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The ground forces


It was clear to everyone that the ground-war reaching Zeeland was more like a matter of hours than a matter of days. The previous days the queues of fleeing comrades had been considerable. But that traffic going westwards had quite rapidly stopped. A clear indication that the Germans started controlling the roads and junctions. The anxiety amongst the men that had constructed and manned the two defence lines in Zuid-Beveland, rose.


In the Bathline the sounds of war came anxiously close. It was clear that the German ground forces were deploying well within artillery range. To the Dutch infantry men it came as a sinistre spell that although the Germans were so close by, not a single round was aimed at the Bathline. What were they up to?

The commander of XXVI.AK [General Wodrig] first intended to clear his left flank before he'd send any troops into Zeeland. The Germans deployed three SS battalions of the regiments Deutschland and Germania in the western sector of Brabant - extensively supported by the Luftwaffe. These Germans chased off the - on paper - far superior French troops from the areas between Roosendaal, Bergen op Zoom and Woensdrecht.

At Bergen op Zoom units of the 12 GRDI under Major Michon [12th Infantry Recon Detachment] were surrounded by two companies of a SS battalion. The strength of the contingent is not certain, but about 500 men and probably 14 Panhard armoured cars is generally accepted as the most realistic figure. The French tank squadron [Lestoquoi] at Woensdrecht, equipped with about 20 Hotchkiss H-35 tanks - retreated to the south.

The Lestoquoi retreat sealed the fate of its comrades in Bergen op Zoom. When the Germans had succeeded in cutting off the city of Bergen op Zoom from the rest of the French troops, Michon gave his men freedom to operate at will. But it was in vain. The far majority surrendered without a fight. Eventually all were captured by the Germans and 14 armoured cars had been lost.

At Woensdrecht two battalions of the SS Regiment Germania chased off the remaining French units. It costed them hardly any efforts. The French - who were much stronger in this area - amazed friend and foe when they hastily left the battle zone, leaving behind lots of material and tanks. The German battle reports show much surprise about the rapid French departure and the large loot.

A Dutch formation of about 200 men had taken position at a forest south of Bergen op Zoom. It was ordered by the French Colonel De Beauchesne [commanding 2.GRDI, 12.GRDI and 27.GRDI] to stand ground at that very location. The Colonel was in charge of the rear defence of the French in the Netherlands. Only few hours later De Beauchesne himself and his staff left their Dutch HQ and moved southwards into Belgium. The commander of all Allied forces in this area now held his HQ at a 25 km distance from his troops!

The phenomenon of not informing the Dutch of revised planes and manoeuvres, was practised once again. The Dutch were not informed of De Beauchesne's move and later when battle noises were heard all around them - soon to fade away - it became apparent to the Dutch formation that they had been abandoned by the French without any notification. French author [and witness] Lerecouvreux - who wrote an essay about the 7th Army in those days - stated in his work that the Dutch never took positions in the woods and that they had simply disappeared! It is certainly not the only remarkable 'flaw' in his work ...

Analysis of the events

It is simply amazing what happened in the morning of the 14th in the southwest corner of Noord-Brabant. A superior French force, supplied with at least 60 medium and light tanks and a few dozen heavy armoured cars, gave in against in total four German infantry battalions which lacked any tanks whatsoever and operated just a limited number of light and medium armoured cars.

The only serious French attempt to stop the fanatic Germans was seen around Huijbergen, close to Woensdrecht, were units of the 27th Infantry Recon Detachment [27.GRDI] clashed with a battalion of the SS Regiment Deutschland. Although the French had armoured cars and Hotchkiss tanks available, they lost five Panhard cars and 200 men POW's against no German material losses. The Germans pushed on.

Hundreds of French [and some stray Dutch formations] men were captured, some were killed and a lot of equipment was lost. The Germans lost hardly any men [10 men registered as KIA of both regiments involved] but managed to secure the entire southwest corner of Noord-Brabant around noon and win a prize loot of hundreds of vehicles, armoured cars and tanks. And that wasn't all - they had gained a firm grip on the Scheld canal, which made the Antwerp harbour useless for Allied use. The mission of the French 7th Army in the north had failed. Entire Noord-Brabant was in German hands, the mouth of the Scheld-canal had been lost and as such the port of Antwerp was no longer usable. All shipping inside was cornered.

Still, the last bit of Dutch mainland - Zeeuws Vlaanderen, an area that covered the entire south bank of the Westerscheld - would stay in Allied hands for yet quite some time. At the 21st of May the entire west of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen was part of the last defence-line of the Allies. Only at the 27th of May this last bit of Dutch soil would be occupied by German forces.

In Dunkirk a meeting was held about the situation in Zeeland. The meeting was chaired by the French Admiral Abrial. The French measures of defence that had been taken since the 11th were monitored and a feeling of discontent was shared amongst the attendees when it came to Walcheren and Zuid-Beveland. The joint meeting decided that acting local commander-in-chief Général de Brigade Durand had to be replaced. It was decided that Général de Brigade Deslaurens - commander of the 60th Infantry Divsion - would take over command as off the 16th. He was specifically instructed to fortify and hold Walcheren. The French didn't intend to give up on the coastal area northwest and west of Antwerp yet.