In the summary we look back on the highlights of the fourth day of the German invasion. Also beyond the Dutch borders.
The fourth day of the war in Holland had shown the collapse of the Dutch main defences at both the south-front of Fortress Holland and the central front at the Grebbeline.
In the southern province of Brabant the French had once again retreated - always avoiding any significant challenge of the adversary. Due to the Belgian front-status the units of the French 7th Army had been instructed to concentrate on defending the river and sea banks of the approach ways to Antwerp harbour.
The German 9th Tank Division had penetrated the Fortress Holland in the early morning hours. The force had split up. One column had continued in the direction of Rotterdam, making use of the German occupied bridges at Dordrecht, the other column had advanced on the Dutch defences in the heart of the Island of Dordrecht. After defeating these lightly armed units, the Germans had regrouped. The Dutch had fortified themselves in the town centre of Dordrecht, behind the bridges over the main city canals. Some fearsome fighting had been seen around these strongholds, but at one point the German tanks had been able to penetrate the defences once again. Due to unsolved reasons they retreated from a virtually won battle and proceeded to the Island of Ysselmonde. The battle for the control of the Island of Dordrecht [and her strategic bridges] had been decided into German advantage. Dutch forces on the Island of Dordrecht were taken back.
In the city of Rotterdam the Dutch had withheld the German airbornes and airlanding troops for four consecutive days. The invader had not succeeded in gaining an inch of ground since both sides had found themselves in a stand off around the Rotterdam bridges. On the other hand, the superior Dutch forces had not been able to retake control over the bridges either. As skilled as the Dutch had grown into defence during the first days of the war, as green they still were as it came to offensive actions. All in all, it were the Germans that gained the most from the status of the battlefield in the heart of Rotterdam.
When the 9th Tank Division arrived at the southern outskirts of the city, the Germans appeared to be hesitant to apply these forces to an all out assault over the river. The considerable losses in the streets of Dordrecht had made them realise that even their heaviest tank-type was very vulnerable to the modern Dutch anti-tank guns and they did not plan to lose another company of tanks [they lost about 15 tanks on the Island of Dordrecht according to their own reports].
Initiatives were developed between the local command [Generalleutnant Schmidt, commander of the XXXIX Corps] and the general command in Germany. The local command desired a concentrated and precise tactical bombardment of the Dutch defences by means of dive bombers of the types Ju-87 or Ju-88. The general command - mainly by means of Hermann Göring - insisted on an all out surface bombardment of the north of Rotterdam in order to force the Dutch to capitulate the city. They assigned the entire KG.54 for this purpose and drew that formation from the Belgian theatre.
At Overschie the Dutch forces assaulted the assembled remainders of German airborne and airlanding troops north of Rotterdam. Their attempts were in vain. The considerable force that had initiated an assault in the early morning of the 13th [from the direction of Delft] had been called back. The break through of the German tank division at the Island of Dordrecht had worried the General Headquarters to such extend that they decided to construct an improvised tank-defence around the cities of The Hague and Leiden. The troops at Delft were also assigned for this purpose.
At the central front sector many battles had been fought this fourth day. Two major German operations were seen at the Grebbeline and one less significant action at Ochten in the Betuwe. The first assault against the Scherpenzeel (area) failed due to strong and persistent Dutch defences and a flaw in the German battle plan that left their central push exposed to flanking fire. The second main assault was aimed at the shrunken Dutch defence-line at the Grebbeberg and developed into German advantage. In the morning they first countered the Dutch attack north of the Grebbeberg. From thereon they took over the initiative and the SS moved forward into Achterberg.
On the Grebbeberg itself the 322.IR [207.ID]found itself engaged in dramatic close combat engagements with the defenders of the stopline. In the late morning they managed to penetrate the stopline decisively after which the Dutch defence crumbled. Some very dramatic local fights were paid with plenty of blood from both sides. Hundreds of casualties would be left behind on the battlefield. In the end of the day the Dutch Field Army command ordered the total retreat of the two Army Corpses in the Grebbeline and Betuweline. A rearguard was left behind to keep up the idea of a standing defence. At Rhenen, just west of the Grebbeberg, the Germans discovered the left trenches and positions in the late evening and quickly mobilized a motorised force for pursuit. It would be in vain. The bird had flown. The Dutch Field Army was in full retreat towards the eastern defence line of the Fortress Holland, the famous and notorious Waterline.
A German taskforce from the 207.ID endeavoured to take the southern sector of the Betuweline at Ochten. Their attempts failed, mainly due to excellent cooperation between the Dutch infantry and artillery. A peculiar German navy assault executed by a light flotilla of six boats failed due to the effective fire of three Dutch navy guns that sunk two of the ships and crippled the others. Soon after this event the order for a retreat on the Fortress Holland was received at the HQ of the commander Betuweline.
In the north the German 1st Cavalry Division organised a well prepared assault against the formidable Kornwerderzand fortress. A series of air raids by over 60 Ju-88 bombers were sustained by the defence and a handful of raiders was shot down by accurate AA fire. After a brief but fierce artillery bombardment the Germans advanced over the narrow causeway. The fire bursting from the fortress rejected their assault. All further offensive plans at this location were scrapped.
The Queen had left the country on this fourth day. Already a day before the Crown Princess had evacuated to England, and her mother, the Queen of the Netherlands followed her daughter after strong advice of her commander-in-chief. Also, the cabinet left for London and as such all power over the Dutch land forces and the local Government had been transferred to General Winkelman. He was specifically briefed to capitulate the army to the Germans once it would become clear that further resistance would no longer serve any reasonable purpose. That moment was about to arrive ...
The Dutch situation - pointly summarized as 'collapse' - was more than applicable to the allied situation too. The 13th of May was the all decisive day on the Western European battlefield. That fourth day of the German invasion in the West was in fact the beginning of the end.
At Sedan the French 2nd Army [Général Huntzinger] found itself opposed by formidable armoured troops, artillery and more in particular a fiercely active tactical Luftwaffe force. The primary German force opposing them is XIX.AK [General Heinz Guderian]. The French had started to recognize the danger of the approaching German masses on the opposite side of the Meuze. Large reinforcements, including tank formations, were in transit to the endangered Meuze region. They would come too late though.
In the morning of the 13th the first tanks of 1.PD arrived near the Meuze, much to their surprise hardly challenged by French artillery. A massive Luftwaffe raid [all in all over 1,200 sorties] on the wide defensive stretch on either side of Sedan starts. Dive bombers raided the French defences and artillery positions reluctantly. In the afternoon German artillery [around 100 guns] joint too as well as large concentrations of tanks that took aim at the visible river defences. A hell for the French forces in the targetted zones. Virtually all cross-unit communication was lost and entire units fled the scene. At around 1600 hrs the APC infantry of 1.PD and elements of the motorised Regiment Gross Deutschland crossed the Meuze and rapidly expanded the achieved bridgehead on the west side of the river. Flame throwers and hollow charges were used by pioneers to clear a wide hole in the French defence. The German point troops would manage to penetrate up to seven km into French defended territory.
Another event - not at all directly caused by the German offensive - was of paramount importance too. A little southwest of Sedan a rumour had spread that German tanks had already penetrated the French lines well west of the positions of the 295.IR around Bulson. These rumours led to a massive panic sucking away many units on a wild flee to the west. These masses totally blocked the path of a French tank division that was on its way to counter the German penetrations around Sedan. As a consequence this unit would arrive too late on the scene to actually execute its mission. The events in the morning of the 14th - when the German tanks were shuttled across the Meuze - would come to soon for the delayed French tanks. The consequences would be devastating.
At the Belgian village Houx - a view clicks north of Dinant - German APC infantry succeeded in crossing the scarcely defended Meuze region at a water-works. They managed to get three regiments of 5.PD and 7.PD across the river before they ran into strong French opposition. The German infantry got cornered by tanks of the 6th BCC. Only the next day the tanks of 7.PD would release their infantry. Yet again the French were unable to push the Germans back to the east side of the Meuze.
In the early evening of the 13th the French GQG was informed about the German bridgeheads [three in total] on the west bank of the Meuze. It caused large consternation. On one hand the GQG had been satisfied that the large and important manoeuvre of the combined Belgian-French-BEF forces to man the KW-Dyle line had been finalized in the course of the fourth day, but on the other hand that entire defence-line was jeopardized by the sudden German penetration in the sector Dinant-Sedan. Substantial counter-attacks were planned, but the units to launch a massive mechanized counter offensive lacked. An appeal was made on the airforces too. French and British planes had to raid the many reported pontoon bridges which were under construction along the entire Meuze region in focus.
Many French Generals - as well as Lord Gort - were very much aware that the entire defence was on the virge of collapse if the French would be unable to stop the German tank masses in the Sedan area. Although few Generals realized the magnitude of the Von Runsted forces queuing in the Ardennes forests, they did see the significance of blocking the German path west of the Sedan sector. The French in particular were very aware of the limited potential they had available to control a German expansion and break out from the Sedan bridgehead. Nevertheless Gamelin did not judge the matter as grave as it actually was. The French Commander-in-Chief was still positive that with the appropriate countering measures, the Germans would be sealed off in their bridgeheads and that ample time was available to draw in troops from the south and perhaps even redeploy a considerable portion of the 7th Army. The commander of that last army however, very much realised that the game was played. He was convinced - along with his direct superior Georges - that only a miracle could save France.
The French had walked into the same trap as the Dutch. The Dutch GHQ had shown strong disbelieve when reports occurred that strong German tanks were approaching through the southern province of Brabant and had as such failed to take the appropriate counter-measures. They had fully relied on their French allies to counter any German formation even trying to get to Moerdijk. The French had shown identical emotions when - on 12 May in particular - many reports were issued from air reconnaissance indicating vast German columns of tanks, APC's, artillery and logistic trains moving across the Ardennes area. Should they have given adequate weight to these reports, they would have been able to bring the tank reserves into the rear of the Meuze defence in time. Then they would have had the iron fists available to hammer the light German point formations back into the Meuze and close the door on an easy German crossing of the southern Meuze region.
The German perspective
Obviously the developments in the Dutch sector gave plenty of reasons for quite a relief. The southern operation went exactly according to schedule with the ground forces linking up with the airlanding bridgehead on the third day. The 9th Tank Division was progressing according to schedule too and the French in Brabant posed no challenge whatsoever. In the central front the army had broken through the Grebbeline and was pushing for the Fortress Holland. The only matter that had some eye-brows frown, were the tough Dutch defences in Rotterdam. That had to be broken soonest. Especially on the 12th the 9th PD was urgently required in the south. During the course of the 13th this urgent need diminished, since the break through at Sedan seemed to succeed. Basically the northern front gave little cause for trouble or worry. The only remaining objective was to force a quick Dutch capitulation after which both the Luftwaffe and some Heer units could be shifted to the south.
Like the days before the Germans had mixed emotions on the developments in Belgium and the north of France. They had shifted the Luftwaffe emphasize from the north of Belgium to the south of that country and the north of France. They were very aware that from that moment on the blinds would fall off and the genuine strategy would become clear to their opponents. They closely monitored the events during the critical window that occurred when the first modest bridgeheads on the west bank of the Meuze had been established. The most critical element of the plan would be the successful crossing of the river by the bulk of the armoured forces. That point was about the be reached by the end of the 13th of May.
The German command instructed its senior army commanders that once the bridgeheads would be secured with the first tank formations, they had to focus on having the bulk of formations and supplies cross the Meuze river prior to any follow up on the successful crossing. The conservative top German brass had not consumed the true ideas of Blitzkrieg yet and hang on to the conservative ideas of consolidation over those of aggresive and prolonged progression. But besides the reluctance to accept the Blitzkieg doctrine as leading, the army staff worried over the logistical challenges. They feared that the tank forces would run dry, that the infantry would lose connection and moreover, they awaited the formidable French tank forces to intervene. Especially Heinz Guderian - commanding the XIX.AK - was of the opinion that his armoured units had to benefit from the lacking French tank formations and break out soonest. He pushed the logistic trains to the absolute limit and demanded the utmost of his men and officers. Guderian was not backed up by his superior, Von Kleist, who was more of a semi-conservative statue. These diverging perceptions between the army staff and the field generals were about to rise to a genuine and dangerous clash of strategic principals. A clash which had the potential to grow into a major command crisis in the field.
Besides the glooming success of the Meuze crossing, the Germans still felt tremendous pressure from the logistical component of their invasion plan. If anything was worth losing sleep over, it was the logistical nightmare the German army was facing. It would always remain their Achilles Heel. The logistics were still the worst developing operational facet, not only causing all the roads leading west to be utterly packed with traffic, but also jeopardizing the operational endurance of the point formations. The entire Blitzkrieg concept - whether mildly or progressively executed - depended on the constant availability of fuel, ammunition, spare parts, food and beverages. The Von Kleist army in particular was a logistics drain, requiring massive columns of fuel-trucks, mechanical support facilities as well as ammunitions. The progress of the tank formations and their attached APC infantry units demanded the utmost of the entire organisation behind it, especially since the Ardennes area was not at all suitable for the masses of tanks, troops and material passing through it during the first phase of the operation. Besides the basic organisation of getting supplies to the front-line [return journeys were almost out of the question], the German army had to secure its safety too. Although the allies showed little determination in raiding the exposed German columns, the operational managers in the German army had to anticipate on these opponents anyway.
In fact the history books always emphasize on the events on the frontline, focussing on the successes or failures in the narrow front zones. But the true miracle of the German Fall Gelb operation was the fact that the massive logistical challenge was met by the hundreds of thousands of soldiers occupied in the supply chain. Barely met, for they could only hold on by the finger nails. And the top brass knew this and realized that the logistics mattered at least as much as the progress of the troops. It was exactly the top brass worry over lacking supplies that caused the interventions from the top as it came to the ever progressing tank Generals in the field. A tank army without juice, is like a non-existing force. It is powerless and ready for the slaughter. These emotions started to dominate the German army staffs more than the joy over so much success.