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The dunes north and west of The Hague

Introduction

The strongest and most threatening German representation to the north of Rotterdam was found in two pockets north of The Hague. The first was the dune area between Scheveningen and Katwijk, a twenty kilometre stretch. The second one was the village of Valkenburg. We shall first address the events that unfolded in the dunes.

Save the revised instructions not to operate forces beyond company level, a large scale plan to counter German dune pockets was set-up and executed. The instructions to limit actions beyond company-size had reached the plan designers too late.

The 4.RI action

The Dutch had designed quite an ambitous plan to clear the German presence in the dunes. This plan had already been worked out in the late hours of the 10th. Three (incomplete) battalions were deployed to execute a sweep from Katwijk, along the coast, to the south. These three battalions [of which two were incomplete] would operate in a line abreast formation, as such leaving no space open for German units to escape.

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Anti-tank line The Hague (may 1940)

Although in essence a feasible plan, it was hampered by all kinds of misfortune and mismanagement. First of all the commanding staff was selected from the unit that was already largely occupied in several contacts with the Germans at Valkenburg: 4RI. As such the small regimental staff was overloaded. Secondly the Dutch failed to launch the three battalions simultaneously. Consequently there was no closed formation but in stead a series of unparallelled movements. Last but not least plans were modified during the manoeuvre, but this did not reach the most forward Dutch battalion due to the lack of communications. The practises of this action were typical for the Dutch inability to coordinate large scale manoeuvres; a type of operation that had hardly been practised during the interbellum and that - given the total absence of portable communitions - was bound to go astray. Particularly when plans were altered under way.

The most eastern operating battalion [1st Battalion 1RI] - only comprising two companies with some supporting weapons - had advanced in an expeditious way. They had soon managed to reach the dunes and woods of the Wassenaarse Slag, around 0230 in the morning [11 May]. The Germans had noticed the Dutch troops and had chosen to avoid contact and lour the Dutch well onto their territory in order to set a trap reforming into a pincher movement. When the Dutch had reached a certain way-point in their advance, their commander - convinced that he was protected to his west by the adjacent battalion - ordered his men to take a rest after the long and tiresome march south. The commanding Major failed to set out sufficient guard posts, convinced as he (apparently) was of his protected flank.

The Germans meanwhile stealthily deployed an assault force on the westside of the Dutch position. At around 0415 hours the 350 Dutch men, almost all well asleep, were taken totally by surprise by the screaming and hauling noise of the suddenly attacking German airlanding troops [about 400 men]. All hell broke lose. The Dutch commander thought for a brief moment that his troops were accidentally attacked by friendly forces of the assumed adjacent battalion, which caused decisive hesitance amongst the Dutch soldiers, of which more than half were either killed [22 men, including the Major], wounded or taken prisoner. The other half managed to escape eastwards into the direction of Wassenaar. The German success was complete. They had managed to take more than 200 prisoners and kill 22 men. The Germans themselves had only lost 2 men!

Meanwhile the other two battalions had started their respective advances. The central battalion [1st Battalion 4RI] - comprising no more than two incomplete companies - was the first of the two to reach Wassenaarse Slag. It had noticed that the expected battalions on the flanks appeared to be missing. North of Wassenaarse Slag they ran into the German concentration that this time did not try to hide. Both forces clashed.

During this engagement, the most western battalion [2nd Battalion 9RI, the most complete battalion] had also reached Wassenaarse Slag. Some forward units of this battalion, including an anti-tank section, were surprised by a German forward position and immediately surrendered. The main force however managed to respond to the German fire and held on to its position. Both battalion commanders joint command in order to decide on a combined strategy. They meanwhile received orders to attack the Germans from two sides, at 1400 hours.

Whilst planning the attack, three Ju-52 transporters flew over and dropped parachutes to the north of the Dutch positions [supplies for the misdropped Valkenburg troops in the dunes!]. The battalion staffs were convinced that this surprisingly quick German counter-measure was intended to cut off their forces. The officers didn't hesitate to order the immediate retreat of both units back to the dune area south of Katwijk. During this manoeuvre the men were able to solve the mystery of the assumed drop of German troops in their rear when German supplies, with parachutes still attached to the casings, were found. They continued their retreat nonetheless, because they considered that by then the momentum had been lost anyway.

The entire action was - as we said before - a chain of very unfortunate events and very poor command. The German representation in the dunes was able to survive and maintain its positions. They gladly made use of captured Dutch mortars, machineguns and anti-tank guns to reinforce their strongholds.

Another Dutch plan to invade the dune area with three other battalions [also at 1400 hours] from the direction of The Hague had been cancelled. This time because the whereabouts of the Germans were not known and the troops were considered too valuable elsewhere. Due to the failing Dutch countermeasures the Germans in the dune areas would continue to form a burden in the staff rooms. Every bit of manoeuvre had to be planned around them.

The Hague

The Hague terribly suffered - like Amsterdam and Rotterdam - from Fifth Column panic. When one report of suspected saboteurs or infiltrants had been laid aside as false or verified untrue, the next series was already waiting. Numerous units from depot-forces and the GHQ guard formation were sent out to clear-up these reports. Not seldom did these searches end up in soldiers fighting eachother or shooting at perfectly patrioitic citizens that - for some reason - seemed suspected. Sometimes a waving curtain in a window - simply played by the wind - was interpreted as a signal to enemy planes. Or a flag pole sticking out of a structure assessed as a weapon. These panics also led to improvised check-points on virtually every corner of every street. Soldiers and officers trying to get from one end of town to the other were easily checked dozens of times in the proces of their journeys. Even the most senior officers in staff cars were suspected, sometimes even more than regular soldiers, because soldiers considered high ranking officers a perfect disguise. People and soldiers were forced to pronounce the 'sch' - a very specific sound in the Dutch language - that could hardly be produced by a German, although the languages are much alike. To the innocent citizens and foreign military [The Hague was packed with ambassies and consulates] it made a silly impression, but it was not specific for the Dutch theatre. In Belgium and France Fifth Column panic in May and June 1940 struck as the unsuspected secret weapon, paralyzing large forces in built-on areas. But even the Germans were very anxious too. Numerous incidents were reported where German units started unloading their guns on objects or houses where no soldier was around whatsoever. In some area's even reports occured where German troops took civil hostages when they were convinced being shot at by franc tirreurs. It was however from a German standpoint a suspicion that made much more sense than from the Allied point of few. After all, the latter were fighting on their own turf, whereas the Germans knew not what to expect. 

The large amount of POW's posed the Dutch with another challenge. Nobody had anticipated on that to happen in the west and on the first day of the war. Hospitals had been largely prepared for the flow of wounded men but obviously everyone had to adapt very quickly from a peace to a war situation. Regarding the POW's there were three main challenges. First to organise suitable locations to shelter them, secondly to assign capable guarding troops and facilities and thirdly organise food and beverages for these men.

The POW's, more than 1,000 on the first day alone, were - besides the wounded men, which were hospitalised - mainly distributed over the Alexander barracks, the Frederik barracks - both in The Hague - the large civil prison in Scheveningen and the Circus buildings in Scheveningen. These locations were guarded by troops of the 17th Depot Battalion and the Cavalery Depot in The Hague. The selection of the Scheveningen buildings was not without risk though. Considerable German forces were nearby in the dune area. But the number of Dutch troops in the area was considered adequate to be able of sustaining any German ambition in this sector. Many of the healthy POW's were later during the May War put on trains to Ymuiden. Almost the entire The Hague collection of POW's would be shipped to England eventually.