The typicals of the Dutch Five Days' War...
In this analytical chapter we would like to address some of the typicals of the Five Days' War in The Netherlands. The brief but very intense Dutch struggle against the German invadors was considerably different from the rest of the war-theatres during the German operation against the Western countries in 1940.
Many dismiss the Dutch resistance in May 1940 as "Capitulation after merely five days of war." Those are of course the bare facts, but when one should put those facts in the right perspective there is more to it.
There are two operational components that contributed considerably to the quick Dutch defeat. We shall elaborate on both of them. The first is the first ever use of massive airlanding tactics. The second is the occurrence of an instant war on five fronts - to all directions of the map. Both matters were unprecedented in May and June 1940.
The airlanding operation
The German airlandings were a result of careful German planning and training of specialized troops. Already in the twenties the Germans had become acquainted with Russian experiments with airbornes. The Germans saw potential in this new tactical means and during the thirties they started experiments with quick police reaction squads which were dropped by parachute.
With exception of Japan and Italy - and obviously the SU - no other nation showed any interest in this new phenomenon. Two men got involved from the beginning: Student and Bräuer. When Hermann Göring became interested he supported the creation of a battalion of airbornes and later an entire division, soon followed by a division of airlanding troops. The Germans realised that for special tactical assignments - especially around strongholds and natural barriers like wide rivers - the appliance of airborne troops could be a huge contribution to the their operational domain. When Hitler was won for the idea, the first plans to apply these new methods were developed.
During the development of the plans for Fall Gelb the Germans studied numerous options for appliance of the new airborne weapon. But it wasn't before the plans were altered after the incident in January 1940 that Germany decided to occupy the whole of Holland. It didn't take long to pick the right assignment for the new airborne tactics.
During the process of designing the plans for Fall Gelb in the Netherlands the Germans realised that the southern army push through Holland had to be the one with the largest force. This force would be assigned with basically four tasks: 1) Take the south of Holland and bash trough to the Northsea coast, 2) Destroy or force back the French 7th Army, 3) Seal off the northern front of Belgium and control Antwerp and 4) penetrate Fortress Holland.
The first three tasks were pretty straight forward, but the fourth assignment would be depending on the accessibility of the Dutch major stronghold. Also this fourth assignment was the one that could be camouflaged. The Allies would focus on the large German army pushing towards the north of Belgium, rather than (also) preparing for a major puch into Fortress Holland. The first one or two days of the operation nobody would expect it to form also the main assault on the Dutch Fortress Holland.
The fourth assignment was however a huge challenge, which becomes clear once one would study the geotechnical aspects. The Fortress Holland was well protected by plenty of wide waterways and isles that were only connected to the Dutch main Fortress by a few bridges. Nobody on the Dutch and Allied side expected the Germans to aim their main assault at this very point. The Dutch expected the Germans to take the obvious land-option, and aim their main assault to the central front [Grebbeline]. The better part of the Dutch Field Army and artillery had been stationed there in anticipation of such. But the Germans thought the airborne weapon could proof itself especially in the theatre in the southwest. They would be assigned to take the entire chain of bridges that would lead the German main-force straight into the heart of Fortress Holland; a daring plan.
This plan, that incorporated the taking of three crossing-points by surprise and securing a number of others along the way, was carefully thought through. The long Moerdijk bridges would be the most important ones. The Hollands Diep was more than 1.000 m wide at Moerdijk and it would be hardly feasible to cross this waterway without the ability to make use of intact bridges. The next strategically important crossing was the one at Zwijndrecht/Dordrecht. After this would have been secured the Isle of Ysselmonde would be open to the land forces. The last of the crossings that would be essential to decisively penetrate Fortress Holland was the one in the centre of Rotterdam, which comprised two traffic bridges.
The first two crossings would be taken by surprise landings by a battalion of airbornes. The Rotterdam bridge however received a seaplane borne landing party. In order to reinforce these light troops, a point had to be chosen where the necessary airlanding force would be able to land in force. As such the surprise assault against Waalhaven airport was planned. An airborne battalion would eliminate the defences, after which the airlanding troops would start to fly in. Waalhaven would become the epicentre of the operation because from there the entire operation would be managed and nurtured. The landed troops would have two assignments. The first and foremost was the reinforcement of the airbornes with fresh troops and heavier equipment and arms. The second to secure the entrances of the Isle Ysselmonde against counter-measures of Dutch reaction forces.
So far so good. The plan was not only daring, but in principle it seemed obvious and simple. It did however take quite some additional planning. The essential question to the Germans was simple: what was the Dutch displacement of troops and which Dutch forces would be available to form a quick reaction force?
The Germans were well aware that the Dutch anticipated on them aiming their main assault at the central front. The Germans were also very much aware that the backbone of the able Dutch army was formed by the four Army Corps's of the Field Army and the Light Division.Three out of these four Corps's were occupied with the defence of the eastern frontlines; two at the Grebbeline and a third one at the Peel-Raamline in the south-east. The three Brigades that were also assigned to the Field Army defended the connecting lines in the Betuwe.
The Corps in Brabant would be met by the German force that would push through the south. If that went well - which obviously was essential to the German plan - that Corps would be eliminated. The other units in the Grebbeline and Betuweline would not be able to be displaced to the west, since also a central push would be developed by the German X.Corps to occupy these troops. As such only the last Dutch Corps would remain, the 1st Corps. The Germans were not certain what the Dutch would do with this Army Corps in the west. The Dutch had planned to use this Corps as a strategic reserve. It could either man the coast if shore landings were imminent or it could man the Waterline [East-front Fortress Holland]. Since the Germans were aware that the 1st Corps would be their only powerful adversary in case of the massive airlandings, they had to think of a way to occupy these forces.
Hitler and Student had been very charmed by the "sexy" weapon of surprise landings in the backyard of the enemy. Apart from the limited actions that had been planned in Norway and Denmark, both men had already thought of plans to land forces in England and Ireland in relation to Operation Seelöwe [invasion of Engeland]. The Trojan Horse in Denmark had already proven what a limited force could achieve against a weak country, when the airlanding troops at Copenhagen had forced a Governmental capitulation within hours. Hitler had overjoyed himself with that achievement.
In The Netherlands a similar action had to be planned around the Governmental City The Hague. Airbornes would seize all three airfields around the city, after which airlanding troops would be flown in. Altogether about 6.500 men were scheduled to land. The forces each had an assignment in The Hague. The troops at Valkenburg would seal off the arrival of any reinforcements from the north and east. The units at Ockenburg would seal off the North of the Hague while the Ypenburg force would enter The Hague and seize the Dutch headquarters as well as the Governmental authorities and the Royal Family.
The sunny scenario would be that the Dutch would capitulate immediately; the worst scenario would be that only the occupation of the Dutch 1st Corps was established. In any way the Dutch would be occupied with keeping the landed forces off their backs, and most likely this would tie the entire 1st Corps for at least two days. Although the German Generals were all but overjoyed about this risky operation around The Hague, Hitler forced it upon them.
The Germans had also carefully studied the character of the Dutch defences in the south. They were aware that Rotterdam was hardly occupied with able troops and as such they didn't expect too much trouble in the first hours of the operation. The defences at the southfront were estimated as weak. The Germans were also aware that the Dutch artillery was mainly concentrated with the Field Army units and that the artillery in the Hoekse Waard was obsolete. The units at the isle of Dordrecht and around Moerdijk had been established as weak too as well as limited in number. They considered the airbornes able to take these forces out by surprise. Also the support of the Luftwaffe would have to be sufficient to counter any enemy measures of counter-attack.
On the Dutch part the German plan would be devastating. Indeed the Dutch lacked quick reaction forces in the south-west, and indeed the defences did not anticipate battle as off the first hour. It was already addressed that the highest alert status had only been conveyed to the units in the eastern outer defence-lines and the Field Army.
Much like the Belgians and French, the first massive assault by the Luftwaffe surprised the Dutch, but the Dutch airforce had anticipated the show of German airpower in the first hour. Therefore airfield defences had been incorporated in the highest alert status and as such the Dutch airforce wasn't destroyed on the ground. The Belgian airforce was virtually destroyed in no time and also many French planes in the north were lost on the ground during the first strike. These events proof that none of the Allies was well prepared for in-depth invasion. On the contrary - the Dutch were better prepared for limited German in-depth action than the other two invaded countries!
When the going got tough the Dutch were taken by surprise when massive airlandings occurred within the very confines of Fortress Holland. It meant that as off the first moment the Dutch army command was fully occupied with an imminent threat in its own backyard. It took them half a day to gain some sort of picture, to establish a structure and to get a grasp of the German plan. During the day the Dutch were assisted by the discovery of some German papers specifying the The Hague action. But at that time the situation around The Hague had grown over its peak already, and the Dutch had managed to regain some sort of control.
The relative success of the Dutch resistance against the airlandings at the three airfields around The Hague posed an unforeseen enigma too. The fact that the Dutch troops had managed to destroy many German planes on the ground that had blocked the targetted airfields, had forced the German third and fourth waves of planes to divert to alternate landing grounds and this caused a scattered pattern of landed German troops. The General Headquarters were only guessing what was going on. Had the Germans landed everywhere and what had they still in mind?
This enigma would not be solved during the first two days of the invasion which 'forced' the Dutch to take two measures that contributed to strategic advantages to the Germans: 1) The 1st Corps was held available to counter any renewed airlandings and 2) the units of 1st Corps would be used to mop-up the remaining German pockets of resistance, but in anticipation of renewed landings the use of forces beyond company-size was not authorised. Especially the latter had a huge impact on the operation effectiveness of the Dutch force. Local commanders were unable to mop-up the German concentrations by making use of just small forces. The Germans had concentrated their forces and as such only well structured and planned assaults would have had the desired effect. Since the resources for such action were not released, the Germans were able to maintain their positions until the capitulation. Meanwhile they had occupied the entire 1st Corps for four consecutive days. Would the Dutch have relieved the instruction that no bigger forces were to be used, effective action could have been developed during the first two or three days. The unawareness of the German plans - and the anticipation of new airlandings - had forced the Dutch to restrain on decisive counter-action. Only in retrospect one could question their orders. At the time of the German invasion their decisions made a lot of sense.
The actions at Rotterdam did worry the Dutch General Staff too; especially the loss of Waalhaven. The fact that Gamelin [French CIC] had promised Winkelman [Dutch CIC] to assist in closing the backdoor at Moerdijk, presented the Dutch with the relative luxury to focus on retaking control over the Isle Ysselmonde. The available forces at both the Isles of Ysselmonde and Dordrecht did not suffice for any large scale offensive counter-measure. If it wouldn't have been for Winkelman's decision to evacuate the Peel-Raamline and bring back both the Light Division and the 3rd Corps into Fortress Holland, no reaction force could have been formed before the 13th or 14th: all other forces of magnitude had been occupied in their positions.
When Student was confronted with the news of major Dutch troops appearing in front of the bridge at Alblasserdam [evening of 10 May], he must have had his biggest stress-moment of the entire campaign. Student had been unaware of the newly built bridge at Alblasserdam in the first place. That news had been brought to him just hours before; but when a major Dutch force was reported he wondered where the hell that came from! He was obviously totally unaware of the major migration of forces from the south. If the Dutch have had any opportunity of retaking the Isle Ysselmonde, and moreover, the airfield Waalhaven, it had been at the evening of the 10th. If the best part of the Light Division would have managed to cross the Alblasserdam bridge they would have found themselves opposed by only a handful of airlanding troops. They could have deployed themselves during the evening and threatened both the German bridgehead at Zwijndrecht and the German forces at Waalhaven.
That missed window could have bought the Dutch a lot of time and [new] opportunity. On the other hand is that "what if" analysis open for discussion. The Isle Ysselmonde was a totally flat, open and stretched piece of land. Any forces advancing there would form obvious targets for the Luftwaffe. It is not just a hypothesis to state that the changes of the Light Division of actually being able to gain important success against the existing German occupation of that area would have been quite slim. The Dutch army had not been trained for night-fighting at all and as such they would have awaited daylight to develop any action. And daylight would almost certainly have borne the Luftwaffe to the scene too; and probably in force. The Westfeldzug has produced plenty of evidence of the devestating effect of such Luftwaffe interventions.
Back to the actual events. The Dutch General Headquarters had experienced a growing perception of the situation during the first day. In the late evening of the 10th they had some sort of overview that presented them a rough picture of the German strategy in the south. They were aware of the German occupation of the chain of bridges and they knew that troops continued to be flown in. Waalhaven was the prime objective and as such the scarce airforce planes were assigned to attack the base. Also Ockenburg and Valkenburg were picked as targets and so were the Rotterdam bridges. During these missions scarce modern bombers and fighters were shot down. The airforce action was for a mere 90% concentrated on the West and many planes were lost during the first day already. These planes would no longer be available for supporting the Field Army once it would be in need of such support.
The next set of measures was taken when the GHQ understandably decided that in a situation as had occurred in the West a new triage-system applied in regard to the raising of new strategic and operational reserve units. The Field Army was stripped of the last few reserve units. From every corner of the country companies and batteries were scraped as crumbs from a table. It resulted in the Field Army [in the Grebbeline] totally lacking any tactical reserves after the 10th, only later replenished by forces taken back from the South. The results of that would only be felt two days later, but that it was felt is an evident fact. The problem that was faced hereafter was the command and control of these hastily assembled troops. Since the Dutch army lacked sufficient communication equipment, units usually reported their status by regular civil telephone [which was still a prerogative to the rich and better off] or messengers. The Commander Fortress Holland found himself in command of a huge variety of forces, scattered all over the place, unaware of the actual status and whereabouts of the enemy and as such basically unable to make full and efficient use of the units available on paper. In one word: chaos.
The airlanding troops were light outfits. The Germans in the south had possession of a handful of light artillery pieces, mostly with inaccurate range. The few modern pieces [Skoda mountain guns with a range of over 10 km] would have been insufficient against any well coordinated enemy assault. Besides the troops were spread over a wide area and were hardly mobile. The mobile force they had successfully been assembled were basically commandeered Dutch vehicles and some flown in [motor]bikes. The most important asset the airlanding troops had at their disposal was the ever present Luftwaffe. The Dutch forces were at no point outmatched in number or outfit by the light German troops. Obviously the first strike had taken the Dutch by surprise and had presented the Germans temporary local superiority, but when the battle had stabilized the Dutch were superior in artillery and manpower. In the Southwest the Dutch could not benefit from this positive balance, which was mainly given in by the geotechnical problems of waterways and bridges. In the Northwest however the shear Dutch superiority in manpower and armament [armoured cars and artillery] could not be outplayed due to total lack of control [chaos] and the standing order not to assign major forces to offensive actions.
The German landing around The Hague had not met its prime objective. They had totally failed to take the airfields but moreover they had not even managed to set one foot into The Hague. Basically one could say that the action failed and that the Dutch had gained a victory - which in fact they did. But did they?
The total chaos in the northwest crippled an Army Corps [20.000 men]. The brought-in reserves from the north and centre were only scarcely used. The vast majority of the hastily mobilized reserves were either not used or still in transit from one position to the other. Many of these units didn't see any serious action during the first three days, and some were even returned to their initial positions after a few days. Firm action against the Germans was not taken, and the entire HQ Staff was 90% of the time occupied planning and re-planning, changing and modifying, anticipating and re-anticipating and in the end little was achieved. This total chaos - which was amplified by the everlasting stream of Fifth Column rumours - was [for a large portion] the result of the landings around the Governmental City. Basically one could say that the intended strategic purpose of the landing had totally failed, but it had been replaced by another strategic outcome that probably doesn't deserve the title "decisive" but it may be determined as "highly important" to the German success in the south of Fortress Holland.
There is one more aspect that needs to be addressed. The backdoor to Fortress Holland was formed by the Moerdijk bridges. These bridges had been regarded essential by both the Dutch and the Germans. The first considered them essential for the entrance of both Allied troops and as evacuation route for the Light Division. The Germans regarded them essential because they required them to facilitate the 9th Panzer Division to cross the wide Hollands Diep. The loss of the bridges would have jeopardized the entire German airlanding at Rotterdam and the crossing of the German land-force from the south. The Dutch realized the vital character of the bridges and as such these objects formed the main topic in the conversation between Gamelin and Winkelman on the 10th. The French assurance that the 7th Army would contribute in retaking the bridges must have caused a sigh of relief in The Hague. The Dutch were well aware of the power the French unit could present [the 7th Army included plenty of light and medium tanks] and as such they fully relied on their new ally to take care of this challenge.
The Dutch counter-measures around the German south-front at Moerdijk had locked up the airbornes in a small pocket. The last bit of territory the Germans held occupied was however flat open country and without proper support from heavy weapons the Dutch were unable to retake the bridgehead themselves. When the French arrived at the 11th, they brought along a squadron of heavy Panhard armoured cars. The French commander had ordered the commander of the squadron to assist the Dutch in retaking the Moerdijk bridgehead and escort a French general to The Hague. Much to the surprise of the Dutch battalion commander at Moerdijk, the French took half a day preparing for the action. Meanwhile they continued to expose their armoured cars by driving up and down the front-line. When the French were finally about to launch their assault, the Luftwaffe - who had been granted hours to mobilize - came to the aid of the airbornes. And although only one armoured car was destroyed, the French fled the scene not to return. Obviously a very disappointing result, once one bears in mind that the French had plenty of Hotchkiss medium tanks and heavy armoured cars available. It is quite safe to say that should the French have persevered in their action with more determination that the light German bridgehead would have crumbled. The changes that this "what if" would have actually applied are substantial. And what would that have meant for the entire German operation against The Netherlands?
It would have frustrated the German action considerably once the Dutch [or French] would have been able to destroy the bridges. The Germans would then most likely have switched the centre point of gravity to the central front. It is highly unlikely that the Germans would have endeavoured to cross the wide Hollands Diep in the way of a maritime operation. The time and efforts - apart from the risks - would have been wrong investments. It is more likely that the Germans would have set all the odds on a quick(er) break through at the Grebbeline and reach the Fortress Holland through the heart of the country. Possibly assisted by more reiforcements, like for example the balance of the SS Verfügungsdivision.
The final objective of forcing the Dutch on their knees would have been achieved regardless of the taking of the Moerdijk bridges. Possibly it would have taken one or two days more, but no more. On the other hand it is very likely that the German costs would have been considerably higher. The airborne and airlanding troops were at the verge of break down at the 14th, especially the remnants in the north. From German reports it is obvious that the troops in Rotterdam were exhausted, the Germans at the Island of Dordrecht would have been seriously jeopardized if the 9th PD would not have come to their aid and the German pockets in the northwest at Overschie and Valkenburg would most likely have surrendered too. In that respect the "would be" failure of successfully crossing the Moerdijk bridges would have mattered. Not for the final outcome, but for the toll of the German victory. In the end - everyone shall agree - a relative argument all along.
Some say that the bombardment of Rotterdam would still have taken place. Göring's worry over the fate of his troops wouldn't have changed or would even have increased. That is indeed very likely. On the other hand, the Dutch army did not capitulate due to the bombardment of Rotterdam in itself. It was the combination of both that devastating event [and maybe more to follow] and the hopeless strategic situation. One could go on guessing and question whether bombardments of Amsterdam or The Hague - of equal magnitude as Rotterdam - would have lead the Dutch to immediate surrender. Probably it would have. The Netherlands would then have been the only conquered nation in WWII that would have yielded from this kind of terror.
The failed French action at Moerdijk would not become known in The Hague - or - there's no proof whatsoever that GHQ have ever borne the knowledge of the failed French action before the German 9th PD appeared around 1600 hours at the 12th. And even then it wasn't believed. They only became aware of the situation at Moerdijk during the night from 12 to 13 May, when the German radio reported the arrival of the 9th PD at Moerdijk. The choice that GHQ had made to concentrate on the other theatres and leave Moerdijk to the French could be questioned, but in the given situation they had to apply a triage system.
One could even go further. What would the French have gained by retaking the Moerdijk bridges? Clearly ... nothing. The French shall have realised that they had no business whatsoever north of Breda. That feeling shall have been stronger after they found out that the Dutch had moved their army North of the rivers. On of the prime initial objective of the Dyle-Breda strategy had been to win the Dutch and Belgian forces for the French strategy. When the Dutch had drawn back into their Fortress, what was left of the French benefits to assist the Dutch? At the most, the fact that sustained Dutch resistance would tie some German units. In fact a neglectable matter, for the total German force north of the rivers comprised two second grade infantry division, one SS regiment, one occupational division and one classic cavalry division as well as two shattered Luftwaffe formations. Not a force to worry the French. What did worry the French was the XXVI.AK, that had four infantry divisions, a full SS Verfügungsdivision and a tank division. That force was to be reckoned with. And if the Moerdijk bridges would have been destroyed, there was nothing else the XXVI.AK could do but oppose the French 7th Army in full force. So - one could say that the German occupation of the intact Moerdijk bridge was in the advantage of the French. Does that explain the French reluctance to assist? It probably does.
In the morning of the 12th the Dutch Light Division had managed to break the German corridor at the Island of Dordrecht. Units of the Group Kil had crossed the Kil and occupied Wieldrecht. From the east of the Island a considerable force managed to force the Germans back into Tweede Tol. At that point the Dutch units at the railway station of Dordrecht, Wieldrecht and at the Zeedijk [eastern force] could have squeezed the Germans out of Krispijn and would have found the path to Moerdijk only defended by the remainder of Germans in Tweede Tol. If only the Dutch had been able to coordinate their actions in the morning and the early afternoon of the 12th they would have had a realistic change to close the door prior to the arrival of the first armoured cars of the 9th PD at 1600 hours that day. This window was missed and in stead of eliminating the Germans at Tweede Tol the Dutch themselves were wiped off the Island the next day. That event sealed the strategic fate of the Dutch army for good.
Summarizing the air operation, one could state that the Germans gained a major success. The success of the operation was however not as convincing as it may seem. In fact one could say that the hesitant Dutch operations presented the Germans with a "not to miss" opportunity to win the battle. The German victory had been facilitated by the Dutch rather than that it was an enforced German win.
The success of the operation in the southwest had been seriously jeopardized by three events: the Dutch action at Alblasserdam at the 10th, the Dutch presence on the 12th near Moerdijk and the French action against Moerdijk at the 11th. Three opportunities in three consecutive days. The failure of cashing either of these three opportunities - and especially the one at Alblasserdam and the one at Moerdijk by the French - were all to blame on the Dutch / French hesitance and were not - to any extend - a result of cunning or smart German action. Bearing in mind that the Dutch army was all but well trained or equipped the analysis of the German success should have posed a warning to any future air landing operations. A well prepared army would have kicked the Germans right out! Of course this analysis of events was not the way it was experience then. Although many German officers involved - and Generals at the OKH - already realized that the victory in Holland had not been as convincing as the Propaganda and medal-shower suggested ...
For the Dutch theatre the massive airlanding operation [about 12.000 Germans landed] had definitely shortened the war. Would the Germans have chosen a conservative invasion method and would they have aimed at the central front alone, it is very likely that the Dutch would also have been able to withstand the Germans particularly longer in the central sector. The airlanding caused so many troops to be occupied in the west that no reserves could relief or reinforce the troops at the central front, let alone seal off any German penetration. It was a prelude to what the French 7th Army would not be able of when the Germans had managed to cross the Meuze between Dinant and Sedan.
The massive airlanding - so much we proved - was a totally new and surprising component. None of the Allies would ever be confronted with this kind of surprise or this kind of dramatically new warfare during the entire World War again. After the landings in Holland the Allies had been warned too. And never again an airlanding operation would be as successful as the German landings in Holland. Four years later the Allies tried to copy the German operation of May 1940 when the British XXX.Corps replaced the German XXVI.AK and the British and American airlanding troops replaced the German 7th Flieger Corps. The Allies would fail. Their copy/paste strategy was foolish and the product of an overrate General who was conceited enough to think that he could fool the German with their own strategy of four years ago. Even more bizarre: Generaloberst Kurt Student, commander in chief of the 1940 operation, was on the receiving end of the Allied airlanding. Who could have fooled him with his own tricks? Obviously the Germans knew exactly what the Achilles Heel of the Allied operation was. It was a sad and totally unnecessary blunder that cost many brave Allies there lives.
A war on five fronts
None of the three [including Luxembourg: four] nations that were invaded in the morning of the 10th was confronted with an all out German invasion like the Dutch. Practically no major part of the country was left in peace at 0355 hours at May the 10th 1940.
The German strategy for the war against the Netherlands comprised an all out assault against the eastern defences of Holland - along the entire 400 km long eastern border. From the most southern extremity at Maastricht up onto the most northern extremity at Nieuwe Schans. The German assault at the eastern front can be sub-divided into three different fronts.
The first and most northern assault was executed by the reinforced 1st Cavalry Division and was aimed at the most northern three provinces. The prime objective of this force was the defeat of the Dutch forces at the Fortress Kornwerderzand and the seizure of shipping room in the harbours at the Yssellake in order to cross the lake.
The second and central strike was the one developed by the German X.Corps [two Heeres divisions and two Waffen SS Brigades, including an occupational division and additional reinforcements] against the Ysselline. Their objective was to break through the country defences in the central sector at the Grebbeline.
The third and southern push was the major offensive by the 26th and 9th Corps against the south, with final objectives Antwerp, Zeeland and Rotterdam. These two units comprised no less than eight divisions amongst which the 9th Panzer Division. To the south of these two Corps's another two - 11th and 4th Corps - assaulted the province of Limburg, but they had objectives in Belgium and as such the majority of these units left the Dutch soil at the 10th and 11th.
Besides these three fronts - that set the entire east of Holland ablaze - the German airlanding presented two more fronts which are hardly definable as "front-lines"; it were more like front-zones. The airlanding south of Rotterdam one could determine as the fourth front; the landings around The Hague as the fifth front.
The Dutch defence strategy had counted on a maximum of three fronts. The most northern front had been designated as the most insignificant one, by both the Dutch and the Germans. The basic Dutch strategy did not require much additional coordination or any special changes of plans. The only two points of concern were 1) to hold the Fortress at Kornwerderzand and 2) to prevent German maritime actions across the Yssellake.
The Dutch had counted on the German spearheads against the south and against the central front. The Staffs had prepared all kinds of operational plans for these fronts. Also the Field Army command had prepared itself for firm defence in the Grebbeline, Betuweline and along the major rivers running east to west. The evacuation of the Peel-Raamline had been prepared too.
The massive German airlanding at the bridges south of Rotterdam and at The Hague came as a total surprise - as was clearly addressed hereabove. In stead of two or three fronts, the Dutch GHQ suddenly had to manage a war on five fronts.
The famous German strategist Carl von Clausewitz had already stated in his well known Opus Magnum [Vom Kriege] that every strategy had to be modified and adapted once the first bullet had been shot. The Dutch were - more than any of the belligerents in May 1940 - confronted with that truth.
First of all the Dutch GHQ was taken by total surprise to find the Germans all over the West - straight in the middle of the Fortress Holland; a challenge that nobody had predicted on such a scale. Second of all the German penetration of the Peel-Raamline in the first hour of the war - as a result of commando raids - required imminent response from the Dutch planners.
Although the migration of the Dutch forces in the south had been extensively prepared, the loss of the Moerdijk bridges did also mean an adaptation of these plans. Now all the troops - no less than about 25.000 men with all their equipment - had to be evacuated from the south by making use of two pontoon bridges. Fortunately enough the Dutch had been well prepared for this action and the migration of this force succeeded beyond anyone's expectation.
The already modest Dutch airforce was not able to support any army action beyond the Fortress Holland. The immediate threats posed by the German capture of four airforce bases in the west as well as three strategic bridges, caused the military planners to assign the airforce in its entirety to the "home front". The scarce modern planes were all jeopardized in the Luftwaffe controlled sky. The Luftwaffe had received clear orders to support the southern push and the airlanding forces in particular. As such a mighty fleet of fighters and strike-planes was constantly roaming the skies over The Hague and Rotterdam. With exception of the seaport at Vlissingen in Zeeland [where the Germans expected French and/or British forces to land], no area in Holland beyond these three zones received this extensive Luftwaffe presence.
The few modern Dutch planes had to negotiate their ways through these Luftwaffe packed skies and not surprisingly they often did not succeed avoiding the Germans. The fleet of modern strike planes and fighters was strongly decimated during the first day, although [unlike the Belgian airforce] this happened mainly during air-battles rather than destruction on the ground. Still - the Luftwaffe had over 1,000 battle planes assigned to the Dutch theatre during the first day. The 70 modern Dutch planes were no match to them, although the Germans lost about 250 planes during the first day.
We already discussed the fact that the GHQ was totally occupied by the events at the home front, rather than anywhere else in Holland. The already limited GHC staff was confronted with an overload of news from five fronts at the same time. It is even hard for any staff to keep track of events on one front at the same time; let alone to stay in control over five fronts! Fancy the chaos and lack of overview in the Dutch staff rooms in the morning of the 10th!
None of the Allied staffs in May and June 1940 have been confronted with the chaos of battle to such extend as the Dutch at the 10th. The entire country seemed to be invaded and the news that came-in fragmented and often unreliable, incomplete or overdue had to be translated to some sort of picture of the situation on the huge status map. A situation that none of us can even imagine. The lack of communication equipment, the overwhelming flow of news and reports, the rumours and facts about massive treacherous German actions [commandos dressed in civil and Dutch military uniforms] and Fifth Columns as well as the events that took place on so many fronts and locations at the same time must have paralyzed the effectiveness of the Staff for [at least] the first few hours.
That wasn't all of course. The Dutch anticipation of the German invasion strategy had been based on the assumption of gradual developments along the eastern frontlines. The entire Dutch stock- and logistic-plan had also been based on that assumption. Moreover, the stocks of ammunition had been calculated in anticipation of a war in which only a limited number of troops would be occupied at the same time. These calculations would lead to a situation where the ammunitions stocks would gradually be consumed; as such the ammo-factories would be able to produce at least a considerable portion of the used ammunition. In fact the developments caused at least half the army to be engaged in battle, and moreover, considerable caches of precious ammo were lost due to hasty retreats and destruction.
The AAA ammunition that had given cause for the worst of worries was supposed to have lasted for at least five days. In fact the war on five fronts - and the very intensive German airforce presence - caused the ammo stocks to deplete in no time. The heavy and light AAA was almost without ammo at the end of the first day, and the army - especially some of the artillery units - were rapidly using up the war-stock. Already the pre-war awareness of short ammo supplies for AAA and artillery had caused unit-commanders to give orders that only limited volleys could be requested. Especially during the battle at the Grebbeberg this caused the concern over poor artillery ammo-stocks to prevail over the support requirements of the troops. The requests that the Dutch passed on to [in particular] the British for ammo supply were in vain. And would they have been met, they would have come too late. What the resistance have been maintained after the fifth day, the ammo caches would have been depleted on the seventh day or so ...
It is hard to predict whether the Dutch GHQ would have been more efficient should the German invasion had only been unleashed against two or three eastern front-sectors, and as such, whether more effective use could have been made of both material and human resources. It is however almost beyond dount that the confrontation with the all out offensive on five fronts have caused the Dutch GHQ such an overload of information and challenges, that it must have had its substantial effect on the efficiency of both GHQ and use of resources. It is impossible to predict if a more limited scale invasion would have lengthened the war for the Dutch. The additional burdens that lay on the shoulders of the Dutch staff and senior officers, that were caused by the required intensive management of five front-sectors, should be taken into consideration once analysts study the relatively short length of the Dutch resistance.