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The Island of Dordrecht


We left the Island of Dordrecht with the fact that the point troops of the 9th Tank Division had reached the airbornes at Moerdijk. Disbelieve on the Dutch side of this news took until 0100 hrs on the 13th, when finally the news sunk in that indeed a large German formation had reached the Moerdijk area and that the French had not been able to stop the Germans. The destruction of the traffic bridge was ordered, to begin with artillery fire. All available artillery had been instructed to blast the bridges and shell any traffic.

Meanwhile a large offensive had to be unleashed in the heart of the island. Three formations of the LD would make a move from the northeast towards the city quarter Krispijn and Tweede Tol. They would be assisted by a small infantry force from the Group Kil that would land at Wieldrecht, occupy this village and await the LD successes to move on Krispijn and Amstelwijk too. About 2,000 men troops were involved in this push.

Barrages on the Moerdijk bridges

Artillery in the Hoekse Waard was ordered to open fire on the traffic bridge and both land heads. As off 0300 hours the four batteries [note: in fact less than three batteries, because from the 12 off 15 cm guns only 7 were in action still. These seven were assisted by one 7,5 cm battery] within range of the objects started shelling the bridges and the areas around the land heads. Their fire did hamper German traffic and probably even inflicted some damage. The 7,5 and 15 cm shells were however totally unable to cause any serious damage to the bridge and were certainly not able to hit any of the well protected bridge-charges either. Moreover, these charges had been removed by the Germans already. Besides, the 15 cm guns were inapt for any dynamic fire as they were fixed mounted.

The traffic on the northside of the bridge was mostly raided by the seven remaining 15 cm guns. These guns were hardly able to produce any effective fire. They had a very slow operation and their fixed mounting prevented them from unleashing more than one round (each gun) per event. Needless to say that these 'barrages' were quite useless.

The 9th Tank Division

The German 9th Tank Division had suffered very light losses until the 13th. They had been in action since the 11th and had met little resistance. The Dutch had managed to put some armoured cars and some tanks out of action during a number of collisions with the three reconnaissance formations of the division. The French forces had avoided any serious clashes thusfar. As a result only two tanks, one command-car [gunless tank], three trucks, six cars and 18 motor-bikes had been destroyed.

The 33th Tank Regiment - the only tank regiment in the division - had split up its main forces into two columns. The northern one, was the one that had reached the Moerdijk area. The southern one was still in transit and was the only one that got sight of French troops on its way west. The three reconnaissance formations had been formed around three armoured car squadrons, which had been reinforced with a number of tanks from the light tank squadrons and some mobile FLAK and artillery.  

In the early morning of the 13th the northern column had reached the bridge at Moerdijk. The formation first regrouped and organised before it crossed the bridge into the disputed Island. Before sun-rise the first tanks moved across the traffic bridge, onto the Island of Dordrecht ...

The Dutch offensive on the Island

In the early morning the Dutch taskforce in the centraleast of the Island prepared itself for battle. These troops were still unaware of the arrival of the 9th Tank Division at Moerdijk. Lack of mobile communication devices did also here pay bitter credits. But even more so, in the city of Dordrecht many commanders were too still under the impression that German tanks were still well away and that if tanks were to be expected it would certainly be the formidable French monsters! Therefore even with communication equipment it is more than likely that the LD taskforce would have remained unaware of enemy tanks up ahead.

The taskforce was planning to advance along the causeway [Zeedijk] in the direction of Tweede Tol. Only three AT guns were deployed in front - four were kept in the rear - and eight 7,5 cm guns would directly support the assault. The Dutch occupation at Wieldrecht [about 60 men of the 3rd Border Infantry] would receive reinforcements of two companies from the Group Kil. These companies would only cross the Kil once the LD formation would show to be successful! This Wieldrecht force was scheduled to advance to Amstelwijck and take this strategic position in order to control the main roads. The Kil artillery was instructed to support the offensive action. The obsolete 15 cm guns would suppress the Germans at Willemsdorp. The 7,5 cm guns were ordered to shell the German occupied zones around the city quarter Krispijn and the Zeehaven (south of the bridges at Zwijndrecht).

At 0430 hours the assault was scheduled to start. The units were however still deploying when suddenly German armour came creeping down the narrow causeway towards the Dutch most western positions. The Dutch were overjoyed to see French (!) tanks. Some even jumped on the road out in the open to welcome the allies. But when the supposingly friendly iron monsters had almost reached the Dutch point formation, the first tank suddenly started blazing from its gun and MG. Upset and death were the result. Soon the first tanks in the column [estimates from reports are about 20 tanks of the Pz.II and Pz.III type] started pounding targets along the causeway.  

The command post received a number of hits from tank guns and large panic struck the troops. In the meantime the German Luftwaffe raided the crossing of causeways, where the main force of the Dutch (including the artillery pieces) was positioned. The heavy Stuka bombs created havoc under the nearly defenceless Dutch. A number of artillery pieces could no longer be moved, due to the huge bomb craters behind their gun beds.

The tanks halted and awaited the end of the Luftwaffe raid ahead of them. After the Luftwaffe had ceased their bombardment, the tanks proceeded again. The Dutch anti-tank crews fired away their armour penetrating rounds and hit some German tanks. Also - as far as not immobilized or damaged - the 7,5 cm pieces fired their rounds at the point tanks. Some tanks took a turn to the Schenkeldijk (leading to the north) and attacked the Dutch forces alongside this dike. Two 7,5 cm guns responded to this German push and immobilized at least two tanks. The Germans retreated after they had penetrated the Dutch lines quite some distance, and the main group had taken many Dutch men prisoner.

With their POW's the Germans moved to Haaswijk (close to Bovenhoek, the eastern corner of the Island) were they regrouped. The remaining Dutch forces, including five of the eight artillery pieces, retreated. The most eastern forces [force of about two battalions] evacuated the Island and crossed the railway bridge to Sliedrecht. The balance retreated to the city of Dordrecht, where they would regroup and be assigned to the city defences. The previously strong Dutch presence in the heart and east of the Island had ceased to exist.

The small Wieldrecht pocket had been defended to the bitter end. But it had eventually been lost when the Germans involved armoured cars in an assault. Some Dutch were killed, some escaped. The majority was taken prisoner.

City defences

Quickly defences perimeters inside the heart of the city were organised. The original city of Dordrecht had been built in the far north-western corner of the Island. Its most ancient parts were surrounded by canals. In later years the city had expanded in an arc shape around these canals, much like Amsterdam. The Dutch defenders took positions behind the canals and fortified the bridges with barricades, heavy machine guns, anti-tank guns and field artillery pieces. As such the old town centre was isolated from the outside. During the day remainders of the shattered forces that had operated on the Island continued to pour in. Many troops still held isolated areas of the outer skirts of the town and almost all of them got engaged in local fights with the advancing German infantry and airbornes.

In the railway station in the south of the town, the Germans had found shelter against the ongoing Dutch actions around them. The previous days the Germans had assembled quite a number of civilian hostages and many of these were held inside the railway-station building. They would be first witnesses of the German tanks entering the city. At around 1400-1430 hours suddenly the tanks appeared from the southeast - from the direction of Dubbeldam. The sounds of the creaking tracks combined with the sounds of war terrified the defenceless civilians. Their German guards often used them as cover against the Dutch fire and also fire was returned over their heads. Soon after the arrival of the German tanks, the Dutch resistance around the station ceased, powerless as they had been against the panzers.

Hereafter the German tank company [of about 20 tanks of types II, III and IV] split up into three or four platoons. Five directions of attack were successively [some simultaneously] chosen, all of them along the roads leading towards one of the many [6] bridges over the canals. Four of these assaults were rejected by the Dutch defenders at the bridges, although heavy losses were suffered. Then, much to the surprise of the bridge defenders, a courier of Lieutenant-Colonel Mussert appeared at two bridges with the astonishing news that the spotted tanks were of French origin. They should not be fired upon. At two locations this message would cost the lives of some defenders who exposed themselves in order to identify their opponents.

At the Vriesebrug [Vriese bridge] the most dramatic contact with the German tanks would occur. The defenders were equipped with one 4,7 cm AT gun and a 7,5 cm artillery piece. Here the Germans did not approach the bridge head up, but they suddenly appeared from a side-street. The first two tanks [most likely these were Pz.II] were immobilized by Dutch guns. But then a third and fourth tank appeared and these placed two direct hits on the artillery gun, killing most of the crew. Next the AT gun came into action, but as it was not placed in a barricade the crew was very much exposed to opposing fire. The German coaxial machineguns rapaidly forced the crew to take cover. Whilst the Dutch were suppressed by this fire, two more tanks appeared and crossed the now undefended bridge, turning left and right into the then open town-centre. These two tanks - most likely Pz.IV medium tanks with 7,5 cm short barrelled guns - suddenly appeared on a town square [Bagijnhof], where barricades and trenches had been prepared. Also two Dutch headquarters were situated there. The defences had not been prepared for a German threat from the direction the tanks were actually coming from and when the tanks appeared in the flanks of the defenders they panicked. The majority ran off to the relative safety of side-streets and buildings. Yet a very brave cadet-officer of an anti-tank company, managed to turn his AT gun in the direction of the German tanks, which were meanwhile pushing forward whilst blazing their guns.

The cadet-officer realised that the gun bed and cover did block his fire window now that it had been turned 90 degrees. He loaded the gun with a solid armour piercing grenade, took cover and fired the gun into the sandbag cover. The blast took care of the cover and as such an open window was created. His second shot ripped open the turret of the most forward tank [killing the tank commander]. The next blast crippled the second tank. Then the cadet-officer was no longer able to continue his action due to dense German MG fire, but the Germans knew enough. The assault was broken off, the forward tank was attached to the second one and towed off. The German tanks would completely evacuate from the town after this event.

According to Student's [post] war-diary, the tanks retreated due to the fact that they had wasted all their ammunition, but this seems hardly believable bearing in mind that the Pz.III en Pz.IV carried a supply of around 200 rounds. It is more likely that the high losses of tanks [18 tanks were destroyed at 13 May: 3 Pz.I, 6 Pz.II, 3 Pz.III, 5 Pz.IV and 1 Pz.III command tank. Probably 15 of these tanks were lost on the Island] and the only relative importance of the city of Dordrecht contributed considerably to the German decision to take the tanks back and lead them into the direction of Rotterdam.

In fact the Germans had been very close to completely destroying the Dutch defence of Dordrecht. The Dutch commanders realised that this narrow escape was only due to German hesitance. They immediately ordered the retreat of the main Dutch force off the Island. Only a thin screen of troops [strength less than two battalions] would be left behind for the defence of the town and as a cover for the general retreat. Lieutenant-Colonel Mussert - the man that suffered of his ill reputation - was left in charge of the red lantern forces. It is hard to understand why the commander of the Light Division left the remainder of the troops under the command of an officer that before had proven completely unsuitable for his work and moreover lacked any acceptance from his troops, who considered him a traitor. It would however this time harm nobody ... yet.


At 1900 hours the Dutch Light Division had crossed the Merwede. Next all remaining troops in Dordrecht were ordered to fall back to the Alblasserwaard. But attempts to reach Mussert were in vain. Later Mussert was informed of the order to retreat, but first refused to adhere to that order. Soon enough he realised that no other option was left to him and so he ordered the last defenders to cross the Merwede. At 0300 at 14 May the last organised defence of the Island had ceased to exist. Some scattered units were taken prisoner by the Germans.

The Dutch had lost 33 men KIA at Dubbeldam [causeway incident] and the city battle. The German losses in material - probably about 15 tanks - went along with just modest losses in men. Only three KIA on board the tanks. A clear result of the Dutch use of solid ammunitions against the tanks. Solid AP ammo tends to kill considerably less crew members than HEAT rounds. The infantry losses on the German side are hard to predict. Only 7 men KIA of the infantry, and an unknown number of WIA that later succombed of their wounds. At Wieldrecht two Germans had been killed, against 1 Dutch KIA.