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Battle of France

After spending four years fighting in the crude trenches of WWI, the French smartly built the Maginot Line, a series of sophisticated fortifications that France believed would protect them from German invasion. But, as we already know, they didn’t bother to build it along the Ardennes Forest because they believed it was “impenetrable.” That, of course, was their first mistake.

Hitler’s armies invaded France (and the low countries) on May 10, 1940.

Initially, Hitler had planned to invade these countries right on the heels of their victory over Poland. However, those plans had to be postponed, due to bad weather. Their plans were once again postponed in January 1940, when “a German plane crashed in neutral Belgium, with a copy of the attack orders on board” (Source). At this point, France was probably (maybe) feeling pretty good about their chances of not being invaded by Germany.

But, then, of course, May arrived, and with it, Hitler’s forces. During those months, Hitler was forced to rethink his invasion plan. With the help of General Erich von Manstein, who proposed that they attack France through Belgium and Holland. After all, that would mean conquering three countries for the price of one! Err, so to speak.

The Allies would never suspect an attack through the Ardennes (clearly). And to further insure their success, the Nazis planned to employ blitzkrieg-like techniques.

By heavily concentrating their tanks into Panzer formations (armored), they were able to outwit the French, who had spread their own tanks much too thinly. “Manstein’s plan envisaged these Panzer divisions in a semi-independent role, striking ahead of the main body of the army, to disrupt and disorientate the Allies” (Source). But this plan was not only much riskier than the Poland invasion plan, but it was also much more ambitious.

[Below: Invasion & fall of France]

Hotchkiss H35 1940 | Photos militaires, Guerre mondiale, France

 

On May 10, the Nazis invaded both Belgium and Holland (and also a number of other countries). They began the attack with air raids, followed quickly by parachute drops or large numbers of troops. “The speed of the German advance and the brutality of the air raids gave them a huge psychological advantage, and on 14 May the Dutch surrendered” (Source).

The Allies responded, relatively successfully, on the attack of Belgium. They did not do so well in Holland, however, and they were pushed back. Then, on the 13th, troops marched through the Ardennes, on the River Meuse. Crossing the river involved a two-day battle. The Allies fought hard, but despite some hard fighting by both the air forces and the tank divisions, the German tanks, led by General Heinz Guderian, broke through. With little to no opposition, thanks to most of the Allied troops still fighting in Belgium, the Germans reached the English Channel by May 20 – after a mere 7 days of fighting.

By the 21st, British tanks were at least able to meet Erwin Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division at Arras. But that was the last piece of good news, because, with the German forces pushing up from both the west and the south, the Allies now found themselves surrounded.

It was so bad that the Belgians surrendered on May 28, after a mere 18 days of fighting.

The Allies – and the French, in particular – were becoming desperate. The French attempted a change of personnel, switching out General Gamelin for General Weygand as Commander-in-Chief. But it didn’t help much. Then, on May 23rd, BEF commander, General Lord Gort, called for his own men to fall back to the Channel ports.

The French felt betrayed by this decision, and with good reason. But, it turned out that Gort’s decision was a life saver, at least for the BEF. They spent the next 10 days (May 26-June 4), planning out Operation Dynamo – or, better known as Dunkirk.

[Below: Aftermath of the Battle of France]

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Battle for the Hague

On May 10, 1940, at 4:00 am, as part of the Battle of the Netherlands, fought between the Royal Netherlands Army and the German Luftwaffe, paratroopers “dropped in and around The Hague in order to capture Dutch airfields and the city” (Source). This was the first paratroop assault in history.

Ultimately, the Germans hoped to capture the Dutch Royal Family. Additionally, they hoped to capture the government and force the Dutch to surrender.

Unfortunately, their plans failed. They didn’t manage to capture Queen Wilhelmina.

And, well, see, the Dutch, who were smartly alert at the time, overheard the noise from the aircraft formations flying overhead, then turning around and flying over again. The first target, Ypenburg, was attacked, dropping “the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Fallschirmjaeger Regiment around the area” (Source). However, since the Dutch heard the plans, they were able to get their own planes into the air quickly enough to claim some victories for themselves. This just before being shot down themselves or being forced to land. Essentially, the Germans did manage to capture all three fields.

But then “the Dutch Army launched a counter-attack several hours later” (Source).

[Below: German Paratroopers above the Hague]

Erwin Gerald Mol (@erwinmol81) | Twitter

The attack started at Ypenburg. The Dutch were definitely outnumbered and the only ammunition they had was what they had managed to capture from the Germans. Even then, they fell into position, launching an artillery attack against their own airfield, causing heavy damage. The Germans were finally forced to evacuate “the airfield’s burning buildings, losing their strong defensive position” (Source).

Then Dutch troops stormed the airfield, forcing the Germans to fully retreat. While some of the Germans were able to withdraw and hide in the nearby woods, the Dutch did capture several more.

From here, the Dutch were ordered to turn towards Loosduinen. They sealed off Leiden and Wassenaar, retaking “an important bridge near Valkenburg” (Source). With the arrival of reinforcements, the Dutch were able to start attacking Germans from the ground and from the air. The Germans were forced to retreat, and several battles took place in Valkenburg, all to liberate the village. But it was heavily damaged in the process.

“By the end of 10 May, Dutch forces had retaken the captured airfields, but this tactical victory was to be short lived as on 14th May the German Rotterdam Blitz forced the Dutch armed forces to surrender” (Source).

As for the German failure, well, there were several factors at play. For one, they didn’t have nearly enough paratroopers, especially for all of the objectives they wished to achieve. Then, a number of these were “dropped miles from their objectives” (Source). Furthermore, German intelligence wasn’t nearly up to par, and the information that they did receive was poor. “With the landing strips effectively blocked, the following waves of aircraft were forced to divert, force-land on the nearby beaches or highways, or return to base” (Source). And, to top all of that, after Dunkirk, the Dutch had been busy building up their defense, making sure that their best artillery and armored cars were ready for the inevitable battle.

 [Below: Crashed German plane.]

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Battle of Rotterdam

The battle began on May 10, 1940 and lasted for four days, ending with dreadful bombings. The Nazis chose to take over the Netherlands because they believed that it would be the ideal place for an Air Force base. For one, Rotterdam was a port town. A port town that just happened to be in close proximity to Britain, Hitler’s dream target.

The Dutch, on the other hand, had wanted to remain neutral in this war, much liked they done last time. In large part, the Dutch wanted to remain neutral because they knew that their military just didn’t have what it would take to stand up against the Axis powers. They were woefully lacking in military necessities such as aircraft, vehicles, and . . . oh, troops.

Hitler was sure that he could capture and occupy the Netherlands in just one short day of battle. Little did he know that the Dutch would put up such a big fight.

Now, while the Dutch didn’t necessarily have the number of troops needed to take part in a world war, they also weren’t necessarily lacking in troops. In fact, in the Rotterdam neighborhood of Hillegersberg was an artillery battalion with some 7,000 men. In nearby areas they had machine guns, cannons, and even the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Their biggest problem was simply that they just weren’t equipped enough to fight against the Nazis, who’d been preparing for battle for years.

Whether Hitler was aware of the seize of the Netherland’s military or not, his initial plan was for his own task force to attack Rotterdam and seize its bridges, all using the advantage of surprise. This plan was scrapped, however, and in its place was born the idea to use Heinkel He 59D’s. Much easier to surprise the Dutch with parachutists. They could easily capture the bridges, especially with even more men in the air for cover.

So, early May 10th, 80 Nazi soldiers landed. They easily captured several bridges. So far, there was no resistance. Everything was going as planned.

What they didn’t realize was that the Dutch troops were hiding in houses along the various routes to the bridges. They ambushed the approaching Germans. Meanwhile, another group of Dutch were waiting in the square. Turns out, they had been alerted to the German arrival by the sound of their plans. Yes, this was the same problem the Germans ran into over in the Hague . . . on the same exact morning.

Even though the garrison was run by a lonely captain, he quickly assembled his men and sent them out around town to places such as bridges, railway stations, and along the Nieuwe Maas.

Meanwhile, “a small delegation of Dutch Marines and an incomplete army engineers company” took positions north of the bridges and began deploying machine guns (Source). They were able to push the Germans back into a small perimeter by a mere traffic bridge – which probably isn’t exactly what the Germans had in mind when the planned to “take” Dutch bridges.

The Dutch continued to push and, gradually, the German pocket grew smaller and smaller. Later in the morning, they were gratefully aided by the Dutch Navy – however small their contingent may have been with only a small gunboat and a motor torpedo boat. Unfortunately, Luftwaffe bombs caused serious damages to the two boats, causing 3 deaths.

It was difficult, but the Dutch were able to hold out until that afternoon. It was then that German help in the form of the 10th Company of the 16th Air Landing Regiment.

But the Dutch continued to push the Germans back until the Germans withdrew into a National Life Insurance Company building. Turned out, this was better for the Germans than the Dutch. For one, the Germans had been reinforced with more anti-tanks guns. Furthermore, their location inside the building proved to hamper the Dutch.

[Below: Destroyed Rotterdam]

Museum JoCas onderwijs geschiedenis erfgoed uitvindingen ...

 

The next morning, the Dutch actually received reinforcements. After reorganizing them, Colonel Scharroo deployed them along the river. Then, at 4:00, the fighting continued. That being said, the Dutch still failed to infiltrate the National Life Insurance building. But, at the same time, the Nazis had failed to replenish their weapons. But, then the Royal Netherlands Air Force stepped in, bombing bridges. They missed their intended targets, but somehow managed to take out several machine gun nests, instead. Which was responded to by Messerschmitt Bf 110s. In all, five German plans were lost and 3 Dutch ones. But of course, the Germans had many more planes to spare than the Dutch did. At the same time, the SS Statendam was bombed, catching fire.

On the 13th, the Marines came to lend aid. Unfortunately, as they advanced, they came under German attack. Germans also attacked the two Dutch armored cars trying to cross the bridge. They were forced to retreat without firing on the insurance building. But then the Marines, previously unaware that the Nazis had overtaken the insurance building, came under German even more fire. The Marines returned fire, but after several casualties, were forced to retreat. They found shelter under the bridge. They were fired on again and had to retreat even further.

“After the war, the German occupants of the insurance building admitted that they had been on the verge of surrender. They were very short on ammunition, half of them had been wounded, and they had reached the point of utter exhaustion. But just when they were about to yield, the marines disappeared” (Source).

It had become clear that everything rested on the defense of Rotterdam’s two bridges. So, they put seven infantry companies, 3 anti-tank guns for each bridge. Additionally, three batteries of 105 mm howitzers were placed at Kralingse Plas bridge. In the meantime, three German tanks arrived, starting an all-out tanks assault. They were met by great Dutch opposition.

Then Hermann Göring stepped in. He decided that the best course of action was for an all-out aerial attack. Then, General Georg von Küchler, the Dutch operational area commander-in-chief, sent the Dutch an ultimatum: Unconditional surrender of the city was being demanded.

Finally, on the morning of May 14, the letter was delivered to General Scharroo. The Dutch insisted on a final notice with the German officer’s signature, name, and rank.

It was during this time, that Göring ordered the attack. A group of 27 bombers arrived to the south of the city. Aware of the attack, the Germans raised a red flare. Seeing this, 24 of the bombers turned and headed west. The remaining three dropped their payload.

“About one square mile of the city was completely destroyed. In total, over 25,000 buildings were leveled. Below is the breakdown of the type of buildings destroyed

 24,978 homes

2,320 businesses

24 churches

62 schools

775 warehouses” (Source).

Only a handful of buildings survived. One of these building was the 1898 high-rise, Witte Huis. It did receive some damage; the bullets holes of which can be seen to this day. Rotterdam, itself, was set ablaze. As bombs were dropping, many of the buildings that were struck caught fire. They became uncontrollable. “Over the course of a week, the fires began to join and create one huge inferno. It’s been said that after night, on the first night after the bombings, the sky was red from all the fires” (Source).

With their city on fire, it didn’t take long for the Dutch to surrender. Immediately, Germans took control of the city, ablaze or not. The following day, the British began bombing the Ruhr in retaliation.

It is reported that the Dutch casualty toll was somewhere around 1,000. However, thanks to German occupation, some 85,000 citizens were now homeless.

[Below: Rotterdam burning]

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