The bridges at Dordrecht
The classic city of Dordrecht lay in the northeast corner of the island of Dordrecht. And island formed during the infamous St Elisabeth Flooding in the year 1421. The island was truly surrounded by water. To its north the river Merwede, to the west the Oude Maas and Kil, to the south the Hollandsch Diep and finally along the south-eastern and eastern border the New Merwede. It were the southside (Moerdijk bridges) and north-eastern corner (bridges across the Oude Maas east of Dordrecht) that caught the focus of the Germans. Both sets of bridges connected the south of the country with the island of Ysselmonde, on which the entrance to Rotterdam lay.
The two Dordrecht bridges [railway bridge and traffic bridge] - of which the traffic bridge had been opened shortly before the war - connected the Island of Dordrecht with the Island of Ysselmonde, crossing the Oude Maas flow. They were situated right in between the two cities of Dordrecht and Zwijndrecht, in the far NE corner of the Island. For easy reference we shall address these constructions as the Dordrecht bridges.The traffic bridge was the second shackle in the chain of bridges that were targetted by the German airbornes. A railway-bridge to the east of Dordrecht was of little interest to the Germans. Crossing it would lead them nowhere, so it had no other significance than a possible Ducth route for reinforcements.
The Germans saw little room to drop a large force near the bridges, but they managed to squeeze in a company of airbornes, of which the bulk would land about 1 km SE from the traffic bridge and one platoon NW of it. The German style of raiding a bridge from two sides simultaneously was important to them. In this instance it would safe the day for them. The city of Dordrecht was occupied with quite a large contingent of troops, albeit that 95% of them were non-combattants. Yet a battle of four consecutive days would be fought in and around this city of 80,000 inhabitants (in those days).
The two bridges - that lay parallel and alongside eachother - were defended by a guards troop and two platoons of AA machineguns, one on either side. The guards were elder infantry corporals and a few men from the engineer depot, who in turns performed their guarding duties in groups of five or six men per shirt. The railway bridge was guarded by a double guard of the Railway Engineers. It is interesting to elaborate a little bit more about these Railway Engineer, which were a small specialized branch in the Engineer Corps. Besides guarding the railway bridges on either side of Dordrecht these specialized toops also patrolled the railway infrastructure between the two bridges, with emphasis on the quite extensive Dordrecht rail yard and main station. The platoon, that comprised no less than 60 men (incl. 4 NCO's and an officer commanding), was responsible for safeguarding the Dordrecht railway system as well as the potential preparation of the railway bridge (using timber planks) for the anticipated crossing of ordinary motorised traffic of the Light Division when it would evacuate the south. Typically though a squad size of these Railway Engineers were fully armed and equipped overnight, when about 25 men were performing a number of rolling patrols and fixed guard duties. One remarkable aspect needs to be added still. The living quarters of the Railway Engineers, on a small estate directly south of the train station, overlooked the planned German landing ground (LZ) directly. Although no more than about 20 men or so were actually in their quarters during night time, this little aspect would soon turn out to have a huge significance.
Dordrecht housed a considerable garrison, about 1,500 men in total. Many of these men were fresh trainees or auxiliary units, virtually all recruits from the Army Maritime Engineers Depot (in Dutch: Pontonniers en Torpedisten) in the city. Only about 100 men of the entire force were actually trained combattants. A few hundred men, of the latest levies, had only been enlisted for a few days before the German invasion. These 1,500 men had mostly pistols and carabines as personal arms and only a handful of light machineguns. Heavy machineguns or heavier infantry support weapons, as well as handgrenades, were unavailable with exception of two modern AT guns of 4,7 cm, which were used to trial-test the ammo production of a local plant producing for the army. The ammunition rations were low and moreover confined in a central depot, with exception of a few rounds used for guard duties. The only exception were a 180 men strong company of Army Pioneers that happened to be stationed in the SW angel of the city (but actually belonged to Group Kil), two AA MG platoons and the platoon of Railway Engineers. Those formations had their own ammo caches.
The garrison commander was Lieutenant-Colonel Josephus Mussert - who was the eldest brother of the leader of the Dutch National-Socialistic Movement [NSB], Anton Mussert. As such, the Lt.-Col. was mistrusted among some of his fellow-officers and men, particularly when Germany indeed invaded the Netherlands. His rigid, stubborn and dominant presence also made him an impopular character. Mussert would draw questionable attention during the battle on the Island of Dordrecht. It has to be said though that Jo Mussert served his country dilligently and with maximum loyalty, regardless of what was said of him during and shortly after the war.
The garisson commander and his units fell under command of the Commander Fortress Holland, General Jan van Andel. That in itself posed the complex situation that Dordrecht formed a command-island on the southern front, because the adjacent sector on the Island was under control of the Commander Group Kil who lacked however authority over the city and its garrison. That odd situation would grow even more complex when a few days later, on the 11th, the Light Division would arrive. But we'll get back to that when 12 May 1940 is covered.
South of Dordrecht lay the rest of the Island of Dordrecht territory which fell under the command of Group Kil, which had two artillery battalions (five batteries) and two reïnforced infantry companies stationed in this sector as well as a region command-post, actually being a battalion command-post with an adjacent artillery command in support of both arty btls. The command post had been established on an estate called Amstelwijk, to the SW of Dordrecht, along the side road to the 's Gravendeelse ferry across the Kil flow. The CP was occupied by about 80 men, and commanded by Major Van Hoek (BC of I-28.RI). He had his 1st Company assigned to the Moerdijk / Willemsdorp defences, his 2nd Coy in the SE corner of the Island and the 3rd Coy with a section of mortars on the Eastern flank of the island. Two sections with heavy MG's were divided over both latter companies. The arty was under direct command of the Group Artillery Commander Group Kil, a Lt.-Col. situated in the Hoekse Waard. A sub-staff was stationed on the Island of Dordrecht. It managed three batteries of 12,5 cm guns of the 14th Arty Regiment and two batteries of the 17th Arty Regiment. The latter was positioned near the Moerdijk bridges in order to be able to give in depth support to the Moerdijk bridgehead. The three 12,5 cm guns were positions in the south central sector of the island, guarded by a dozen men. Last but not least a company of army engineers, the 14th Company Pioneers, were situated on the island to assist in the trench building activities. Their quarters were in a large school complex on the southern edge of the city confines, close to the motorway. As already mentioned before, this company was not reporting to the garrison commander nonwithstanding that they had been stationed within the confines of the military district of Dordrecht.
The city of Dordrecht was a secundary objective to the 1st Airborne Batallion of 1.Fallschirm Regiment. It was commanded by the then Hauptmann (Captain) Erich Walther (1). The main objective of that battalion was the traffic bridge between Dordrecht and Zwijndrecht. The airborne command was eager to get the bridges at Dordrecht intact, after which a firm defence had to be organized. It had not reckoned with strong resistance from Dordrecht, because German intelligence had failed to assess the strength of troops accurately. The German believe was that a '500 men strong depot battalion' was to be found in Dordrecht, where in fact tripple that volume was available to the local Dutch commander.
(1) Eric Walther (1903-1947) originated from the Policing Unit Wecke, an early airborne section of the Hermann Göring forces in pre-war Germany. He had first commanded 3rd Coy, was later promoted to Hauptmann and commander of the 1st Battalion. He would be awarded his Iron Cross 1 and 2 for actions in Norway and subsequently receive the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and promotion to Major for his command of 1st Battalion during the Netherlands campaign in May 1940. After Crete, in which he still acted as a battalion commander, he would become commander of the 4th Regiment in the ranks of Oberstleutnant, later Oberst (Colonel).
Walther also fought the famous battle of Monte Casino after which he was transferred to Holland once again, where he anticipated in the battles around Market Garden. As a Brigadier (Generalmajor) he led the 2md Fallschirm Panzer-Grenadiere division in Poland and during the gradual retreat of the German army into the motherland. On May 8th 1945 he was captured by the Red Army. He would succumb to the harsh environment in one of the infamous Soviet POW camps on Christmas day 1947.
In order to seize the objectives soonest one company of airbornes would be dropped on both sides of the bridges. Since on both ends adequate landing space was omitted, the Germans had chosen for the best possible alternative. One platoon of airbornes [3rd platoon 3./FJR.1] - 37 men strong - would be dropped on the west end of the bridge, on a field near the train station of Zwijndrecht. That was virtually next to the extended elevated ramp of the traffic bridge. The bulk of the company [3./FJR.1] - about 105 men strong - would be dropped in a field on the south central edge of the city of Dordrecht. From theron the company (minus the Zwijndrecht platoon) had the imperative task to find the shortest way to the bridge, which it had to approach coming from the east end. All this, before the Dutch would be able to block their way.
Two other companies [2./FJR.1 and 4./FJR.1] would land much more to the south, in the fields along the main motorway from Dordrecht to Moerdijk. These two companies - including the regimental [FJR.1] and battalion staff [I./FJR.1] - had no primary objectives and would act as a regimental reserve. Their use depended on the operational developments, e.g. the progress at Moerdijk and Dordrecht as well as possible anticipation against Dutch counter measures from the west. These formations had no other duty than to mop up the contents of a few Dutch barracks along the main road as well as the local Dutch command post [Commander of the Dutch formations on the Island of Dordrecht] near the estate Amstelwijk. Basically both companies would have a reserve role after that. It has to be said though that the Germans were unaware of two Dutch infantry companies being stationed on the E and SE side of the island. These had been stationed there during the second half of April and this has escaped the German spying eyes.
The 1st Company of the battalion [1./FJR.1] was missing from the battalion. It had been put out of action at Dombas in Norway, and its survivors had only been liberated by the Germans days before the invasion of Holland. Ample time to reform the 1st Company had not been found and as such the 1st Battalion had to execute its objectives with just three Companies, adding up to no more than around a good 400 men.
As said, the main objective of 1st Battalion FJR.1 was the possession of the intact traffic bridge at Dordrecht occupation of a firm bridgehead around the objective that would be able to rebuff Dutch countermeasures. Secondary objectives were threefold. First the control of the city of Dordrecht - which in fact could be seen as an integral part of safeguarding the bridgehead against counter measure. Secondly - and in conjunction with 2nd Battalion - the control of the motorway and its direct vicinity along the entire corridor to Moerdijk, including the shore-line on the Kil side. Thirdly the sealing off of the eastern and northeastern shores of the Island of Dordrecht, again to prevent counter measures. If the situation would occure that the entire force had to be focussed within the bridgehead around Dordrecht, such necessity would dominate any of the subsidiary objectives.
The landing of the 1st and 2nd Battalion, as well as regimental staff including the airborne medical company, was under direct command of the regiment commander and division executive officer, Oberst [Colonel] Bruno Bräuer. He and his staff were scheduled to land near Tweede Tol, a small dike-situated hamlet between Moerdijk and Dordrecht. It was intended to set up a regimental HQ at Tweede Tol, because the location was right in the middle between the two foremost objectives of the regiment, the bridge-pairs at Moerdijk and Dordrecht. The regiment staff comprised around 200 men, including a quite large airborne medical company and a signals platoon. It would also be regiment that had to take care of securing the (western) Kil shores, possibly supported by other airborne troops from 1st or 2nd Battalion.
The landing at Dordrecht
Extensive German air activity woke up most people as off around 04.00 hrs. Distant rumble of blasting bombs and heavier AAA detonations as well as stinging German fighter planes soon made clear that war had become reality. Yet many were in awe of the impressive events and forgot to prepare for the real thing. Much time was lost watching in stead of acting. First a large formation of Ju-52 was seen passing to the north in the direction of Rotterdam. It brought airbornes to Waalhaven. Soon enough a formation of three low flying Ju-52 topped the houses of Dordrecht, was shot at by the AA MG's near the bridges, and seemed to fly on to Rotterdam too. In reality these planes dropped the platoon of airbornes at Zwijndrecht. The main bulk of this squadron dropped the rest of 3./FJR.1 over the field on the SE corner of the city.
The landing of the 3rd Company [around 105 men] to the south of Dordrecht, in an area known as "De Polder", started shortly before 0500 hrs (Dutch time). The third platoon [36 men] of this company was dropped virtually on top of the bridge-ramp on the Zwijndrecht side. The latter had a short collision with about a dozen troops of the AA platoon stationed on the Zwijndrecht side of the bridges, causing a German fatality as well as two on the Dutch side. After this the airbornes quickly managed to overrun the few Dutch guards on the bridges, who had wasted most of their ammo firing at airplanes. Next the airbornes crossed the traffic bridge and raided the second AA platoon, on the eastern side of the bridge. During this skirmish two Dutch were killed, one German wounded. At 0630 both the bridges were under control of the airborne platoon. The main force of the German company, that had landed south of Dordrecht, would however gain little success.
The terrain [De Polder] where the airbornes landed was close to two company barracks of the Engineers Depot and even closer to the quarters of the Railway Engineers. Their quarter was about 200 m away from the most northern border of the German drop-zone, had a perfect angle on it too.
Meanwhile officers had started getting troops into shape. They restored order and prepared shocked recruits for battle. A number of efforts were made to get ammunition from the town centre where the central cache was situated. Both coys in this district of the city had only 2,000 rounds each for guard duties, causing them only to be able to arm and equip their most seasoned men in this first phase. Only the Railway troops had their standard 60 round rations on and plenty of addition available in their quarters.
The Germans meanwhile gathered their weapons and started to move northeastwards, trying to get to the bridge soonest. Machineguns were positioned along the main road on the western side of the landing zone, in order to be able to secure the assembling bulk of the company against quick responses by the Dutch. In the process of this perimeter defence organisation, unexpected rifle fire started to fall into the German ranks coming from the northern outline of the German perimeter. The German company commander, veteran of the Norvegian raid on Sola airport, immediately ordered his two rifle men platoons to counter the apparently weak enemy position, only leaving behind his staff formation and a few MG troops. He ordered one platoon to follow the main road up north into the western flank of the Dutch and another platoon to outflank them from the east. The commanding Oberleutnant [Freiherr von Brandis] himself led the platoon that followed the road [Krispijnse weg].
The commanding Lieutenant of the Railway Platoon had about 25 rifle men at his disposal, the others were on patrol. He and his troops had taken positions in the small village parc called Weizicht (lit: meadow sight) that surrounded their lodgings and that was situated along the rail-way emplacement. The Lieutenant had his men form a half-circle formation around the main-gate and the parc-villa. The other half of his platoon was on the nearby station and railroad yard for guarding duties. This station was on the other side of the railway slope that was between the parc and the station. When the Germans approached the Dutch position from the main road, the Dutch did not give way and continued to suppress the airbornes, notwithstanding the dense German machinegun fire that sprayed their positions. Although the airbornes were able to make use of a half dry ditch along the road, their point men were soon all out of action. Amongst them the Oberleutnant himself, who was killed in the first phase of the German assault. This was a moral blast to the Germans who shortly hesitated to push on. Meanwhile the other German platoon had managed to approach the Dutch position from the east. They had to negotiate through dense grove and tree formations, constantly aware that the Dutch could discover them at any moment. Indeed at some stage they came under fire too. The Railway troops held ground, but started to feel the pressure of a dominant enemy. The Lieutenant established telephone contact with the Dordrecht HQ and reported the situation. After this he and his remaining soldiers gradually retreated to the north trying to climb over the railway slope unseen. Most of the men succeeded, at least two got lightly wounded. None of the engineers had been killed during the previous hour.
While the troops south of the station held the entire airborne company occupied, the depot engineer-recruits to the west of the German position had managed to form a number of patrols that were adequately equipped with carabines, one or two machineguns and ammo. These patrols spread out alongside the southwestern flank of the German perimeter and gradually managed to take out the German machinegun positions that had been placed along the road side. After this the ever growing number of battle ready engineer-squads started to sweep the area for remaining airborne groups which were taken prisoner one by one. A few brief but fierce skirmishes followed along the main road, which all ended into German surrenders. By then the German losses had accumulated into the dozens. Only a formation of in total 10 men with two NCO's had managed to escape the Dutch encirclement and reach the bridges. There they were able to report the probable loss of the main force.
The remaining cut-off airbornes withdrew into the parc area, but the closing ring of Dutch formations around them continued to spray the decreasing German pocket. Eventually a large sweep of Dutch engineers moving straight through the parc forced the last remaining Germans to surrender, one or two stranglers excluded. The securing of the area would take the rest of the day, but the fate of the 3rd Airborne Company had been sealed. They had suffered 14 men KIA, about 25 WIA and about 75-80 had been taken prisoner, most of which would be so unfortunate to be shipped to the UK on the 14th of May and spent the rest of the war in Allied POW camps.
The remainder of the 3rd Company would be the 43 men of 3rd Platoon and the ten survivors of the main force. They were no longer in shape to hold up a coy size obviously. Since the 4th Coy had suffered a loss of the entire mortar platoon - being misdropped around the Hague in stead of Dordrecht - the loss of the bulk of 3rd Coy caused the size of the 1st Battalion to shrink to no more than two Companies and a battalion staff.
In the city itself the organisation of the defences developed all but prosperously. The garrison commander Mussert arrived very late at his headquarters. Meanwhile company grade officers had organised some measures of defence but any form of genuinely organised defence was not seen before late in the morning. Many local skirmishes between Dutch and German squads occurred during the morning, of which the majority could have been avoided by better Dutch appreciation of the situation. A first attempt to retake the bridges ended in a bloody failure. A second attempt from the south also stranded in German machinegun fire. Meanwhile the bridge occupation by the platoon of 3rd Coy was receiving reinforcements from the south. Let us look into where these troops came from.
The landings at Amstelwijk and Tweede Tol
Two companies and the battalion staff of the 1st Battalion had landed in the heart of the Island, together with a significant part of the staff of the 1st Regiment [including Oberst Bräuer]. Only the airborne medical company was to follow in a subsequent wave.
This drop was poorly executed. Virtually none of the units landed in the projected landing-zone (LZ). Basically all landed much more to the east, in the midst of the Dutch artillery positions and even near some barracks locations. A part of the 2nd Coy and a full platoon of the 4th Coy as well as a part of the battalion staff was missing too. All but the platoon of the 4th had been dropped more to the south, between Moerdijk and Tweede Tol, and would only appear hours later. Also at least two squads from the 2nd Battalion - that had Moerdijk as their objective - had been misdropped and landed near Tweede Tol. They would make their way back to Willemsdorp by chartering a bus. The worst misdrop incident was the total fail misdrop of one platoon of the 4th Company that had apparently been on board a Ju-52 Kette that had taken the wrong turn at an in flight rally point and consequently dropped the platoon over the Ypenburg (the Hague) theatre! As such the 1st Battalion saw a wrong kick-off of the operation, but had nevertheless managed to gain its only genuine objective: the seizure of the traffic-bridge at Dordrecht. The balance of the battalion still had to overrun the Dutch headquarters near the Amstelwijk estate though.
A part of the airbornes had landed in the heart of the (unmanned) positions of 14.RA [twelve old 125 mm guns]. A few of the guns were immediately titled into a ditch by some airbornes. As a consequence these guns could be written off by the Dutch. The same happened with the positions of two unmanned 7,5 cm batteries of 17.RA. The batteries had been guarded by one squad only, that had little ammo and were no match to the mass of opponents they found opposing them. More importantly, the nearby barracks of the Willemsdorp defence structure were overrun. The Dutch personnel lacked any ammo in these farm-house barracks, since the ammo had been safely locked up elsewhere, according instructions of the high command. The Germans would later try to use some of the 7,5 cm guns, which were basically similar Krupp guns as the German 7,5 cm Feldkanone.
Quite a considerable number of defenders were able to escape immediate German capture though. A Captain managed to organise some sort of infantry party formed out of his gunners. A few other officers were able to take some armed men under their command too. They had been able to get hold of the one available ammo box containing the live rounds used for the guard duties. Together these improvised infantry parties attacked the Germans that had taken possession of the gun positions. In a bold and unprecedented way the Dutch squads advanced - bayonet fixed on their carbines - against much stronger German positions. Numerous victims fell, but yet the gunners did not give up, getting ever more support from other artillery personnel, meanwhile fed with newly arrived ammo from the rear. Some German groups were chased off, but after some time the Germans had organised their perimeter defences thoroughly. They managed to seal off the approaches of the LZ, which was easily done, since the area was as flat and open as possible. By taking and fortifying some strategic crossings on the causeways intersecting the Island, one could secure most of the LZ with only two dozen airbornes and a handful of MG's.
Almost all of the Dutch artillery officers involved in the aforementioned actions got killed or wounded in the process of these first counter assaults. Eventually these untamed Dutch assaults had to be aborted. Hereafter the Germans took their turn and tried to overrun the Dutch gunners who had meanwhile retreated to the Zeedijk, south of Dordrecht. From their half sheltered positions along the dike the gunners managed to deny the airbornes possession of these causeways on their behalf. Meanwhile the German main force had already moved westwards, whereas a thin defensive screen of regimental troops was left behind. The Dutch gunners received reinforcements from the infantry companie and its 8 cm mortars that had been stationed on the northeast part of the Island [that had not been attacked]. From then on they could hold their positions, largely unchallenged.
Largely unchallenged, but not entirely. At around 10.00 hrs a small second wave of landings was executed. The parachuted half of the German airborne-medical company - in fact a double company of over 250 men - was dropped in the northern sector of the LZ. It were about 80 men, some of which officers and medical doctors, most of them ordinary medics. The peculiar thing about these airbornes was however that they were no genuine medics. They were fully trained and formed as ordinary rifle men, but specialized in medic aid too. Their doctors were officers first, doctors second. It meant that their red and white bandages were taken on and off, whatever was applicable for their ongoing duty. This German ingenuity seemed clever but was in fact a serious breach of the international codes of Geneva conventions. A medical formation was not a hybrid unit that at one point would be fully tactically available and at the next an outfit protected by the red cross code. It was either one or the other. The Germans had decided otherwise. This would cause medics to wear their red cross bandage when tactically moving about, wheras they quickly removed it when they were about to operate in battle. Since the Dutch fully adhered to the convention they were often misled by the abuse of the red cross by German soldiers and officers.
When the 80 or so medics jumped from their Junkers, most of them did so directly opposing the Dutch positions to the north. This caused some airbornes to be killed or wounded during their arrival, many others to be cut off and eventually captured. Some escaped during the first war night under cover of darkness. About 30 medics would be killed or captured, most of them taken prisoner, some even the next day.
Around the village of Tweede Tol the Dutch artillery camp of 17.RA, near the railway track, was overrun by two airborne platoons. Only a handful of men defended the camp. Little opposition was possible, yet a few airbornes were killed, as well as a number of Dutch. The German regiment commander decided that this central point close to the main motorway qualified as an excellent location to set up the regimental command post and a first-line field hospital. Moreover the barracks could be used to contain pow's.
Oberst Bräuer had meanwhile received a radio call that informed him of the ill fate of his 3rd Company. He ordered his two remaining companies - save a few squads required for local defence - in the central part of the Island to assemble near Tweede Tol and subsequently commanded them northwards towards the southwest of Dordrecht. Bräuer decided that the bridgehead had to be reinforced. Only a modest number of troops were left behind as a screen to defend the landing zone and the command post that had been established at Tweede Tol in a Dutch artillery camp. Other resources had to come from the 2nd Battalion.
The German formation (of about one and a half company strong of both 2nd and 4th Coy) met little resistance on its way north. The Dutch local artillery headquarters and nearby sector headquarters were stationed around the Amstelwijck estate, in a mansion that was situated in a small park. When the German presence was reported, the local commander was able to assemble around 70 men and one heavy machinegun to keep off the Germans for some time.
Meanwhile a request for reinforcement to the Group Kil [brigade strong Task Force in the Hoekse Waard, west of the island of Dordrecht] was answered with the arrival of two platoons of infantry that had been shuttled over the Kil. This formation, supported by a single heavy machinegun, crossed the village Wieldrecht and took a direction to the south where it bumped right into the point formation of the progressing German main-force. When the heavy machinegun and one of the light machineguns suffered major jams, the fire power of the Dutch - that had at least four heavy machineguns and several light machineguns opposing them - decreased so much that the two platoons had to be move back into Wieldrecht, less than one km away from the local Dutch headquarters. They were forced to surrender soon after. Both sides had paid a price.
During the process of sweeping up the remnant of these two Dutch platoons near Wieldrecht, the airbornes received some fire from the east. It came from the direction of the Dutch HQ position in the park. The Germans decided to round up this piece of resistance and designed an assault plan. One assault from a southern vector would be performed by a heavy machinegun platoon, which would approach the Dutch position along the motorway and keep the Dutch tight and occupied. The other smaller team was formed by a squad of airbornes under the young but ambitious Leutnant Graf von Blücher. (2)
(2) Trivial: Wolfgang Graf von Blücher was a direct decendant of the famous Prussian General Graf [Count] Gebhard Leberrecht von Blücher, who commanded the Prussian army in its campaign against Napoleon's army in 1815.
Wolfgang von Blücher was a successful airborne officer who would be decorated with the Knightscross [Ritterkreuz] for his contribution during the battle in Holland, specifically the raid at Amstelwijk. The Germans would largely overstate the meaning of the raid by stating that 'a cluster of bunkers had been taken' by the Leutnant. In fact it were four concrete shelters without any weapons or loop holes, containing nothing more than a small staff with mostly noncombattants with pistols and revolvers.
Both Blücher's younger brothers joint the airbornes too and all three jointly served in the 1st Battalion of 1.FJR during the battle at Crete in May 1941. A very tragic fate awaited all three. Oberleutnant Wolfgang von Blüchers platoon had been isolated during the fierce battle for Heraklion. They were raided by the Scottish Black Watch [Royal Highland Regiment]. His brother Leberecht got news of that, took a horse, packed it with ammo and rode straight through the British fire in order to replenish his brother's low ammo supplies. In sight of Wolfgang his brave younger brother was killed. The next day Wolfgang himself would get killed when the British overran his position. Days later the third brother perished. All three were buried at Crete. It must have been a massive blow to the family.
The Von Blücher squad of five men - packed with numerous handgrenades and some rifles - found a way to cross a wide local waterway west of the Dutch held park, manoeuvred a way through the grove and entered the Dutch occupied park from a dead angle. Upon entering the Dutch position they started yelling and screaming while tossing blast grenades into every corner within their sight. The totally unexpected German presence right inside the Dutch position caused a major panic. The about 50 soldiers in the park itself took cover in the shelter casemates or the ditches around the park. The handful or airbornes meanwhile kept on blazing from their pistols and rifles and grenades were thrown into two casemates. Dozens of Dutch were killed, wounded or went into complete shock. Meanwhile the heavy machinegun company had entered the estate from the south and approached along the road side. They withstood some firm resistance from the mansion - that costed them three KIA. The Dutch position was taken only minutes later.
The Dutch battalion commander - himself briefly knocked unconsious from a grenade detonation - surrendered under pressure of Blücher's action. The troops on the Island of Dordrecht had been beheaded, although that would matter little. Their headquarters had ceased to exist. In total 25 Dutch had been killed during the action against only five Germans in the park as well as one MG platoon along the road side. Von Blücher, who had distinguished himself during the battle, was slightly wounded by a grazing bullet in the face. An NCO that had accompanied Blücher had been badly wounded, but none of the five attackers had been killed. The German MG platoon suffered three fatalities, another one in the struggle south of Amstelwijk. Von Blücher would be rewarded with the highest possible decoration for his contribution in the victory. About 75 Dutch had been overrun by a mere seven men, supported by two dozens more.
After the action the majority of the remnants of the 4th Company [heavy machinegun company, with one MG platoon and part of the mortar platoon; the second MG platoon was misdropped at Ypenburg] was sent on its way to the bridge. The next obstacle that they would ran into was the Pioneer Company situated in a school complex next to the main motorway. The Coy Commander, a Captain, had heard from the German assault at Amstelwijk and as a consequence ordered most of his men in a small perimeter defence. One platoon under a Lieutenant had been sent into the city to support the defence against the airbornes that had landed south of the train-station. The forward posts, south of the school, started firing their carabines at some point, alerting the rest of the men near the school. With binoculars it became clear why. Airbornes were seen manoeuvering along the motorway to the north. Switfly a defence was constructed into this general direction. Extensive fire exchange followed. The airbornes brought one of their mortars into play and started pounding the Dutch positions. It caused some local havoc and one or two small fires. It particularly created shock under the Dutch and the weak Coy commander was easily persuaded by some of his men to surrender when a formation of airbornes approached the school with a few POW's at gun point. About 100 Dutch engineers yielded. They had lost two men of one of the forward positions and one man during the mortar barrage. The Germans had lost two NCO's and one other rank as well as two WIA, all of the 4th Coy.
Meanwhile it had grown into mid-day and beyond. The 4th Coy re-grouped and re-organized before it moved on to the bridge. When they did, half way through the afternoon, they were cheered and welcomed by the about 45 men that had occupied the bridge since the early morning and had rejected two Dutch counter attacks already. Later also the 2nd Company and battalion staff followed, so that the 1st Battalion was reunited around the Dordrecht bridges. Save the losses suffered, about half the staff and a few squads had been left near Tweede Tol. Most of them would join in later. Battalion HQ was situated in a bakery in the shadow of the bridge, sheltered by surrounding housing and the sloping road to the bridge. The battalion commander Captain Walther could be pleased with the achieved objectives, though losses had been severe and Dutch defences were not letting off. Particularly the Dutch efforts from the city side caused Walther and his commander Bräuer to be anxious about the things to come.
The situation at the Dordrecht bridges
In order to get a better understanding of the situation around the bridges it is important to describe the construction of the bridges and their approaches.
Both bridges had been built closely alongside. The [southern] traffic bridge had a long elevated ramp that curved southwards directly east of the bridge [at the Dordrecht end]. The road then made one or two slight curves after which it lead in more or less a straight line to Moerdijk. The direct area of the bridge-ramp - at the south end - was completely open, mainly due to the harbours Zeehaven and Dokhaven that lay to the south of it. The long curved ramp was evidently an object that was very easy to defend and ... very challenging to assault. Any agressor would have to expose himself far beyond a healthy level. On the Zwijndrecht side also a long elevated ramp and viaduct had been built, which constructions slightly curved some hundred metres to the east of the bridge. The bridge itself had concrete side walls of about one meter high, which formed perfect hide outs and were impregnable to small guns fire or even regular HE rounds. This construction character held the defender in advantage, for beside the ramps only two stairways had to be defended in order to prevent an approach of the construction. The only genuine hazzard was formed by the tall buildings nearby on the Dordrecht end. From the roofs and top floors of these buildings one could cover the entire bridge surface and even hit covering infantry behind these concrete bridge edges. That was indeed an issue that held the Germans preoccupied. They did much to suppress Ducth military from taking positions in these structures and efforts were made to set them ablaze. So far in vain.
The northern bridge - the railway bridge - had a straight approach that transferred into the railway yard just east of the bridge. This area was very open too, so that any advancing agressor would have to expose himself on the flat and open yard. Only a few train carriages parked in the yard provided some cover.
During the morning reinforcements from the city of Gorinchem arrived on the Island, consisting of 80 engineers who brought along at least 8 very welcome Vickers heavy machineguns. Four of these machineguns with crews and a squad of engineers were ordered [by Lt-Col Mussert] to execute an assault onto the railway bridge. Peculiarly enough no additional support from infantry or artillery was given. Bearing in mind the previous description of the bridge approach area, this order was quite insane and suicidal.
When the machinegun squad advanced they were soon spotted and came under fierce machinegun fire from the bridge. They were able to make use of a parked locomotive for cover, until they had reached a point 300 meter east of the bridge. From that point onwards they would have to expose themselves if they intended to make any further progress. Nevertheless the platoon managed to eliminate a German MG post on the railway bridge, but after this modest achievement no progress good be made anymore. The moving squad relocated south of the railway bed and managed to reach some houses close to the bridge. During a lull in the fighting the Germans - apparently under the impression that the Dutch had retreated - marched a platoon over the bridge in tight formation. When the Dutch machineguns opened fire they created havoc amongst this unit. Again all German gun points started blazing off and turned the entire yard into a shooting range. During this ordeal the Dutch commanding Lieutenant realised that any further advance would be suicide. No reinforcements arrived, and after nightfall he retreated to the station where he took a securing position along the railway track and the adjacent streets. A couple of men had been left behind dead, one MG had been lost. At his new location the young Lieutenant met a Dutch Major (den Boer), that had happened to be in Dordrecht, but who was actually a weapons-industry supervisor monitoring production quality on behalf of the Dutch Artillery Works. The Major took the Lieutenant and his outfit under his wings.
Major Den Boer had previously taken charge of a small force that had defended a position in a public bath-house [Sportfondsenbad] on a round-about close to the traffic bridge. The Germans identified this position as an imminent threat of their bridgehead and aimed every available machinegun and later even a mortar on this building. In the evening the building was evacuated but the nearby round-about was kept under control. This way any passing traffic could be held subject to Dutch control. Also some of the houses and industrial buildings near the bridge had gotten a Dutch occupation from where continuous fire-contact with the airbornes was maintained. In the morning of the next day, the Major would find his way to a site near the station where he would take the previously mentioned engineer MG platoon under his command.
Save all Dutch counter measures, the Germans had maintained a narrow corridor under their control that allowed them to have a challenging but half-open communication line with the southern bridgehead at Tweede Tol and Moerdijk. The Germans considered the Dutch positions - so close to the bridges - a huge liability though. They also could have overestimated the Dutch strength by that point, whereas they had underestimated it before. This must have been the reason why not only many reinforcements were sent to the bridges, but also why the Germans undertook no offensive action whatsoever. German reports of the 10th state that they managed to maintain control over the bridges at Dordrecht, but that the Dutch presence around the approaches was strongly felt and made any crossing a daring adventure. They furthermore stated that the subsidiary objective to take control over the two bridges on the east side of the island - NE and E of Dordrecht - was impossible to execute, and that the city of Dordrecht itself was impregnable due to presence of unexpected strong Dutch forces.
The last notable event of the day was the prelude to a very tragic event that would occur in the morning of the 11th. A battalion - comprising two MG reïnforced companies of the II-28RI and one of the I-34RI - under command of Major Ravelli - was shipped from the Hoekse Waard to the Island of Dordrecht. The crossing was accompanied by an artillery bombardment of the suspected German positions near the Amstelwijk estate. The battalion managed to come across the Kil in one piece and afterwards take control of Amstelwijk and the main-road to Moerdijk, where not a single German was met. This way the German corridor was cut in two, which was something that the Germans had foreseen at that point in time. They had taken their troops back to Dordrecht and Tweede Tol and as such left Amstelwijk deliberately unoccupied. The Major was ordered to move up into Dordrecht in the early morning in order to reinforce the garrison. The events that followed will be addressed later.
Balance of a day
The first day had brought the 1st Battalion of FJR.1 their so much desired objective, the traffic bridge at Dordrecht. But who thought that Oberst Bräuer and his commander General Student were happy and confident men at that stage, would make a serious mistake. Both officers had been quite surprised by the dominant Dutch military presence in Dordrecht and the heavy losses. They had expected a weak battalion of recruits but in stead their troops had met fierce opposition, costing them a full Coy size force over the day.
The already poorly manned 1st Battalion [that had jumped without its 1st Company and saw one platoon of the 4th being misdropped in another theatre] had lost almost the entire 3rd Company too. That was a hard felt loss. Besides, the Dutch seemed determined to retake the bridge, posing a clear and present danger to the bridgehead defence. Also the entire west side of the Island of Dordrecht was in fact open for Dutch landings from the Hoekse Waard, where the Germans anticipated quite a strong military presence. Oberst Bräuer was very worried over the fact that he could only make use of very limited numbers to guard the shores of the Kil against Dutch crossings. The motorway was no men's land too, a fact that hampered supply and reinforcement transports.
Overnight General Kurt Student assigned most of his reserves on the Island Ysselmonde to the Dordrecht front. The third airborne battalion and an infantry company of IR.16 were sent to the Island of Dordrecht in order to relief the pressure on the two companies that Bräuer had in the field to cover the north. Also antitank guns, a battery of 7,5 cm howitsers and half a company of pioneers were sent to the Dordrecht peninsula.
The Dutch on their part were extremely worried and upset. The local command in Dordrecht was chaotic and a clear picture of the battle-field status was absent all along. The small depot-staff that had been confronted with all out war (rather than training recruits) was not prepared for its duties and lacked tactical training, lacked adequate weapons too. They had made limited use of the large quantity of troops and had failed organising a large scale counter attack. In stead all kinds of trivial orders had been given to platoons and squads, while others were still engaged in local skirmishes. On the other hand, the city had more or less been sealed off by distributing troops along the W, SW and S corners of the city. There were however no adequate concentrations to work with. The force of about 1,500 men had been divided over numerous positions, diminishing the option to form a well armed assault force of the magnitude to effectively counter attack. The Dordrecht command relied on the battalion of the Light Division that had been promised to come to aid the next day. A large window of opportunity was missed.
On the other hand the Dutch had managed to eliminate one third of the landed force. That had given the moral of the recruits and their officers quite a moral boost. Soldiers that had held their rifles for the first time in their lives had grown into confident seasoned fighters over one day. They would need that experience in the days ahead ...