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The airforce


The resources of the small Dutch airforce clearly started showing the bottom of the well by the end of the fourth day. Airplanes could not be replaced by newly built ones (like the French, British and Germans could) and hardly any patched up plane re-entered service anymore. There was no replenishment of exhausted stocks and worn out material. The pilots and ground crews were totally exhausted from the previous four days of contineous service and stand-by duties. And the scarce still flying material had been patched up so many times that some fuselages in fact resembled the structure of a strainer.

If it wouldn't have been for the fact that the Germans never discovered two stealthy camouflaged (auxiliary) airstrips, the Dutch airforce would most likely have been annihilated during the first two or three days of the war. It was a miracle anyway that the Lufwaffe did not concentrate more attention on the airfields in use.

In Belgium and France they remained very active in patrolling the still useable airfields; in Holland they concentrated most of their airpower in the room Rotterdam as direct support to the airlanded troops and as patrols against any Allied operation. As a result the Dutch were able to keep operating from a number of airfields and strips. Schiphol [Amsterdam], Bergen [Alkmaar], Buiksloot [Amsterdam-north], Ruigenhoek [Noordwijkerhout] and Middenmeer [Wieringermeer, close to Den Helder] were all intensively used by the airforce.

Status of the surviving airfields and units

AFB Buiksloot had been evacuated at the third day because the General Command feared for a German invasion on the westbanks of the Ysselmeer. A decision that did raise some eyebrows afterwards and was considered too hasty a decision. The field had not been discovered by the Luftwaffe and had been a safe haven for all modern single-engine fighters. It had originally been designated to become the main base for Allied planes that were expected. When these did not come, the Dutch fighters had made it their main main base of operation. The sudden evacuation of the field had all fighters concentrate on the largest Dutch AFB, Schiphol. But Schiphol was under siege of the Luftwaffe all the time.  

During the first days of the war the heavier units had been stationed at AFB Bergen and AFB Schiphol. Schiphol was the only base that was attacked by the Luftwaffe time and over again. Still, the Dutch kept on using it until the last moment.

At AFB Bergen the G-1 and C-X squadrons had been active during the first three days of the war. About half of the G-1 squadron that had been hit on the first day had been recovered, patched up and put into operation. Many of these planes still saw action. The C-X light attack planes - capable of delivering eight bombs of 50 kg each - had been involved in numerous ground support mission. Remarkably enough they proved quite effective and the skilled pilots managed to avoid high flying Luftwaffe fighters time and again by the method of hedge hopping to and from their targets. Only few planes went lost during missions.

The majority of the reconnaissance planes had been concentrated at the auxilary airfield Middenmeer, in the far northwest of the country. That base had always belonged to this branch and as such a professional photo development studio was available just outside the base. This way aerial photographs could be developed and printed right away and distributed to the desired receiving ends.

The secret base Ruigenhoek was situated in the dunes near Noordwijkerhout. Close by was another, even smaller, strip that wasn't detected by the Germans either. Another proof that the German machine wasn't running as lubricated as many thought [think], was the fact that the German Abwehr [Foreign intelligence service] did identify Ruigenhoek before the invasion. They had achieved this by monitoring radio traffic. There is proof of this in German documents. This information did apparently never reach the Luftwaffe, for they never attacked the field. When in the early morning of 10 May planes from AFB Schiphol landed on the strip - after experiencing their baptism of fire - they had found the base asleep. They were situated so stealthily that even the invasion had not been noticed! The base would remain undetected the entire battle long and as such be able to shelter a modest representation of the older planes in service.

The balance at the 14th of May

At 14 May only a handful of planes was still available to the Dutch. A number of G-1's had been put in commissioning during the last days. The Dutch had ordered 36 G-1's with Mercury engines before the war. A mysterious order for 26 G-1 with Wasp engines had been placed by Spain. Since export to Spain [Franco regime] was restricted, the order had been camouflaged by Fokker as meant for Letland and Finland. In the early months of 1940 the Dutch Government had confiscated these planes, but at 10 May only three of these planes had been armed and ready for service. The balance had not been fully constructed or armed. During the May War a number of these planes had been commissioned after hasty preparation by civil and military personnel. These planes would all see action in the last two days. Probably about six G-1B's - as the Wasp G-1's were unofficially designated - saw action.

In the early morning of the 14th about ten fighters were operational. Half of them G-1's, the other half being D-XXI's.

In the late hours of 13 May, the fighters had been ordered to execute patrols over the provinces of Utrecht and Gelderland immediately after sun rise the next day. The room to be patrolled was the one in which both Field Army Corpses were in full retreat. A number of patrols were flown. The thick ground fog prevented them from spotting the Dutch army, but that didn't matter a lot. They were primarily assigned to protect the forces from Luftwaffe interventions. But the Luftwaffe did not show. When the news was received that the Waterlinie had been safely reached by the ground forces, all fighters were grounded. The pilots and planes had to retire for at least half a day ...

Some air reconnaissance flights were made too, mostly to establish the much feared progress of the German tank division in the south. The missions provided some information, but before it had been processed the war was over.


Come the news of the imminent capitulation, many men started destroying the remaining planes. Some were spared, usually by intervention of officers.

With exception of the pilot training school in Zeeland [we will come back on that in our separate journal about Zeeland] surprisingly few pilots tried to escape to England or France. This had a lot to do with the lack of initiative amongst the senior officers. Or worse, their strict orders on the men to stay and not infringe the still fragile armistice terms, in stead of turning a blind eye. Very much unlike the Navy - where many men were eager to make it across the Northsea - only very few air-men even considered flying off to the other side of the Channel. Peculiarly enough, many airforce pilots had to put a lot of effort in escaping to England during the years of occupation to follow. If only they would have made use of their equipment at the 14th ...

Yet a considerable number of airforce and navy flying corps men would escape. Many of those had been trainees at the Zeeland airforce schools. A considerable number of Dutch air-men would later serve in the RAF [Dutch] squadrons 320 and 322, as well as in the four Dutch squadrons in Australia. The latter mainly being manned by pilots formerly fighting in the NEI airforce.


The combined fighter force of the Dutch airforce had achieved 32 confirmed air victories and about a dozen probables. The T-V bombers contributed another 6 confirmed air victories to that amount, totalling 38 confirmed shot down Luftwaffe planes.

These 38 planes were of the following types: 6 off Bf-110's, 10 off Bf-109's, 9 of He-111, 2 off Ju-88, 1 off Ju-87, 1 off Do-17 and 6 off Ju-52. The remaining confirmed kills were of unidentified types. 

Per Dutch type the following confirmed kills: Fokker D-XXI, 16 victories [5 off Bf-110, 5 off Bf-109, 2 off Ju-88, 1 off He-111, 1 off Do-17 and 2 off Ju-52], Fokker G-1,  14 victories [5 off Bf-109's, 6 off He-111, 2 off Ju-52 and 1 off Ju-87], Fokker T-V bomber, 6 victories [1 off Bf-110, 2 off He-111, 3 off unknown type] and the Douglas 8A3N instant fighter planes, 2 off Ju-52's.

Given its modest size and rather poor flying material, the Dutch airforce had clearly outperformed itself. The fighters had proven themselves in the dogfights against the Germans and had even achieved a positive score [more enemy planes downed than own losses]. Tragically, the losses the Dutch suffered were irreplaceable. The Germans could however easily fill the empty spaces in their lines.

The D-XXI had - much to the suprise of many - proven itself a valuable asset. The odd looking fighter with its fixed gear and lumpy nose had been able to pick up the glove and kick ass. The D-XXI had shown itself an excellent fighter in dog-fighting the Bf-110 and even the occasional Bf-109 that had itself committed in a close combat situation, for which the fast but poorly manoeuvrable Bf-109 was unfit. The G-1 had also claimed quite some successes, especially fighting the German bombers and twin-engine fighters. The eight MG battery in its nose had been a nasty punishment for quite some bigger birds opposing it.  

There had been some bad experiences too. Although the Dutch planes had performed well in their confrontations with the modern opponents, the quality of the bodyworks, engines and machineguns [FN] was determined as quite poor. The planes required far too much maintenance and the guns proved to be almost completely worn off after a few days of war. Far too often mechanical gun failure had occured, mainly with the G-1 but also with the D-XXI.

A much surprising conclusion was that the planes that had been considered quite obsolete and much outdated, like the Fokker C-V and C-X bi-planes, had performed far beyond expectation. Before the war commanders had had their doubt over the value of these older planes. Miraculously few of these planes had been shot down and especially their ground support capacity had been applied many times and with [generally spoken] a high success ratio. In fact, the bulk of the ground support missions flown had been born by these two older types.

The personnel of the airforce outperformed itself during the war. That would be recognized by the Army Command after the end of WWII, when the airforce received the highest branch citation, the Militaire Willemsorde. The much too limited pool of pilots, observers and air-gunners had been stretched to the absolute limit during the five days of battle. Some pilots flew four missions a day. The unavoidable losses of air crews and pilots even increased the demand on the surviving elite. Especially the fighter pilots had been utterly exhausted by the relentless demand on their services. Some had hardly slept an hour over five consecutive days.

The quality of the ground crews - traditionally (in those days) far under staffed - had exceeded every expectation. Assisted by regular army and even civil personnel, they had managed to patch up and maintain the scarce assets of the airforce by working round the clock, achieving miracles by gathering required parts or fabricating replacements and by collecting as much cork as they could find to fill the numereous bullet holes in the fuselages. This all resulted in the Luftwaffe often having to 'kill' one single machine twice or even three times before the final tune was whizzled. Luftwaffe squadrons of KG.4 called the Bergen squadron of G-1's annihilated in their after-battle report when they had taken the AFB by total surprise in the early morning of the 10th. An inaccurate assessment. In the end six planes were recovered from the rubble and patched up to fly again!  

The flying personnel had outperformed itself too. Not alone in the way of exhausting itself and never (truly) complain, but curiously enough the rather loose Dutch pilot training - in which much room was given to perform aerobatics and playtime amongst each other - had the pilots grow so familiar with the plane envelope, that they also grew extremely confident in the capacities and limitations of their Fokkers. As such the D-XXI pilots were able to match the challenges and for example score five air-kills against a Bf-109 squadron strifing AFB de Kooy during the invasion hour, against zero losses themselves. German Bf-109 pilots - over-estimating their planes and underestimating the Fokkers - that saught the old dog-fight, often paid with their lives and/or planes. As such the D-XXI pilots managed to get a positive air-victory score against the Luftwaffe fighters. These same would apply for the G-1, but that was only measured on the first day and basically mostly related to the 3rd JaVA scramble in the early morning of the 10th at Waalhaven AFB, when the eight scrambled Fokkers scored no less than 13 conformed kills and five probables (of which three were confirmed in a German study).

A clear show of under-performance was seen in formation flying and especially escort missions. The Dutch airforce had hardly practised that kind of missions and were quite oblivious in what to expect. The Bf-109's were excellent fighter-planes for interception missions and usually flew at medium or higher altitude in order to benefit from speed interception. The Dutch fighters often let themselves draw into a fight with the first fighters visible in stead of protecting the precious bombers, that subsequently fell victim to the following flight of buzzing Bf-109's. This led to unsuccessful escort missions all along. That was not all to blame on poor escort tactics. Obviously the matter of numbers counted too.

Another point of criticism could have been that the air reconnaissance results had been far below expectations. In particular the missions flown over the central front had failed altogether. The lack of result from these reconnaissance flights, where sometimes not even a single German had been spotted in area's where many thousands were in full march, makes one wonder about the way and determination these missions had been executed. The remarkable lack of result contributed considerably to the underestimation of the force and power of the enemy at the Grebbeberg. That was probably the only event during the entire five days of war, that aerial contibutions could have made a significant difference in the things unfolding on the ground. That opportunity was missed. In respect to air reconnaissance the airforce had utterly failed: an aspect that is hardly ever addressed in Dutch history books. Perhaps because it's hard to judge air-men that after all did jeopardize their lives.

All in all the Dutch airforce had but little influence on the events. They had been fully occupied from the first moment on, mainly by countering the massive German air armada. Their limited numbers and very limited striking capacity had already before-hand prevented the air force to be a branch of any true significance. Yet, with the limited force and means available, they had achieved some stunning results.

German airforce losses

There is plenty of unclarity about the facts and figures that could genuinly substantiate the Luftwaffe losses over Holland.

Before one establishes loss figures one should set a standard. Define what forms a full loss and what doesn't. Based on the most liberal definition (including temporarily put out of action planes), the German losses over Holland in eight days of war mounted beyond 525 air planes. A much extended inventory was put together after many decades of research by Lieutenant-Colonel (ret.) E.H. Brongers. That inventory does not contain all German losses, but it is save to say that the missed out losses shall most likely be compensated by the surviving doublers in the long list.

The Brongers inventory contains 543 Luftwaffe planes of which 44 were damaged for 50% (or more) in Germany on their return flight from the Dutch theatre (established from Luftwaffe research databases). Included in those 44 planes also the occasional crash landing due to pilot error.

Identified by unit and type, the Brongers list contains 37 fighters, 54 bombers, 87 transport planes, 10 light recce planes, 11 sea planes, 2 strategic recce planes and 242 planes of which the unit or type was not identified or (14 off) which were shot down in the province of Limburg after May 10 (when the province had already capitulated). Basically - excluding the Limburg count - 525 planes.

Of those 525 planes about half proved to be full write-offs. Quite a considerable number could be repaired within six months, others could be canabalised and assembled into new planes, like happened with at least 75 Ju-52's with heavy damage. The end result of total losses cumulates to a figure between 225 and 275 planes. Exact figures fail, mainly due to the unclear reassembly of many Ju-52 by means of canabalising 100-150 wreckages. Should one use three wreckages to reassemble one plain, it should be calculated as two total losses out of three initial losses. As such the figure of 225-275 total losses was reached.

The majority of the 525 planes that were damaged or destroyed during the May War, over and in Holland, were Ju-52. Estimates say that between 275 and 350 of these planes were destroyed or heavily damaged and another batch damaged within repair range. German historian Werner Haupt states in 'Sieg ohne Lorbeer' that 280 Ju-52 had been lost on the 10th alone. That figure may be slightly over the top, but was concluded from KGzbV sources and should therefore be considered rather accurate. The majority had not been shot down by AAA or opposing air-planes, but suffered from emergency landings, bombing raids on conquered AFB's, artillery-shelling, strafing or demolition by Dutch infantry. Also, especially on AFB Valkenburg, about 35 Ju-52 had just suffered bad damages to the undercarriages, sometimes followed by additional damage from skidding after the gear had given in. That had been caused by the swampy top-soil at Valkenburg, causing the heavy Ju-52's to sink away.

Of the battle planes that had been lost - about 120 in total - the far majority actually crashed after air battles or AAA impact. These were - with a few exceptions - all total write offs. The same applied to recce and seaplanes that had been lost.

It is very hard to give accurate figures for the actual losses occurred due to Dutch or Allied doing rather than faulty landings after return missions or the trapped Ju-52 fleet at Valkenburg AFB. Certain is that the Dutch had scored 38 confirmed air victories. Allied planes contributed to at least 20 confirmed air kills over Dutch soil in the measured period 10-17 May 1940. Although it is certain that many dozens of German planes were downed by AAA or other ground fire, any guess would be a wild guess. It is impossible to follow the claims made by the ground-air defences, for the claimed every plane with a plume on its tail, even when it was not seen crashing and notwithstanding four, five or six other outfits taking an aim at the same target. Therefore we shall not provide a figure.

The massive loss of transport planes was the only loss that was truly felt by the Germans. They had had about 800 Ju-52 planes when the war actually broke out in 1939 and by June 1940 only a quarter was still more or less operation. By the time - exactly one year later - that the operation in Crete was on and the good old Ju was in full focus again, the losses suffered in the two years before had barely been compensated. Crete yet again demanded a high toll of these slow but essential airplanes. Again a good year later the Ju-52 had a vital role in the air-bridge to Stalingrad. The previous losses in the war were by then the most hard felt. The transport fleet had not been expanded - mainly due to all the loses during the campaigns in Norway, Holland, Belgium and Crete - but the German controlled part of the world was larger than ever.

The second - possibly heaviest - loss the German Luftwaffe suffered was the number of permanently lost flying personnel. Many extensively trained pilots of the first Luftwaffe hour had been killed or enprisoned during the War over Holland and would not return. The Luftwaffe paid a terrible price for the huge aircraft losses that often took entire crews down in flames. But at least as painful was the Dutch transportation of about 1,350 POW's to the UK. Most of these men had been airlanding troops and Luftwaffe flying personnel. And since the air flying schools had been fully mobilised in the transport fleet in particular, many veteran instructors had been lost to the German cause. It was at least a matter that outraged Goering so much that he had ordered a full investigation on the Dutch transport of the 14th, with the explicit instruction on his inquiry team to hold the responsible Dutch officers accountable. He would be disappointed in the end-result and after all, in no instance a better outcome would have solved the matter for him anyway.   

Relatively it had been the Luftwaffe paying quite a paramount price for the conquest of Holland. They had lost a lot more planes than anticipated against a country with a micky mouse airforce and a weak army, they had lost precious personnel and moreover suffered a considerable loss amongst the well trained airbornes and airlanding troops. Much of that loss was indirectly caused by their own overestimation of the shock and awe element of the massive airlanding. The Germans had clearly neglected the high risk profile of their operation. Or had it been the hand of the big boss himself that had rocked the craddle ahead of yet much more dramatic intervention with the German top brass to come ...