The Juggernaut Rolls
THE German campaign in the Netherlands reveals more than one novel method of warfare. It also affords striking illustration of the tactics used by the Germans for undermining the power of resistance of their victims by fifth-column activity prior to the actual outbreak of hostilities, activity which is followed by open support to the invader as soon as war has actually begun. In evidence of their scrupulous policy of neutrality the Netherlands had disposed its forces in such a manner that both sea and land frontiers were given adequate protection on all sides. It is obvious that in order to obtain a true image of these well-balanced military measures against attack, from whatever side it might come, it is necessary to take into account not only the land forces, but also the navy, as these two elements, together with the air force, form a whole. The coastal line was guarded in the first place by the navy with its surface vessels, submarines, seaplanes and minefields; in addition, there was a whole army corps distributed along the seaboard of Holland proper-- the two northwestern provinces which form the heart of the country--and further army units on all the islands of the province of Zeeland. The southern provinces, bordering on Belgium, held a considerable number of troops,
and on the remaining front, facing Germany, were two army corps in the central section, with more troops to the south of these. By this distribution of the Kingdom's armed forces, equilibrium was obtained with regard to both belligerent parties. In February, 1940, a party of about forty American, Japanese, Belgian, Italian, Swiss, Hungarian, Yugoslav, and Rumanian journalists had been authorized in the course of a three-day excursion to see these dispositions on the spot.
The Germans, notably General Keitel in his report mentioned heretofore, have attempted to show that Dutch military measures were not balanced with regard to both belligerent parties; for this purpose they completely ignored the considerable part played by the navy in our coastal defenses. In view of this, it seems hardly necessary to give more attention to this unfair way of describing the position. Impartial observers are agreed that the disposition of Holland's armed forces was a true reflection of the policy of neutrality which the Dutch have, from the beginning to the very last, so consistently upheld. , As an introductory phase to their attack, the Germans began, during the early hours of Friday, May 10th, to lay magnetic mines in the mouths of our large rivers and harbor entrances, followed shortly afterwards by bomb and machine-gun attacks on a number of military airdromes. Guided by lessons learnt in Norway, the Dutch had taken the precaution of leaving no airplanes in the hangars, but had placed them alongside the landing fields, on nearby
roads, and on auxiliary airdromes prepared with the greatest possible secrecy. Thanks to these measures, the result of the early bombing attacks on hangars was negligible; on the other hand, the German machine-gun attacks on the Dutch airplanes left out in the open, before they were all able to take off, disabled a great number of them.
Unfortunately, the Dutch had not yet been able to complete the measures planned after the invasion of Norway for the protection of their flying fields; had these been ready, they would have made it exceedingly difficult for the enemy to gain a foothold there. As it was, the detachments guarding the airdromes were an easy prey for the low-flying German aircraft sent to destroy them. With the aid of parachutists who cleared away the obstacles on these fields as soon as they had been landed, three airdromes around The Hague--Iepenburg, Valkenburg and Ockenburg--fell early the first morning into the hands of the enemy, who at once started landing numerous troop-carrying airplanes on the spaces cleared.
As early as 5 A.M. the enemy had by this method completely encircled the seat of the Government. Thus, while in the east the Germans advanced towards the positions designed to stem their attack, they simultaneously and with great vigor attacked the heart of the country and its very nerve center from the air, seriously threatening the communications between the seat of the Dutch Government and High Command and the rest of the country. An attempt followed at intimidating the population of
The Hague, which, although it completely failed to achieve its purpose, resulted in considerable damage. At 5 o'clock that morning, incendiary bombs were dropped on the northern part of the town; at the same time, high-explosive bombs were aimed--fortunately, very badly-- at the buildings of the Naval Staff. Other German aircraft flew low above the town, rattling their machine guns at random with a complete disregard for the civilian population, which is strikingly illustrated by the fact that in the attractive residential quarter of Marlot, lying isolated at some distance from The Hague, where there are no military objectives whatsoever, several people were killed and houses damaged by bullets.
At 10 A.M. a second bombing attack followed, this time on the center of town. Scores of enemy planes, meanwhile, were falling prey to our antiaircraft artillery, and the fact deserves special mention that the largest daily "bag" of enemy aircraft since the beginning of war in September, was obtained that day by the Dutch--well over one hundred were brought down, a truly magnificent record. But even this result, favorable as it was, did not fail to cause havoc. To quote one instance only, a large three-engined aircraft was brought down in flames near the outskirts of town; one of its engines fell, with a deafening crash, in the middle of a street, while its burning wreckage set several houses on fire, the inhabitants' shrieks being drowned by the roar of the flames. The pilot's body was found--he was a youth of seventeen.
Before proceeding with a description of the activities of our land forces, a tribute of deep admiration should be paid to the Dutch Air Force, whose young and courageous pilots, although vastly outnumbered, played their gallant part until the very last. Every one of our airplanes was lost. The man who took the last remaining Dutch aircraft up, announced to his comrades his intention of dropping his load of bombs on Waalhaven airdrome--then occupied by the Germans--knowing full well that he would never return*
The primary task of the Netherlands Commander in Chief, General Winkelman, was to ascertain the purpose of the enemy. Was his object to invade the whole country, or was his chief aim to force a passage through the southern provinces on his way to Belgium and France? It soon became apparent that Herr Hitler's troops had been ordered to occupy the whole country, from the point where, in the north, the frontier reaches the sea, to its southernmost extremity. As a result, the Dutch forces were faced with a threefold task, namely to resist:
an advance in the north, which, if the enemy succeeded in moving up along the broad dyke closing in the Zuyderzee and connecting the provinces of Friesland and Northern Holland, would constitute a threat against the center of the country;
a more direct attack on the center of the country, for which the enemy would have to attempt to traverse the inundated belt in the east and south; and
an advance through the provinces of Limburg and Brabant, followed by fanwise operations in the direction of the heart of the country, the extreme southwest, and Belgium.
Those sections of the army facing the German frontier would naturally have to bear the whole brunt of the first onslaught by the German land forces. It had been anticipated that, in case of a German attack, the First Army Corps, and further units, whose task it had been during the period of neutrality to guard part of the coast, would be able to act as a reserve for strengthening any weak spots which might become apparent in the east.
This fundamental plan was entirely frustrated by the landing of thousands of German air-borne troops in the center of the country near The Hague and Rotterdam, supported by the activity of parachutists and of the fifth column, of which we shall hear more later on.
Early in the morning of the fatal day it had already become clear that, in addition to an attempt to paralyze the action of the Government and High Command, the German Staff wished to possess themselves at the earliest possible moment of the important bridges in Rotterdam and at the Moerdijk, which form the connection between Holland proper and the approach to Belgium and France through the southern province of Brabant. The German troops, landing in great numbers in hydroplanes on the broad river running through Rotterdam and on the waters near the Moerdijk, succeeded in taking by surprise the
two main bridges across the Meuse as well as the great Moerdijk bridge, all of which are of vital importance. The reader will wish to know why these bridges were not blown up in time. The reply is that although some bridges were blown up, others were taken by treachery, by means of German troops in disguise. It will be recalled that, several months before, the authorities had discovered cases of smuggling into Germany of all kinds of Dutch uniforms. It now became clear what these uniforms were wanted for. The German soldiers carrying out these operations wore uniforms which even to the trained eye were indistinguishable, before it was too late, from Dutch uniforms. Many parachutists came disguised as policemen or postmen, civilians, tram conductors, or even as women. Among them were former German maidservants who, landing in the neighborhood of homes that had once employed them, made themselves useful as guides for other parachutists. These methods, employed by the Germans contrary to all usages of warfare, had some fatal results. Among others, it became known that a group of about a hundred Germans disguised as Dutch soldiers managed unobserved to join ranks behind a Dutch battalion advancing in the dunes. All of a sudden they opened fire on the Dutch, causing heavy losses before they could be overpowered. Other disguised Germans sought cover behind women or groups of children, whom they drove before them.
Parties of these disguised German soldiers would
approach groups of genuine Dutch soldiers, who, unaware of having to do with the enemy, were attacked by surprise under cover of these abominable tactics. One of the strategically most important bridges, the Moerdijk bridge, was taken by the Germans in this way before it could be blown up. A party of disguised Germans drove onto it in lorries commandeered after alighting from an airplane, approached the detachment guarding the bridge who thought they were coming as reinforcements, shot them down to the last man and, before the explosive charges hidden in the pillars of the bridge could be fired, were masters of the situation. It was a German success, but a success obtained through means condemned by the laws of war observed by all civilized nations, and which no country will envy the Third Reich.
Then there were the parachutists. Besides the part they took, as we have seen, in capturing airdromes, their task was to cause confusion, to terrorize the countryside, to make it necessary for the Dutch army to scatter its reserves in order to deal with them, and to endanger communications. Perhaps the following account by an eyewitness will, better than any military handbook, give the reader an idea of how this element of considerable nuisance value operates.
Our witness had spent the night between Thursday and Friday in some town in the south of the country. He was awakened, so he said, towards dawn, by the droning of airplanes accompanied by the rattle of machine guns and
antiaircraft artillery. The thought of manoeuvres flashed through his mind.
Our witness, a man with a university education, rang up the porter of his hotel. "War!" was the reply, "Germany is attacking us!"
He dressed rapidly. The dining room was full of people talking excitedly. There were two young men he knew, who wished to make an attempt at reaching Rotterdam; would he come with them? The offer was gratefully accepted, and soon the party was on its way.
There was a radio in the car and as they drove along they heard the Queen's stirring appeal to the world. Before long, the huge girders of the Moerdijk bridge, spanning one of Holland's broadest rivers, loomed in the distance. They saw three cars halting on the road ahead of them, their occupants waving at them to make them stop.
"Are you in such a hurry to get rid of your car?"
"What do you mean?"
"If you go along for another two hundred yards you will find the Germans!"
This sounded ridiculous. Germans in this westerly part of the country? What about our own defenses? Had they been broken through within a few hours? At that moment one of the party drew their attention to an enemy airplane flying high overhead, beneath which a number of small white clouds were seen slowly descending in the sunlight.
But they seemed far away. Our party decided to run the risk and drove on. After another few hundred yards, however, on rounding a bend, they came across a row of empty cars, and a figure in the middle of the road held up his hand.
"Halt! Aussteigen! Put your car there!" The soldier, a tall disheveled-looking boy, wearing a small helmet of a peculiar shape, was dressed in the garb of a German parachutist; he held a pistol in his hand and carried a number of hand grenades in his belt.
Apparently the parachutists were out for motor cars, not for their occupants. Our witness and his friends walked away without being molested. Further on they saw a large group of these soldiers, in their midst a couple of Dutch soldiers they had taken prisoner. A little further on lay the uniformed body of a young Dutchman, his pale face turned towards the sky, a large pool of blood around him--a symbol of his country, attacked by ruthless superior force.
These parachutists, reckless young fellows between the ages of 16 and 20, gave a lot of work to the First Army Corps, and prevented it from being useful elsewhere. Each small group--they were let down in groups of twenty or thirty--carried automatic weapons which in some cases they fired even before landing; each group had to be mopped up separately. Cases are on record in which farmhouses, used by these men as small fortresses, had to be shelled by field guns in order to get rid of them, thereby
burying under the ruins not only the invaders but also the unfortunate inhabitants, killed by the gunfire of their own countrymen. In the end, the Dutch succeeded in getting rid of them. By that time, however, operations in other parts of the country had developed to such an extent that this mopping up could not alter the final outcome of the struggle.
Worse even than the parachutists' action, and far more reprehensible, were the activities of the so-called fifth column; a term which, unknown little more than three years ago, in these days has the doubtful honor of being understood by everybody.
In order to comprehend the full importance of this insidious element in Holland, it should be mentioned that for a great many years past there always have been thousands of German residents in that country. As we have seen, many of them had after one or two generations become completely assimilated with the population; others, however, and more especially those who were first settlers, continued to feel themselves real Germans and had not given up allegiance to the Vaterland. Before the Nazi regime came into power in 1933, this state of affairs gave no rise to alarm, but when Herr Hitler began organizing the "Auslandsdeutschtum" there was in many countries reason for serious misgivings. In Holland the authorities had abundant evidence that the leaders of the German colony--people in all walks of life but each with an appointed place in the vast Nazi organization--brought considerable
pressure to bear on their compatriots, forcing them to take part in activities directed against the security of the country whose hospitality many of them had enjoyed for years. Only a few days before the German attack, the President of the German Chamber of Commerce for the Netherlands, himself a German who had resided in Holland for twenty years, was found by the police to be in possession of a complete, but inaccurate, plan of the Dutch inundations, which he had been forced by one of the German espionage organizations to obtain. In a provincial town a German chemist had been summoned to some German society in Rotterdam, where he was told that he was to engage in espionage work; it was made quite clear to him what the consequences would be if he refused. There were any number of such cases. The object of this shady work was by no means solely the collecting of military information. These same people were provided with arms, to be used in accordance with detailed instructions when the hour struck. The odious character of this action becomes apparent to the full when it is remembered that the official German "Auslandsorganisation" is always proclaiming that it is the first commandment for any German living abroad to respect the laws of the country affording him hospitality. What is thus proclaimed aloud is disclaimed in secret. Any decent German showing hesitation in lending himself to such practices is soon reminded of the fact that the terrorism which has enslaved the German at home can very easily reach him outside his
country, either directly or vicariously in the person of his relations in the Reich.
But there is yet another fifth column, at least as dangerous. It consists of those citizens of a country whose minds have been seduced by the ideology of totalitarianism. If they find that the majority of their fellow citizens remains opposed to these doctrines, experience shows that many of them, sooner or later, manage to come into contact with German organizations. In many cases these elements do not hesitate to enlist the help of the Nazis, when they cannot make their ideas triumph through their own endeavors. They even go to the extreme of helping the German when he attacks their own country. No act of treachery is too base for these misguided zealots, who would rather see their country enslaved than help in defending it against aggression on the part of the adherents of their cherished faith.
Such people--a free citizen of Holland is forced to admit with shame--were to be found in the Netherlands in such numbers that when the hour of trial came they proved to be a real danger. It was not that they formed so large a section of the community as to have any considerable influence on the public affairs of Holland in times of peace: they were only very feebly represented in Parliament and in the provincial and municipal councils. Nevertheless, when the invader came, their number proved to be such that, when added to the Germans in the country helping the assailants, they created grave difficulties for
the loyal citizens and, more especially, for the armed forces. They disposed of large quantities of arms which had lain hidden in different places; one large depot was found at the house of the old Chancellor of the German Legation.
The ways in which these people acted were numerous: at night they guided airplanes by flashing signals or by firing colored rockets; during the daytime, they created confusion by spreading false rumors. Worse still, in order to unnerve the population, they shot from roofs and windows at soldiers and even at civilians passing by. Some houses which they had occupied were regular little fortresses; and in a few cases of this kind at The Hague, artillery had to be brought into action in the streets in order to destroy these strongholds. Serious as all this was, it should be remarked that some grossly exaggerated stories have been circulating in this respect--possibly as a part of the campaign of spreading false rumors. It is not true, for instance, that fifth columnists captured an armored car, in which they drove through the city, shooting at random and killing and wounding many of their fellow citizens. But the fact remains that in several streets in The Hague and Rotterdam these demented fanatics, in some cases helped by their children, built barricades, from behind which they shot at anyone who came in sight. The sternest action was taken to subdue this menace from within, and it may be said that after the second day of war their
activity had been reduced to almost nil. Yet now and then, shots were fired from various places in many towns, keeping the citizens in a constant state of unrest and agitation.
Parachutists, troop-carrying airplanes, and fifth columnists gave the reserve troops of the army so much to do that they were* prevented from coming to the aid of the front-line troops. Everybody wearing military uniform was thrown into action, even the troops in depot who had joined the army only five weeks earlier and were still in the initial stage of military training. These young soldiers were amazing in their elan. The German High Command, in their instructions which had fallen into Dutch hands, spoke scathingly of these men as "useless and undisciplined." When put to the test, however, they fought with such courage and fury against the German air-borne troops, that they were the primary cause of the failure of the German action against the seat of the Government. For this audacious attempt had missed its object: the parachutists were mopped up, the troops landed from the air never reached The Hague, thanks also to the bravery of a number of youths whose patriotic fervor more than made up for whatever they might lack in military experience.
The Dutch army had been trained and equipped for purposes of defense rather than of attack. As a consequence of the German invasion from the air, however, our soldiers were confronted with the necessity of
launching attacks in our difficult flat terrain, a task our High Command had always hoped would fall to the lot of the enemy to attempt.
The German Staff had counted on taking The Hague on the first day. But Dutch resistance proved to be far greater than was expected, and German reinforcements were summoned. Early in the afternoon of the 10th, fresh waves of parachutists descended around The Hague, and troop-carrying aircraft began to land along the coast. At once the Dutch navy took its chance. Gunfire from our warships destroyed these new invaders almost as soon as they landed, so that this fresh menace also came to nothing. The Germans--be it said in honor of the Dutch forces which fought so valiantly that day--had been thwarted in the execution of their plans. When their instructions were found on the body of General von Sponeck, the extent to which the enemy's advance had been delayed became fully apparent.
In other respects also, these papers were extremely interesting, since they showed the thoroughness with which Germany prepares her operations. They included a very accurate list of addresses where stocks of uniforms and arms for the use of the Germans had been concealed, of places where information could be obtained, of inhabitants of The Hague who were to be arrested without delay. Everything was illustrated by very good maps and sketches. Among those who were to be taken prisoner were a number of officers serving on the General Staff of
the Dutch Army; they were apparently to receive some form of treatment different from that of ordinary prisoners of war. If that was not the plan, it is difficult to see why they were specially mentioned: what that treatment was to be is not hard to guess. Measures were taken, when this became known, to send all these officers out of the country before it was too late.
Such parachutist troops around The Hague as had been able to escape death or capture the first day, received reinforcements during the following night and in the early morning of May 11th, so that large numbers of Dutch troops again had to be employed to round them up, which again was accomplished successfully. In Rotterdam, the result of the struggle was less favorable. These Dutch troops, supported by small naval craft, stormed the bridges across the Meuse, but were driven off when fresh German troops were landed in great numbers from the air on the nearby landing field of Waalhaven. It became increasingly important to make this airdrome unfit for further use. Two men-of-war were therefore sent to Rotterdam; at the same time, the British Royal Air Force was asked to subject the airdrome to an intense bombardment, which it did on three successive nights. The army was unable to send extra artillery to Rotterdam, as all available guns were in use elsewhere. One of the warships therefore shelled the airdrome, without support from the second vessel which had been stopped further down the river by magnetic mines. H.M.S. van Galen, while doing
admirable work, at once became the target of innumerable enemy bombers. Thirty-one attacks by dive bombers were successfully repulsed before the ship received a direct hit and had to be abandoned in a sinking condition. The crew at once continued their activities on land, by taking part in the struggle going on in the town of Rotterdam itself, where at that moment the despicable fifth columnists were particularly troublesome. Some British destroyers which had arrived at the mouth of the river were advised not to proceed further because of magnetic mines.
The bitterest struggle of all was fought for the Waalhaven airdrome. Especially in the beginning the field constantly changed hands. More than once it was regained by the Dutch, at the cost of hundreds of lives, only to be retaken by fresh German contingents arriving from the south. After the action of H.M.S. van Galen and the nightly bombing attacks of the Royal Air Force had made the airdrome unfit for use, the Germans started landing their aircraft on the parking grounds of a nearby football stadium. The situation soon became even more serious. From a ship flying the Swedish flag, which had been lying in Rotterdam harbor for some time, the Germans were seen to fetch supplies of guns and ammunition which apparently lay hidden beneath its cargo; soon a lively artillery duel was going on across the river between these guns and such artillery as the Dutch had available there--a spot where no one, except the Germans, had even anticipated fighting of this kind.
Finally, when after more than four days neither The Hague nor Rotterdam had been captured, the Germans did a monstrous thing. They resorted to a merciless bombardment on a colossal scale of the open town of Rotterdam, where the Dutch had never dreamt of fighting, and where fighting had only taken place because the Germans attacked the city. This bombardment was one of the worst crimes of military history. Two groups, each of 27 airplanes, systematically bombed the center of the town with heavy high-explosive and incendiary bombs, leaving not a house intact, scarcely a soul alive. Thirty thousand innocent victims, among whom were scarcely any soldiers, perished during the half hour this loathsome raid lasted--old men, young men, women, and innumerable children. Who, in the face of such facts, is there to speak of "Deutsche Ehre, " of "Deutsche Treue"? There is every reason to put this question--it is by no means a mere rhetorical one.
At 10.30 A.M. of that fateful day, the Commander of the troops which had come to Rotterdam to resist the German attack on that otherwise undefended city received an ultimatum in writing to cease fire forthwith, failing which the severest measures would be taken against the town. A reply was demanded within two hours. The document was unsigned. Fearing that it might be a ruse of some sort the Dutch Commander received orders from headquarters to reply that a demand of this kind could only be examined if it were duly signed by a qualified
officer. This reply was handed to the Germans at 12.15--a quarter of an hour before the expiration of the time stated in the unsigned document. More than an hour later, at 1.20 P.M., a fresh ultimatum arrived, this time duly signed. It gave another three hours' delay. At 1.22, the first squadron of German bombers approached the city. The Germans twice caused a red flare to be fired, which meant, according to the declarations they made later, that the bombardment was not then to take place. But if this meant anything at all, it did not prevent the bombardment from being executed at once with the utmost brutality. It is not too much to say that, even if this was not bad faith but culpable negligence, culpable negligence of such magnitude reflects most seriously on the honor and trustworthiness of the German command. Errors of this scope, resulting in the wiping out of thirty thousand human beings most of whom were civilians, are unpardonable. An army like that of the Germans, priding itself on its sense of organization, ought to feel deeply humiliated by such a ghastly event.
The Germans tried to put the blame on someone else. First they singled out for censure the Commander of the Dutch troops then in Rotterdam. The facts just stated prove the complete innocence of this officer. Later, German propaganda knew no better than to say that, when all was said and done, the British were to blame!
All the Germans could subsequently do was to try to minimize in their broadcasts the importance of the havoc
they had perpetrated; but photographs taken by the British Royal Air Force a few days after the bombardment had taken place speak a language which Dr. Goebbels and his propaganda cannot silence. Conditions in Rotterdam cried to Heaven. Owing to the bombardment, the water supply was cut off and the inhabitants had to be warned to drink only boiled water, for fear of a typhoid epidemic breaking out. Every day the Dutch radio issued SOS messages for food, mattresses, and clothing on behalf of the hapless survivors of German brutality. The new Central Post Office, the Stock Exchange, part of the Town Hall, innumerable other public and private buildings were a shapeless mass of smoking ruins, under which the innocent victims lay buried. Nobody who has known this prosperous, industrious city, where commerce and trade were the chief activities and where civic devotion was always out to further public welfare, can suppress a feeling of fury and disgust when thinking that in this enlightened twentieth century there is a nation always ready to boast of its attainments, yet at the same time capable of such crimes. But, of course, it was against the German will. "Wir haben dies nicht gewollt," Herr von Ribbentrop had said in his memorandum. The Dutch only were to blame. What business had they to fight? What gave them the insolent temerity to resist Germany's aggression?
The Dutch army meanwhile was doing all it could to stem the tide of the German advance in the north and east of the country. No sooner had the first German units
crossed the frontier in the early morning hours in the extreme north, than the installations of Delfzijl harbor were destroyed by the Dutch so that they could be of no use to the enemy. In these regions, which because of the flat and open nature of the terrain do not lend themselves to defensive action, our troops had to be content with retarding the enemy's movements. In the night between the 10th and 11th of May, the Zuyderzee dyke enabled our troops to reach positions they could hold. These were promptly attacked by the Germans the next day. A remarkable battle was fought by the Dutch at Kornwerderzand. Here it was proved that even mastery in the air is of no avail against troops occupying shelters protected by concrete of sufficient thickness. After a prolonged preparation by artillery from the air, the invading infantry attempted to storm the position. Skillful use of automatic weapons by the defenders reduced the attempt to complete failure. Next day, a fresh attack was launched, which was likewise repulsed. One of the vessels of the Royal Navy, operating from a position some miles away as the shallow water prevented it from drawing near, gave valuable support to the land forces with its artillery, directed by telephone from the casemates to the naval staff and from there by radio to the ship. A German battery, located at the eastern extremity of the causeway, eleven miles from the place from which the warship was shelling it, was completely silenced within a short time. Visibility was very slight near the vessel's anchorage; the German
air force was unable to discover the gun boat and the invader must have been greatly puzzled to know who was destroying his batteries.
The Zuyderzee dyke, that masterpiece of Dutch engineering, was never taken by the enemy.
When the dyke proved too much for the German army to force, German detachments of all sizes appeared on the eastern shores of the Zuyderzee, and began to make preparations for crossing it to the provinces of Holland. Since there were no more Dutch troops available for the northern part of those provinces, steps were taken to reinforce without delay the flotilla operating on the Zuyderzee. Torpedo boats, gunboats, and mine-sweepers were hurriedly sent, together with a number of armed river craft and motorboats provided with heavy machine guns. These units were soon reinforced by French and British motor torpedo boats, which arrived in the night between the 12th and 13 th of May. The German air force was a harassing factor in this action, sinking two gunboats, one of which succeeded in reaching the ancient port of Enkhuizen where it continued firing by way of harbor battery. In spite of losses, however, the German attempts at crossing the-Zuyderzee remained unsuccessful. This was the first battle to be fought on the Zuyderzee since 1578, when the Dutch had a naval engagement with the Spaniards on these inland waters. After three and a half centuries of peace, it was the Germans who made them once again the scene of armed conflict.
In the south, where the Germans were out to use Dutch territory for their onslaught upon France through Belgium, our troops found themselves confronted with vastly superior forces. The German air force, which had complete mastery in the air, effectively covered the advance of the armored and motorized units. No sooner was this support temporarily absent, however, and the German infantry without the protection of armored vehicles and planes, than the Dutch army inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. The crossing of the canal connecting the rivers Meuse and Waal, and of the Meuse itself, cost the Germans a heavy toll of life before the Dutch automatic weapons contesting these crossings could be silenced.
Unfortunately, the aggressor proved too powerful. His advance could not be checked. French troops arrived, but they, too had to retreat owing to German pressure. Limburg and the greater part of the province of Brabant had to be abandoned. The blowing up of a German armored train near the village of Mill deserves special mention. This train, one of the four armored trains which advanced into Holland and which were all wiped out, crossed the Meuse at an early hour on Friday, before the bridge over which it passed could be destroyed by our troops. Near Mill, this fortress on wheels was brought to a standstill and destroyed by the second regiment of Field Artillery in collaboration with formations of motorized cavalry. Another armored train met its fate when it crossed a bridge near Venlo at the very moment it was blown up;
bridge and train crashed into the swirling waters of the Meuse.
Once the Germans were master in the greater part of Brabant they were in a position to pour their troops at will into the province of Holland. They were now no longer solely dependent on air-borne troops in the country's center. Yet, although the battle was a desperate one, the Dutch put up a very gallant struggle in defense of the heart of their land, so much so that, as we have already seen, the enemy took recourse to the most inhuman means in order to capture Rotterdam. The German army, meanwhile, after crossing the frontier along its whole length on the very first day of their attack, advanced steadily not only in the extreme north and in the southern section of the frontier, but also in its middle regions. There, their onrush was first retarded by our frontier troops, and later, when these had been withdrawn according to plan, by the fortified banks of the river Yssel, which caused them further delay. In spite of their overwhelming power and motorized columns, it took the Germans three full days to cover the distance of roughly fifty miles between the frontier and the outposts of the main lines of our defenses, which were covered by a continuous broad belt of inundated territory. The water, so often our enemy, had this time been harnessed to render us great services.
On these lines the Germans launched a fierce attack; innumerable low-flying aircraft supported the assault on the defenders, followed by flame-throwing tanks and
others. The lines held, except in one sector; before, however, the enemy could exploit this advantage, the Dutch army counterattacked, driving the Germans completely out of the positions they had just occupied at great cost to themselves. Next day the Germans renewed their attack on a still larger sector. Against overwhelming forces and superior equipment, this main line of resistance could be * held no longer. The Dutch army withdrew to new positions which had been carefully prepared in advance, again protected by inundations.
Were it not that our reserves had been exhausted by the incessant fighting in the heart of the country since the first hours of war, these troops would now have proved invaluable. They could--and were meant to--have occupied these last lines of resistance, letting through the troops retreating from the east while shielding them, and allowing them to reorganize themselves for further action. As it was, the withdrawing troops had to retreat and at the same time occupy the new lines, thereby shouldering the whole burden of the final engagement. Is it to be wondered at that in those circumstances they were unable to hold their own? Battered in the east, and with a wide breach in the south, the extensive fortified area of Holland could finally be held no longer.
This development had been foreseen in London, where the Queen had arrived the evening before. I had a long conversation with Her Majesty in the apartments at Buckingham Palace which the King had placed at her disposal.
It was an hour of deep and real sorrow. Our troops had put up a very brave stand against overwhelming odds. They had been confronted not only with all the refinements of modern war technique developed to a degree unparalleled in history, but by every form of treachery and deceit, from without and from within. Rotterdam had, in part, been wiped from the earth. The beautiful old town of Utrecht was threatened by the enemy with a similar fate. Even then, it had been agreed not to give up further resistance. The Queen had explained the situation to the King of England; it was decided that I was to do the same with regard to the British military authorities, while Her Majesty addressed a telegram to the President of the French Republic. The position was the following: either the Allies were to send adequate assistance without delay, and in that case we would fight on, or, if such adequate assistance could not be sent, the Dutch military commanders were to be empowered to act as they judged best, weighing the results that might be expected from further resistance, against the suffering this must inevitably cause to the civilian population of the densely populated country. It was past midnight when I reached the British High Command. There, it was considered that this was a perfectly fair statement to make in our predicament. But no help of any real importance could be promised.
I know that there have been complaints in the Netherlands to the effect that we obtained little help from our
Allies. It may be that more help had been expected, but I, for my part, have the absolute conviction that our Allies, both British and French, did what they could. It was our common misfortune that they had no more resources available. Twice I had a discussion on the subject with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill. He was completely frank, and various measures of assistance were at once taken, but they could not be extensive enough to save the situation. In so far as there was any comfort to be derived from these discussions, it was that they gave me the certainty that, even if we could have had any prearranged plans with the Allies for common defense in the case of a German attack, we would have obtained no more help than we obtained now. No more was available. That is the best answer to give to those superficial critics of our policy of neutrality, who are always prone to say: "If only you had had the wisdom to reverse your attitude before it was too late."
When, only a few weeks later, the French Command had to consider whether or no they were to defend Paris, they took the view that no valuable strategic result justified the sacrifice of that city. The Dutch Command in the fortified area of Holland took the same view when the Germans had succeeded in making wide breaches in its eastern and southern defenses. Combat to the last man would certainly have inflicted serious losses on the enemy, but, in view of his enormous superiority in arms and in men, neither our cause nor that of our Allies could have
gained by such prolongation of resistance. At the same time there is no doubt, especially with a foe applying German methods, that the whole of that once flourishing country with its many beautiful old cities, great art treasures, historic monuments and smiling countryside, would have been methodically devastated and a considerable part of its population wiped out, as had happened in Rotterdam.
In those circumstances, General Winkelman, in whose hands the decision lay, resolved to give the order to cease fire. The Cabinet had left the previous day and followed the Queen to England. It was a bitter moment for the gallant soldier who had so ably conducted the operations and who, were it not that the presence of millions of non-combatants had forced him to decide otherwise, would beyond doubt have infinitely preferred to fight until the last.
In a few quarters, ignorant people have flippantly stated that the Netherlands Commander in Chief "had lost his nerve." It would be difficult to find a more gross injustice against a man whose steadfastness, courage, and fighting spirit have stood the most crucial test. I can only express the greatest respect for a General who prefers to risk and to face hasty, unfounded, and uncharitable criticism on the part of the uninformed public rather than to subject his countrymen, for no useful purpose, to the horrors of further mass slaughter, with, as the only possible favorable result, still more glory added to that already achieved by
our army against the most infernal war machine of all times.
The Netherlands Government has never capitulated. Although the European part of the Kingdom is under German occupation, the overseas territories are free. The Kingdom of the Netherlands, constitutionally a unit, continues to have all a State must have in order to be called a State: it has territory, it has a population, it has a legitimate Government--the Queen and Dynasty are safe. That Government is now continuing the struggle with all the means at its disposal, including the Royal Navy, which is at present operating in conjunction with the Allied forces. Germany's power over the European part of the Netherlands is based merely on force, and she has not acquired that measure of right and title which an act of submission by the legitimate Government might have given her.
The army in the provinces of Holland had been forced to capitulate; the army in the province of Zeeland continued the struggle. In this island province, the fighting lasted for several more days. There, French troops and the British navy were able to render valuable assistance, which they did to the limits of their power. The beautiful ancient Town Hall of Middelburg, a gem of sixteenth-century Dutch architecture, as well as the old Abbey, so often the delight of overseas visitors, were both reduced to ruins.
Many a tale could be told of the courage and
determination shown by the defenders of the southwest corner of Holland, greatly heartened by the presence of Prince Bernhard, who returned from taking his family to England in order to be with the army. They gallantly struggled on until the last. There were the pupils of an army flying school, who, when the situation seemed desperate, took off, although they had barely mastered the art of flying, in their instruction planes, landing them safely in French airports. There was the young lieutenant who, ordered in the midst of a bombardment to rescue the available cash from the Netherlands Bank at Middelburg, forced the front door "by leaning against it," as he put it, collected a large sum of money from the shivering and protesting Manager, who had taken refuge in the strongroom, and brought it safely to Paris after a narrow escape from the enemy, then hardly two miles away. These episodes, and so many others, recede into the background of that grim scene where the last act of the Dutch tragedy was coming to a close. Before the month of May was at an end, Zeeland, and thereby the whole country, was under German occupation.
So the curtain closes on a country which, within five days, was reduced from a high degree of prosperity to a state of semiruin, where hungry Germans have bought everything--if an exchange of valuable goods for German "Kassenscheine" of doubtful value deserves the name of buying. Worse still, in that country where public health was at a very high standard, and where the mortality rate
was the lowest in Europe, the hospitals are now packed with wounded, while innumerable families mourn their dead. The Dutch army lost thousands of its young men. The toll taken of some regiments attained a very high figure: let us remember here with deep respect our gallant Grenadiers who, after storming two airdromes in one day, had lost eighty percent of their manpower. But then this is clear to all the world: "Wir haben es nicht gewollt," said Herr von Ribbentrop.
Before ending this chapter, a point of capital importance must be mentioned. It is necessary to define exactly the position of the Netherlands, after fighting on land had come to an end. When war began for the Netherlands, the country was completely free, unfettered by any arrangement with any power, to resist as long as it saw fit. It resisted to the utmost. It did not give in, even when it was clear that little Allied help was forthcoming and that there was no chance of stemming the invasion. At any time during the five days of the struggle, the Dutch would have been free to bargain for some humiliating armistice. But although they are said to be good bargainers in matters of commerce, they showed disdain for negotiation when the country's highest interests were at stake. They fought until further fighting was impossible; the honor of the country was saved. Glory has been added to the ancient war records of Holland. The Government preferred seeing the country wholly occupied by the enemy to accepting some dishonorable arrangement, under which they
would have been reduced to the state of vassal with their own signature at the bottom of the document. Suffering violence and agreeing to suffer it are to the Dutch mind two very different things. How and when Holland will rise again as a free country, nobody knows. But that one day it will recover its secular freedom is an article of faith for all.