The Bolt from the Blue
THURSDAY the 9th of May passed by without any outward disquieting signs, either at The Hague or in Berlin, until evening fell.
It was a clear spring evening. My wife and I went out for a short walk after dinner, to get some fresh air. It had been a full day, and since my attache case was not a very heavy one that evening, I hoped to get a good night's rest.
At about nine-thirty--we had just come in--I received a telephone message from the War Office: serious news. There had been a warning, given by our Intelligence Service, of a German attack on the Low Countries; it contained just five words: "Tomorrow at dawn; hold tight."
It was a dreadful moment. Many people may say, "But, after all, you were prepared for that possibility for about nine months, weren't you? And hadn't you had more than one false alarm before?" Of course, all that is perfectly true; but never had the warning come in quite so dramatic and definite a form, nor had we ever had such short notice of impending disaster.
The blow fell on my tiredness with a strangely stimulating effect. It would be an all-night vigil. What scenes would the morrow reveal?
From a military point of view, there was little more that could be done. Every man was at his post, all precautions had been taken. Holland was ready to defend her neutrality to the utmost, her conscience clear.
I conferred by telephone with my colleagues. We arranged that the Defense Minister was to come at once to my house, where we proposed to make our headquarters for the night. Later, events were to prove that we thereby upset plans that had been worked out in every detail and were subsequently found on a captured German general, for German fifth columnists to kidnap Colonel Dijxhoorn, the Minister of Defense, at his home that very night. They had left nothing to chance. Some of the kidnapers were to concentrate on the front entrance to distract the attention of the police on guard in front of the house, while the actual kidnaping was to be done from the garden behind.
In the meantime, the Secretary General of my own department had arrived, together with the Director of the Queen's Cabinet and several other high officials. We sat smoking in my study, feeling strangely calm. The town, too, looked quiet and normal; but we knew that not all its citizens slept, for a precaution never taken before was being carried out that night: thousands of Germans, among whom there might be fifth columnists, were being rounded up. It was a drastic measure which, if this proved to be another false alarm, might cause us considerable embarrassment. But the risk of all these potentially dangerous
people being at large could not be taken. Reports came in, meanwhile, from towns all over the country, to the effect that there was not a sign of unrest; absolute quiet reigned everywhere. My wife had the shutters closed, so that late passers-by should not be alarmed by bright lights in the Foreign Minister's official residence at so late an hour.
While The Hague slept, numerous machine-gun posts were being placed on the main roads entering the city, as well as on many bridges and in the neighborhood of important buildings. Similar measures were taken in other cities and villages all over the country. All was done quickly and quietly. General Winkelman, the Commander in Chief, had gone off to inspect his troops. As an additional precaution, a number of minor bridges in Limburg, our southeastern province, were blown up. It was a strange thought to realize that elsewhere, among the civilian population, hardly a soul knew of, and was sharing, our anxieties.
Reports, by telephone and by messenger, kept coming in. The strange thing about them was that when pieced together, they formed anything but a clear picture of what we were to expect. Many, in fact, seemed to indicate that German troops were being drawn away from our frontiers. It was said that they had started holding large-scale manoeuvres from Cleves to Cologne that very afternoon. None of the German barbed-wire entanglements along the Dutch border had been cleared away. No ultimatum or "offer of protection" came, and it was
getting late, for a two-hour notice seemed the least they would of their goodness give us. Dawn, so often the herald of Germany's attacks, was less than two hours away. As the long night wore on, some hope came to us once more. To be sure, the situation in Germany behind the frontier was not considered to be quiet, but might not the reported German troop movements be, after all, the prelude to a thrust in the direction of the Balkans? And what was the sense of tiring their men out, as they had done, with marches since the afternoon, if the object was next morning to invade the Netherlands, where they knew they would find considerable resistance? The small hours of the morning found us weary and puzzled, but not without a remnant of hope.
Towards half past two we decided, since there was nothing more that we could usefully do, to try to get some sleep. My Defense colleague was to spend the rest of the night in his office, the others left for their homes, and my wife and I retired to get what sleep we could.
I must have slept fitfully for less than an hour when my wife, too nervous to rest, woke me up. A far-away droning sound was in the air. Was this another accidental violation of our territory? Many a time since then have I marveled at the eagerness with which the human mind is forever inclined to grasp at any last ray of hope.
A minute or so later, before the clock had struck four, the telephone by my bedside rang: there was a report that our airdromes at Waalhaven, Bergen, Schiphol, and de
Kooy had been bombed. While I was trying to get confirmation of this, my wife drew open the curtains and daylight fell, almost surprisingly at this hour of four o'clock, upon us. I had a feeling of numb coldness. Then, suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, hell burst loose around us as the antiaircraft guns came into action against ever-increasing swarms of German planes, bombing barracks on the outskirts of the town. We could see them, as, silhouetted against the blue of our morning sky, they hurled death and destruction upon us--who had never done them or anybody any harm; and who, as their leaders knew only too well, had been neutral in the truest and fullest sense of the word.
Again the telephone rang. Our Minister in Brussels reported that the Belgian capital, too, was being bombed, especially the northern part near the important railway junction of Schaerbeek. He also informed me that German troops had crossed the Luxemburg frontier.
Since there was now a complete certainty of German aggression on Holland, I rang up the Prime Minister and agreed with him that the code word was to be telephoned at once to London and Paris, on receipt of which our Ministers there were to open their secret instructions. By doing this it would be revealed to them that they were to ask Britain and France for help--especially in the air, in view of the disproportion between our own air force and that of the enemy. At the same time they were to give important indications on other points of immediate
military interest. Automatically our policy of neutrality had ceased. We had joined the Allies.
Hurriedly my wife and I dressed, while enemy airplanes roared overhead. It had since long been arranged that, in case the worst happened, the Foreign Ministry would be removed to a place less exposed than the center of town where it is normally situated. Since these new quarters were at some considerable distance from the official residence where we lived, we had agreed to borrow a friend's house which was more conveniently situated. Only my wife's faithful maid accompanied us; the other servants received instructions, and off we went by car to our temporary home. It was a very exciting drive, so early in the morning, with antiaircraft guns firing incessantly, some with high-pitched sharp explosions in rapid succession, others booming forth with a heavy sound. Some distance ahead of us a German plane came crashing down in flames; we later heard that it ripped the front off the house of one of the South American diplomats. Military posts were everywhere. Some young soldiers on bicycles came rushing round a street corner, the expression on their red faces at once purposeful and tense, and strangely moving.
We were fortunate in reaching our destination without being hit by falling shrapnel. I left my wife, and went to attend the Cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's house. It so happened that this was the first Cabinet meeting to be attended by its new member, the Minister for
Agriculture and Fisheries, who had been appointed only a few days before.
Hardly had the meeting begun, when--it must have been towards six o'clock--my secretary telephoned from the Foreign Ministry to say that the German Minister had asked to be given an opportunity of making an important communication; I therefore left at once for my office. Not far from the Royal Palace the car was stopped by soldiers under the command of a young lieutenant, who said that he was unable to let my car through to the center of town. He pointed out that his orders were strict, and very rightly did not give way even when I told him my identity; so I was obliged to leave the car and telephone, in a government office a hundred yards away, for a staff officer to accompany me through the military posts to my office. Just as I was leaving the building, three German planes came swooping down along the street, firing their machine-guns relentlessly while throwing out orange-bordered leaflets, urging the population, incidentally in extremely ungrammatical Dutch, to lay down their arms or else their whole country would have to face thorough destruction. As I took shelter in a doorway I saw them fly over the Palace, aiming at it. Bits of brick and plaster were coming down on all sides, but there were no casualties. This was the first evidence, to my knowledge, of the hunt the Germans lost no time in starting for the Queen, in the same way they had hunted the King of Norway four weeks before.
At about this moment, while swastika planes were dropping death on Holland, the Deutschlandsender in its early morning broadcast was making the following statement:
"The panicky reports about Holland, Belgium, and the Balkans spread by London and Paris are explained by the Paris correspondent of Messagero as caused by the inner political situation of the Western Powers. Through this creation of rumors, writes the Italian paper, the English and French Governments wish to prevent a cabinet
As the bombers flew off, I proceeded on my way, this time with a military escort, and soon came to my office. Count von Zech had already arrived, accompanied by two staff officers, enabling him to pass through military cordons.
I saw him at once, and when I set eyes on him I felt truly sorry for the man who had represented Germany at The Hague for more than eleven years. Count von Zech-Burkersroda, to give his full name, a man in his fifties, in whom it was not difficult to detect the cavalry officer he had been in his youth, is the embodiment of a South German landed nobleman. He had married the daughter of the former Chancellor von Bethmann-Holweg, and had been appointed nearly twelve years before by the Government of the Weimar Republic so greatly abhorred by the founders and supporters of the Third Reich. Count von Zech had apparently succeeded in coming to terms
with Germany's new masters. What these terms were, we have never known, but we always had the impression that this German diplomat was an honest man, who would not stoop to the use of unfair, or otherwise reprehensible methods. His appearance and behavior on this momentous occasion were in keeping with the opinion we had formed of his character. He seemed deeply moved. As he was, after all, a German, it naturally was very difficult for us to feel whether he felt any justification for the action his Fuehrer was taking. Perhaps he did, perhaps he did not. But I feel sure that Count von Zech was too much of a gentleman not to think of the friendship that had been shown to him by so many people in various walks of life in Holland, who in their turn had received hospitality at the German Legation, and many of whom had become personal friends.
In any case, the German Minister was visibly deeply impressed by the thought that this had to be the termination of his mission to the Netherlands, whose Sovereign, scarcely more than a year before, had bestowed on him the Grand Cross of the Order of Orange-Nassau. The message he now had to deliver was to announce the advance of mighty German armed forces. He was to emphasize that all resistance was completely purposeless. Germany, so the message went on, was ready "to guarantee" the European territories of the Netherlands as well as those in other parts of the world, and also the dynasty, on the condition that no resistance were offered;
otherwise--to follow as closely as possible the original German text--the Netherlands would be in danger of seeing the country and its political existence completely annihilated. In view of this, Count von Zech had been ordered to suggest that a pressing appeal should be addressed to the nation and to the military forces, ostensibly--although this was not stated--to abandon all thoughts of resistance; he also was to require that contact be sought with the German Military Command.
Before I could even ask what grounds Germany could possibly have for the callous attack she had launched against a peaceful neutral nation in its sleep, without even any pretense of an ultimatum, previous warning or attempt at negotiation, the German Minister, in a few brief words, gave me those grounds himself. He had instructions to state that the German Government had irrefutable evidence of an immediately threatening invasion by British and French forces in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg, prepared a long time before with the knowledge of the Netherlands and Belgian Governments. Its aim was, so he said, a thrust at the Ruhr basin.
I looked inquiringly at the German Minister to make sure that he had concluded all he had been told to recite, and then sat thinking for a few moments before making my reply. When he came in I had been intensely curious to hear what he had to say; now I knew. It was a document in the truest Nazi style: the threat was. there, the intimidation, the alluring promise, and the false grounds.
It was what had happened to Belgium in 1914 all over again.
It made me very indignant. If there was anyone who knew what pains had incessantly been taken to keep the country in a state of true neutrality, I was that person. No one had toiled and striven more earnestly than I had for more than eight months to take a lead and help in upholding that policy. There, opposite me, sat the representative of Herr Hitler's Government; outside the building, antiaircraft guns rapped out a sinister accompaniment to our interview. I took a sheet of notepaper and, in order that there should be no misunderstanding, wrote my reply-- with the instrument nearest at hand, a blue pencil.
It was very short; it merely said that the Netherlands Government repudiated with indignation the allegation made by Germany that they had in any way, or with any third power, been privy to arrangements directed against Germany. In view of the unprecedented German attack on the Netherlands, it went on, an attack perpetrated without any previous warning, the Netherlands Government considered that a state of war had now arisen between the Kingdom and Germany. I handed this statement to Count von Zech, and asked him whether he had anything further to say. He merely said a few words of farewell. I shook hands with him: I had always thought him a decent man, and even--apart from being a German civil servant--a friend of my country. I shall never be able to forget his slightly bent figure as he left between
the staff officers, who escorted him back to the German Legation.
I had a rapid interview with my principal collaborators and with them checked whether all necessary things had been done. Our Legations abroad had been informed; arrangements had been made for the members of the German Legation and German Consulates in the country to be temporarily lodged at the best hotel in The Hague, pending their ultimate destination. This was a difficult problem, for their own army blocked the way to Germany, where they should have gone; Belgium was also involved in the struggle, and the North Sea was quite unsafe for them to traverse. The Director of the Queen's Cabinet arrived; I asked him to inform the Queen, who was then at the Huis ten Bosch, where a bomb-proof shelter had been constructed for her, of the German Minister's message and of my reply.
By that time, I had been summoned to a further Cabinet meeting in one of the other Government buildings, perhaps a mile from the Foreign Office. The streets presented an extraordinary sight. It was about 7 o'clock, a beautiful sunny day. The flowering shrubs in the park through which I had to pass were blooming profusely. All the people I saw in the streets were admirable in their steadiness and utter lack of panic. By bicycle or on foot, they calmly went off to their work, looking up now and then at the German planes circling overhead. At all important crossings, groups of soldiers with machine guns
and rifles stopped all cars and passers-by, to find out whether there were any Germans among them and search them if necessary. Now and again a loud explosion rent the air. The enemy was apparently dropping bombs in the neighborhood, although it was difficult to see for what reason, since The Hague was an open town with a garrison of but very slight importance. Perhaps one might have forgiven them if they had only bombed the barracks, the only target of a military nature in the town except the buildings of the Defense Ministry and the General Staff; but their aiming was extremely inaccurate, perhaps owing to the constant fire of our antiaircraft batteries which forced them to stay at a considerable altitude. Instead of a military objective, one bomb destroyed part of a maternity hospital, killing and wounding nurses, young mothers, and babies and at the same time destroying the façade of a row of houses adjoining a prison nearby.
Let us now for a few minutes leave the Cabinet to its discussions and see what in the meantime was happening in Berlin. There, at 5.30 A.M. a subordinate diplomatic official had asked to see Jonkheer van Haersma de With, who, before his appointment to the Legation in Berlin, had been the Queen's Envoy to Washington. The Minister was requested to call on Herr von Ribbentrop at once.
The meeting took place at 6.15 A.M. when the German Minister for Foreign Affairs handed the Netherlands
Minister a voluminous memorandum with annexes which he was asked to read. Jonkheer van Haersma de With began reading these documents, and his indignation increased with his astonishment as he turned the fifty-nine pages of this paper. When he was ready, he indignantly refuted the allegations it contained, an easy task in view of the patently false character of the arguments.
Perhaps the reader will ask: "But what were these documents?" They started with the assertion that the principal purpose of French and British policy was the extension of the war to more and more countries, which were to be used as auxiliaries of the Western Powers. Germany had only just prevented this policy from succeeding in Norway, and had now found herself obliged to take precautionary action in the Netherlands and Belgium (Luxemburg apparently was so small that it had been overlooked in this document). For Belgium and Holland had not been neutral, so these papers alleged. Since the war began, Belgian and Dutch newspapers had been even more hostile to Germany than the French and British papers; prominent people in both countries had shown that sympathies in the Low Countries were with England and France; many other happenings, of a political and economic nature, were said to have accentuated this tendency. It was remarkable that not a single concrete instance of these accusations was mentioned, nor was the question raised as to how far these statements had any bearing on neutrality as defined by international law. One thing is
certain: if this line of argument had any value at all, it is difficult to see why the Germans did not at once declare war on the United States.
Furthermore, the documents said, the Netherlands had supported the British Secret Service in attempts to stir up revolution in Germany, with the active collaboration of the very highest civil servants and army staffs. Then, the precautions taken by the Governments of Belgium and the Netherlands were said to be irrefutable evidence of the fact that both countries had taken military measures against Germany only, in order to assert their neutrality by force of arms. In the case of the Netherlands in particular, this was a flagrant lie: facing England were troops all along the coast in sufficient numbers to prevent any landings, and in addition there was the navy.
In this strain the German memorandum went on, corroborated by long and extremely confused reports by Himmler, the notorious and dreaded chief of the Gestapo, the Nazi Minister for the Interior, Dr. Frick, and the Head of the Army High Command, General Keitel. The sphere in which these documents had been drawn up can perhaps best be characterized by a verbatim quotation from the final paragraph of the report signed by Himmler and Frick, which said that they hoped to obtain more light on the "dark plans of the obscure, homosexual, yea even a-social criminal elements of the so-called Secret Intelligence Service." It was a style reminiscent of the columns of Soviet newspapers.
The document1 had obviously been pasted together from various elements. It was confused and redundant in its statement of facts. This may have been done on purpose, for it was obviously not intended to be simple and plain, but to form a barrage of massed detail which was to achieve a cumulative effect.
It is a curious thing that at The Hague no copy of these documents was available to be handed to those whom they chiefly concerned: the Netherlands Government. The German Minister did not possess such a copy. This was no
1 On June 28, 1940, the Germans published a "White Book" containing documents alleged "to have been picked out at random from the masses of evidence seized by German troops during their advance through Holland and Belgium," to show that the Government of the Netherlands "had made detailed military arrangements with Britain and France." For anyone interested in the technique of German propaganda, it may be worth-while to examine this "White Book." For all others such examination must be loss of time, since the Netherlands had made no previous military arrangements of any kind with France and Britain.
What the Germans chiefly relied upon were the contents of the sealed instructions of a military nature that had been sent in good time to the Dutch Legations in Paris and London to be opened only on receipt of a code word, which was to be sent only in the case of a German attack. By omitting the essential statement that these instructions were not previously known to anyone outside the Dutch High Command, not even to the Ministers of the Netherlands in Paris and London who had them (sealed) in their safe keeping, the false impression was created that arrangements of a military character had been made between the Netherlands and the Allies. When the German White Book was published, the Dutch Commander in Chief, General Winkelman, drew attention to this insidious omission calculated to create the impression that the Netherlands Government had been guilty of a grave breach of neutrality. As a result the General was relieved of his post as Commander in Chief and taken to Germany as a prisoner of war. But his chief purpose had been successful: the German White Book was discredited.
accident, as those less familiar with methods used by the Third Reich might think. Herr von Ribbentrop, when he saw the Netherlands Minister in the early hours of Friday morning, stated expressly that his memorandum with its annexes was not to be presented at The Hague. Surely, to the ordinary mind, this was a most extraordinary procedure. The whole fabrication purported to be an indictment of the Netherlands Government, the Dutch civil and military authorities and the nation as a whole. But they were to be attacked first; they were not even to be told immediately after the attack was launched, what grievances the Germans had against them, and all they were allowed to learn was from Dr. Goebbels' broadcast of these accusations, while the onslaught was in progress. The radio is, after all, an instrument admitting of no discussion, like the Nazi Government itself, which, in international relations, has a particular liking for action without previous negotiation. Herr von Ribbentrop's typescript had obviously been prepared well in advance, ready to be used when occasion should require: the annex signed by Himmler and Frick was dated as far back as March 29th. It seems singular that the Germans did not think twice before using a six-weeks-old document in order to prove--"irrefutably"--the necessity of forestalling a Franco-British attempt at invading Germany which, according to Herr von Ribbentrop in his memorandum bearing the date of May 9th, was only then imminent, and of which nobody had had any previous indication. The
whole aim of this amazing collection of falsehoods and distortions was plain. Acting on Hitler's tenet that small lies are unconvincing, whereas big lies, especially if repeated often enough, always find a hearing, the Nazis had prepared a "dossier" against the Netherlands. This dossier, composed with true German thoroughness, was to be ready in good time so that it might be pulled out of a drawer at a moment when the leaders gave the signal. One of the chief arguments relied on for use against Holland was the Venlo incident. It goes without saying that this incident, which took place, it will be remembered, in November, 1939, would have been used at once if the Germans had at that time been in need of any so-called excuse for attacking Holland: nothing essential had since changed in the relations between the two countries. But no; the tale, as distorted and exaggerated by the Germans, was carefully put into cold storage; warmed up in March by Frick and Himmler; found insufficient by the central leaders when they thought the time to use it was approaching; developed, therefore, by General Keitel's collaborators in the form of a memorandum dated May 5th, and finally summarized, condensed, and provided with headlines by Herr von Ribbentrop in the document he presented to the Dutch envoy.
We have here a typical example of Nazi tactics: summary action without previous discussion. Relying on superior force, the Nazi acts as judge and jury, meting out punishment in controversies in which he is one of the
parties concerned. Truly it is difficult to find a more complete reversal of the normal standards of civilized communities. Woe betide the world in which the Nazi, with this retrograde conception of international intercourse, holds a dominating position. Here is a demonstration ad oculos of what the democracies stand for--and are fighting for.
The loose reasoning, the references to witnesses whoso these documents naively stated--had either died or were languishing in Gestapo prisons, the absence of names and further particulars of informants merely described as "a reliable source" or other similar indications--all this contributed towards giving this singular impeachment a very doubtful character, even to the uninitiated. The initiated know that there is no foundation for any such accusations. Never had the Dutch Government had any knowledge of a French, or a British, or a Franco-British plan to invade Germany; never have staff talks been held between the Netherlands and any Allied country or countries. The Netherlands Government as well as the whole nation had a clear conscience. It was that clear conscience which made them resist the German aggression with all the force they could command, knowing that they were the victims of an outrage.
Herr von Ribbentrop's diatribes became very unconvincing when, in their final passages, in spite of all Belgian and Dutch misdeeds, they fell back on the anticlimax that the German army merely came to safeguard the neutrality of these criminal countries with all the military forces of
the Reich; Herr von Ribbentrop then went on: "The German forces have not come as enemies of the Belgian and Dutch nation, for the Government of the Reich has not wanted or caused this development." One rubs one's eyes when reading such statements, and it seems best to waste no more words on the German indictment, but to dismiss it with La Rochefoucauld's saying that: "Hypocrisy is homage paid by vice to virtue."
After the Netherlands Minister had categorically and vehemently repudiated the allegations contained in Herr von Ribbentrop's documents, the latter made a pressing appeal to abandon all resistance in Holland. He said that the Fuehrer was a good friend, but a dangerous foe; he was ready to guarantee the independence of the Netherlands, including the overseas territories, and the dynasty, on the sole condition that the Dutch were to give up defending themselves. Unless they gave it up at once, "Vernichtung"--annihilation--would be their fate. The Netherlands envoy coolly replied that he had nothing to add to his previous declarations, to the effect that his country would resist to the utmost, and that history would hold Germany alone responsible for this unprovoked attack on a friendly nation. Herewith the interview came to an end; Jonkheer van Haersma de With was escorted back to the Legation, where he learned that Holland considered herself at war with Germany.
Cut off from all communication with The Hague, the
Minister decided to ask for his passports in order to leave Germany by way of Switzerland, at the same time taking the opportunity of renewing his protests against Germany's action. At three o'clock in the afternoon, his note was handed in at the German Foreign Ministry. A few hours later, the Counsellor of the Legation was summoned to come at once to the Foreign Office. After having been kept waiting for a long time--so long that he finally signified his intention of leaving if he were held up any longer--he was told that the note in which the Minister had asked for his passports could not be accepted because of what was described as its "insolent character." When the Dutch diplomat asked why the German Government took offense at the note, the official who received him said that Herr von Ribbentrop had been displeased by a paragraph saying: "Violating the elementary principles of right and decency, Germany has torn asunder the ancient links by which it was bound to the Dutch nation in peace and friendship," and especially by the expression "Germany's aggression." When the Dutchman remarked that in this case the word "aggression" seemed hardly out of place, the German official curtly replied: "This is no case of aggression," and when asked how Germany's action was then to be described, merely shrugged his shoulders saying: "That is not what we are discussing at present." Their rejection of the Dutch Minister's note did not prevent the German Foreign Office from carefully keeping a
copy of it, and next morning, large headlines in the Berlin papers announced to the public the "shocking insolence of the Dutch war criminals," and "crooks" who had dared to call Germany's action by its true name.
Pending their departure for Switzerland, the Dutch Minister and his staff remained in Berlin, where, for the first day or so, they were left at liberty. Then, however, they were all consigned to the Legation building, which was quite unfit for housing an additional thirty people, some of them with small children. The American Charge d'Affaires, Mr. Alexander Kirk, and the Swedish Minister fortunately saw to it that sufficient mattresses were obtained and that meals were provided, for nobody was allowed to leave the building, which was surrounded by Gestapo and completely isolated, as the telephone had been cut off. No excuse or explanation was given for this unusually harsh treatment. Finally, in the evening of the fourth day, a special train took the party to the Lake of Constance on the Swiss frontier, from which place, after another five days of waiting--in a comfortable hotel this time--they were at last allowed to leave the country. On the far side of Lake Constance, a warm welcome awaited them on Swiss territory, and no kindness was ever more appreciated than the care they received in the small Confederation, where liberty, truth, and honor rank as highly as they do in Holland.
In Berlin, the news of the German offensive against
Holland and Belgium was received without any enthusiasm by the man in the street. The general mood remained as depressed as before. For some strange reason, dancing was suddenly prohibited.
Meanwhile enemy aircraft were hurling death and destruction on the Netherlands. While the Cabinet was examining reports on the fighting which were constantly coming in, the Queen made a stirring appeal in a broadcast to the whole world. "After our country, with scrupulous conscientiousness, has observed strict neutrality during all these months," Her Majesty said, "Germany has made a sudden attack on our territory without any warning. This was done notwithstanding a solemn promise that the neutrality of our country would be respected so long as we maintained that neutrality. I herewith direct a flaming protest against this unprecedented violation of good faith and of all that is decent in relations between cultured States. I and my Government now will do our duty." The message stirred the hearts of everyone, at home as well as abroad.
The Government soon began to receive reports of a particularly alarming nature. Telephone messages coming in from many places around The Hague revealed that parachutists had landed in a wide circle surrounding the seat of the Government. These men were dropped from especially designed airplanes: the pilot, when finding himself above the indicated spot, merely had to pull a lever
by his side in order to cause the bottom of the plane to open up, thereby dropping the parachutists out into space. These men carried not only small firearms but also machine guns and radio sets. Upon landing, they took cover behind dykes, in woods, or in farmhouses, and by their considerable number soon became a constant and highly dangerous nuisance, terrorizing the countryside and causing a great dispersal of troops required to deal with them. These parachutists, youths between 16 and 20 years of age, stop at nothing, steeped as they are in the doctrine that anything is permissible in a war waged for the glory of Germany. In addition, we learned that large numbers of troops were being landed from hydroplanes coming down on canals, docks, and rivers in the heart of the country, particularly in the immediate vicinity of Rotterdam and its airdrome of Waalhaven.
After violent aerial combats from which the German forces, vastly outnumbering the Dutch, emerged victorious, they were able to machine-gun the Dutch battalions defending the airdromes, thereby causing very heavy losses. Parachutists were then dropped to remove the obstacles placed on the landing fields, and from that moment on the enemy was also able to bring up troops in land planes. Within a few hours after the attack began, this had taken place at Waalhaven near Rotterdam, as well as at three smaller airdromes near The Hague, and in that way thousands of German soldiers were soon forming up
in a circle around the country's political and administrative nerve center. The purpose was clear. As in Norway, the invader's first aim was to paralyze at once the activities of the Queen and Government. This needed little confirmation. It was obvious to anyone casting a look on the map of Holland.
The valor of the Dutch troops, who in their fury fought as only men defending their own country in a good cause can fight, in one day suppressed the danger of Queen and Government being taken prisoner almost before the battle had developed.
Later in the same day, an aircraft was shot down transporting a German General, who was killed. His instructions were found on him. These proved that General von Sponeck--for that was his name--had orders to take The Hague on the first day of the invasion. If the Dutch gave in, he was to treat them as the Danes had been treated a month before. In that case, careful provisions were to be made for placing a guard of honor before the Royal Palace. If, however, the Dutch persisted in defending their country, the Queen and her Ministers were to be sent, as soon as possible, to Berlin by transport plane, where, it was stated, they were to be dealt with in accordance with their refusal to surrender.
These plans were frustrated. At the hour when, according to the German time table, The Hague was to have fallen into their hands, General von Sponeck lay
dead. The parade uniform which he had taken good care to bring with him, would serve him no more. Even the horse on which he had planned to make a triumphant entry into The Hague had shared his master's fate.