The Island of Tholen was a naturally "broken off" piece of land of the Noord-Brabant territory, isolated from the main-land by the Eendracht, a muddy and shallow natural waterway. It was situated northwest of Bergen op Zoom and north of the island Zuid-Beveland. The wide Oosterschelde water stretch lay in between Zuid-Beveland and Tholen. This was one of the reasons why Tholen - in itself a dead corner of the country - had received a (modest) military occupation. Without occupation the fears of General Durand - of Germans crossing the Oosterschelde in storm-boats - had been far more realistic!
The state of the defences
The main city on the Island Tholen was the small town Tholen, which also harboured the only (artificial) main-land connection with Noord-Brabant. On the east-side of the town Tholen an ancient dfence bastion had been reinstated [like at the Grebbeberg], that defended both sides of the road leading towards the (only) bridge. On the westbank of the Eendracht a thin front was formed along the waterway. At three locations permanent positions had been prepared, whilst the balance of the west bank was guarded by patrols.
The entire occupation of the island - a little more than two companies of 1st Battalion of 38.RI - was concentrated along the Eendracht. The companies were supported by two 5,7 cm infantry guns, two 8 cm mortars and twelve heavy machineguns. The total occupation was no more than about 450 men.
At the bastion on the eastbank three platoons of infantry and two heavy machineguns - about 100 men altogether - defended the road. The bastion itself was surrounded by a stretched inundation that covered two-third of the eastbank of the Eendracht. The town - west of the bastion - was occupied by a platoon of infantry close to the bridge, two twin gun sections of heavy machineguns along the Eendracht and the two mortars, which could give fire support to the bastion. Another platoon of infantry and two heavy machineguns were stationed north of the town as a reserve. The battalion HQ and supporting units were situated in the small town.
The northern sector was - again on the westbank - defended by two sections of heavy machineguns and the two 5,7 cm guns joint, by three platoons of infantry [of the 1st Company]. The fourth platoon of the company defended - on the westbank - a narrow point in the Eendracht just north of the inundation.
During the previous days the usual picture was seen. Plenty of patrolling action as a consequence of yet again many airborne warnings. On the 12th and 13th about 200 men Dutch troops from the eastern Brabant front had reached Tholen, and had been sent to the unoccupied western part of the island. These troops were later shuttled over to Walcheren by boat. At the 13th the bridge over the Eendracht had been blown up. From then on the platoons on the bastion were isolated and had to be supplied by means of small boats.
The opponent of the Dutch at Tholen was the Gruppe Wirtz. This was a taskforce built around the 15th MG Battalion, and commanded by Oberst [Colonel] Wirtz, who was originally the commander of the Pioneer Regimental Staff [PiRgtSt413].
All units of the taskforce were part of the XXVI Army Corps. The battalion was further reinforced by a company of the 543rd AT unit [Panzer Jäger Abteilung] with probably about twelve 37 mm PAK 36 AT guns, a signals platoon, pioneers [Pi.Btl 52], four self-propelled 10,5 cm howitzers [II/AR 677], some pieces of 15 cm infantry guns [s.IG Kp 701] and a company of heavy machineguns [4/MG Btl.9]. This taskforce had received order to secure the area north of Bergen op Zoom, and prevent any enemy landings on the shore. Altogether probably about 2,000 men. Not all would be unleashed onto the Tholen objective.
The 15th the Gruppe Wirtz received orders to occupy the northwest of Noord-Brabant and safeguard the coast against enemy landings. This brought the first German patrols in sight of the defenders of the Eendracht north of the inundations.
Tholen under siege
At the bastion the defenders witnessed a German patrol approaching their position at 1700 hours, 15 May. It was chased off by a short burst of fire from the machineguns. Shortly after two German negotiators appeared. They approached the Dutch road-block ahead of the bastion very cautiously, waving a large white flag. An officer and a German speaking sergeant were sent to meet them.
The Germans demanded immediate surrender of the "Fortress Tholen" and proclaimed that since the Netherlands army had capitulated refusal would be met by severe bombardment. The message was conveyed to the Dutch battalion commander who quickly replied (in writing) that since Tholen was part of Zeeland, and Zeeland had been excluded from the armistice, Tholen was to be defended. Fire would be opened within fifteen minutes after hand-over of the reply letter. The Germans quickly returned to their own lines.
At 1800 hours the German field-artillery and mortars - positioned along the road - opened fire. All this fire fell on the east-side of the town, and not on the bastion that may not have been spotted yet by the Germans [since the road-block was well ahead of the bastion]. Beside a direct hit on a gas storage tank, not much damage was suffered.
Shortly after the German artillery had ceased fire their infantry advanced along both sides of the road. The Dutch let them approach until they were close to the road-barrier. Then mortars and machineguns opened fire. It had a devastating effect on the attackers. Many were killed or wounded, and men jumped into the water of the inundations to escape the fire. The Germans gradually crawled back, meanwhile returning fire. German reports spoke of 20 men KIA. The defenders had lost two men KIA.
Since the Germans then knew of the bastion defences and since the trenches and machinegun nests were all nothing more than improvised dug-out hidings, the battalion commander thought it wise to evacuate the men and weapons overnight. As such in the late evening and during the night the bastion was evacuated. All men and machineguns were shuttled over the Eendracht by boat. They would be assigned new locations along the waterway.
During the late evening and night the Dutch were awaiting the things to come, lacking any devices or flares to light the sky ...