An introduction of the author
The website War Over Holland was created and audited by Allert M.A. Goossens, a Dutch war historian, specializing in the history of May 1940 and prelude.
This website is a member of the group of URL's on the May War in the Netherlands created and mastered by the 'Kennispunt Mei 1940' foundation, but the only one set entirely in the English language. The (mainly Dutch) sister sites http//www.maaslinie-mei1940.nl and http://www.zuidfront-holland1940.nl are focussing on specific theatres of the May War in the Netherlands. War Over Holland describes the entire battle for the Netherlands in May 1940, including the battle of Zeeland, that continued after the capitulation of the army on May 15th, 1940.
All these websites are owned and mastered by the members of the Dutch foundation 'Kennispunt Mei 1940' [lit: 'Knowledge-centre May 1940']. That foundation grew out of the - in the Netherlands quite well-known - foundation 'De Greb' that (still) focusses on the Battle of the Grebbeberg and the fights in the adjecent Betuwe-line.
Why was War Over Holland created?
The author has always been appalled by the poor and often inaccurate coverage of the Battle of the Netherlands (in May 1940) in foreign publications and books. These foreign historians seem to neglect the Battle for the Netherlands, probably for reasons of it being a mere side front of the far more important Battle of France. Nevertheless the Battle of the Netherlands was an integral part of the German Westfeldzug, more particularly the episode commonly known as the German operation Case Yellow. Even more so, the French decision to move their highly capable 7th Army out of the back of the main army and into the Dutch/Belgian border region may well have had substantial impact on the battle outcome, when that very army was unavaliable when the Sedan break-out occured.
One remarkable aspect of the German strategy [as it comes to seizing the Dutch territory] was the sensational use of a large combined airlanding / airborne-unit landings right into the heart of the Dutch fortified defences in the west of the country. That aspect of the war in the Netherlands in 1940 appeals to almost all foreign authors, much more than anything else.
It is that very German airlanding operation that is so often poorly addressed in foreign publications. In fact it was far more than just a first off operation of that magnitude and kind in military history. It also provoked the birth of Allied ideas to form their own airborne troops, but moreover it was a mould for the 1944 Allied operation called Market Garden. In fact the operation Market Garden was an almost identical copy of the German operation in the Netherlands in May 1940, silly enough partially unleashed on the very first designer of it all, Kurt Student and his 6th Airborne Army in 1944. The similarities with 1944 are stunning. The German XXVI Corps speeding through the south of the Netherlands in May 1940 in order to link up with the lightly armed airlanding formations holding vital bridges at Moerdijk, Dordrecht and Rotterdam was one-on-one comparable to the race of XXX.Corps in 1944 speeding through the south of the Netherlands in order to link up with the American airbornes and most importantly, the 1st British Airborne at Arnhem. Should Montgomery - or for that matter any Allied General - have known the actual ins and outs of the German operation in the Netherlands four years before (and not the rough sketches taken from mainly German propaganda), they probably would have taken the German operation as a warning from history - instead of an invitation to repeat it! Besides, should the Allied have learnt anything from the German offensive through the Ardennes in May 1940, they would most likely not have underestimated a repetition of that manoeuvre in December 1944 ...
The German airlanding successes in the Netherlands had been less of a German victory than commonly thought. It had been more of a considerable Dutch loss. It were particularly the Dutch defenders that facilitated the German victory and not so much the German troops that won that victory by defeating the Dutch. Even the top level brass in Germany realized that a well prepared army would have defeated the light airborne and airlanding troops. Their next endeavour Crete meant that the fat lady's song for the German airbornes as an actual asset in the higher tactical spectrum. The massive losses of men and material against a mediocre opponent sealed the fate of the airbornes as a tactical means of warfare on the German behalf. The German airbornes were afterwards never used in large scale operations any more - not as airbornes that is. The Allies on their part had to go through a whole series of large scale airborne operation failures to reach the same conclusion: airborne operations should be limited to the lower tactical spectrum or even scaled down to commando-like raids. Nevertheless thousands of Allied airbornes had to undersign that conclusion with their blood before the end of the concept had finally landed on the staff tables. If only the Allied commanders had known what the Luftwaffe and Heer command already realized after May 1940 and May 1941 ...
Nowadays foreign authors, even those who research primary and reliable secundary sources, still seem to miss the boat on the actual events that occurred in the Netherlands in May 1940. Obviously, the struggle of the Dutch lasted a mere five days and was nothing more than a side show against the stunningly quick defeat of mighty France. But is there any reason not to investigate and research a side-show with the same thoroughness as one does when it relates to a main theatre? The author of this website thinks not, hence this much extended narrative of the Dutch struggle in May 1940. It was about time that the world was introduced to the genuine details of those days in May 1940 ...
The author - born in the sixties - was already triggered by WWII history in his early youth. With the passing of the years numerous standard works were virtually learnt by heart. Gradually the focus of the quest for information shifted to the war in May and June 1940 in western Europe. In the early adult years numerous new sources were found to dig into.
In the eighties the author himself joint the army, serving in two cavalry units for a few years. Stationed in Germany with a cavalry reconnaissance battalion, later serving with a tank battalion in the Netherlands.
During the late eighties and early nineties came the inevitable dip. Study as well as carreer years sucked up all time and pushed the passion for war history largely aside. The author got employed in the procurement and contracting business in the oil and gas industry. Many years passed by in which the career put the hobby into the shadow. The passion for war history was still there but time was simply lacking to give it the desired attention.
In the second half of the nineties the career was 'set safe' and ambition grew again, but this time (back) towards war-history. That status is still on. During the last twenty years or so an impressive collection of primary sources has been collected. Archives have been browsed for additional information: The Hague, Washington, Freiburg. Besides, basically all published work about the May 1940 episode has been collected over the years. A network of contacts has been constructed with national and international historians. Many treasures were found during interviews with veterans, especially when it came to battle field impressions.
The amount of gathered battle-field reports, unit reports, after-battle analyses and research reports goes well into the thousands. That figure was able to increase to such staggering heigth by particularly the Dutch archive containing many thousands of personnel reports, but also the Freiburg archives that have dramatically grown into an orderly shape whereas it was a disasterous mess in the previous years. For example, on the Battle of the Grebbeberg alone, over 600 individual reports exist. On the German side the number of sources are quite modest. Partially due to the fact that much paperwork vanished during and after the war, deliberately or due to bomb-raids, but also due to the fact that the German battle-report procedure [so called Gefechtsberichte and Kriegstagebücher] saw reports being gathered on the lowest level upwards, jointly forming into official reports on only company or even battalion level. As such the reports filed by lower ranks eventually mattered little after the official reports were filed. Today that means that the researcher is overjoyed when even a company battle-report is successfully retrieved. Besides a devasting bomb-raid on one of Germany's most prominent army-archives, many reports simply vanished for other reasons. Not the least from theft or plain sloppiness, the latter being the general attitude in the German archives up to only a few years ago. Hence the low number of first line German battle-reports available. That number is closer to a few hundred reports and narratives than the thousands on the Dutch side.
Studying all these battle reports and personal narratives is a trade in itself. Especially on the Dutch part, about 50% of the battle reports is not worth the paper it was written on. Non-specific or containing odd details not worth mentioning. The average quality of the surviving batch is poor too. Basically one could defend that only a mere 5-10% is worth studying in detail and depth. Even that top layer poses the researcher with many challenges to grow to a reliable reconstruction. As one finally has reached the point that a schematic has been produced out of these reports and narratives, one finds that there are still many voids and catches in the information remaining. The researcher is lucky if a German counter-report is available. Although one may expect these German battle-reports to be biassed and even propagandistically contaminated, it is usually not the case. Generally spoken - referring to the May 1940 episode - the German battle-reports are tuned down, to the point, containing valuable operational data and more than often accurate all along. They are usually less biassed than Dutch or French reports. Even more so, they show that 'own-fire-incidents', Fifth Columnist hysteria and panic were almost as common amongst Germans as any of the belligerents (only better controlled).
Studying these many sources takes an enormeous amount of time and above all the discipline not to research and study with a prejudice. It occurs that after thorough study of dossiers a certain picture of a particular battle stage has grown, but that after some time (or after publication) a new and reliable source pops-up that intervenes with that picture. The effort to accept that the previously formed paradigma has to be aborted is sometimes considerable. It is hard to make that correction, because when one has studied a certain event for ages and one has grown into a certain angle or perception, one developes prejudice regardless of the prior intentions not to do so. Prejudice is as human as dying, but it is the most dangerous element of history research and writing. If the author - during his quests for 'the truth' is intervened by prejudice or when he feels that he is unable to vector his thoughts into more than one direction, he usually lays a dossier aside for a while or requests a third person to analyse the dossier for him. Prejudice is the one thing that jeopardizes the entire trade of history writing (in the free world). Whether it is preoccupation [deliberate editting of the history files] or the undesired but yet unavoidable tendency to grow into a fixed perception: prejudice and bias are the influences that should be avoided at all costs. And that is an everlasting struggle!
The most common pre-positioning / prejudice while studying WWII - any war for that matter - is the 'friend / foe' or 'good guy / bad guy' prejudice. Only few authors or researches have been able to shake off the prejudice of evil Germany and devine Allies. Once a researcher is able to lose the preset of friend and foe, he gains much room for improvement in digging up the 'truth', realizing that truth in history writing always has two sides, at least. Usually even more. How hard it is to hold on to vectoring the truth from at least two angles, is difficult to describe! Internet is packed with forums and interactive discussion platforms. Prejudice and politics pollute those virtual meeting-points, far more than most contenders or web-masters are willing to admit. The same goes for nationalistic feelings that are common around the world.
Veterans of WWII - or any war - are often worshiped or at least much respected. Respect is what every veteran of a war zone deserves. There is however a difference between respecting a person for what he did, for what he went through, and taking everything he says or produces for granted. In some circles it is not done to contradict a veteran. That is where worshiping comes into place. Everything the Vet says is accepted and must be true. That is a very genuine threat as it comes to filing oral history. That is exactly where myths are born.
Veterans are often not the important 'first hand' sources one would like to think they are. They have usually only seen a fraction of a battle, mostly missed out on the crucial bits and pieces and are often biassed or suffering from mutilated memory. Most vets were not in the driver seats, ordinary soldiers, not aware of tactical or operational intel. Rarely a veteran can bring about a piece of information that does bring the researcher a new lead. Veterans are crucial and of paramount importance as it comes to conveying the attrocities of war, the horror of battle, the personal impressions. When one interacts with many veterans, any idea that may live inside the mind of a historian or researcher that leans towards some sort of 'romancing the war' simply vanishes. But when one expects to be able to reconstruct a battle from a handful of veteran narratives, one shall find oneself emptyhanded afterwards!
Veterans are usually not as keen to talk as people tend to think. They usually produce a rap that they have said a thousand time before. The gung-ho veterans appearing and re-appearing in the average tv documentary do not represent the average battle veteran. The far majority of veterans of war - any war - are (as it comes to their memories) confined in their own world of horror and shock. I have met many veterans who only found the courage to talk about their personal history in the autumn of their lifes. They often shared with me that they managed to push their memories away during their active lives, suppress the so often felt traumas with the day-to-day worries of common life. But when the ever deserved retirement era comes on, they get the time to go back - mentally - to those early years of their lives where the events of war changed their programming forever. Nightmares (re)occur, the need to speak about the hidden history grows beyond restrain and often a sudden urge occurs to revisit graves or former brothers in arms. The spauses of these veterans have - sometimes - the greatest possible challenges to stand by their husbands. Not only because they 'don't dig', but more often because they entered the lives of their husbands only years after the traumatic events. They were never really part of those episodes whatsoever. When it comes to their husbands suddenly developing the urge to deal with the reappearing traumas, many spauses fail to be able to adhere to the demands the suffering veterans suddenly develop.
These veterans are yet not too keen to interact with the younger historian. Sometimes they blundly reject a request, on occasion they first probe the knowledge and quest of the inquiring historian. Once veterans establish that one is able to perceive their stories and even guide them through the genuine setting of the battles that they have been through, often enough suddenly an oracle opens up. The experiences of the author are that once this connection between researcher and veteran is made, conversations about one single topic can take many hours. Many hours during which things can get extremely emotional. Conversations after which veterans can be either relieved or shocked. It is a very delicate business, interviewing veterans. Cutting through the chase right away is 'not done'. They have to set the pace themselves, have to be in control as it comes to opening up their vaults. That is a procedure that is mandatory once a researcher puts the respect for the veteran ahead of his own quest for information. That interaction works both ways. The veteran can get things off of his chest, the historian learns about the personal experiences.
Sometimes it is the historian that is the first person able of opening the vault containing the supressed memories. It is the authors personal experience that occasionally a veteran (or his wife) later calls to say that after the interview some sort of liberation feelings occurred. Suddenly all kinds of initiatives are taken to regain contact with the old comrades, the old regiment or remembrance organisations. Occasionally the spauses are introduced to a side of their husbands they never knew before, that had been confined for decades. But also it has occurred that a veteran afterwards admitted that the interview had dug up so many horrifying memories that the aftermath was not at all pleasant. All the more reason to be most cautious when one initiates an interview with a war veteran.
Save the aforementioned tender and care that the researcher needs to apply, one shouldn't overestimate the value of veteran information for the trade of history. So many decades after the war the memory doesn't serve as well as one would like it to be. Moreover, trauma tends to mutilate memory. And perhaps one of the most 'dangereous' features of reproducing history from veteran memory is the grown perception of stories heard tell, transforming into false or contaminated reproduction of their own experiences. The veteran elaborating on his experiences claiming to have been part of different events that happened simultaneously but on different locations has often been met. Those claims usually have absolutely nothing to do with boosting their own record or deliberatly exaggerating their personal history, but with the grown strong believe of actually having lived through indeed those very experiences. The contamination of memory by external elements, should not be underestimated. If one goes back into one's own circle of friends or family, one can usually dig up at least one one or two of those stories of which one is much aware of the amount of 'contamination'. People tend to start believing in their own little fabricated truths, but also the story-lines that appealed to the mind at some point. Later on it is hard - or even impossible - to separate the genuine part from the 'gained' part.
Famous last words
When the introduction of this website refers to Germany being the enemy in the period May 1940 - May 1945 and not before or after, that also refers to the intention of the author to present the visitor of this website a narrative on the events in May 1940 that refer to Germans and Germany as the enemy in those days - not today.
This website is intended to present visitors around the world a down-to-earth day-by-day narrative on the events in May 1940 in the Netherlands. Its content should appeal to all nations, regardless of their band or link with any of the belligerents. The wording has been carefully chosen and the visitor shall only scarcely find the word 'enemy' in the text. The belligerents in May 1940 are usually referred to as such or addressed as opponents. Where on occasion the word 'enemy' does occur, the author desires to express the meaning of that word in the given context only.
This website is intended to present the visitors with a historical overview of the events in May 1940 during the Battle of the Netherlands. The level of detail that is chosen for is a result of a careful calculation of the desired format and size of this internet-source. A lower level of detail would possibly lead to poor or even wrong perception of the events. A higher level of detail may fascinate a happy few (with the same hunger for micro-details as the author), but bore the hell out of most others. Therefore the author chose the medium level of detail currently shown. Should any visitor feel intriged by some events and require more information, the forum may be referred to where on can post a query, or the author can be addressed directly by mail.
Meanwhile the author sincerely hopes that the visitors of War Over Holland feel well served with this website!
Would anyone desire to contact author personally, a direct-link e-mail address opens after clicking this mailto link.