Europa Games and Military History

Tag: netherlands

War over Holland

How to organize armies for war is still one of the topics that fascinate me the most – probably one of the reasons why I am still loyal to the precisely researched OBs of the “Europa series”. Some time ago during reasearch I stumbled upon a now defunct blog that listed in detail all units involved in the German invasion of the Netherlands, partially down to company level. I was very exited about that find, even if, as so often, the page lacked detailed source information on individual entries. A quick email exchange with the author of the blog revealed that the site was only a preparation for a historical project on the invasion of Holland in 1940. This page is now online, and I can only recommend reading to everyone interested in the german occupation of the Netherlands in 1940. P>

“War over Holland” focuses heavily on the military events in the operational sense and disregards the misery the invasion and subsequent years brought over the Dutch. One may lament this, but it should be noted that the consequences for civilian population, and especially for the dutch Jews, have been well documented and described in other publications. Putting the focus on operational military history thus does not automatically constitute an omission. The authors intention is not to give a complete picture, but to describe the military events without which none of the subsequent times of terror and miseary can be understood. The website narrates the five days of desperate struggle Holland put up against an overwhelming superior foe, and even the most inconsequential firefights are recorded with a well founded knowledge of the source material. On the forth day, most organized resistance collapsed, leaven only capitulation and flight to exile for a few. P>

So for those the article by Alan Tibetts on landing operation in the Netherlands is not enough, you will find “War over Holland” provides an excellent analysis of the military action in unparalelled detail and depth. The only nitpicks are regular error messages the server produces currently, and which require several loading attempts for pages, plus the lack of footnotes, complicating any fact-checking from the sources. P>

Date: August 13th, 2012


Selected Bibliography

Ambrose, Stephen E.: Citizen Soldier: The U.S. Army from the Nomandy Beaches to the Bulge to
the Surrender of Germany. New York: Touchstone, 1997.

Badsey, Stephen.  Arnhem 1944: Operation ‘Market Garden’. London: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 1993.

Chapman, Guy. Why France Collapsed: The Defeat of the French Army in 1940. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.

Farrar-Hockley, Anthony H. Airborne Carpet: Operation Market Garden. New York: Ballantine Books, 1969.

Fuller, J. F. C. The Second World War, 1939-45: A Strategic and Tactical History. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949.

Goralski, Robert. World War II Almanac 1931-1945: A Political and Military Record. 1984 ed. n.p.: Perigee, 1982. New York: Bonanza Books, 1984.

Greiss, Thomas E., ed. The Second World War: Europe and the Mediterranean. The West Point Military History Series. Wayne, N.J.: Avery Publishing Group, 1984.

Horne, Alistair. To Lose a Battle: France 1940. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969.

Hubatsch, Walter ed. Blitzkrieg to Defeat, Hitler’s War Directives, 1939-1945. Edited by H. R. Trevor-Roper. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.

Kleffens, Eelco Nicolaas van. Juggernaut Over Holland: The Dutch          Foreign Minister’s Personal Story of the Invasion of The Netherlands. New York: Columbia University Press, 1941.

Liddell-Hart, B. H. The German Generals Talk.New York: William Morrow and Company, 1948.

Lucas, James. Hitler’s Enforcers: Leaders of the German War Machine 1939-1945. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1997.

Mason, Henry L. “War Comes to The Netherlands: September 1939-May 1940”, Political Science Quarterly 78, no. 4 1963): 548-580.

McDonald, John. Grea tBattlefields of the World.  New York: Collier Books, 1984.

Pearson, Frederick S. The Weak State in International Crises: The Case of The Netherlands in the German Invasion Crises of 1939-40.         Washington: University Press of America, 1981.

Perrett, Bryan. Knights of the Black Cross: Hitler’s Panzerwaffe and Its Leaders. Book Club ed. n.p.: Robert Hale, 1986. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986.

Ryan, Cornelius. A Bridge TooFar. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974

Steenbeek, Wilhelmina. Rotterdam: Invasion of Holland. New York, Ballantine Books, 1973.

Taylor, Telford.  The March of Conquest: The German Victories in Western Europe, 1940. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1958.

Whitting, Charles. Hunters from the Sky: The German Parachute Corps 1949-1945. New York: Stein and Day, 1974.

A Bridge To Far

Weather began to lift on September 22, but no supply flights were flown.  Allied fighters dominated the skies everywhere except Arnhem and Nijmegen, where the Germans continued to get Luftwaffe ground support.[109]

The attack organized by Student hit a weak section of the allied line between Grave and Uden. KG Walther, attacking westward, and KG Huber, attacking eastward, cut Hell’s Highway between 101stand 82ndAirborne. KG Huber placed the bridge at Veghel under fire and German tanks nearly took Uden.  By the end of the day eight allied battalions were drawn into the battle at Uden, fighting under Brigadier General McAuliffe.  Hell’s Highway north of Veghel was closed to traffic for a crucial day.[110]

The attempt to reach 1stAirborne was taken up by 43rdDivision at dawn, supported by the Irish Guards from Guards Armoured.  Armored cars, once again leading the way, reached the Poles at Driel by 0800.  It had taken four days and eighteen hours since Market-Garden to establish what was technically a link with 1stAirborne.[111] That night Sosabowski crossed 50 men with the four rubber dinghies available to him.  DUKWs and heavier boats were held up by Student’s attacks.  German pressure along Urquhart’s perimeter increased, and the British General signaled Browning that relief was necessary within 24 hours.[112]

September 23 was a clear day, and Allied fighters provided copious close air support to both XXX Corps and 1stAirborne Division.  German units threatening Veghel were driven off by noon, and Hell’s Highway was reopened.  The last elements of 82ndand 101stAirborne and Polish Brigade were lifted in, and river crossing equipment finally reached the Poles at Driel.  That night 200 of Sosabowski’s men ferried across the Rhine to reinforce Urquhart.  [113]

By September 24 British 1stAirborne was down to about 1800 effectives.  These men had been fighting constantly for a week, they were exhausted and running short on ammunition.  Fire support from XXX Corps and fighter-bombers kept the Germans from overrunning the small perimeter, but it was obvious that the bridgehead would eventually suffer the same fate as Frost’s command.  A truce allowed 700 wounded to be transferred to German captivity where they could receive medical attention.[114]  That afternoon General Dempsey made the decision to withdraw.[115]

KG Chill reached Hell’s Highway south of Veghel near dusk. Owing to these attacks, supply vehicles were unable to use the road for most of the day.[116] The road was finally cleared of Germans late on September 25 by 101st Airborne, with assistance from British 50thInfantry and 7th Armoured Divisions.  Due to mines Hell’s Highway didn’t reopen until early the 26th, but after that it stayed open.[117]

SS KG von Allworden, with King Tiger tanks from 506th Heavy Tank Battalion, attacked Urquhart’s perimeter on September 25, nearly cutting him off from the Rhine.  A crossing attempt by 43rdDivision resulted in heavy British losses, with no appreciable gain and Urquhart set the withdrawal for that night.[118]

British artillery opened up an eleven-hour bombardment by at 2100. Crossing operations began at 2140 and continued until dawn, passing 2,587 men to safety through the 700-meter gap left open to 1stAirborne. Market-Garden ended at 0550 on September 26. Including wounded, the Germans took 6,450 prisoners. Approximate 1,300 members of 1stAirborne Division were killed during the battle.[119]

Propagandists claimed victory and defeat for both sides.  Brereton classified Market a success.  Montgomery blamed Eisenhower for failing to provide resources, yet claimed the operation was 90 percent successful.[120]  Sober assessment indicates the only strategic use of Allied airborne forces in Europe ended in defeat, but Market-Garden was no great victory for the Germans.  Blame is shared by most of the Allied commanders. Montgomery was in overall command but failed to pay close attention. Brereton made several mistakes including: his insistence on a single sortie per transport per day, unworkable landing zones, and choice of British I Airborne Corps over US Airborne XVIII Corps to command Market. Urquhart must shoulder responsibility for failing to stay in place to command his division. For his part, Horrocks was unable to keep Garden on schedule or get his subordinates to move at night.  The failure of Market-Garden forced the Allies to winter in Holland where their advantage in mobility was wasted.  Stretching to cover the extended frontage forced compromises leading to a weak front in the Ardennes, and facilitated Hitler’s attack there.

Field Marshall Model deserves praise for pulling together scattered German units, and quickly ascertaining the importance of Nijmegen and Arnhem.  Colonel-General Student skillfully handled both defense and offense along Hells’ Highway.  The recuperative powers of German units, and will of the common soldier to fight against great odds and under difficult conditions are trademarks of the Wehrmacht. British 1stAirborne proved they shared those traits.


[109]Badsey, 72.

[110]Ibid., 72-73, Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 147; Ryan, 534.

[111]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 153; Ryan, 517-518; MacDonald, 182.

[112]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 154; Ryan, 535-7; Badsey, 73.

[113]Ryan, 543; Badsey, 75-6.

[114]Badsey, 76; Ryan, 557-9.

[115]Ryan, 568.

[116]Badsey, 80; Farrar-Hockley, Student, 148.

[117]Badsey, 83; Farrar-Hockley, Student, 148.

[118]Badsey, 81; Ryan, 573.

[119]Badsey, 85, Ryan, 580.

[120]Ryan, 597; Badsey, 89.

Race to Nijmegen

Weather on the 19th was no better.  Due to ground fog and rain, only a few of the flights from England were able to take of, and those were late. 1stAllied Airborne Army failed to inform 2nd Tactical Air Force of the changes, and no close air support was flown for Browning’s forces in Holland.  The Germans continued to receive effective air support however. The Luftwaffewas so bold as to raid Eindhoven with 120 bombers, killing or wounding 1,000 civilians.[91]

At dawn (36 hours behind schedule) Guards Armoured Division crossed at Son on a Bailey Bridge erected the night before. Leading elements reached Grave by 0820.  It had taken 42 hours and cost 130 casualties for Guards Armoured to travel 53 miles.[92]  Elsewhere, another attack by Gavin’s men failed to take the Nijmegen bridge.  Assault boats were ordered forward for a crossing, but these were located in Belgium, behind XXX Corps start line. It would take some time for the boats to travel a very crowded road to Nijmegen.[93]

Student planned a pincer attack to split the Allied corridor using 59thInfantry Division from the west, and 107thPanzer Brigade from the east.  Before this could be executed, 101st Airborne and 8th Armoured Brigade routed 59th Division.  The Panthers and Grenadiers of 107th Panzer attacked later in the day, and nearly succeeded in reaching Son.  While this attack was occurring Taylor’s third lift arrived, with half the expected troops and guns, followed by a very inaccurate supply drop.  Weather in England was the cause of both delay and confusion.[94]

British 1st Airborne Brigade staged an early morning attack along the north bank of the Lower Rhine which made slow progress until the fog lifted.  By 1000, without the cover afforded by fog, and lacking any air support, the attack ground to a halt one mile from the bridge.  A second attack further to the north by 4th

Airborne Brigade cost the British heavy casualties, and gained little ground from KG Spindler.  General Urquhart was liberated from his attic by the attack at 0715, and he returned to the divisional headquarters in Oosterbeek after a 40-hour absence.[95]  After a quick analysis Urquhart sent reinforcements to the doomed 4thPara Brigade attack.  A signal was also sent to warn the Polish Brigade that the Germans controlled their landing zone.[96]  The Poles never received the message to abort their drop, and at 1600 their gliders landed in no-mans-land between 4th Parachute Brigade and KG Krafft.  Only a few men and two anti-tank guns survived.[97]

The Germans brought their full weight to bear on Frost’s position at the Arnhem bridge.  Daylong attacks began with an air raid, followed by shelling and ground attacks from SS KG Knaust in the north and SS KG Brinkmann from the east.  The British still controlled ten houses at the north end of the bridge, but had only 250 unwounded men to hold them with.[98]

September 20th was the last of the four days Browning had promised Montgomery.  It dawned to the same poor weather as the two previous days, allowing only supply missions to be flown.  Although 82ndAirborne received 80 percent of its supplies, the British recovered only 13 percent of 1st Airborne’s.[99]

Along what was now dubbed “Hells’ Highway” 107thPanzer Brigade staged another attack east of Son.  Once again, 101stand British armor beat them off.  Guards Armoured was broken up to stiffen the two American divisions, especially the position along the Groesbeek Heights.  British and American troops worked together to clear the suburbs near Nijmegen bridge while they waited for the assault boats to crawl their way forward.[100]

The boats finally arrived after noon, and the assault went in at 1500, with air and artillery support.  2ndand 3rd Battalions 504thParachute Infantry Regiment cleared the two bridges on the far shore. A coordinated attack by 505thParachute Regiment and Guards Grenadiers opened the south end of the bridge, and the first tanks crossed at 1910.  Much to the shock of the Americans, with Arnhem only 10 miles away the British tankers stopped for the night.[101]

General Horrocks explained it this way:
“This operation of Cook’s (American battalion commander) was the best and most gallant attack I have ever seen carried out in my life.  No wonder the leading paratroopers were furious that we did not push strait for Arnhem.  They felt they had risked their lives for nothing, but it was impossible, owing to the confusion which existed in Nijmegen, with houses burning and the British and U.S. forces all mixed up.”[102]

British 1stAirborne endured a day of uncoordinated German attacks on its Oosterbeek perimeter.  Both sides were exhausted, and neither had a significant advantage in strength. British battalions were down to 100-200 men each, and it was impossible to properly care for casualties.  An agreement was reached whereby the British pulled back slightly, giving the Germans control of several buildings containing British wounded.  Several such temporary tuces were called during the next days.[103]

At his bridge Lt. Col. Frost was short of all types of supplies and the Germans were now using flame-throwers and tanks to dig his remaining troops out of their buildings. Around noon Frost was wounded and turned control over to the commander of the reconnaissance squadron, Maj. Gough.  Four Tiger tanks forced a crossing of the bridge at about1600. Later that night Gough negotiated a truce allowing the Germans to collect 200 wounded from the cellars, including Lt. Col. Frost.[104]

Although the rain continued on September 21, German pressure along the corridor subsided.  Student was reorganizing another attack scheduled for the next day, and Model wanted to concentrate everything on Arnhem and against a breakout by XXX Corps from Nijmegen.

Gough attempted a breakout from Arnhem to the north at 0900, which was not successful.  What was left of Frost’s men didn’t surrender as a group, some kept fighting for two more days.  With the major part of 2nd Parachute Battalion eliminated the Germans gained use of the bridge.  Frost’s small force had held out for 88 hours, with little support, and without relief. [105]

The defenses at Oosterbeek were reorganized, but remained frail.  The Heveadorp ferry was cut adrift after KG von Tettau took Westerbouwing hill on the southwestern edge of the division perimeter.  From there the Germans could observe any daylight river crossing by or in support of the British airborne division.[106]

The Irish Guards finally kicked of their advance from Nijmegen at around noon, just as the Germans were making their first unopposed crossing of the Arnhem bridge.  The Guards pushed halfway to Arnhem, but lacking air support and low on ammunition they were halted.  SS KG Knaust reached the same vicinity at 1600 and set up a strong defense.  Horrocks ordered 43rdInfantry Division forward to assume the lead from Guards Armoured and link up with 1st Airborne. With this last advance Urquhart was finally able to establish radio contact with XXX Corps artillery, and began to receive effective fire support.[107]

1st Polish Parachute Brigade’s main body finally got airborne, but bad weather forced 44 of the 114 Dakotas to turn back.  The Luftwaffemet the air caravan with more than 100 fighters, 25 of which got through the escort to claim thirteen transports.  Aircraft carrying Urquhart’s supplies also ran into German fighters, losing 23 planes to enemy fighters and flak, and delivering only 41 tons of supply to the British.  The Poles secured a small perimeter near Driel and along the south bank of the Rhine, opposite 1st Airborne.  They were unable, however, to conduct any crossing due to a lack of boats.[108] Had they landed just a day sooner they could’ve used the Heveadorp ferry.


[91]Badsey, 55, 58; Ryan, 457.

[92]Badsey, 56; Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 124; Ryan, 410.

[93]Badsey, 56.

[94]Badsey, p. 57; Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 127.

[95]John MacDonald, Great Battlefields of the World, (New York: Collier Books, 1984), 180.

[96]Badsey, 55-6; Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 135; Ryan, 410.

[97]Badsey, 57; Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 139.

[98]Badsey, 57-8.

[99]Ibid., 59.

[100]Ibid., 60, Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 127-8.

[101]Badsey,  60-1; Ambrose, Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany(New York: Touchstone, 1997), 129; Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 129-130.

[102]Ambrose, 129.

[103]Badsey, 59-60.

[104]Ibid., 64; Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 139, 145, 147.

[105]Badsey, 68.

[106]Ibid., 69; Ryan, 501.

[107]Ryan, 495-503; Badsey, 69; Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 151.

[108]Badsey, 69-70; Ryan, 496.

September 16th-18th: The Landings

Beginning the night of September 16 and over the course of the next day over a thousand Allied planes attacked German airfields and antiaircraft positions. On September 17 the first Market transport departed at 945, the last of 1,051 transports and 516 gliders lifted off by 1135. Pathfinders jumped at 1240 and assault troops began landing by 1400.  By 1408 the Allies had landed some 20,000 men, 330 artillery pieces, 511 vehicles, and 490 tons of supplies.  The daylight drops were very accurate, and only 48 transport planes and 71 gliders were lost from all causes.[67]

Watching from his headquarters at Vught as Allied transports streamed overhead, Student remarked: “Oh, how I wish I had such powerful means at my disposal!”[68]  Before nightfall Student received a complete copy of the Market-Garden plans taken from a crashed glider, probably one from I Corps Headquarters. The plans included flight schedules, landing zones, unit lists, and mission taskings.[69]

At II SS Panzer Corps General Bittrich started receiving reports within minutes of the main drop.  By 1430 he issued orders to 9thSS Panzer to occupy the Arnhem bridge and immediately attack enemy forces near Oosterbeek.  10thSS Panzer was to move immediately to Nijmegen and “occupy the bridge in strength”.[70]  It would take some time to get units moving, among other things vehicles would have to be unloaded from rail cars and troops recalled from Sunday leave.

With British paras dropping practically in his lap, Field Marshall Model quickly left Oosterbeek. He headed east to co-locate with II SS Panzer Corps at Doetinchem, arriving there at 1600.  Before evacuating the area Model sent orders to II SS Panzer Corps and Armed Forces Command Netherlands.[71]

General Horrocks opened Garden at 1400 with a 35-minute bombardment by 408 guns.  The defending Kampfgruppe(battlegroup) was named after its commander, Colonel Walther, one of Student’sFallschrimjaeger.  This scratch formation consisted of two Luftwaffeparachute battalions, two SS infantry battalions, and 6thPenal Battalion.  Guards Armoured lost nine tanks to Kampfgruppe(KG) Walther, but by 1930 had advanced seven miles to Valkenswaard.  There the Guards stopped for the night. British commanders failed to initiate aggressive patrolling, leaving KG Walther free to regroup and dig itself in for the next day.[72]  Horrocks was behind schedule; he should have reached Eindhoven in three hours.[73]

Meanwhile, American paratroopers were having mixed luck.  Taylor’s “Screaming Eagles” quickly seized bridges at Veghel and St. Oedenrode against weak resistance. The Wilhelmina Canal bridge at Son was blown with the Americans a mere 50 yards away, and the alternate bridge at Best remained in German hands.  Divisional engineers erected a wooden footbridge at Son before nightfall, but until XXX Corps arrived with bridging equipment no vehicles large than a jeep would cross the canal.  Colonel Sink and the 506thParachute Regiment crossed at Son by midnight and headed for Eindhoven.[74]

Gavin’s 82nd held the Groesbeck heights and critical bridges at Grave and across the Maas-Waal Canal southwest of Nijmegen. They also had part of a battalion in Nijmegen, which destroyed what were thought to be the detonating device. Grenadiers from 10thSS Panzer Division had arrived to defend the bridge however, and Gavin’s weak battalion was pinned down in the city streets near the bridge.[75]

Urquhart’s troops dropped as accurately as the Americans, but immediately experienced problems.  It took longer than expected to organize after the drop, especially for the recon squadron.  It wasn’t until about 1530 that Lieutenant Colonel John Frost’s 2nd Parachute Battalion headed out for Arnhem supported by a few recon jeeps.  1stand 3rdParachute battalions also advanced on Arnhem, each by a separate route.[76]  Crowds of enthusiastic Dutch civilians met the Tommies, further slowing the advance.  German fire was first encountered at 1600 along the northern route near Wolfheze.  1stBattalion had run into SS Major Sepp Krafft’s 440 man training battalion.[77]

At Oosterbeek 3rdBattalion encountered hastily assembled German forces rallying around Model’s abandoned headquarters.  Only Frost’s 2nd Battalion found a clear road into Arnhem. They were in sight of the rail bridge when it was blown at 1830 and found the pontoon bridge had been removed.  Frost’s men observed 30 German vehicles head south across the Arnhem bridge.  By 2000 2ndParachute Battalion occupied buildings surrounding the north end of the Arnhem road bridge.[78]

Radio communications within 1stAirborne were not working well and General Urquhart left his headquarters to check on his division.  He lost his jeep to enemy fire and spent the first night with Brigadier Lathbury’s 1stParachute Brigade, out of contact with division headquarters.[79]

September 18th opened with heavy fog closing down airbases in England, France and Belgium, followed by rain lasting most of the afternoon and into the night.  This, combined with Brereton’s insistence that planes in Belgium remain on the ground while his transports were airborne, reduced Allied air support to a trickle. German airfields were clear however, and Luftwaffefighters flew 190 sorties.[80]

Guards Armoured started off at 0600, and by 1230 managed to sneak some armored cars into Eindhoven where they linked up with Col. Sink’s 506thParachute Regiment. Eindhoven had been liberated from the company size German defense force during the morning of September 18. Using bridges over the Dommel River taken by 101st, Guards Armoured passed east of Eindhoven and reached the destroyed bridge at Son by evening.[81]At 1300 two battalions of 327thGlider regiment along with divisional troops, 146 jeeps, and two bulldozers – 2,656 men – were added to Taylor’s force.[82]

At Best a strong force of American paratroopers from the 502ndRegiment was ordered to take the Wilhelmina Canal bridge.  Opposing them was a majority of the 59thInfantry Division, sent there the previous day by Student. German engineers blew the bridge at 1100, and fighting generally died down throughout the 101stDivision area.[83]

Further north in the 82nd Airborne sector Gavin was faced with capturing the Nijmegen bridge.  Lieutenant Colonel Warren’s battalion from 508thParachute Infantry Regiment got close to the southern end of the bridge, but was unable to capture it. Two later attacks by fresh troops also failed.  The Germans had been reinforced by part of 9thSS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion.[84]

Germans troops were active elsewhere along the 82ndAirborne perimeter. At dawn small units began attacking the Americans holding Groesbeek Heights, eventually threatening the southern landing zone. Lt. Col. Warren’s battalion, recently withdrawn from Nijmegen, charged across the LZ and cleared it just before the 1300 glider landing took place. Arriving were 385 gliders with 1,782 men and the remainder of General Gavin’s artillery.  To the north, a German probe was driven off at Veghel.[85]

Day long attacks from Kampfgruppevon Tettau, which included a company of captured French Renault tanks, tied down 1stAirlanding Brigade positioned west of the British landing zones. [86]  SS Kampfgruppe Spindler, an amalgamation of several German units arriving over the night, engaged Lathbury’s Parachute Brigade west of Arnhem.  Lathbury was wounded, and Urquhart forced to hide in an attic. Brigadier Hicks of the Airlanding Brigade took command of 1st Airborne Division.[87]

In Arnhem itself Lt. Col. Frost had about 600 men, mortars and four 6-pounder (57mm) anti-tank guns ensconced in houses covering the north end of the bridge.  Frost also had radio contact with division headquarters and support from four 75mm guns. German infantry, unsupported by artillery or tanks, failed to dislodge Frost’s men, and a 0930 charge across the bridge from the south by 9thSS Recon Battalion was routed. [88]

At 1500 Urquhart’s second wave arrived to a greeting from the Luftwaffe.  In addition to heavy flak, 90 German fighters attempted to intercept the transports and gliders.  Allied fighters managed to hold off the German planes, but lost 20 of their number.  Some 2,100 men arrived on 124 Dakotas and 296 gliders.  The following supply lift dropped 87 tons of cargo, mostly into German laps, with only 12 tons reaching 1st Airborne.[89]

Radio communications within 1stAirborne were almost non-existent. Pressured from the east and west, with its commander missing, the Red Devils were in serious trouble. It might have been possible for the division to salvage a bridgehead using the Heveadorp ferry, first reported on the day of the landing.  Instead Hicks sent the 1st Airborne after its original, and now unreachable, objective.[90]


[66]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 34

[67]Badsey, 36-38, Ryan 180, 190,

[68]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 78.

[69]Badsey, 41; Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 78.

[70]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 80.

[71]Badsey, 41; Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 78.

[72]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 104-5.

[73]Ryan, 251.

[74]Ryan, 252-3; Badsey, 41;
Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 110.

[75]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 97-8; Badsey, 41; Ryan

[76]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 87-90; Badsey, 43.

[77]Ryan, 260.

[78]Badsey, 44.

[79]Badsey, 43; Ryan, 233-4;
Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet,

[80]Badsey, 45.

[81]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 110; Badsey, 46.

[82]Badsey, 52.

[83]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 110-2.

[84]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 112-6.

[85]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet Airborne Carpet, 116-7;
Badsey, 52-3.

[86]Badsey, 49.

[87]Badsey, 49; Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 119, 121.

[88]Badsey, 49; Ryan, 350-3.

[89]Badsey, 53-54.

[90]Ryan, 339-41, 388-9;
Badsey,  44, 54.

German Defenses

German commanders opposing Montgomery had discussed the possibility of an airborne operation, but dismissed it as being to bold for Monty. Field Marshall Walther Model, commanding Army Group B, located his headquarters in Oosterbeek, between the British drop zone and Arnhem.  Model and his subordinates were trying to cobble together a defense and expected the Allies would concentrate on clearing Antwerp.[63]  In response to rapid Allied advances Colonel-General Kurt Student’s 1stParachute Army was formed on September 4, and assumed responsibility for the chaotic section of the western front directly in the path of Market-Garden.  Field Marshall Model said to Student: “I will tell you this, unless by a miracle we have a few days for preparations, there will be nothing to stop the English from motoring past our headquarters into Holland.”[64]  Few intact units had survived the rout in France, but commanders rallied whatever troops they could into battlegroups. Student managed to bring some order out of chaos and Army Group B received a slow but steady stream of men and equipment from Germany.

SS Lieutenant General Wilhelm Bittrich’s II SS Panzer Corps, actually at brigade strength, arriving from France, was sent to rest and refit in the Arnhem area.  It was assigned to Armed Forces Command Netherlands, rather than Army Group B, and told to prepare its two “divisions” for movement to Germany.  Vehicles were loaded on railcars, but departure was delayed by requests to have the units stay in Holland, allied bombing, and Dutch underground attacks on railways.[65]



[63]Greiss, 358; Badsey, 30.

[64]Farrar-Hockley, Student, 137.

[65]Badsey, 30; Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 61, 70.

Market-Garden 1944 – Allied Preparations

Following the August breakout from Normandy four allied armies rushed across France, and by September, over 200 days ahead of schedule,[40] they had outrun their supply. Though the great port of Antwerp had been captured intact, German 15thArmy controlled the Schelde estuary leading to it and German stay-behind forces still held the important channel ports.  Montgomery, Patton, and other field commanders pushed General Eisenhower to assign them a priority which would allow continuation of an advance in their sector. The margin of supply was so tight that a priority in any one sector would force a halt everywhere else.  The Supreme Commander continued to insist on a “broad front”, over a narrow thrust strategy.

Eisenhower offered the newly created Allied 1stAirborne Army to both Bradley and Montgomery as a means to speed the faltering advance.  Bradley turned down the proposal, but the newly promoted Field Marshall eagerly embraced the opportunity.[41]  On September 10 Montgomery proposed a bold plan using 1stAllied Airborne Army to get across the Rhine.  The plan so impressed Eisenhower that he insisted it be carried out as soon as possible.  He told Montgomery “I’ll give you whatever you ask to get you over the Rhine . . . .”[42]  By approving the plan Eisenhower necessarily delayed operations to clear the approaches to Antwerp, and opening of that port to Allied supply ships. Should it fail the Allies could expect to encounter continued supply shortages, and a war that dragged through the coming winter.

Several factors combined make Monty’s plan so appealing.  First, many believed that one more good push would crush the German Army in the west, and end the war in 1944.  Conversely, anything more than a short halt by Eisenhower’s armies might allow the Germans to reorganize their defenses.  As it was, supply problems had almost brought the combined allied armies to a halt.[43]  German defenses had begun to stiffen in front of Patton’s 3rdArmy, but there was as yet little organized resistance confronting Montgomery’s 21stArmy Group.[44]  Secondly, Generals George Marshall, Chief of Staff of the US Army, and “Hap” Arnold, commander of US Army Air Forces, wanted Eisenhower to employ his airborne forces in a major operation before the war ended.[45]  Those forces, recently organized as 1st Allied Airborne Army, had been created at a high cost, and much was expected of them.  Time was fast running out, and though several major drops had been planned, ground forces reached each of the objectives before the airborne operations could be executed.  Finally, German V-2 rockets started hitting London on September 8 and intelligence believed the launch sites were in western Holland.[46] The V-1 sites had just been overrun, and it was not known how many V-2s might be fired at London over the next few months.

Lieutenant General Lewis Brereton, commander 1stAllied Airborne Army, learned of the proposal on the afternoon of September 10, and immediately put his staff to work on it.[47]  21stArmy Group issued orders to carry out Market-Garden to British 2ndArmy on September 12.  The major limit to Market, the airborne portion, was available air transport.  At hand were 1,250 C-47 Dakotas, 354 bombers converted for transport, and about 2,500 gliders, enough to deliver only two of the planned three divisions in one drop. Supply problems were the cause of concern for the ground plan (Garden). Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey’s British 2ndArmy would be delayed unless Montgomery received absolute priority of supply.  In response, Eisenhower granted Montgomery the supplies he had long sought.[48]  Allied staffs had only seven days to plan the largest airborne operation ever attempted.  They had lately developed so many plans that one could be produced on such short notice. Operation Comet, scheduled and then cancelled in August, was similar to Market, and much of that work was incorporated.[49]

Market would employ three Allied airborne divisions or about 35,000 soldiers, commanded by Lieutenant General “Boy” Browning, and his British I Airborne Corps.  Browning, Brereton’s deputy, had a great deal of experience, and was considered Britain’s leading authority on airborne operations.  His corps headquarters however, had recently converted from a purely administrative role, and had little chance to work on staff procedures. There were no Dutch or air liaison officers at I Airborne Corps and the signal section had only been created on September 2.[50]

Market would employ three Allied airborne divisions or about 35,000 soldiers, commanded by Lieutenant General “Boy” Browning, and his British I Airborne Corps.  Browning, Brereton’s deputy, had a great deal of experience, and was considered Britain’s leading authority on airborne operations.  His corps headquarters however, had recently converted from a purely administrative role, and had little chance to work on command and control procedures. There were no Dutch or air liaison officers at I Airborne Corps, and the signal section had been created on September 2.[51]

At a September 9 briefing Montgomery told Browning that XXX Corps would link up with 1stAirborne Division at the Arnhem bridge in two days time, however: “The (airborne) carpet is very long so it will necessarily be narrow.  The essence of the business is to capture those bridges intact.  And this will mean dropping as many men on to the bridges as possible from the word ‘go’.”  Downing replied “We can hold it for four, but I think we are going a bridge too far.”[52]  Meteorologists predicted good weather would begin on the 17th, and that day was named D-Day.[53]  Only the most optimistic assumptions about the weather, German capabilities, and their will to fight made Market-Garden feasible.

Previous Allied airborne drops had occurred at night, but there was no moon during the planned landing period.  Therefore, landings would have to take place in daylight.  Brereton, whose preceding assignment was Commander, US 9thAir Force, had never commanded ground forces.  Fearing aircraft losses of up to 40 percent in a daylight drop, he sided with his air transport commanders on two critical decisions.  Due to the lack of night training, and need for crew rest and maintenance, no more than one lift mission per day would be attempted. This meant that at least three days would be needed to complete delivery of the airborne divisions and 1stPolish Airborne Brigade (attached to 1stAirborne Division).[54]  This presumed three days of good flying weather would coincide with the operation, something experienced aviators could have hoped for, but not planned on.  Additionally, heavy German flak defenses in the Arnhem area so concerned the aviators that Brereton agreed to locate British 1stAirborne Division’s drop zones 6-8 miles from the target. As if to make up for this, the Polish Brigade was to be dropped on the marshy ground one mile south of Arnhem Bridge on D+3.  Somehow a drop zone that was unworkable on day one was then acceptable.[55]

Major General Maxwell Taylor’s 101stAirborne Division drew the southern end of the carpet.  He planned to drop all three of his airborne regiments to seize eleven bridges over five water obstacles in the 15-mile corridor between Eindhoven and Veghel. Depending upon air support and a quick link with XXX Corps, 101st would leave its artillery in England,.  A 13-mile gap would separate Taylor’s men from the next section of carpet to the north, with an equal separation from XXX Corps to the south.[56]

Brigadier General James Gavin and his 82ndAirborne Division were tasked to capture first the Groesbeek heights east of Nijmegen, and then the bridge at Grave and two more at Nijmegen.  This section of carpet was 10 miles long. While the Waal River bridge was a primary objective it was located in the middle of Nijmegen, a city of 90,000.  With the approval of Browning, Gavin assigned it the lowest priority.  82ndAirborne needed artillery, and managed to get transport for some of it, as well as all three parachute regiments.[57]  Browning, accompanied by his chef, wine cellar, and I Corps Headquarters would arrive in the 82ndDivision area by glider.[58]

Major General “Roy” Urquhart had drawn the perilous northern end of the carpet.  This would be his first chance to command the division in combat, and though he had lengthy combat experience, none of it was with the airborne.  His 1st Airborne “Red Devils” were assigned to take the Lower Rhine highway bridge at Arnhem, as well as nearby pontoon and rail bridges.  Unlike the two American divisions, his units would land 6-8 miles from their primary target, which itself was located in a dense urban area.  Urquhart’s inexperience may have led him to accept the landing zones assigned by higher, and supposedly better informed commanders.  He remarked that “Many of my own commanders were quite willing to land on the southern side, even though it was marshy.  Indeed they were ready to risk injury by parachuting on the north side – on the town itself.”[59] 1stAirborne was afforded the fewest transports, and also had to secure its distant landing zone. 1stParachute Brigade, supported by a motorized recon squadron, was to seizing the bridge at Arnhem. Meanwhile, half of glider borne 1stAirlanding Brigade would secure the drop zones so that supplies and the rest of 1stAirborne could be lifted in the next day. Urquhart did bring half his artillery and anti-tank guns, but only about one third of his division was in the initial lift.  The British Airborne Division was smaller than its American counterpart, with only three brigades, instead of four regiments.  Consequently, Major General Sosabowski’s 1stPolish Airborne Brigade was attached, and would be dropped on day three near the southern end of the bridge.[60]

Garden was primarily the responsibility of British XXX Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks.  2nd Army would provide supporting attacks with XII Corps on the left and VIII Corps on the right.  Guards Armoured Division, with about 13,000 men and 200 tanks would lead the attack out of a bridgehead on the Meuse-Escaut Canal, just south of the Dutch-Belgian border.[61]  Horrocks’ corps of approximately 100,000 men and 20,000 vehicles would have to advance 64 miles along a single road, on a front two tanks wide.  Cross-country movement was severely restricted by terrain, much of which was reclaimed bog.  The flat terrain and narrow front would lend strength to any organized defense.  All traffic would be one-way, north.  Horrocks’ tactical headquarters, 43rdand 50th Infantry Divisions followed Guards Armoured closely, but engineers were further back in the long column.[62]


[40]Thomas E. Greiss, ed., The Second World War: Europe and the Mediterranean
(Wayne, N.J.: Avery Publishing Group, 1984)

[41]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet: Operation Market Garden
(New York: Ballantine Books, 1969), 28.

[42]Cornelius Ryan, A Bridge Too Far (New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1974), 89.

[43]Anthony H. Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 26; Badsey, Arnhem 1944: Operation ‘Market Garden’
(London: Osprey Punishing Ltd., 1993), 9.

[44]Ryan, 113. Anthony H.
Farrar-Hockley, Student, (New York:
Ballantine Books, 1973),

[45]FarrarHockley, Airborne Carpet,

[46]Ryan, 84; Badsey 11-2.


Ryan, 112.

[48]Ryan, 113.

[49]Ryan, 122.

[50]Stephen Badsey, 17.

[51]Stephen Badsey, 17.

[52]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 36.

[53]Badsey, 29.

[54]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 39-40; Badsey, 27.

[55]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 41.

[56]Ryan, 134; Badsey, 29.

[57]Ryan, 135-6; Badsey, 29.

[58]Badsey, 30, 38.

[59]Ryan, 139.

[60]Ryan, 138-41; Badsey, 29.

[61]Badsey, 16.

[62]Farrar-Hockley, Airborne Carpet, 47.

The German Airborne Assault 1940

German commandos moved into Holland as early as midnight and the first reports of Germans crossing the frontier reached Dutch supreme headquarters at 0300 on May 10.  Germany began the main attack at 0355, when bombers struck at The Hague, airfields, barracks, and bridge garrisons in and south of Rotterdam.  Dutch supreme headquarters issued a general alarm at 0415, too late to alert defenders at many key points.[16]  The fact that the Dutch and Belgians had already endured eight months of Sitzkrieg, punctuated by numerous false alarms, greatly enhanced the chance of surprise.

At about 0400 475 Ju-52 transport aircraft arrived over their targets, covered by fighters which strafed drop zones, landing areas, and nearby towns. Although Germany employed two divisions in the air assault, only 4,500 of the 16,500 men were trained parachutists (Fallschirmjaeger). The bulk of the force landed by transport aircraft.  As part of the bid to decapitate the Dutch government, six companies of Fallschirmjaeger from Lt. Gen. Student’s Fliegerdivision 7 attempted to capture three airfields near The Hague. Paratroopers got scattered at two of the airfields, due to inaccurate drops.  Construction had not been completed at the third air base, where transports attempted to land anyway.  Many of the Ju-52s sank into the soft soil. Unable to take off, a large number were soon destroyed.  These mishaps caused the operation to capture the Dutch government to fall apart.  Airdrops near the bridges at Rotterdam, Moerdijk and Dordrecht proved more successful.  In a different style of air assault, seaplanes landed near some of the bridges and disgorged assault troops.  A few companies of Germans surprised and defeated two regiments of Dutch infantry, capturing the bridges intact.[17]

A combined parachute and glider assault captured the Waalhaven airfield south of Rotterdam, and it was here that most of the transports carrying the 22d LuftlandeDivision landed. General Student’s vertical assault achieved its most important objective; the bridges into Fortress Holland were taken. Although landings near The Hague did not go as planned, those troops took up defensive positions and tied down a large part of the Dutch First Corps, the main reserve of the Dutch Army.[18]

Commando-style attacks along the frontier met with few successes. Alerted the night before, Dutch frontier guards destroyed nearly all of the bridges. German commandos and Dutch Nazis did capture a railway bridge at Gennep by posing as Dutch soldiers. North of the Waal, bridges along the Ijssel river were destroyed. This did not significantly delay German forces, which arrived at the Grebbe Line as early as the afternoon of the tenth. In the far north the German 1st Cavalry Division met little resistance, nearly reaching the shore of the Ijsselmeer (Zuider Zee) by the end of the first day.

At about 0700 General Maurice Gamelin, the French Army Commander in Chief, ordered the initiation of the Allied defense plan. Leading elements of the French 25th Motorized Division crossed the Belgian border at about noon on May 10, and made the 150 kilometers to Antwerp by midnight. Other units from French Seventh Army advanced to the Dutch port of Breskens and crossed the Schelde estuary to Walcheren Island.[19]

At the end of the first day Dutch fortunes looked reasonable good. Although German airborne operations met with some success, Dutch forces fell back on their prepared defenses in good order. The Dutch First Corps had gained the upper hand in fighting around the capital, the French Army was on its way, and counterattacks were planned against Student’s positions at Waalhaven and the bridges leading into Fortress Holland.

That night German infantry forced the Dutch to withdraw from the Peel Line, and Colonel Schmidt, commander of the Dutch “Peel Division” started to lose contact with his subordinate units.[20] General Student sent his last available battalion at Waalhaven to reinforce the tenuous position in Dordrecht. This left the airfield temporarily undefended, but no Dutch attack materialized that night.  The next morning more German troops were airlifted in, and by dark on the eleventh, Student had 4,500 troops and several light artillery batteries in his airhead south of Rotterdam.[21]

Major General Dr. Ritter von Hubicki’s 9th Panzer Division crossed the railway bridge at Gennep on the morning of May 11, followed by the motorized SS Verfuegungsdivision. Although most of the 9th Panzer’s 229 tanks were older vehicles, armed with machineguns instead of cannons, the Dutch could do little to stop them.[22] After crossing the Peel Line, General Hubicki divided his force. The SS division and one armored group turned south toward Tilburg. A second armored group, and the newly arrived SS motorized regiment Leibstandarte Adolf Hitlercontinued westward toward the paratroopers in Moerdijk. German cavalry reached the eastern shore of the Ijseelmeer by the end of the day on the eleventh. The Germans however, made no progress against the four Dutch infantry divisions holding the Grebbe Line.

French motorized units reached Tilburg ahead of the Germans, but outnumbered in tanks, were forced to fall back on Breda under heavy air attack.  Two battalions of the French 25th Motorized Infantry Division also moved to Breda, one suffering heavy casualties from air attack while on the road.

Although General Winkelman managed to reinforce Rotterdam with four battalions, all French and Dutch attempts to attack the German position in Moerdijk and Dordrecht failed. Dutch artillery (including guns from the destroyer van Galen) and British air raids forced the Germans to suspend air operations at Waalhaven.[23]The Germans quickly switched to alternate landing areas, and General Student continued to receive supplies and reinforcements. “Within thirty-six hours of the opening of battle, Gamelin’s Breda Variant, upon which was wagered his irreplaceable mobile reserves, had already been rendered null and void.”[24] This turn of events profoundly impacted both the battle in Holland, and the campaign as a whole. Allied leaders were just becoming aware of the German attack in the Ardennes, but had not yet realized the extent of the problem they faced. The Dutch Government, now beyond effective allied help, faced crumbling civilian and military morale.[25]

During May 12 the Dutch continued to hold in the center and north.  Along the Grebbe Line German infantry made some headway, but not enough to force the Dutch out of their fortifications. At the northeastern end of the Afsluitdijk, Dutch soldiers fought a numerically superior opponent to a standstill, despite strong German air and artillery support.[26] The main German attack continued to unfold in the south of Holland, and it was here that the fate of the country rested.

Tanks of the 9thPanzer Division arrived in Moerdijk on the morning of May 12. After crossing the Maas estuary at Moerdijk, the column turned north, linking up with Student’s Fallschrimjaegerssouth of Rotterdam in the early afternoon. German infantry continued mopping-up operations behind the armored spearhead, but there was no coherent resistance by the Dutch south of the Maas.[27]

On May 13 the military situation continued to deteriorate. Queen Wilhelmina and the cabinet boarded destroyers and sailed for England. Before leaving the Cabinet turned over full military and civil authority in Holland to General Winkelman. “A last-minute instruction, phoned from the quay, ordered him ‘to continue the struggle to the utmost,’ but, significantly, ‘with avoidance of unnecessary sacrifices.’”[28]

Along the Grebbe Line Dutch units had been under constant pressure, and some were running low on ammunition. Fresh German units attacked and broke through the line at Rhenen. With its reserves tied down around the capital, the Dutch Army could not mount a counterattack, and began preparations to fall back to the “East Front” defense line. Controlled flooding constituted a major part of this final defense line.  Unseasonably low water levels in the rivers caused the inundation to be far less effective than planned.[29]

At Rotterdam Dutch forces sealed off the German bridgehead. With no room to deploy their tanks the Germans were temporarily stalemated. General Kuechler brought Lieutenant General Rudolf Schmidt’s 39thCorps headquarters out of reserve to command the attack on Rotterdam. Schmidt had an infantry division, part the 9th Panzer, the airborne troops and the SS Leibstandarte Regiment at his disposal. Elsewhere in the south, Germans expanded their narrow penetration. The Dutch still held part of Dordrecht, but with the assistance of a Dutch officer (Lieutenant Colonel Mussert, brother of the Dutch Nazi party leader), German tanks broke into the town center.[30]

French units were forced out of Breda on May 13. With Germans crossing the Meuse at Sedan that same day, the French Army could no longer afford to attempt a rescue. Dutch units withdrew from the Grebbe Line to Fortress Holland during the night of May 13-14, with German forces pursuing the next morning.[31] During this advance 207thInfantry Division entered the Dutch town of Doorn, where the ex-Kaiser resided. An honor guard was posted, and German soldiers saluted Wilhelm II for the first time since 1918. Hitler ordered the guard withdrawn and declared the town off-limits to German forces.[32]

In Rotterdam events were moving toward a conclusion.  At 0800 on May 14 the Germans presented an ultimatum demanding the city surrender by 1230 that day, but the German note was refused over a technicality. Before the corrected note reached the Dutch commander about sixty German bombers arrived.  German soldiers tried to warn off the planes, but only a few turned away. Bombs hit the center of the old city and an uncontrollable fire soon developed. [33]

At 1500 Colonel Scharoo, Commandant of the Rotterdam garrison, in the presence of Generals Schmidt and Student, signed a cease fire order.  Winkelman accepted the German surrender terms at about 1800, and the formal surrender was signed in Rotterdam at 0820 on May 15, 1940.[34]

Dutch troops in Zeeland had been transferred to allied command prior to the surrender, and continued the struggle until May17. Ground, naval and air forces which escaped The Netherlands continued to serve the Queen, as did all the forces stationed in Dutch overseas possessions.  About 2,500 members of the Dutch military died in the five-day war, along with a similar number of civilians. Dutch prisoners of war were soon released, but the country endured five years of increasingly restrictive occupation.

Although 22ndLuftlandesuffered heavily and landings near The Hague did not go as planned, those troops did tie down a large part of the Dutch First Corps, the main reserve of the Dutch Army.[35]  The remaining forces under Student fought off successive Dutch counterattacks and held open an “airborne carpet” for five days, facilitating a rapid German advance over several water obstacles, and ensuring the collapse of Dutch resistance.  7thFliegerhad only 180 killed and wounded, with Student among the wounded.[36] It is believed that an SS sniper fired the bullet which penetrated Student’s skull, leaving him with permanent speech impairment.[37]

Hitler congratulated his victorious forces by saying: “In five days you have attacked, broken the air defenses and in the end forced the surrender of a strong well prepared army defending itself bravely behind seemingly unbeatable obstacles….”[38]

The Dutch Army prepared a set-piece defense, but Germany failed to provide the accompanying set-piece attack. A post-war Dutch inquiry commission concluded “any really effective defense strategy would have required large-scale preparatory talks with the Belgians and French.”[39]Under the prevailing circumstances, better Dutch decision making would have resulted in a slightly longer battle, and ultimately, in the same outcome to an unequal struggle.


[16] Ibid.,

[17] Mason,

[18] Farrar-Hockley,
Student, 69-73.

[19] Chapman,

[20] Steenbeek, 74.

[21] Farrar-Hockley, Student, 73-74.

[22] Bryan
Perrett, Knights of the Black Cross:
Hitler’s Panzerwaffe and Its Leaders
(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986),

[23] Eelco
Nicholaas van Kleffens, Juggernaut Over
Holland; The Dutch Foreign Minister’s Personal Story of the Invasion of The
Netherlands (New York: Columbia University Press, 1941),

[24] Alistair
Horne, To Lose a Battle: France 1940,
(Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969), 242.

[25] Steenbeek,
73; van Kleffens, 125-6.

[26] Mason,

[27] Taylor,

[28] Mason,

[29] Steenbeek,

[30] Ibid.,

[31] Taylor,
196, 198-9.

[32] Ibid.,

[33] Steenbeek, 123-9.

[34] Mason,
576-7; Taylor, 200-2.

[35] Farrar-Hockley,  Student,

[36] Ibid., 75; B. H. Liddell-Hart,
The German Generals Talk(New York:
William Morrow and Company, 1948), 118.

[37] Lucas, 181; Charles Whitting, Hunters from the Sky: The German Parachute
Corps 1940-1945  (New York: Stein
and Day, 1974),54; Steenbeek 137.

[38] Steenbeek,

[39] Mason,  559.

1940: Plans and Preperations

As the summer of 1939 turned to fall, Europe drifted closer to war.  In response to Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia in March, the Dutch government granted “state-of-war” powers to General I. H. Reynders, Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy.[1]  On August 23, 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union entered into a non-aggression pact. Belgium began mobilizing on August 26; Poland began calling up her reservists two days after that.[2] The Dutch ordered a full military mobilization on August 29, quickly calling up about 250,000 troops.[3]  General Reynders, unable to agree on basic strategy with the defense minister, resigned in February 1940.[4]

The quick German victory over Poland came as more of a surprise than the actual attack. On October 9, shortly after the last Polish center of resistance surrendered, Hitler issued his first directive for an attack in the west. German armies would attack through Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland “at the earliest possible moment”.[5]  Good reasons existed for an attack through the Low Countries. First, the Germans feared an allied move into the Low Countries giving the enemy a chance to attack into Germany’s vital Ruhr industrial region. On the other hand, German possession of the same area provided a way around the French Maginot line. Finally, Hitler wanted air and naval bases close to England.[6]

Early in the planning stages for his western campaign Hitler directed that airborne forces be used to speed the advance through Belgium and Holland.  The original German plan called for the main thrust (Schwerpunkt) to cross through
southern most Holland near Maastricht and into Belgium south of Liège.  When partial copies of the invasion plan fell into Allied hands the operation was revised, greatly reducing the part played by airborne units.  The fact that the officer who lost the plans was the commander of the parachute school may have contributed to the reduction of the airborne mission. Lieutenant General Kurt Student, chief of airborne forces, immediately began lobbying for a bigger role for his Fallschirmjaeger (paratroopers).  He proposed to use 7thFlieger(Airborne) and 22ndLuftlande(Airlanding) Divisions in Holland.  Proceeding up the chain of command from Army Group B commander through Army Chief of Staff with no luck, he turned to Hans Jeschonnek, Luftwaffe Chief of Staff, who had direct access to Hitler.  Jeschonnek told Student “There was considerable argument over your proposal – it was called an act of Columbus – but it is agreed that we should try.”[7]  Student was also tasked to take out Fort Eban-Emael in Belgium and secure bridges leading to it. Student is credited with carefully and methodically planning the airborne operations in Holland and Belgium, personally specifying landing zones and objectives down to company
level. [8] He preferred what he called the “short method” of dropping right on the
objective. Thanks to Student’s careful planing and extensive rehearsals, most of the operations succeeded, if not always precisely according to plan.

The German Eighteenth Army had the task of conquering Holland, and it was directed to do so quickly with strong support form the Luftwaffein the form of paratroopers and aircraft. General Georg Kuechler’s Eighteenth Army included the 9thPanzer Division, one SS motorized division, six infantry divisions and the German Army’s only cavalry division, along with corps and army level troops.[10] Although the Dutch had more troops (ten divisions and several independent brigades and regiments), the German force possessed total control of the air, superior firepower and maneuverability, and the initiative. The campaign plan called for the Luftwaffeto drop 4,500 paratroopers and land 12,000 troops in transport planes. This airborne operation was to seize key bridges, and capture the Royal Family, government and Dutch high command at The Hague. Commandos, wearing Dutch uniforms, would capture bridges along the frontier. Strong armored and motorized forces would advance across the frontier, proceed south of the Maas and Waal rivers, and link up with the airborne troops deep in Holland.[11]

The Dutch defense plan was fairly straightforward. Holding the 200-mile long Dutch-German frontier was an impossibility. The Dutch Army would delay along the frontier and again along the Ijssel river in the center. Approximately two thirds of the 250,000 available troops were deployed along the Grebbe and Peel lines.  The “Peel Line”, situated behind the Peel marshes, was the main line of resistance south of the Waal.  The “Grebbe Line” (Grebbestelling), placed behind inundated areas and more heavily fortified and carefully planned than the “Peel Line”, served as the main line in the center. In the north the Dutch planned to hold any attackers at the eastern end of the “Great Dike” (Afsluitdijk). Behind the Grebbe and Peel Lines lay Fortress Holland, first used by Maurice of Nassau as a center of resistance in the sixteenth century. This last redoubt contained the major population centers of Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam, along with the capital. Fortress Holland was anchored in the south along the Maas (Meuse) estuary and in the east by extensive flooding and modern fortifications (the East Front or Holland Water Line).[12]

When the Germans invaded Norway in April they used small numbers of paratroopers and landed transports with reinforcements.  The new Dutch CinC, General Henri Winkleman, moved troops to guard airfields and had vehicles parked along straight stretches of road to prevent any attacker from using them to land troops.  In actuality, Dutch intelligence obtained information on both the airdrop, and the armored attack.  Unfortunately, the disbelieving General Reynders locked them in his safe, and failed to brief his replacement, General Winkelman. Major G. J. Sas, the Dutch Military Attaché in Berlin, sent another report outlining the German plan two weeks before the attack, but this information somehow got lost.[13]

The Dutch asked Belgium to support their southern (Peel) defense line, but received no firm answer. Disheartened by the lack of Belgian cooperation, the Dutch pulled most of their southern forces back to the north, behind the Waal river.[14] This increased the distance between the Belgians and Dutch, and unknowingly opened the way to Rotterdam for German mechanized forces.

After the initial invasion scare of November12, intelligence on the ever-changing German invasion dates, and associated postponements, continued to cause tension and occasional alerts. On May 4 the Dutch received information that Germany planned to invade within a few days. This was confirmed the next day, and Major Sas soon reported the invasion date, May 8. Leave was again canceled, and all forces were on full alert. When the attack failed to materialize, the defenders relaxed. They had witnessed the last of twenty-nine postponements. Late on May 9 Major Sas received word that the final German attack orders had gone out that afternoon. He made a last call to The Hague with the message “Tomorrow morning at dawn!”[15]

Before leaving his office on May 9, General Winkelman issued an alarm to Dutch forces along the frontier with Germany, including permission to destroy some bridges along the frontier. Regrettably the CinC left alert levels in other areas up to local commanders. In particular, the Dutch Air Force was not placed on alert, nor was it notified of the first German incursions.


[1]Frederick S. Pearson, The Weak State in International Crises: The Case of The Netherlands in the German Invasion Crises of 1939-40(Washington: University Press of America, 1981), 48.

[2]  Guy Chapman, Why France Fell: The Defeat of the French Army in 1940(New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969) p. 73; Robert Goralski, World War II Almanac 1931-1945: A Political and Military Record(New York: Perigee, 1984), 89.

[3]Wilhelmina Steenbeek, Rotterdam: Invasion of Holland (New York: Ballantine Books, 1973), 11; Pearson, 64.

[4]Henry L. Mason, “War Comes to the Netherlands: September 1939-May 1940.” Political Science Quarterly 78 (1963): 558.

[5]Walter Hubatsch, ed., Blitzkrieg to Defeat: Hilter’s War Directives 1939-1945, ed. H. R. Trevor-Roper (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965), 13.

[6]Telford Taylor, The March of Conquest: The German Victories in Western Europe, 1940 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1958), 158.

[7]Anthony H. Farrar-Hockley, Student, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1973), 67.

[8]James Lucas, Hitler’s Enforcers: Leaders of the German War Machine, 1939-1945(London: Arms and Armour Press, 1997), 180.

[9]Steenbeek, 96.

[10]Taylor, 181-2.

Student, 69; Mason, 553.

F. C. Fuller, The Second World War,
1939-1945: A Strategic and Tactical History
(New York: Duell, Sloan and
Pearce, 1949), 64; Mason, 559; Taylor, March
of Conquest
, 189.

89; Mason, 563.

78, 80; Mason, 561.