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The ground forces


For the ground forces in Zeeland, the third day of the war saw them being witnesses of conflicting emotions. On one hand the demoralizing show of defeated men coming from the west and on the other hand the increasing French formations arriving on the main land in Walcheren. But the soldiers manning the two main defence-lines were more confronted with the first phenomenon that the latter. They saw Dutch retreaters, often without any arms and with stories of utter defeat, and they hardly witnessed fresh French formations coming in. Even more so, the Dutch defenders of the Zandkreekline saw their French allies dug in behind them in stead of beside them!


The Dutch troops in the Bathline witnessed an ever growing flood of retreating Dutch soldiers that had once been the defending forces in the eastern part of Noord-Brabant. This retreat had nothing to do with an orderly military move - it was simply a "sauve-qui-peut". The devastating state of these troops infected quite a number of men in the Bathline defences, also officers and NCO's. They now even more feared the things to come.

The troops that had been left to defend Noord-Brabant - after the Dutch III.Corps and the Light Division had moved north of the Meuze - were often troops of lesser quality and high [average] age. In itself that made sense. The Dutch army headquarters had considered the Peel-Raamline more or less worthless, as described before. Therefore the Dutch commander-in-chief had decided that upon the German invasion the III.Corps and Light Division would be withdrawn into the Fortress Holland. The remaining troops - a battalion in every regimental section of the line - were more or less considered sacrificial units. They had been supported by the battalions manning the sacrificial border zones and those formations often comprised older reservists.

Some of the retreating troops had indeed seen battle at the Meuze, Peel-Raamline or the improvised defences around Tilburg, but the majority came from unharmed sectors and had only followed the order to retreat and simply never stopped. Their comrades who had indeed been engaged by the Germans had rarely managed to regroup and retreat successfully. They had virtually all been overtaken by the quick German advance.

Of the battalions that had successfully disengaged from the ever progressing German divisions in Noord-Brabant, the majority fled to Zeeland. Although they often had not seen battle - since they had manned the vast unattacked sectors in the Peel-Raamline - they did often suffer the relentless Luftwaffe raids on the packed Brabant roads. It were mostly these strafings and the ocassional bomber attack that had these men demoralized. They scarcely saw any Allied plane overhead, Dutch planes even crossed the Meuze only on one ocassion beyond the first hours of the war. The men felt betrayed by their high command - in all aspects. And were they to blame?

Besides the most popular trail to Zeeland, considerable numbers tried to cross the border with Belgium too. Some of these men would eventually reach France and about 600 of them would even safely make the crossing to the UK. These men - together with a later arrived group from Zeeland - would become the backbone of the Dutch brigade [Prinses Irene Brigade] and Dutch Commando Troop no.2 that were both later formed in England. Needless to say that these men could only be considered poorly trained and often hardly motivated to serve again. It would take years to prepare the lot of them for battle again. Only a small number would proof to be of such standard that their services could be rendered to the Allied cause before D-Day. Yet when the Brigade [actually the size of this unit would never reach the strength of a full brigade] was assigned to the front in July 1944, it would proof its value in France and Holland on several occasions. They had become fine soldiers at last!

The senior Dutch officers in Walcheren, that were confronted with the seemingly endless flow of unorganised troops from Noord-Brabant, were shocked by the state these troops were in. There was hardly any distinction between soldiers, NCO's and officers; virtually all were devastated and without moral. The majority had lost or dumped its weapons; their material and equipment was virtually all gone and many looked like they had been through a genuine hell. Officers usually travelled without their units, and as such entire companies arrived without a single officer amongst them. A clear show of poor command and leadership.

The acting commanding officer of the Brabant formations - commander Lieutenant-Colonel Themann of the 30th Infantry Regiment [the Territorial Commander and his staff had been taken prisoner at Tilburg] - reported to the staff in Zeeland in a questionable state of mind, spreading at least as troublesome news as his troops had done. Rear-Admiral van der Stad was shocked and very displeased to witness the physical and mental state of this officer. Nevertheless the Lieutenant-Colonel was instructed to reorganise his troops and get them back into a shape where they could be considered serviceable units again. Lack of any senior officer to spare had forced Van der Stad to decide so, but he realized at the same time that the changes of re-using this melting pot of scattered units were somewhere between slim and none. The ever growing pool of troops [in the end they would grow to about 4,000 men in Walcheren alone] was formed from at least 100 different smaller units, of which often many men and commanding ranks were missing. The loss of weapons could not be replenished from the limited depots in Zeeland and the mental state of mind of the vast majority was so bad that Van der Stad feared that they would do more bad than good to the cause of defending Walcheren. And he would be proven right!

Shifting strategy

The French supreme command had meanwhile realized that the operation-plan for the 7th Army could not be executed as set forth in the instructions. The very expeditious German advance through Noord-Brabant and along the Albertcanal prevented the French from the chance to form a firm and well prepared screen around Turnhout and Tilburg on Dutch soil. The Belgium first true defence line along the Albert Canal had also on the second day of the war collapsed under the pressure of two tank divisions and overwhelming air assaults. On the second day the Belgian army started the full scale retreat onto the KW-line.

Should Gamelin have maintained his initial orders for the 7th Army, it would certainly have led to a status where this considerable force would be cut off in the far north. He therefore ordered the bulk of the 7th Army to halt at Antwerp and deploy there and assess the eastside of Breda the most forward and northern zone of occupation. The French units in Holland were ordered to form an improvised screen around the Westerscheld and Breda in order to safeguard as much evacuation of ships and troops from Antwerp as possible. The defence of Zuid-Beveland and Walcheren enjoyed a growing French attention from this decision for now they were focussing on their own interest which now developed parallel to the Dutch interest. At the same time it was decided that Breda would not be firmly defended - although her citizens were still evacuating on French instigation - and that the French main forces would move back to Bergen op Zoom and the area around Antwerp. A thin screen of troops around Breda would cover this retreat.

Moral booster

The occupation of the Bathline was treated on a rare show of Allied airpower again when around 1900 hours a squadron of French Moranes 406 [CC III/3] intercepted a flight of returning He-111's of 3/KGr126 just two clicks east of their positions. The German bombers tried to evade the fighters, but for three of them their attempts were in vain. The first to crash was the He-111 4W+AW, which came down at Calfven, close to the Belgian border. Number two was downed at Hoogerheide. The last victim dove into the ground near Korteven, killing the entire crew of five [squadron-leader plane]. None of the French planes was downed.