The Dutch airforce was - like the Belgian airforce - a small weapon that was only semi-odern too. The modern part of the fleet had been procured and delivered in the last four years. The airforce had been the only military branch that had not necessarily suffered from budget cuts and low investments during the interbellum, because large scale investments in the twenties or early thirties would have left an obsolete airforce in 1940 anyway. The developments of new war planes was such an accelerated and progressive process that only last years investments mattered in 1940. A fortunate fact. On the other hand did the cut-backs have a visible negative effect on the number of qualified flying personnel and the state of most airbases.
In this chapter we shall briefly introduce the airforce status on May 10, 1940. Not all sorties and missions shall be reproduced.
Organisation and strength
The Dutch airforce was still an army airforce. It had not been an independant branch like the RAF or the Luftwaffe. It had two branches. The first one was intended for strategic use and available to the General Headquarters. The second branch was intended to be directed by the Commander of the Field Army. When the invasion occurred and the air landings shifted the odds, the entire Air Force was put under the wings of the General Headquarters though.
The airforce had about 75 (91 if one includes the C-X) modern airplanes operational, about another 23 available, but in repair or overhaul. It were:
- 36 off Fokker D-XXI single engine fighters (29 operational, 7 available)
- 36 off Fokker G-1 Mercury type twin engine fighter-cruisers (23 operational, 7 available)
- 26 off Fokker G-1 Wasp type twin engine fighter-cruisers (3 operational, 23 unavailable)
- 17 off Douglas 8A-3N light strike planes (11 operational, 6 available)
- 14 off Fokker T-V bombers (9 operational, 3 available, 2 unavailable)
- 16 off Fokker C-X light strike planes / recce (16 operational).
That is a total of 145 modern or semi-modern airplanes entered into service in the airforce of which 91 were operational on May 10, 1940.
The older part of the fleet comprised another 56 planes. These were all bi-planes, most of which were of obsolete design. It were:
- 31 off Fokker C-V light strike / recce (27 operational, 4 available)
- 7 off Fokker D-XVII single engine fighter (7 operational)
- 18 off Koolhoven FK-51 recce / arty support (16 operational, 2 available)
- Numerous school and practise types (non operational)
Of these 56 planes were 50 operational. It has to be said though that come May 10th, the FK-51 was taken off of the operational fleet, leaving 91 (semi)modern and 34 obsolete planes available for active duty. A very modest total of 125 airplanes. Some of the available planes were quick-fixed durin the May War and as such added to the fleet during the battle.
Above figures are excluding the fleet of the Navy Air Force (MLD). See for that the last chapter hereunder.
The Dutch airfields that lay within the 'save' confines of the Fortress Holland and the bases at Hilversum (Utrecht) and Gilze-Rijen [near Tilburg] housed all operational airplanes. Two training-schools had been stationed in the province Zeeland, one at the isle of Texel. All the other bases in the country had been closed. They were considered to be too close to the main-defence lines or they were located in the areas of the country that were left to the enemy.
The main bases were:
- De Kooy [Den Helder]: one fighter squadron [D-XXI]
- Bergen [near Alkmaar]: one fighter squadron [G-1] and one recon/light strike group [C-X]
- Schiphol [near Amsterdam]: one fighter squadron [D-XXI]; one bomber squadron [T-V]
- Ypenburg [near The Hague]: one fighter squadron [D-XXI]; one modern recon and light ground support squadron [Douglas 8A-3N]; one obsolete recon squadron [C-V / FK-51]
- Waalhaven [near Rotterdam]: one fighter squadron [G-1]
- Valkenburg [near Leiden]: under construction.
Secondary bases were:
- Hilversum [near Utrecht]: one recon squadron [C-V / FK-51 - 2 x C-X]
- Ruigenhoek [near Noordwijkerhout]: one recon squadron [C-V / FK-51]
- Gilze Rijen [near Tiburg]: one recon squadron [C-V / FK-51]
- Ockenburg [near The Hague]: [service: 5 x Douglas 8A-3N, 2 x G-1 Wasp]
- Middenmeer [near Den Helder]: [no planes]
- Haamstede [near Vlissingen]: flying school [C-V / FK-51, training planes]
- Souburgh [near Vlissingen]: flying school [training planes]
- De Vlijt [Island Texel] flying school: [7 x D-XVII, 2 x D-XXI, 1 x G-1, 1 x T-V]
- Buiksloot [near Amsterdam]: [no planes]
The Dutch had foreseen quite a number of auxiliary strips in the west. Some of these would never be detected by the Luftwaffe. The most important of those was Buiksloot [Amsterdam/Zaandam] that after the German first strike would house all single engine fighters. It would be evacuated on the 13th due to fear of German shore landings at the western Ysselmeer coast.
At many airfields, where the obsolete recon and training planes were stationed, the planes had been parked outside the airfields. Sometimes - like in Bergen and Ypenburg - the C-X's had been parked and camouflaged quite far from the base. This prevented a lot of damage and destruction in the first hours of the war.
All of the main- and secondary bases - with exception of the never detected AFB's Middenmeer, Ruigenhoek en Buiksloot - were attacked by the Luftwaffe. Some during the first strike; some in the course of the battle. The airfield that was punished the most was Schiphol. It was basically attacked continuously - with some intervals - during the first day. Also Bergen and De Kooy received a lot of Luftwaffe attention. The strike at Bergen was the only one that had a devastating effect and it destroyed half the modern G-1 squadron and a few C-X's in the hangars. Only one plane escaped from destruction, whilst only five could later be repaired. At the other bases the fighters and bombers were able to take off prior to destruction on the ground.
The first strike
The Dutch airforce escaped from the massive destruction that for example hit the Belgian airforce in the first hours of the invasion. In Belgium almost all modern planes were destroyed during the first strike. In Holland all modern squadrons had pre-heated their engines as off 0300 hrs and as such they were able to scramble and engage the enemy quickly. This not only resulted in the survival of a substantial number of planes, but it also facilitated the airforce in shooting down about 30 enemy planes during the first day.
For pilots who enjoyed the privilege of flying the relatively modern fighters - especially the highly manoeuvrable D-XXI - it was a field day. Not that the enemy fighters were incapable or outnumbered - not at all. But the sky was packed with slow flying targets like the He-111, Do-17 and Ju-52. Still, due to the overwhelming number and force of the Luftwaffe, many fighters were eventually shot down or forced to land in the country from where they could not take off again. The German seizure of the three airfields around The Hague and the only one at Rotterdam [Waalhaven] meant that many modern planes that had managed to take off in time and that had successfully negotiated their way through the Luftwaffe packed sky were forced to make emergency landings all over the country. This resulted in the loss of many of these planes due to destruction by either the forced landing or follow-up Luftwaffe strafings. For example three G-1's from Waalhaven that had scored quite some air-victories were forced to land on a beach. The planes were in good shape after the landing, but without fuel and an engine-sling they were unable to take off again. It took the Dutch two full days to organise these items, and when the hopeful pilots again reached their planes they had just been shot up by Bf-110's ... A fate that hit many planes.
It was a pleasant surprise that the few dozens modern Dutch fighters proved to be a match to their German counterparts. Both the G-1 and the D-XXI easily outmatched the Bf-110 in dogfights, although the latter had a higher top-speed and notorious guns that one better stayed away from. Also the Bf-109E - the standard German fighter plane in those days - was outmanoeuvred by the D-XXI in dogfights. The D-XXI had a superior manoeuvrability and recovery climbing speed; both essential features in a dogfight. It is therefore that the Dutch fighters managed to end the war with a positive score against these modern German machines. The main reason why the Dutch held a positive dogfight score lay in the fact that the interception role - for which the relatively slow Dutch planes [both about 440-470 km/u top-speed] were totally unsuitable - was not applicable at all during the five days' war.
The Dutch airforce seriously lacked suitable assault- and strike-planes that could deliver a punch. The Fokker T-V medium bomber - modern for its time and almost an equal match to for example the German He-111 - was only procured in a very small quantity. The first day almost all of them had been destroyed, although the few planes that did fly managed to shoot down quite a number of enemies.
After the virtual destruction on the first day of 7 out of the 9 operational T-V's and all of the 17 Douglas light strike planes, the entire tactical role would have to be borne by the old Fokker C-X [400 kg pay load max.] and the obsolete Fokker C-V [200 kg pay load max.]. Still these planes performed outstanding - much to the surprise of both crews and military planners. A quite stunningly low number was actually shot down.
Already on the first day the air crews realised that the German air superiority could only be challenged by flying at extremely low altitudes [what the English call "hedge hopping" and the Americans use to call "barn-storming"]. As such pilots sometimes returned home with grove in their landing-gear or on their wingtips; even one case of bended propeller blades was reported [a G-1 with retractable gear]! This method proved very effective and at many occasions German fighters flew overhead, not noticing the green camouflaged bi-planes flying on an altitude of just 100 metres [or lower] above the deck. The old and obsolete bi-planes did also proof effective light ground-support airplanes, which they would proof in particular with their 10 May assault at Moerdijk and at the Grebbeberg [12 and 13 May]. Although they didn't stand much of a change in a dogfight - apart from evasive manoeuvring at low altitudes - the light support planes managed to avoid engagements with the enemy with an amazing rate of success.
Successes are relative
The rate of destruction that came over the Dutch airforce was - notwitstanding the dogfight-successes - high. Their successes against the enemy were remarkable; however the Dutch were unable to replace any of the destructed planes, although about ten modern planes joint the operational units during the five days' war.
The Germans - that would apply over 1,800 airplanes over the Dutch front during the eight days of war over Dutch soil - didn't feel the loss of strike capacity that much. Almost half the Dutch airforce was eliminated after the first day. Some damaged planes could be patched up - usually with basic materials like sticky tape or cork - but after the first day the Dutch airforce was even more of a neglectable item than it had been at X-hour. The only issue that was hard felt on the German side, was the giant loss rate of the slow Ju-52. But those losses were basically caused by other causes than the Dutch airforce, who only managed to pick around two dozen of the Ju-52's out of the sky.
Nevertheless German fighter officers would on more than one ocassion show their awe and respect for the Dutch pilots after the capitulation. Obviously part of their respectful attitude was chivalry of the vicorious side, but the remarkable skills of Dutch fighter pilots in particular had not only created respect ouf of courtesy. Quite a number of Dutch pilots would proof their skills when the later flew in the 320, 321 and 322 Dutch sqaudrons in the RAF.
Navy Air Corps (MLD)
The Dutch Royal Navy had its own air corps (MLD). It comprised mainly sea-planes. The by far largest batch was stationed in the Netherlands East Indies, and was mainly fitted out with the very modern (36 off) Dornier Do-24K and (36 off) Catalina [type 4] flying boats.
The Dutch based MLD fleet had the modern Fokker T-VIII-W and the older Fokker C-XIV-W [the addition 'W' stands for 'water-plane'].
The C-XIV-W [navy reconnaissance: 1 x 7,9 mm MG] were stationed at De Mok [Texel], Veere [Zeeland] and Alkmaardermeer [lake near Alkmaar]. In total 24 planes of which 13 were destroyed by German doing, 1 by own personnel and 10 managed to get to Engeland. They would later be flown to the Netherlands East Indies, where they would eventually all be destroyed during the battle of december 1941 - march 1942.
The eight operational T-VIII-W's [torpedo bomber: 600 kg bombs or one torpedo, 2 x 7,9 mm MG] were divided over the Braasemermeer [lake near Leiden], De Mok, the Westeinderplas [small lake near Amsterdam] and at Schellingerwoude [near Amsterdam]. Two more were delivered by the Fokker plant during the five days' war. Of these ten T-VIII-W seven made it to Engeland and served with the RAF, flown by Dutch crews [320 Dutch squadron]. Three were lost during the May War. The Germans confiscated the remaining fleet that was in production at Fokker. In total 24off T-VIII-W would serve with the Germans in the Baltic, some off the coast of Greece too.
Also 10 off old Fokker C-VII-W were operational and all stationed at De Mok. They were used as trainers. They were all shot up by Luftwaffe strafings. The also obsolete 9 off C-VIII-W were in use as trainers as well, and five of these managed to get to England where their crews proved to be more valuable than the planes.