We have left the central front on the previous day after the forward defences at the Grebbeberg had been taken out by SS Standarte Der Führer. It was a modest German success but it that left the main defences intact. Nevertheless the local Dutch command was outraged over the loss of the forward defences. The Corps commander General Harberts firmly believed that his troops had been ran off by no more than a few dozen of bold Germans rather than two full SS battalions. His perception was constructed on the poor intelligence reports provided by the Field Army staff, the reports from forward observers that spoke of limited enemy numbers spotted and the light artillery activity by the enemy which indicated very limited enemy strength. The General's perception was wrong, but nonetheless, the 4th Division had been instructed to retake the forward positions overnight.
In the heart of the Dutch defences, in the Grebbeline around Rhenen, the defenders in front of and on the Grebbeberg suffered overnight from continuous shelling from four German artillery battalions. In the woody areas on top of the Grebbeberg, the air bursts in tree-tops created addition shrapnel of wooden slivers, which were as lethal as their steel companions. The constant shelling - mainly by 10,5 cm howitzers - prevented the Dutch from replenishing their front-line troops, although some forward sections had used up nearly all their small arms ammunition during numerous uncontrolled volleys they had fired at every single sound they heard in the relative darkness [the Germans regularly lit up the sky with flares]. Also, many of the telephone-line, the majority of which was simply lying unprotected on the topsoil, were destroyed beyond repair. Many line patrols were sent out to fix the breaches in the telephone lines, but one fix was usually followed by numerous breaches elsewhere. Some of the line patrols would be killed by the dense artillery fire during their work. It was a pointless effort to keep the communications alive.
Overnight the Germans had planned a concentrated attack against the front-line. The 3rd Battalion [SS Standarte Der Führer] commander, Obersturmbannführer Wäckerle, had been very determined - after the modest successes of 11 May - to charge against the frontline still the same day. His superior officer concurrered of these ambitions. Again two battalions [around 1,500 men] were scheduled to mount the attack against the frontline sector east of the Grebbeberg. But sometimes coincidence is the best ally, and such would be the case in this instance.
The Dutch general Harberts had been flabbergasted by the quick loss of the forward positions and in a rage of fury ordered a reserve battalion to retake these positions overnight. Bluff rather than force and ability had defeated his troops, so the General thought. Totally miscalculating the fact that a nearly complete SS regiment had been deployed, he demanded that the designated battalion would charge the German-occupied forward positions and retake them. Reinforcements would afterwards join the battalion in order to man the retaken trenches again. In the meantime the Dutch artillery intensified its fire and sprayed the forward positions with a large number of volleys. Although these were onlu intended to soften up the Germans, it would have the convenient side effect that the Germans cancelled their night assault. They came to live under the impression that their deployment had been spotted and decided to postpone the planned night-attack to the next day.
The Dutch battalion which was under orders to retake the forward positions, was led by a very indecisive commander. He tried to think of as many excuses possible not to execute his mission. Save his stalling actions, his troops were indeed hindered by the fact that the small bridge over the sluice - that had to be crossed to get into the forward position sector - had been destroyed by Dutch engineers. Consequently engineers had to be called in to remedy the missing bridge over the Grebbe. These engineers failed to appear. Some men could pass over the remaining parts of the bridge, but it wouldn't be feasible to have the entire battalion of 700 men and their heavier weapons cross at this point. So the battalion commander decided to await the rafts which would be sent. In the meantime the hour of sunrise approached rapidly and the Major decided that it would no longer be feasible to execute a full scale battalion assault by daylight. The action was cancelled by his own authority and the battalion was taken back.
The German assault on the main defences
Intensive German artillery fire kept on pounding the Dutch formations and trenches. Shortly before noon a heavy concentration was aimed at the Hoornwerk [the bastion in the frontline at the foot of the Grebbeberg] and the defences on the eastern slope of the hill itself. The Germans used air bursts and impact ammunitions.
The Dutch counter-artillery fire was hardly fed by useful information about location of enemy batteries or troop concentrations. The available instruments for measuring in enemy artillery all depended on acoustic and muzzle-flash technology; very rudimentary equipment, although the Germans used the same kind of equipment (besides air recce). The forward observers - attached to the staffs and batteries - were all positioned too far from the enemy action to provide accurate information for effective counter-artillery fire. As a result the Germans nearly played a free hand. Not bothered by more than the occasional stray round close to their artillery positions, they could remain where they were and continue their barrages. The bombardment of the Dutch main defences would last for nine consecutive hours, although varying in intensity over time. As a result all communication lines in the front-line defences were interrupted, often indefinetly, and ammunition stocks at some locations in the first echelon had reached levels close to zero. Many of the light machine guns had been destroyed or gotten out unservicable due to sand or dust. Messenger were unable to reach outfits in the front line or the dense artillery fire made it virtually impossible to get back to the rear.
Suddenly at around 1230 hours the artillery fire moved away further ahead to the stop-line area. It was obvious that infantry action was about to be expected. Almost a full SS battalion [soon followed by a second] went into the assault against the central entrenchments of the Hoornwerk. The bastions and the dike were elevated a gross 4-5 metre from the surface level. This elevated position created a considerable dead-angle in the view of the defenders. The very clever and skilled German storm troopers made excellent use of the geotechnical advantages of the terrain. They ploughed through the shallow ditches, crawled alongside the dead side of the dike and made use of the groove wherever available. The Dutch platoons on the bastions realised that the Germans had approached their entrenchments much sooner and stealthier than expected. The pill-boxes and trench crews on the edge of the Grebbeberg fired from every available muzzle killing some German attackers, but were suppressed most of the time by artillery fire and dense MG fire. Boldly and apparently without counting losses the SS men kept on coming.
Soon the first Dutch positions were overrun and surrendered. The division of the Hoornwerk in three sections appeared to be fatal. The three separate bastions were unable to support each other and crossing the dike or the road meant certain death or injury. The raising of some white flags at neighbouring trenches dropped moral to well below zero. Soon the majority of the Hoornwerk was in German hands.
Once the central and northern section of the Hoornwerk had been overrun, the Germans became almost immune to the fire of all the [still manned] pill boxes on the eastern slope of the Grebbeberg itself, because the field of fire of these pill boxes was hampered by the limited decline of the machineguns. The minimum possible decline of the weapons was limited to the eastern slope of the Hoornwerk in order to prevent them from accidentally shooting at own troops. Now these limitations made them useless against penetrated attackers with whom they could no longer contend.
The SS was supported by SS Sturm Pioniere with rafts. These rafts - of which only a few were available - were quickly deployed, manned and minutes after the first SS men reached the western bank of the small river Grebbe. In no time they overran the few still remaining Dutch positions just west of the Hoornwerk, including an AT gun bunker, and forced their way onto the steep south-eastern slope of the Grebbeberg. It took them some time more to take the eastern slope side north of the road.
The main-road, that crossed the Grebbeberg from east to west, incised the hill [at this eastern side of the Grebbeberg] in two parts. No defences were situated on the road itself, because [pre-war] it had not been allowed to fortify this narrow road due to the fact that daily traffic would be hindered! As such the Germans could, relatively unhindered, take possession of the entire eastside of the Grebbeberg and get into the rear of the defences on top of the eastern edge of the Grebbeberg.
The front-line yields
At around the same time the first Germans took possession of the eastside of the Grebbeberg, the Dutch airforce launched a number of successive raids against the Germans in the room Wageningen - Rhenen.
First a flight of G-1 fighter-cruisers strafed German troop concentrations along the roads leading to the Grebbeberg. Soon after a flight of Fokker C-V's attacked the Germans with 25 kg shrapnel bombs and their escorting fighters machine-gunned some troops they were able to spot. At around 18.30-19.00 hrs another flight of C-V's punished German artillery, but this time the assault was met by a Luftwaffe unit in transit back to the homeland. Two flights of Bf-109E fighters intercepted the C-V's while the latter were raiding the German positions and two of the C-V's were forced to make an emergency landing. Again, the SS showed its brutal quality when one of the surviving Dutch pilots was shot on the spot without any reason whatsoever.
The air raids had been modest moral boosters for the few Dutch defenders that indeed identified the attacking planes as of their own airforce. For the status of the front-line defences right in front and on the Grebbeberg it didn't matter no more. The front-line had crumbled along the entire southern sector, facilitating a full SS battalion penetration of the main defences. Halfway the afternoon another battalion followed in order to widen the penetration further north.
In the meantime in the stopline, the next German objective, local commanders had realised that some German units had broken through the frontline. Increasing fire from the opposing tree-lines was received, sometimes falling right into the trenches of the stopline. On both the north and the south side of the road local initiatives were developed to counter the German assault. The first counter action was initiated by the battalion commander responsible for the northern part of the defences [II-8.RI], Major Jacometti, a former NEI army officer. The Major considered the German opposition nothing more than a 'bold party of dare-devils' and proclaimed his men that they would 'throw them out with the bare sabre'. Romance from the old days. The Major personally led the assault of about 35-40 men into the wooded area just north of the main road [the area that nowadays contains the military cemetary]. The Germans let them approach the first bit, but once the point squad had reached the tree-line a hail of led slammed into the three exposed Dutch columns. The Major was killed instantly by a German bullet and so were a dozen more. After this unfortunate event the Dutch assault immediately stalled. Gradually the remainder crawled back to the stopline.
A second - less bold - counter-action was executed south of the main road. At that location the stopline was situated in the middle of a dense forest. In order to be able to charge the Germans a wire-obstruction in front of the trench-line had to be negotiated. At some fixed points portions of the obstruction could [relatively easy] be taken out. But this time that operation had to be executed under enemy fire. Soon after the successful passage of this first burden, many men fell from German sniper fire. SS men had taken positions high in the trees. The dense forest made it impossible for the Dutch to recognize their well camouflaged opponents. This counter action ended with the retreat of the Dutch too. But still their ordeal had not taken an end. During their assault on the German positions on the east side of the hill, fresh reinforcements had arrived in the almost deserted trenches of the assaulting company. These new troops thought that the approaching men they saw in front of them were the reported Germans in stead of the retreating assault party! Although this misunderstanding was soon cleared, some 'own' casualties were the sad result.
At the end of the day the Germans succeeded in also taken the last Dutch stronghold on the east slope of the hill. This was a sector about 400-500m north of the bridge [and sluice]. Three heavy machine gun pill-boxes were positioned in this corner as well as an infantry platoon. A little to the rear a further two pill-boxes were still active, but their field of fire was limited to the north-east of the hill, where they covered the flat approach area on this side of the slope. The first three pill-boxes were left around 1800 hours, when the crews had used up all their ammunition. They noticed the Germans approaching from all sides and retreated to the trenches of the two pill-boxes in the rear. Here they were shortly after surrounded by German SS who approached the blind rear-side of the pill-boxes, where hardly any covered fire position had been prepared. The platoon and the pill-box crews had to surrender. They had been the last surviving Dutch troop on the hill ahead of the stop-line. The frontline in the entire sector east of the Grebbeberg had been decisively broken by the German assault.
Odd behaviour of a General
In the evening of the 12th the staff of the 4th Division realized that the frontline had yielded, which jeopardized the maintainability of the Grebbeline at Rhenen. They reported the situation to the rear. The Corps commander, General Harberts, went nuts when he got the news. All day he had been preoccupied with a lot of details a General shouldn't get involved in and as such the news of the crumbled defences struck him like lightning.
As said, the General had been quite preoccupied with other things. First and farmost he had arranged for a special field courtmartial tribunal in order to set an example for unauthorized retreating personnel, that he generally addressed as 'deserters' and 'cowards. Two cadre members prequalified for the envisaged example. A cadet-officer and a professional sergeant. The cadet-officer seemed to have a better defence than the sergeant. Therefore the sergeant - who had commanded an anti-tank unit - was selected to form the perfect example of desertion. The General personally intervened with the court martial and instructed the court of finding the sergeant guilty and demanding the maximum punishment [death penalty]. Although the president of the court immediately responded to the General that the court was impartial'and his advise therefor out of order, the matter would get a black mark on the General's record.
Disappointed as the General still was over the loss of the forward positions on the previous day - he had first visited the division commander and told him what he thought of the attitude of his regiments. After this flash visit the General drove on to the Grebbeberg, totally ignored the ongoing artillery fire falling around him, and marched right into the commandpost of the regiment commander [Lt-Col Hennink, commanding the 8th Regiment Infantry] and surprised him with a Patton-like thunder speech, in front of all regiment staff officers and NCO's. After this bully-action - intended as a shock therapy for his subordinates - he decided it was wise to appeal to his superior - the commander in chief of the Field Army - and complain about the men and means with which he had to coop. The General himself drove to the headquarters of his superior and demanded action, meanwhile complaining about his cowardice troops. All in all an understandable reaction to the sour defeat of his troops, but a commanding General unworthy.
Major-General Harberts' superior officer, Lieutenant-General Van Voorst tot Voorst, demanded the most expeditious return to his own headquarters with the lame excuse that he just had gotten the news of the German penetration of the frontline - something the commuting General Harberts was still unaware of although only an hour before he had been on the Grebbeberg itself! Totally stunned, the frustrated Corps commander returned to his headquarters. According to his staff subordinates the General was totally thrown of his balance by the news of the lost front-line defences.
After Harberts departure his superior had ordered a full scale counter attack, also involving troops and staff officers of the 2nd Division, which was under command of General Harberts. This division was defending the sector north to the Grebbeberg. Upon his return at his headquarters, Harberts awaited yet another shock when he had to learn that the commander-in-chief of the Field Army, who he had just visited before, had initiated aforementioned order. Giving such an order would have been the exclusive prerogative of the commander of the Army Corps himself, not his superior officer. General Harberts rapidly cancelled the order of his superior (!) and ordered the counter attack to be organised by his own staff. This very unfortunate strain of events evidently prevented the higher commanders from concentrating their energy there where it should have belonged: on the battle that raged on at the Grebbeberg.
A major counter attack is planned
Although the focus of the high command had been diverted from the essential matter of managing the troops in battle, the large scale counter attack would be the major event in the staff rooms as off the evening of 12 May. This main counter attack was to be conducted by four battalions, some of which were not fully manned and of which none was yet deployed in the area. These units had only recently reached the hinterland of the Grebbeline near Amerongen, some were even still on route whilst being planned-in for the attack. Three of the battalions had been part of Brigade B [this brigade had had the assignment to defend the Maas-Waal region, just south of the Betuweline] and the fourth one of the 7th Division [which defended a northern sector of the Grebbeline].
The planning of the counter offensive would be stretched well into the early hours of the next day, but in order not to divide and fragment this important event over two day journals, we continue the story here and now.
The general objective of the plan would be to first seal off the enemy penetration in the main defence sector and subsequently launch an attack by two battalions in the flat area [between the north of the Grebbeberg and the village of Achterberg north thereof] followed by another two battalions. This was an open terrain, which was basically a square room between the railway in the west, the frontline in the east, Achterberg in the north and the Grebbeberg in the south. Obviously the character of the terrain caused it to be very easily monitored by both friend and foe. This was a considerable liability to the attacking Dutch forces, but since there was no alternative it had to be absorbed as a challenge to be dealt with.
The offensive force would first pass the railway, than move forward into the still occupied positions of the stopline north of the Grebbeberg [where it was still flanked by Dutch stopline defences to the north and south], and would hereafter enter the enemy controlled area just west of the (previous) frontline. In order to provide the troops with adequate supporting fire, a number of available artillery batteries would be involved. These were ordered to prepare fire-missions on the outskirts of the projected manoeuvre room. Intention was, that this would prevent the Germans from taking counter measures and suppress them in order to prevent the Germans from delivering effective machine gun and small arms fire. The troops would cross the flat area, scoop up any German resistance on the way and swing south-eastwards in the direction of the sluice in the Grebbe river in order to throw the Germans out of the main defence zone.
All in all a very risky plan with a very ambitious goal. The troops - which were totally unfamiliar with the terrain - would have to negotiate a considerable plain where they would be highly vulnerable to enemy infantry and artillery fire as well as possible Luftwaffe presence. After reaching the first target line [about the same line as the stopline north and south of them], they would have to retake the positions at the frontline ahead and to the southeast of them. Particularly the latter part was very ambitious for this would mean that they would have to face enemies at three sides of them. After all the Germans had taken firm control of the frontline as well as the Grebbeberg itself. At the point where the counter-acting battalions would turn onto a southeastern vector, Germans would be on both their flanks and in front. That 'inconvenience' had to be remedied by a counter action from the Grebbeberg itself. Unfortunately the formation assigned to support that last crucial element, had been caught in a night battle on the Grebbeberg itself. It would be unable to execute its mission.
Would the Dutch have born the knowledge of the latest German tactical moves, they would have realized the virtual impossibility of their offensive tactics. Because in the early evening of the 12th, the commanding German General had ordered the SS regiment to the north of the Grebbeberg, where it would have to assault the Dutch positions around Achterberg on the 13th. The positions on the Grebbeberg would be taken over by the battalions of the 322.IR of the 207th Infantry Division that were instructed to unleash an all out offensive against the stop-line defences in the early hours of the 13th. This swap was in process at the very moment the Dutch were planning their large scale counter attack.
The Dutch operation was originally scheduled to start at around 0400 hours with an artillery barrage and a preceding RAF air assault (1). Soon after these two events the troops were scheduled to start their manoeuvres. It soon became apparent however that the units were far from ready at the scheduled hour and as such the attack was postponed. By some reason however the artillery had not been informed and the planned barrages were executed on the primarily scheduled hour.
(1) This RAF raid was officially announced in an instruction from the staff of the Dutch Field Army Command to the staff of the 2nd Corps. It is a mystery where the news of an RAF raid had come from. It is certain that the RAF never had such a raid planned and Dutch sources do not reveal any clue or indication where the RAF attack would originate from.
German change of plan
The Germans in the meantime had changed their plans too. As briefly addressed hereabove the commanding German General Von Tiedemann had decided on a shuffle of units. It is unclear what motivated him to shift the SS from the Grebbeberg to Achterberg and bring in the regular Heer units in their stead. Possibly the General wasn't pleased with the SS progress or he may have desired his own division to take the credits for the final push through the Grebbeline.
The Waffen SS regiment was ordered to be taken back from the Grebbeberg, where they had successfully taken the Dutch frontline. The 322 Regiment of the 207th Infantry Division would swap positions with them and were scheduled to renew the attack against the stopline on the next day. The SS in the meantime was ordered to redeploy slightly to the north of their current positions and was instructed to take the Dutch defences at Achterberg by break of day. Their attack - as a coincidence - happened to be diametrically directional towards the projected Dutch counter attack. This would obviously lead to a situation where both forces would meet head-on in a clashing battle manoeuvre. The outcome of this tragic development is saved for the journal of the events on May the 13th.
The SS - in this phase of the war still fighting to gain a position in the lines of the German armed forces - was all but happy with the instructions from the rear. Although the SS was ordered to recuperate and prepare themselves for the assignment at Achterberg, the III.Battalion under Obersturmbannführer Wäckerle - which occupied the south-eastern slope of the Grebbeberg - had still a cunning plan up his sleeve. Determined as he was, Wäckerle decided that he wanted to break the stopline defences still this day and as such remain ahead of the replacement by a regular Heer battalion. After all, the regiment's orders had been to take the Grebbeline at the second day of war, and now at the third day the had still not succeeded.
Wäckerle formed a task force around him of about 200 men. Just before the hour of midnight his men - himself included - charged alongside the main road into the totally surprised Dutch defenders of the stopline. Before they realized what was going on, the Dutch positions were completely overrun and the majority of the SS storm troopers busted through their lines. In a large scale panic many defenders in the adjacent trenches made legs and dispersed in the forest. Others were killed or taken prisoner. The SS rushed on alongside the road that led to the viaduct that crossed the sunken railroad track just outside Rhenen. Under way the SS men were shot at, suffered quite some casualties (Wäckerle himself was wounded, his adjutant killed), but yet managed to push trough over the summit of the hill and run down the main road straight into the direction of the viaduct leading towards the village Rhenen.
At this strategic viaduct a barricade was manned by a determined platoon of MP troops, assisted by some stranglers of other units. One AT gun and a number of light and heavy machine guns defended this point against possible German penetration. But that wasn't their only duty! The MP commander [MP Captain Gelderman] was specifically instructed by General Harberts that no retreating troops were allowed to cross the viaduct unless under proven orders. The instructions were even so harsh that force to the maximum extent had been allowed. The General insisted that the Dutch troops on the Grebbeberg had to stand ground or die.
The viaduct occupation was already in action since the Germans had broken trough the frontline in the early afternoon. Many retreating Dutch defenders of these frontline positions had tossed away their weapons and gear and had been camping in front of the viaduct where they had been stopped. Some - with weapons - had been persuaded to return to the frontline, but many begged the Captain to let them pass. It was no different at the late evening hour when the sudden fire bursts on top of the hill ahead of them made these men panic again. Soon they were joint by the first soldiers that had come from the penetrated sector ahead of the SS. Their stories of bloody scenes and beastly Germans endorsed the already popular stories of defeat amongst the ever growing viaduct-crowd. It all amplified the defeatist mood amongst the men on the east side of the barricade. Captain Gelderman decided that he had to make a move. He stepped on the stone bridge side and addressed the mob in front of him with severe words and the warning that he had been instructed to open fire on deserting troops, which - so he assured the crowd - he would not hesitate to do.
Still standing on the bridge side the Captain and the crowd became aware of the rapidly increasing noise up the road. Wild bursts of fire and screaming from numerous throats warned the men at the viaduct that something was happening in the pitch dark sector up the road. The mob at the viaduct started to panic, again begging the Captain to provide a passage. Upon his refusal and last warning they tried to storm the barricade. The captain had no other choice than to open fire. At least ten men perished during this dramatic scene, including one MP who got caught in the cross fire. As this tragedy unfolded, suddenly the screaming SS bunch came crashing down the main road blazing their guns and chasing some of their POW's with them. The Captain had his men aim their weapons on the Germans and that caused the SS party to disperse in all directions.
The majority of the SS men eventually ended up pulling into the direction of the factory grounds close to the river and just a couple of hundred metres from the viaduct. There they would turn out to be isolated between the Dutch alongside the railroad track and the stopline they just breached. Behind them the gap was about to be closed again. A mere 50 men SS troops fortified the factory building and used their POW's as a protective shield against Dutch fire. Wäckerle himself had been wounded for the first time during his daring assault. He sent back one of his company-commanders to get reinforcement and this officer succeeded in reaching German lines again sitting on a Dutch bike! The gap in the stopline had not been repaired yet, but before the German could get back at Wäckerle's, the stopline had been restored. Reinforcing Wäckerle's daring bunch was out of the question. By the time the Germans were able to organise such, the Dutch had recovered and repaired the whole in the line.
The assault by Wäckerle (2) was not quite well received by the command of 207.ID. General Von Tiedemann probably realized that the SS had intended to prove itself, whilst intervening with his orders. The operational result of Wäckerle's action was neglectable, because it had lacked follow-up action. It had caused the already battered 3rd Battalion of SS Der Führer to disintegrate. More than half the battalion was now out of action. The remnants of the 3rd Battalion, no more than about a company strong, were not moved into the rear of the regiment at Achterberg. They were taken from the frontline and regrouped near the Grebbe. In the morning of the 13th they would be led into battle by Hauptsturmführer Kumm and assist in the attack on the stopline north of the main road.
(2) Wäckerle's action was considered reckless by the division commander, reason for this General to veto two Knights-cross applications filed by Wäckerle's regiment commander for the achievements of the commander of III./SSDF in May 1940. Wäckerle would however still receive the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class for his bold performances during the May War. Hilmar Wäckerle was a fanatic Nazi and an early commander of the notorious German concentration camp Dachau, then known as the 'School of violence' for SS camp guards. He had been sacked as a camp commander for reasons of disproportional violence adhered to prisoners in 1934. His successor was the notorious Theodor Eicke, who would lead the SS Totenkopf Division in May 1940. Wäckerle was a protoge of SS Reichsführer Himmler himself and therefore pardoned for his 'violent' behaviour in Dachau. In real life Himmler only sacked Wäckerle for political reasons. The SS was still in the early stages of power. Shortly after the May War in 1940, Wäckerle was promoted to the SS rank of Standartenführer (full Colonel) and given the command of the SS Standarte 'Westland' (of the SS Wiking Division), that contained mainly German, Dutch and Belgian Waffen SS volunteers. In the first stage of the operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, Wäckerle was killed by a Soviet sniper while inspecting some battlefield loot near Lemberg [2 July 1941].
Balance of a day's battle at the Grebbeberg
The tragic events at the viaduct sealed a day of misfortune and defeat on the Dutch side at the Grebbeberg. But the Dutch commanders had set high hopes on the counter offensive scheduled for the early hours of the 13th. Nevertheless the day had been extremely costly.
The Dutch had lost 133 men KIA on the second day of the battle. The Germans had lost only 29 men KIA of which 22 on the Grebbeberg itself. A very unbalanced 'score-card'.
Three events in particular had been very costly to the Dutch. The first was the SS storm assault on the Hoornwerk, the second the failed counter assaults by the Dutch and the by far most costly event had been the late evening SS assault that had penetrated the stop-line defences. The latter single event had probably costed the Dutch about 40 men KIA.
The fact that the SS lost so few men - although their modus of operation would suggest high toll risks - says plenty about the effectiveness of the German assaults and - on the other hand - the ineffectiveness of the Dutch defence. Basically everywhere where the Germans struck, the Dutch defences panicked, causing many of Dutch casualties while inflicting minimal damage on the assaulting enemies. Nevertheless, it was probably the effectiveness of the SS assaulting methods that had caused the unbalanced score card. On the 13th, when the much less capable regular army had taken over from the SS, the Germans would pay a much higher price for their gains ...
A German action at Ederveen
The Grebbeberg was not the only blazing front sector in the heart of the country. North of the Grebbeberg, at the road Ede - De Klomp, the 368th Regiment of the 207.ID again tried to penetrate the Dutch forward positions around the village of Ederveen. One will remember that such an attack failed on the 11th due to the defensive action of the Dutch and the weakeness of the German attempt.
This time the Germans took more thorough precautions. At 0530 hours the Germans advanced with two battalions of infantry in front, one behind. A preceding artillery barrage had pounded the Dutch defences. On both sides of the road and the nearby railway track the assault developed. Gradually the Germans gained some terrain although again the Dutch forward defences slowed them down considerably. At around 1000 hours the forward positions had to give in and the remaining defenders retreated to the frontline positions.
Suddenly Dutch artillery fire slammed into the German lines and halted their forward movements. The retreated defenders were ordered to retake their position and with strong aversion the men took up their weapons and advanced to their previously left positions - convinced that they would be ambushed and captured by the enemy. But much to their surprise they found their trenches empty and the Germans vanished!
Only after the war it became clear from German reports that they never grew aware that the Dutch forward trenches had been deserted. They simply broke-off the attack under the firm impression that the local defences were too strong to take. It had caused them 22 men KIA [against 9 Dutch KIA], under whom the battalion commander of the leading 1st Battalion. Although a compliment to the Dutch defenders for their firm and brave attitude was well earned, the degree of determination of the German regular army troops showed quite a difference with their Waffen SS colleagues that operated at the Grebbeberg.
The actions in the central sector of the Grebbeline
In the central sector of the Grebbeline the 12th of May would also mean a day of intense fighting. The 227th Infantry Division had been slowed down the day before due to lack of pioneering equipment that prevented an expeditious crossing of the Apeldoornse Kanaal. As a result the 12th of May was the first day that they were actually able to deploy the full potential of their force.
In the meantime the Dutch in the central sector were puzzled by the lack of German action in front of their positions. The air reconnaissance had spotted some proof of German presence and furthermore reports of roaming cavalry units had proven that some considerable German [SS] forces were active on the Veluwe. But the main force could not be allocated. As a consequence a number of recce squads were formed from the available cavalry units. They were ordered to determine the whereabouts of the German main force. Three recce targets were drawn up: the cities of Barneveld, Voorthuizen and Nijkerk. That these targets were well picked would soon become clear.
The German commander [General Zickwolff (3)] had decided that his division would be deployed in the vicinity of Barneveld, a village east of Amersfoort. He was very determined to aim his main assault against the sector around Amersfoort. But first he ordered a task force of two battalions with reinforcements [one battalion of the 227th, and one battalion of the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler] to execute an aggressive recon raid against the Dutch forward defences north and south of Amersfoort [at the village of Asschat]. The northern move was cancelled before execution, due to the fact that the Leibstandarte was ordered to retreat and prepare itself for relocation to 26.AK in Brabant. The rather considerable southern force would however be denied ground by the firm attitude of the Dutch forward positions. The skirmishes that followed were quite insignificant.
(3) There were indications that implied that Friedrich Zickwolff - the regular commander of 227.ID - was absent during the mid-May period due to illness. Some sources indicate that during the period May and June 1940 Generalmajor Friedrich-Karl von Wachter was in charge of the 227.ID. Research has proven these implications untrue.
The SS Leibstandarte that was taken back in order to regroup for the withdrawal to the rear, bumped into one of the three scouting hussar units of the Dutch. In the village Voorthuizen a brief but intense fight between the two forces - of which the Germans far outmatched their opponents - occurred.
One Dutch platoon was left behind as a rear guard, the other three proceeded to the village. Here one platoon was ordered to reconnoitre the main road Amersfoort - Apeldoorn. The other two approached the village itself. The platoon at the main road dashed into an SS formation. The other two platoons decided to come to aid and advanced in two groups through the village. The suddenly attacked SS battalion was halted in its retreat.
The Dutch found the main road packed with a huge column of German armoured cars, trucks, motorbikes and infantry. The entire III.Battalion of the Leibstandarte appeared to be stumbled on! The first Dutch volleys totally surprised the SS men and took some of them out of action. Soon however they recovered and swiftly took adequate counter measures. After some minutes of heavy fighting one of the platoons was outflanked, overrun and taken prisoner. These men experienced that the Waffen SS was much less courteous in their treatment of POW's. Men were beaten up and kicked by the furious Germans (4). The other two platoons were able to escape capture and regrouped at the nearby hamlet of Klaarwater. A German armoured car attack was rejected although no anti-tank weapons were available. The remaining Dutch were able to retreat after this. The fight had ended. One Dutch hussar had been killed, about 50 had been taken prisoner. The Germans had lost at least two KIA.
(4) At the 27th of May men of the 7th Company, II.Battalion, Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler - would murder about 70 British POW's of the 2nd Royal Warwickshire Regiment en Royal Artillery in Belgium. Although it would be unfair to criminalize the Waffen SS as a genuine war-criminals outfit, the Waffen SS did get involved in relatively many infringements of the Lex Belli, also in the Netherlands, during the Westfeldzug in 1940. Several severe incidents at the Maas-Waalcanal and the Grebbeberg also involved SS units. A few dozen casualties were registered from these incidents.
One unit of the SS Leibstandarte had been withheld by Zickwolff. This unit, equipped with some armour, was ordered to escort the Kriegsmarine detachment [Sonderkommando Stein] to go to the coastal cities of Harderwijk and Nijkerk in order to inquire vessels for shipping a task force over the IJsselmeer to the rear of the Grebbeline. The Dutch hussar squadron that was sent here found the city deserted from Germans. Awaiting new orders, the platoons took defensive positions to the north and east. They did not expect a German approach from the south, which would turn out to be a fatal mistake. The strong German taskforce - equipped with some heavy armoured cars of the type 231/232 - overwhelmed the Dutch hussars who lacked any AT means. The Dutch had to surrender, just a few managed to escape.
The third - and most serious - confrontation would take place around Barneveld. As one would remember the German main force was assembled here. Now a force of about 150 Dutch hussars - without any heavy weapons - was directed towards this place - unaware of their opponents firm presence. At the village of Achterveld the Germans opened fire on the most forward platoon that was just crossing a brook. Apparently fearless for the enemy's volleys, the platoon quickly charged into the far superior German lines, forcing them to flee into the village. Some Germans were killed and around 20 POW's were made.
Also at the brook - where the commanding Dutch Captain had left a rear guard - some Germans were taken prisoner. A German counter attack was convincingly rejected. Although very successful against the superior Germans, the squadron commander made the mistake to continue his offensive action against the Germans. He had two of his four platoons drawn into fights in the centre of the village, whereas his assignment had been to execute a quick and mobile reconnaissance.
Gradually the Germans managed to surround the hussars, and in the end a German force many times the Dutch numbers - supported by 12 PAK guns, 15 mortars en 66 machine guns - was completing the encirclement. Gradually the Germans squeezed the circle to such a small diameter that they were at shouting distance. They summoned the surrender of the hussars. Captain de Vries however - in full tradition of the hussars - shouted "never that, long live the Queen" and went ahead in a dramatic charge. Many hussars got killed during that bold but quite pointless action, including the Captain himself. Also two of the platoon leaders had been killed during the fierce battle. By then all officers had perished and NCO's were taking over command. Shortly after the loss of the officers, the remainder of the cavalry squadron was forced into surrender. The Germans treated the Dutch POW's with a great deal of respect, especially when their officers found out that only these few men had put up such a fight against their force. The Dutch unit had lost 13 men KIA [2 officers, 1 cadet-officer], the Germans 8 men [1 officer].
The German units that had been engaged in the battle in Achterveld [III./IR.366], had to follow up by making contact with the defences of the main Grebbeline. As such they first deployed some patrols which had to probe the Dutch forward positions at Stoutenburg. These patrols were received with such an intense fire that they soon made legs. The Germans [two companies in front, one in the rear] temporarily dug in about 500m in front of the most forward Dutch trenches. They installed two mortars and succeeded in placing some direct hits in the entrenchments. The defenders were however able to determine the exact position of the two mortars and directed a number of volleys from light field guns straight into the German positions. Both mortars were destroyed and subsequently the remaining Germans ran off. A patrol captured a lot of their left material and brought the loot back into the Dutch trenches.
A little to the south a German battalion tried to get a feel of the defences at the village of Asschat. Here the fights would be less intense than at Stoutenburg, but still locally some fire fights engaged the German battalion for quite some time. The combination of machine gun fire - partially out of some pill boxes - supported by artillery pinned the Germans down and withheld them from forward action. In the evening the German recce action was broken off.
All in all the Germans had formed themselves a picture of tough Dutch defences. They were very much impressed and reported in their battle log that the Grebbeline appeared to be well defended and that Dutch hussars had proven that also the room in front of the line was still occupied with some considerable Dutch forces that were quite determined to fight. Also, they had suffered from continuous shelling in the area of Barneveld where indeed some strong Dutch artillery units had laid a number of accurate barrages on German concentrations.
The German battle-log shows that the advice coming from their recon units was consistently negative. All their probes of the Grebbeline defences had resulted in rejection and they were convinced that an all out assault had to be preceded by thorough preparations. As a consequence, Amersfoort as the main objective was cancelled. As such the main assault in the central sector of the Grebbeline was yet again postponed to the next day. Overnight it was decided by Zickwolff that the main assault would be directed in the area of Scherpenzeel, a small city between Veenendaal and Amersfoort. He based his decision on the results of the recon on the 12th.
At the area of Scherpenzeel some German probing actions had been executed on the 12th, with a mix of results. Most of the enemy action was rejected but at Scherpenzeel itself a number of sections from the forward posts [access in the inundations] retreated to the main defence-line. They would be received by an outraged commander who ordered them back in their deserted positions. Nevertheless the Germans had not been impressed by the defences in this sector, hence decided that the main assault would be aimed in this sector the next day. In a few hours it would become clear that the Germans had this time seriously underestimated their opponent!
At the 11th the Betuweline [the extension of the Grebbeline in the heart, between the rivers Waal and Rhine] had only seen some minor action. This Sunday however, also this defensive position would be challenged.
The line was well protected by a series of inundations. In the north [Kesteren / Opheusden] some dikes and the elevated railway bed were access-point, but these were rather well defended. In the south, in front of the small village of Ochten close to the Waal river, a wider gap in the inundations presented room for a medium scale attack. At the two access points Dutch troops to the strength of a full company [about 160 men] were divided over a number of trenches and pill boxes. The opposing forces were formed under the name Gruppe Brückner, and this task force comprised an entire battalion of infantry [from 374.IR, 207.ID], a reconnaissance squadron [AA.207], 33 anti-tank guns, some six 7,5 cm infantry guns, a battery of 10,5 cm howitzers and a company of pioneers. All together a force of about 1.250 men.
In the morning the Germans endeavoured to take the northern forward positions by surprise. They sent an aggressive patrol towards the access where the railway passed Opheusden. The defenders prevented the Germans from getting even close to their objective. A combination of fire from a pill box, the entrenched sections and a light field gun forced the attackers to flee into the surrounding houses and the gun crew even managed to destroyed one of their anti-tank guns and its tracked-carrier.
In the south, at the Waal river, a more considerable assault was planned. At 0500 in the morning a German force had taken possession of the hamlet named De Tempel. This position was only a gross 300 metres away from the most eastern Dutch posts. The local defence commander applied for artillery support and was soon well served. The dense Dutch artillery fire sent the Germans running off and in the panic they left behind precious equipment that was happily received by the Dutch defenders. As such a fully operating anti-tank gun with over one hundred rounds as well as some machine guns were captured and installed in the own defences. At 1430 hours the Germans made a second attempt but again in vain.
At around 2300 hours the Gruppe Brückner did yet another attempt to penetrate the line. This time under cover of darkness. Initially the assault was halted again by the sections in the sector, until one section suddenly gave way. What happened? This section [about 35 men] was led by a cadet-officer, who had already been caught by front-neuroses. When the attack came he gave order to retreat, but the NCO's under his commanded refused. He then called his senior officer, who instructed him to stay put until he considered his position untenable. This built-in excuse was soon found and the cadet-officer again ordered his men to retreat. One sergeant and four men refused to follow and stayed behind. This however was insufficient a force to defend the position and swiftly the Germans advantaged from this point onwards and infiltrated the Dutch position. Still, fighting would continue till the early morning light. Many defenders even managed to reach Dutch lines again. The forward positions had however been lost.
After the capitulation of the Dutch forces some days later, it became apparent that the Germans were in possession of highly detailed information about the defences in the area and that they were even in possession of a firing-plan of the artillery. Easily enough the link with the poorly operating cadet-officer was established. This particular cadet-officer would nevertheless not himself benefit from his questionable contribution to the German success. At 14 May he tried to desert. When he shot a Dutch soldier fixing his bike, he was arrested and prior to the arrival of German forces, executed on the spot for betrayal. Study after the war showed that the man had been caught with front neuroses and had nothing to do with betrayal.
After the limited success in the forward defence area the Gruppe Brückner found itself in front of the main defences near Ochten. It was determined to take this front sector in the course of the 13th.
Balance of a day at the central front
The Field Army had managed to hold the Grebbeline on the second day of the battle [third day of the invasion], but at the Grebbeberg the tension had risen to the extremes.
The entire Field Army command was highly worried over the status of the Grebbeberg defences. Much was invested in the major counter attack by the four 'fresh' battalions in the early hours of the 13th. Nevertheless the Field Army commander was preparing for the worst. His staff was ordered to prepare the total evacuation of the Grebbeline and prepare instructions for the two Corps commands for such massive and dangerous manoeuvre.
The Field Army command very much realized that should the Grebbeline be penetrated at Rhenen, there would be no time and opportunity to patch the line with an in-depth improvised defence or counter a German penetration in the flank. Reserves for those counter measures simply lacked. Moreover there were no prepared trenches or artillery positions and the required depth of such an improvised defence could not be facilitated. Even more so, the landscape did not provide for any natural obstructions to form those improvised defences behind. The chances of early penetration by a considerable German force would be huge and such would mean the loss of at least a major portion of the 2nd Corps. That chance could not be taken, because both the 2nd and 4th Corps were necessary to occupy positions in the eastfront of Fortress Holland. They could not be replaced whatsoever and even more importantly, there were no safety occupations in the eastfront of Fortress Holland, because those had been drawn into the Fortress to reinforce Rotterdam. It meant that an enemy penetration of the Grebbeline at Rhenen would lead to an instruction to evacuate the entire Grebbeline, leaving behind only modest screen forces and carefully selected artillery batteries. All in all, a withdrawal of about 50,000 men troops and material had to be prepared and rather sooner than later.
In the most northern sector of the Grebbeline no action had been seen and the events that had occurred in the central sector had given reason for confidence and mild optimism. In this entire sector the main defences had been virtually untouched and unharmed.
The Betuweline didn't worry any brass either. The main defence was intact and the opposing forces seemed moderate or even weak. The Dutch were convinced that any German activity in that area was only given in by tying the Dutch forces preventing substantial reinforcements to be shipped off to the Grebbeberg.
The next day would give all the answers.