate of the Netherlands. But in fact it had determined more than that.

The fact that the Moerdijk bridges remained in German hands meant that the Germans did not have to change their strategy. Should the Moerdijk bridges have been retaken by the Allies, the Germans would almost certainly have shifted some forces from the south to the Dutch central sector, for after the loss of the bridges they would also have lost any serious means of crossing the wide waterways into Fortress Holland.

Such a move could have bought the French in the north considerable time, for it would have definitely slowed down the German operations in the south and perhaps lifted some of the weight of German divisions in the north leaning against the French disposition. But, it could also have worked out quite in the opposite way. Perhaps the Germans would have considered the Dutch campaign on the verge of victory and as such left the crumbs to be eaten by a - possibly slightly reinforced - X.AK. They could have considered to turn their entire 26.AK against the French in stead of the bulk of that formation being sent into Fortress Holland. That would have seriously jeopardized the entire French disposition. It is not unlikely that the French strategists had already acknowledges that chance and that that very consideration caused them not to undertake any serious attempt to assist the Dutch in retaking Moerdijk. They obviously did not share these (or other) thoughts and moreover left the Dutch to believe that they would indeed assist.

The Germans rearrange their formations

The Germans had, exactly according to plan and time-schedule, reached the Fortress Holland on the third day of the invasion. Late in the afternoon of the previous day the first reconnaissance party of the 9th Tank Division had crossed the Moerdijk bridges and accessed the Island of Dordrecht. In the early morning of the 13th the first tanks arrived south of the bridges, totally unchallenged by any French armour. Their first objective was to reach Rotterdam [or better - relief the cornered air landing troops] soonest, but first the massive German force in Noord-Brabant was about to be split into three bodies; two army corpses and a large task-force.

The newly founded XXXIX Corps [General Schmidt] was formed in the morning of the 13th, exactly according to the planning of the German headquarters. It comprised the 9th Tank Division, 254th Infantry Division, the SS regiment Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and the remnants of the air-landing division. The XXVI Corps [General Wodrig] was from that moment on formed by the main-body of the SS Verfügungsdivision [two SS regiments, the SS AA and SS AR plus divisional troops] and the 256th Infantry Division, together with the 208th and 225th Infantry Divisions from the reserves of the Heeresgruppe B.

The task-force, that was assigned the objective to take the main islands of Zeeland and reach the coast of Walcheren in the most expeditious way, was called Task-Force Steiner. This third force was formed by the SS regiment Deutschland [Standartenführer - Colonel - Felix Steiner], reinforced with additional pioneers, engineers, artillery and some smaller divisional troops. This task-force comprised no more than 7,000 men. The executive command over the task-force remained with the commander of the SS Verfügungsdivision, General [Gruppenführer] Paul Hausser. The operational command was with Steiner.

The three forces had obviously three different objectives. Swivel-point was Breda. From thereon they would split up into three directions. XXXIX Corps to the north [as well as occupy the area south and southwest of Moerdijk], XXVI Corps to the south [Belgium] and the Waffen SS task-force straight to the Northsea coast at Walcheren. The latter two were in fact assigned the objective to deploy against the Antwerp-region and seize the seaway approaches to this strategic point. In other words, their objectives - for as far as it was concerning Antwerp - were paired. The XXVI Armee Corps was supposed to make front towards the Antwerp-region and protect the right flank of the adjacent 6th Army. Her troops were supposed to eliminate the French north of Antwerp. The SS task-force had to cover the right flank of the XXVI Corps by taking Walcheren. At the 13th the possession of the Antwerp region was still an objective that was considered vital to all belligerents.

The French strategy

The French had also shifted the cards, as briefly addressed in the introduction. The dramatically changed strategic situation in the north - as a result of the crumbling of both the Belgian and Dutch front-line - had forced the French to alter plans. The forward defence could no longer be maintained and the basis had been slammed under the 'Hypothese Breda'. That (military-strategic) basis had been to control the area east of Breda and Turnhout and enable the French army to build a strong defensive formation that could eventually facilitate a counter offensive south of the Meuze, straight into the German Ruhr zone. After the Dutch defence at the Peel-Raamline but moreover the Belgian defence at the Albertcanal had crumbled and the German formations poured into the large wedge between Albertcanal and Meuze, the French could not maintain a forward defence without jeopardizing substantial forces being cut off. Adequate armoured formations to counter the German flanks were unavailable. As such 'Hypothese Breda' was gradually abandoned.

As a result of the revised plans for the 7th Army, its staff issued a revised instruction to its commanders, called "l'Instruction particulier No. 15". This instruction shifted the units of the 60th and 68th a little around. The main objective for the 68th had now become the defence of Walcheren, whilst the 60th had to divide its troops over Zuid-Beveland and Zeeuws-Vlaanderen. The previously envisaged firm defence of the Breda region was abandoned and the French formations in Holland were ordered back onto Belgian soil, with only a thin screen of forward defences left behind.

German progress in the southwest

In the southwest of the Netherlands the Germans had almost reached Zeeland. Although the Germans did not seem very eager in progressing westwards yet, the French forces around Breda and further west would be confronted with some German reconnaissance parties. But in fact the 13th would give the French some breathing space.

The French quickly organised an improvised forward defence around Woensdrecht and Bergen op Zoom, the last land-connection with the main force at Zeeland. Should the Germans manage to take these two cities, it would certainly seal the end of the Antwerp defence. From thereon the Germans would be able to shell Antwerp and control the Scheld canal. Also, they would have created a wedge between the French forces at the Zeeland island and those to the south of Zeeland.

The French divisions also started to redeploy on the Belgian soil. Formations that had first hurried northwards, were sent back in the same pace. The entire disposition of the 7th Army was shifted again. Many of the units that had been sent the furthest upnorth, found themselves hardly in position to retreat with the same pace, some were even sort of countered in the narrow passage between Antwerp and the Dutch southwest. It caused a very uncomfortable French disposition on the 13th and 14th. One that would result in quite severe loss of organisation and as such strength and fire power. The results of that situation wouldn't not miss their impact on the 14th ...