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The north


The unharmed and confident Dutch occupation of the mighty Kornwerderzand fortress awaited renewed German offensive action in the morning of the 14th. The days before had only shown the evident warnings of German approach and the occasional strafing German bird. The modern fortress and its adequate arsenal of weaponary housed some 200 men who had every bit of confidence in their shelters and casemates as well as their commander. As far as the defenders were concerned the Germans were welcome to challenge their fortress any time!

Preluding events

Indeed, at 0800 hours the German artillery opened up again. Numerous grenades rained down on the casemates or were pin pointed at the loop holes. This time the officers carefully monitored the German fire through their periscopes and tried to establish the source and location as precise as possible. Their scaled periscopes were perfect for that purpose. Soon they were able to establish the German artillery positions. The night before Captain Boers had telephoned with the commander of the Fortress Den Helder [also commanding the fortresses at Kornwerderzand and Den Oever], Rear-Admiral Jolles. The latter had assured the Captain that he would sent a navy unit to the Afsluitdijk on the next day in order to respond to any German artillery threat. Naval artillery fire could be adjusted by means of maritime communications, fed from the fortress observers themselves.

The modern gunboat HrMs Johan Maurits van Nassau - equipped with three 15 cm guns [range 19.000 m] - was sent to the north of the Afsluitdijk [Waddenzee]. A British destroyer, HMS Valorous [Admiralty V&W Class, 1917], equipped with plenty of AA guns, had arrived in Den Helder a little before and was requested to escort the Dutch boat. Again the British refused to assist, and returned to England! The Dutch gunboat then sailed to the designated point on its own, where it would have to drop its anchor [for reasons of accurate fire]. A tricky operation underneath enemy dominated skies, but a decisive choice by the navy command.

At 0900 hours, one hour after the Germans had opened fire on the fortress at Kornwerderzand, the HrMs Johan Maurits van Nassau fired her first series of rounds with its rear gun turret alone. The first rounds landed short, into the sea. Immediately corrections were sent down the line from both a Navy seaplane [Fokker C-XIVw] that roamed around the area for recon purposes and from the fortress Kornwerderzand itself to Den Helder. From there onwards corrections were forwarded to the ship by means of a radiotelegraph. In total 100 rounds would be fired.

The Germans were flabbergasted to receive heavy 15 cm artillery fire. They did not know where it came from and - as it would show afterwards - never considered the option of navy fire. They experienced the growing accuracy of the fire as a complete miracle. After the capitulation the commanding German General's first question would be "where the hell did that artillery fire come from? "

Anyway, the targetted German artillery ceased fire and displaced. The navy unit - after receiving reports of approaching airplanes - pulled up her anchor and sailed off. A little later - on her way to England - she would suffer from a heavy air raid from German dive-bombers and she would sank 15 minutes after the first bombs had struck. Another valorous navy unit that paid the price of the undersized AA armament of the Dutch Navy [only the modern cruisers had been equipped with sufficient AA batteries].

A little later the Luftwaffe appeared over the skies above the fortress. This time the German birds produced a cunning plan to mislead the Dutch AA unit. They simulated a dogfight overhead. This would not only occupy the gunmen at the ground, but also gun crews are forbidden to intervene in a dogfight in order to prevent hitting own planes. Suddenly two Stuka's dove down on the casemates and indeed took the AA by surprise. Huge 250 kg bombs screamed down. In the second defence line one bomb hit one of the biggest casemates directly. A huge chunck of concrete was blasted off of the construction, although the interior was not harmed. The three metre thick roof had proven an efficient protection! The AA needed no further instruction and opened up after which the planes disappeared.

A called off assault

The Germans - who had planned a full scale assault on the fortress this time, incorporating a force of about 600 men - decided to cancel the action when they realised that the preoperational support actions had failed. At 1600 hours General Feldt ordered the majority of his troops to go to the coastal villages Lemmer and Stavoren in order to requisition shipping. They would again try to cross the Ysselmeer, but this time in force.

The Germans had realized what they had feared before. The fortress at the enclosure dike was inpregnable without proper specialized heavy artillery that could crack the main casemates. Storming the wide open causeway would lead to a pointless sacrifice. The attempts to cross the dike were cancelled. The whole road show was about to turn southwest.

Events on the Ysselmeer

On the Ysselmeer the Dutch navy had a representation of two gunboats of an older type, one obsolete smaller gunboat, two large and modern minesweepers and eight light patrol units with heavy machineguns. A modest force on the large Ysselmeer, but their only challenge came from the skies. On the water they were virtually unchallenged whatsoever by obvious absence of a counterpart.

Also, in the evening of the 13th, three British MTB's had arrived, under the command of Lieutenant-Commander A.B. Cole. Again [it's sad to say ...] the Allies did not contribute to anything. After they had sailed to Amsterdam, they were requested by the Dutch to set course for Enkhuizen to reinforce the western Ysselmeer shore patrols. The commanding British navy officer however feared for the fate of his boats and set course for ... home. They did manage however to launch a torpedo on their way back - trying to demolish a sluice complex. Fortunately it did not harm the system for it would have locked the Dutch ships in. Again the Dutch saw welcome Allied reinforcements leave without any contribution to the war efforts ...

In the meantime the Germans designed a large scale mission-plan. The entire Cavalry Division [minus the few units left as a screen at Kornwerderzand] had to cross the Ysselmeer. In the small harbours of Lemmer and Stavoren they assembled for the embarkation. The plan was very ambitious, and probably not even feasible. It is not certain what maritime units Feldt had succeeded to requisition, but it could never have been enough to shuttle so many troops to the other shores of the Ysselmeer. When the news of the capitulation reached the quarters of the commanding officers of the 1st Cavalry Division a general sigh of relief was noticed amongst the men. General Feldt however - who felt that his division had failed by not succeeding in its mission to cross the Ysselmeer - ordered his man to board the ships anyway.

The weather was far from ideal, with strong wind. One should know that the Ysselmeer was a dangerous inner-sea. Many experienced Dutch fishermen had lost their lives on this huge inner-sea in the past. Hundreds of ships lay on the bottom, joint in ill fate over the ages. The German plan was ambitious, bearing in mind that the land soldiers were about to ride probably the most dangerous waves of Northern Europe. Five ships left the harbour, of which one ship immediately ran aground on one of the harbour constructions. It sank and two men were taken with it into the deep. Three ships succeed in reaching the west bank of the Ysselmeer, by absence of the vanish Ysselmeer flotilla. But their landing had no meaning. The Dutch forces had already laid down their arms hours ago.


At around 1800 hours the Dutch defenders of Kornwerderzand were ordered by their superior officer in Den Helder to lay down their arms. The men were flabbergasted and mistrusted the news. When their Captain appeared and explained the men that they had fought like lions in their safe and modern fortress, but others in their trenches elsewhere had been suffering from the might of the German army, the men realised that the capitulation was indeed inevitable.

The Captain had to send a delegation to the enemy at the head of the dike, in order to establish an armistice. The Germans summoned Rear-Admiral Jolles to come to the headquarters of General Feldt. When the Captain returned to the fortress - accompanied by some German officers - the men stood in line presenting themselves to their beloved and highly respected commander. The German officers stayed at a respectable distance. The Captain addressed his men and thanked them for their excellent services. An emotional moment for these men who had fought and grown close together and had not given in.

The 1st Cavalry Division, which had been so successful at the first day of the war, did not accomplish any of its objectives after D-Day. The main two reasons for this failure lay in the power of the modern defences of Kornwerderzand and the fact that the Dutch had been smart enough to evacuate as much shipping room as possible from the east-bank of the Ysselmeer. Still, the losses the Germans had suffered - although mystified to some extend - were very modest. Of all German divisions who actually fought in the Netherlands, the 1st Cavalry Division showed the lowest loss ratio of all. Also, they were the only unit that immediately evacuated its dead and wounded to Germany. Only the men that had died of the navy artillery bombardment at Stavoren had been buried in Dutch soil. In total the registered losses of the German (traditional) cavalry division counted 31 men KIA. Of those 15 had been killed on the first day.

The Dutch too lost only a small number of men, of which the majority had fallen in the Wonsline. In the fortress itself only two men had suffered minor injuries. None of them had been killed.

The low loss rates are a clear indication of the insignificance of this theatre. Both sides had realized that the northeastern sector of the front was much of a dead angle with little to gain or lose.

An after burner ...

The ordeal had not ended yet. The Dutch forces laid down their arms at 1900 hours, after which the Germans had been informed of the armistice. At 2015 however a Gruppe [30] German bombers appeared over Den Helder [the Dutch main navy base in the north] and started bombing the city in small formation passes with large intervals; for 70 minutes long!

The AAA units - well represented in Den Helder - could not return fire due to the capitulation. The Dutch strongly protested to the German authorities, but nobody knew why this bombardment had been executed more than a full hour after the capitulation, which had moreover been proclaimed to the Germans at 1700 hrs already. It is hardly imaginable that the Luftwaffe had not been informed of the capitulation.

Rear-Admiral Jolles was scheduled to travel to the northeast overnight [14/15 May] to meet up with the German General Feldt, but before he left, he ordered all navy units to leave the port for England [many had already left] and all weapons to be destroyed. These instructions intervened with the German capitulation terms, but the Admiral didn't care.

Also during the negotiations about the surrender of his forces and positions he held on to a high level of self-esteem. General Feldt did not particularly like this, for he had expected nothing less than humble behaviour of the besieged. The Dutch Admiral ended the negotiations with a statement that upset the German General very much. He stated:

"You have to understand that I have laid down arms only by being ordered so by my commander-in-chief, not due to the fact that the circumstances on the battlefield have forced me to do so. You are still outside my strongholds, and you would have remained so would it not have been for this capitulation."

The last words of the Dutch defenders in the north had been spoken.