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The Betuwe: Ochten


The Betuweline defence - connecting the Grebbeline [to its north] and the Meuze-Waalline [to its south] - had seen relative ease in the past three days. With exception of some skirmishes in the frontzone and the night assault on the 12th, there had not yet been considerable clashes between the opposing forces. The Betuwe was an off-zone to the German invasion force. The only true objective the Germans had in this area, was the tying of the Dutch field army units in order to prevent them from being shifted to the burning Grebbeberg area. The Betuwe was a side show. But on this fourth day of the invasion, things would get uglier.

Opposing forces around Ochten

After the Germans had penetrated the forward positions overnight [12/13 May], they were facing the Dutch forces in the frontline in the southern sector of the Betuweline. The north had remained untouched. The reason why some Dutch units had shifted front northwards, in order to be able to assist the Grebbeberg defences and form a defensive shield along the Rhine in case of German ambition to cross to the south.

The defenders in the southern sector at Ochten were not very strong or well equipped. In the target zone two companies were responsible for the frontline defences. A battalion was situated along the Waal river [in order to prevent landings to the rear of the line]. Three modern AT guns were at the frontline disposal. Twenty-four artillery guns would be able to support the troops: 12 pieces of 7,5 cm, 12 pieces of an obsolete 12,5 cm gun-type. Furthermore a pivot mounted river-battery of three naval guns [7,5 cm] was able to shoot in the southern sector east of the frontline and at the river Waal.

The opponent could deploy a full battalion [II.Battalion, 374 Regiment of the 207.ID: approx 900 men] reinforced by two platoons [80 men: pioneers and scouts], six additional pieces of anti-tank guns and four pieces of 10,5 cm howitzers. Also in the rear of this, a further reconnaissance squad with some armoured cars, a large anti-tank unit [33 off 3,7 cm PAK35/36 guns] and a light FLAK unit [12 guns of 20 mm] was available.

Battle at Ochten

At around 0400 hours the Germans started going forward and 45 minutes later the battle came to full. At the most southern sector the fighting was very intense for a couple of hours. Although the Germans gained local superiority, the defences did not give in. The Germans retreated.

Hereafter the attackers pushed forward in the central sector but again they were rejected by the combination of infantry and artillery fire. After this they moved back a couple of clicks and stayed well out of reach of the Dutch infantry weapons. Their exact positions were spotted anyway, and very accurate artillery fire pinned them down.

It must have been around 1400 hours that suddenly a flotilla of small German ships appeared on the river Waal. One larger gunboat accompanied by two MGB's [Schnellboote] sailed ahead of another three ships. The Dutch naval-battery immediately opened fire, hit all three leading boats and consequently the two MGB's sunk. Two other ships sustained heavy damage and it wasn't until the gunboat started pouring out a smoke curtain that the Dutch naval battery ceased fire. The remaining four ships returned heavily damaged to a Dutch harbour in Druten for recovery.

After this last peculiar event [what did these Germans intend with this rather optimistic maritime action?], no sign remained of any enemy in the vicinity of the Dutch defences. It would not come to a new confrontation, because the evacuation of the Grebbeline would also pull the troops in the Betuwe with it.

The German battle-group [mainly comprising 2nd Battalion of IR.374] had suffered 22 KIA during the operation and about 100 reported WIA. The German navy losses are unknown. The Dutch only lost 5 men KIA.

Action elsewhere

In the northern sector of the Betuweline, adjacent to the Grebbeberg [only the Rhine in between], the occupation of the sector contributed to the fight at the Grebbeberg in many ways. Two sections of heavy machineguns and some mortars were posted near the river-dike and were able to cover the room east of the Grebbeberg. Also three batteries of 7,5 cm guns had taken part in the fighting. A number of times they fired volleys at spotted German units between Rhenen and Wageningen and later they took aim at the western slope of the Grebbeberg [after the Germans had broken trough].

The famous last words of the battle for the Grebbeberg had also been spoken by the troops in the Betuwe. The large railway bridge crossing the Rhine at Rhenen had to be blown up. Due to German infantry fire, engineers had been unable to reach the prepared charges and as such the artillery that had not left yet was ordered to shoot at the positions where the charges had been installed.

Two of the three batteries of the 1st Battalion of the 22nd Artillery Regiment fired all their remaining ammunition on the bridge, but to no avail. Then a gun commander found a last couple of boxes with rounds and with these last rounds he and his crew managed to hit the charges and the bridge finally blew up around 1900 hours. It had been the last fireworks of the battle. The Grebbeline had fallen to the enemy.

The Betuweline was - like the northern sector of the Grebbeline - evacuated after the German penetration of the Grebbeline at Rhenen. A sad event for the defenders, especially those that had rejected a serious German raid at Ochten in the morning. They had felt strong and illusive after their success, but in the late afternoon they had yet to leave their perfectly intact trenches to the opponent.