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The Light Division at Ablasserdam


We left the bridge at Alblasserdam at the very moment the decision fell that the commander of the Light Division [LD] thought it best to postpone any offensive action against the German bridge occupation to the break of down. This newly constructed bridge had only been delivered months before the German invasion. It had not appeared on German maps yet, causing a nasty surprise to Generalleutnant Student when in the evening of 10 May a scout reported the very existance of the large bridge. It was situated about 5 km north of Dordrecht and connected a main carriage-way (under construction) to the road-system leading into Rotterdam. To the Germans it formed an additional liability for Dutch reinforcements could be fed via this route onto the Island of Ysselmonde, where the nerve-centre of the 7th Airborne Division was situated.

We saw Student anticipate in the late evening by sending two companies of 2nd battalion [16.IR] and some artillery to this very point. There where the Dutch remained hesitant to cross the bridge during darkness, the Germans acted.

The LD had been ordered by the Commander of Fortress Holland - General Van Andel - to cross the bridge before midnight (10/11 May) and advance towards Waalhaven. Simultaneously a battalion from the Group Kil [3rd Border Infantry Battalion] would cross the Oude Maas and develop offensive action from the south against the airfield. This ambitious but sensible plan was basically ruined by the wrong decision to postpone the first action against the bridge to the morning of the 11th. We will now see how things developed.

The action around Alblasserdam

Colonel van der Bijl - commander of the LD - had 'designed' a simple plan to cross the Noord - as the water way was called that was crossed by the bridge at Alblasserdam. On both sides of the bridge a landing party would be landed that was instructed to occupy the Germans along the western bridge approach. The engaged enemy - which was still considered weak by the Dutch - would as such be distracted from the bridge itself and that would facilitate a large Dutch push over the bridge. Although artillery was available it wasn't incorporated in the assault plan. The Colonel considered the danger of straddled rounds too much of a risk for the two landing parties. The plan was basic and simple, and with a bunch of school boys defending the west side of the bridge it would certainly have worked ...

The crossing of the two platoons was a success. The two parties - each about 25 men strong - remained unnoticed by the Germans, executed as it was in the half-darkness of the early morning. The northern landing party found itself however stuck behind wide irrigation ditches and a narrow canal. Rafts or simple bridging material were not available. Besides that poor planning aspect, the men were suddenly shot at by the Germans who had discovered the Dutch manoeuvre. The utterly flat terrain forced the Dutch to stay as low and still as possible. They were completely pinned down and suffered three dead and five wounded. They would only be able to retreat after dark, leaving behind the dead, wounded and a few pow's.

In the meantime Colonel Van der Bijl was under the impression that the landing parties had not been successful but still ordered the all out assault over the bridge. A silly and reckless plan, for the bridge had to be lowered in order to cross it. A better warning of an upcoming assault could not be desired by the Germans. At 0800 hours the bridge was indeed lowered and an assaulting party ran forward. The men stood no chance whatsoever. After some hundred metres the German machineguns opened fire and the attackers had to dive to the ground in order not be annihilated. They were covered by fire from their comrades on the east-bank and managed to crawl back.

Next, Dutch mortar crews - directed by the southern landing party that had managed to find a working telephone to contact the east side (the Germans had not cut the wiring under the bridge) - managed to silence one or two German MG nests, after which the German fire decreased. It was considered a suitable moment for another attempt to storm across the bridge. This time not only machineguns but also grenade-fire was their welcome-present. Without any change of success also these men crawled back.

The southern landing-party had meanwhile been able to negotiate its way up north. Up to the point where the troops in Alblasserdam [the Dutch side of the river] suddenly opened fire at the Germans [the first assault] at the Hendrik Ido Ambacht side, the party managed to remain undetected. After the bridge-assault had started, also the party to the south of the bridge was detected by the alerted Germans. The squad managed to gain some success and was able to cut off the Germans closest to the bridge from reinforcements from the west, where the majority of the German force was located. The commanding Dutch Lieutenant even succeeded in getting telephone contact with the troops at the Alblasserdam end and was as such able to direct the mortar-fire. This caused the Germans the loss of at least one of their MG nests [as described hereabove]. Upon this modest success the second bridge-assault was launched. The Lieutenant meanwhile witnessed a considerable parachute drop on his left rear flank and considered this a threat that could jeopardize the enterprise [this witnessed dropping was nothing more than a supply drop]. Upon his judgement of the situation the Dutch platoon evacuated its foward positions, and moved back to remain in a small harbour under Hendrik Ido Ambacht where it awaited possible reinforcement. That did come, but unnoticed to the squad itself.

A bigger scale landing party was organised, comprising two platoons under a Lieutenant. The selected men were boarded on a steel barge and managed to cross the Noord well to the south of the bridge. Intention was to shuttle over an entire company, but the vessel ran aground near the west shore on the first attempt. The about 80 men that were able to get ashore were quickly pinned down by fire from the north and northwest. It is very likely that this fire in fact came from the platoon near the small harbour of Hendrik Ido Ambacht that suspected their own comrades of being German airbornes that they had thought landed to the southwest of them some time before. In fact there are no indications that there were any Germans shooting at this newly landed outfit, for if they would have been in the said position of the 80 men formation, they would have been very nearby the squads in the harbour. The Lieutenant of that particular outfit later reported that he had been charged from the south! The chances are therefore more than considerable that both Dutch parties scared eachother off. The result was that theplatoon in the harbour returned to the east across the Noord and the 80 men formation remained isolated and passive in a factory building along the west bank of the Noord, anxious not to leave that coverage in order not to draw German fire. Again, a missed opportunity due to very poor leadership. Particularly by the Lieutenant of the 80 men formation that did not undertake the slightest bit of initiative.

To the north of the bridge an attempt to shuttle a force to the other bank failed. Since the formations north of Alblasserdam arrived later, this attempt was undertaken when the Germans were long warned of the Dutch intentions. Here the men didn't even manage to board the available pontoon-boats [of the engineers]. Before most could even reach the boats the first got killed by machinegun fire, including a Lieutenant. The mission was called off.

Alblasserdam raided

In the early morning General Student had personally monitored the situation at the bridge. He had received the news of the arrival of considerable Dutch forces. He was very eager to learn which outfit was opposing him. Upon his arrival in Alblasserdam he could be answered. A few Dutchmen (of the northern landing party) had been captured and these men turned out to be of the Light Division. That took Student by surprise for this division - considered by the Germans as the most valuable Dutch army unit - was anticipated in Brabant. Obviously Student was unaware of the secret manoeuvres prepared by the Dutch supreme command, but the arrival of the Light Division was quite a shock to him anyway.  

Student visited th HQ of II./FJR.1 at the Dordrecht bridges first before he returned to his new HQ in Rijsoord (two km from Hendrik Ido Ambacht), but had meanwhile had his staff calling in air support from the Luftwaffe Luftflotte 2 HQ in Berlin. He reported the arrival of the LD and shared his fear of powerful Dutch counter actions with the Luftwaffe Luftflotte 2 command. It was decided that intensive air-support by Ju-87 Stuka's would be given. That support came in the course of the morning.

The Dutch were treated on a first German air-assault [at 1010-1030 hrs] when they were about to storm the Alblasserdam bridge for the third time. The first hellish raid was soon followed by a second one. It would mean the end of all Dutch plans to cross the Noord. Heavy and light bombs came screaming down and caused massive explosions around the direct bridge area, where most of the troops of two Dutch battalions were concentrated. Although the ordeal was nerve racking, not a single Dutchmen was killed. The only fatalities fell amongst civilians. Yet panic amongst the troops sent many men eastwards, into the open polder. It would take hours to get most of them back. The LD had not a single piece of ground-to-air defences at its disposal to resist the bombers. Colonel Van der Bijl got hold of General van Andel - commander Fortress Holland - and stated that crossing the Noord had failed and would be a mission impossible without armoured cars and AAA. Thereupon the General instructed him to leave considerable forces at the Alblasserdam sector to form a defensive screen. The balance of the division had to cross the Merwede river south to the Island of Dordrecht. From thereon the units would have to cross the Kil to the Hoekse Waard after which they would be directed towards Waalhaven. In the process of doing so the LD formations had to mop-up the airbornes south of Dordrecht!

It was a very ambitious plan. From the standpoint of the Division Commander and his superior there was no alternative option though. The alternative was however all but a walk in the park. The revised order was not only logistically complex due to the crossing of no less than three water-ways, it also contained the crossing of hostile territory south of Dordrecht. Apparently the commander of Fortress Holland still managed to hugely underestimate the enemy [or overestimate the capacity of his own troops]. It is a mystery based on what conditions the weakend forces (about one full regiment and half the arty was left at Alblasserdam) of the LD were considered to be able to clear the Island of Dordrecht, kick the Germans out of two firm bridgeheads, cross the Kil, cross two German occupied bridges before getting onto Ysselmonde and last but not least defeat the Germans at Waalhaven. The division had just before failed to even take the single lightly defended bridge at Alblasserdam, with a force of four battalions opposing a mere 300 Germans spread over a 3 km wide sector. It was an instruction that had one wonder 'what the hell they were thinking in The Hague', but it had to be followed. As such a plan was designed where a regiment strength of the division would stay in and around Alblasserdam, whereas another part [two battalions as well as the already in Dordrecht fighting battalion of the LD] would cross the Merwede to the Island of Dordrecht.


Three Germans had been killed on the west side of the bridge. Two men of 6./IR.16 and a gun commander of one of the 7,5 cm howitzers.

At the bridge - on the east side - four men had been killed (or mortally wounded) on the Dutch side. Two men had been killed along the riverbank at Alblasserdam. Another four had been killed on the other side of the river [Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht] during the amphibious actions. In total ten men KIA during the entire morning. These ten men - which one may address as a very mild loss - had convinced a division commander that it was impossible to cross the Noord! Apparently he considered that he would lose less men by accepting the large detour via the Island of Dordrecht, the Hoekse Waard and the Island of Ysselmonde, meanwhile clearing the Island of Dordrecht of German troops and discriminating the fact that two hostile water barriers had to be crossed. It was a clear show of the kind of military thinking by senior officers that lacked any war experience and of officers that were not able to coop with the inevitable loss of men during an offensive mission.

The operational and tactical execution of the typical Noord action by the LD - the most capable, well equipped and best trained Dutch formation - had been very poor. The application of artillery had been waived for both Dutch regiment commanders had considered the chances of straddled rounds to land near the two crossing parties too big. A barrage of the second echelon of the German position had not been considered either. The loss of a handful of men had made the Dutch commanders already reluctant to take more risk, notwithstanding that particularly the south side of the bridge clearly seemed to show a void in the German defences, that indeed was there. The half company that had succesfully landed there (and later returned without any further challenge) apparently failed to convince the local command that if there were any chances of success, they were to be taken at that very point. Save the lack of air defences and armour, those lacking devices would not be compensated when the new battle plan to cross the Merwede was to be executed. One can only guess what must have played through the heads of the responsible senior command when ordering the much more ambitious de-tour operation. Probably - above all - the relief of the tension for that moment.

In retrospect it is even more disappointing that the LD was so easily left of the hook by the - totally inapt - Commander Fortress Holland, Lieutenant-General Van Andel. Never at any moment the Dutch would get another chance of seriously jeopardizing the entire German operation. At the very moment that the LD had its mere 3,000 men opposing about 300 Germans along the Noord, General Kurt Student had almost entirely set his focus on the Island of Dordrecht and Rotterdam. He had virtually moved all his troops off of the island of IJsselmonde. The entire island was defended by a mere battalion and some division support troops, particularly when Student had instructed his last airbornes to move to Dordrecht to support the bridge head over there. Should the LD have broken through the thin defences along the Noord, they would have had an open field in front of them, not to mention the nearby German HQ at Rijsoord, which was only a stone's toss away from Hendrik Ido Ambacht. Student took a large gamble - which paid out - although it had not been supported by his battle staff and chief of staff. They considered his risk taking irresponsible. It is pointless to elaborate on what could have been, but it is certain that if the Dutch have had a realistic opportunity to seriously jeopardize the entire German air landing operation south of Rotterdam, it had been on the 11th at Alblasserdam.