The battle for the Grebbeberg - An English summary
To achieve a good understanding of the battle for the Grebbeberg, it is necessary to mention something about the order of the battle of our army, that had to join battle with the German usurper.
When neutral Holland demobilised after the First World War, our armament was already antiquated compared to that of the Allied Nations. People didn't think this was very important, as many believed that with the founding of the League of Nations a definite end had come to armed conflict.
Influential political groups were even in favor of abolishing the army and the navy. In their eyes these had become unnecessary money devouring organizations.
The pursuit of this aim acquired an aggressive and often non parliamentary character. In public discussions disarmament was brought up many times. But opponents usually didn't get the opportunity to speak unhindered.
However, Adolf Hitler - nominated Reichskanzler in January 1933 -, had not made any secret of his intentions in his book "Mein Kampf". The book was hardly read in Holland. Those who did take the trouble to read it, believed only too often that in reality things wouldn't be as bad. One of the few who recognized the danger was Queen Wilhelmina. In her book "Lonely but not alone" she remarks:
"Up to that time countless people had slept peacefully on the pillow called neutrality. It was a false security, that unfortunately had many a bearer of special responsibility in his grip. I even had to point out, not long before the outbreak of war, that Hitler had also written a book and that it was important to acquaint oneself with it".
Under pressure of the developments in Germany, a change developed at last in 1933. To improve the armament a defense fund of 31 million was created. It was, however, too late. Without an armament industry of any importance, we had to rely on foreign factories which had no lack of orders! The greater part of the fund couldn't even be spent anymore. We had waited too long. The situation concerning our artillery was alarming. Our standard field piece was a gun of a caliber op 7,5 cm dating from 1904, but still well serviceable. Of the modern, in 1927 introduced 10,5 cm gun we didn't have a quarter of what was needed. As a measure of sheer despair all sorts of already long scrapped guns were taken out of the arsenals and taken into service again. These guns dated from 1878 and 1880. How primitive they were become clear if one knows that these guns had no brake mechanism to take care of the recoil. An inclined recoil hill (pile of sand) was constructed behind the gun. After firing, the gun ran up against the hill till the force was exhausted. Then it slid back to its approximate original position by gravity force and had to be aimed anew. These antiquated guns included, only 40% of the necessary artillery pieces were available in may 1940. A program of urgency, drawn up in 1939, had precisely laid down the minimum number of weapons required. When the Germans crossed our borders the following of this program had been realized: 33% of the antitank guns, 80% of the heavy- and 70% of the light machineguns and 20% of the antiaircraft guns. The list showed a minimum requirement of 110 light- and 36 medium tanks. We had none. Out of 100 required modern armored cars there were 26 available. The stocks of ammunition were also insufficient.
Our air force was not an independent branch of the armed forces, but part of the army. All together we had 125 combat ready aircraft. We had a few good ones; the majority, however, was obsolete.
The mobilized army had a total strength of about 10 divisions. To avoid a false impression it has to be stated that the German division was superior in all respect to the Dutch. It numbered usually 17.900 men; ours about 10.000.
The German armament was more modern and considerably more numerous. Thus a German division had 75 antitank guns, the Dutch 24. In infantry ordnance the comparison was 72 to 12 pieces; in mortars 138 to 18.
It goes without saying that we were not capable of defending all of our territory. The borders were guarded, but in the end it was thought we would only be able to hold out in the so called "Vesting Holland"; translated: "Fortress Holland".
This meant the territory behind the New Holland Waterline, the Hollands Diep and the Haringvliet; in other words both provinces of North- and South Holland and the western part of the province of Utrecht. The access via the Afsluitdijk was defended by 2 sets of modern fortifications at the lock complexes of Kornwerderzand and Den Oever. A small part of the Royal Netherlands Navy had the task of guarding the IJsselmeer.
The Waterline was the historical defense line of the Fortress Holland. The terrain in front could be inundated over large areas and this increased the defensive capability. However, there were some disadvantages too. Big towns like Amsterdam and Utrecht came within the reach of the enemy's artillery. Furthermore the encampment and camouflage presented a lot of problems in the open terrain behind the Waterline. For that reason it was decided to organize our main defense in the so called Grebbeline where the higher grounds and woods of the Utrecht range of hills provided better possibilities. In the past the Grebbeline had acted as an outpost for the Waterline. It more or less followed the eastern border of the province of Utrecht and continued in the Betuwe between the Rhine and Waal rivers.
There it bent westwards, along the Waal and Linge - protected by inundations in front - and finally linked up with the South front of the Fortress Holland. Here the sea-arms constituted major obstacles and made this a strong natural front. The only accesses at that time were the 2 Moerdijk bridges. The bridges were of paramount importance, as possible French help could reach the Fortress Holland by crossing these in time of war.
To guard the entire defense system against surprise attack, we had to be warned in time in case the border was crossed by an enemy. In addition, time was required to block the railway lines and roads penetrating our positions at locations, left open for the traffic, to evacuate civilians from threatened area's etc. To make this possible, a forward defense was organized behind the river IJssel, the Meuse-Waal canal and the Meuse in the southeast of the Netherlands. It was not more than a thin line of small pillboxes. It was hoped it could delay the enemy 12 to 24 hours. All the territory east of this line could not be defended for the lack of troops and means. The few units that were stationed there had the task of providing border guards, immediate reporting of an enemy advance and delaying it as much as possible by the construction of obstacles.
As a result of our neutrality policy we also had to take defensive measures along our coast and along the Belgian border. Because these did not play an important part during the war in May 1940, we'll take no notice of it.
What did we think about the German strategy against our defenses? A breakthrough on the South front of the Fortress Holland seemed to be very complicated and - after blowing up the Moerdijk bridges - it would require time consuming preparations. An attack from the south across the rivers and inundations against the Waal-Lingeline and also an advance over the Afsluitdijk was even more difficult. An offensive against the Grebbeline was most obvious. For the Germans it was the shortest way to the Fortress Holland.
Let us now look at the German side. Before the outbreak of the war Hitler had already in mind to also involve the Dutch and Belgian territories in a war with France and England. He explained this to his highest commanders during a secret meeting in Berlin on the 23th of May 1939. England's weakest point was - he said - that supply had to come over the sea. The German armed forces therefore had to overrun The Netherlands, Belgium and France in order to obtain a broad base from where the air force and the navy could block the vulnerable British supply lines. The - in Hitlers eyes - decadent democracies were afraid of war. Disarmament preaching peace movements had undermined the will to fight for freedom. He considered it as one of the proofs that that form of government was outdated and led to moral disintegration. Of course this was not openly preached, on the contrary, the German dictator was profuse in assurances of his peaceful intentions. Already in 1937 he declared that he would honor the neutrality of our country and he repeated this on the 26th of august and the 1st of September 1939.
The attack on the 10th of May 1940 was executed in conformance with the plan of general Von Manstein. In short it amounted to the following: armoured forces would penetrate in one mighty, rapid attack through the Belgian Ardennes to the coast of the Channel. It was known that the French armies would come to the aid of the Belgians. Well, that fitted excellently into the plan. The more French that went to Belgium, the better. The chosen route of attack - round behind them - would cut them off from their country. Thereupon the forces that had been cut off in this way, had to be destroyed in a pincer movement by attacking not only from the south and the east, but also from the north via the southern part of the Netherlands. The German troops that had to carry out the northern part of the pincer movement, would have the Dutch army in the Fortress Holland on their flank and in their rear. Such a dangerous situation would be intolerable and could only be avoided by eliminating the Dutch resistance with lighting speed at the beginning of the offensive. This was easier said than done. Not that the Germans had such a high opinion of the Dutch army. They were however scared of the Dutch terrain that by its many rivers and canals was not suitable for a rapid advance. Most German generals were very doubtful about it. Hitler wasn't.
At one time it even happened that he advised his generals to read more books of Karl May; these stories of red indians would certainly activate their imagination!
Well, he himself could tell them now to solve problems like the Fortress Holland in a jiffy. For the first time in history he would have a complete army land from the air. Into the Fortress Holland! There it had to occupy the Hague in the early hours of the first day of the attack. The capture of Queen Wilhelmina, the government and the high command of our armed forces had to be the first objective. Devoid of all leadership this could only result in the immediate and complete collapse of the Dutch army. In addition to that, paratroopers would carry out surprise attacks on the bridges at Moerdijk, Dordrecht and Rotterdam, so as to enable troops, advancing fast through the southern part of the Netherlands, to penetrate without delay to The Hague that by that time would have been captured by the airborne troops. Hitler had indeed such an Airborne army. It was only known that the Germans had some small airborne units. That the future enemy had a complete airborne corps of 2 divisions, stayed a well kept secret.
With the decision to carry out the plan Von Manstein, the war against The Netherlands suddenly became a matter of great importance. This becomes apparent by the decision to allocate practically the whole airborne potential and the major part of the air force to the Dutch operation. General Wilhelm Speidel, chief of staff of the German Second Airfleet wrote in his study "Der Westfeldzug": "This attack on the Fortress Holland was an integral part of the total plan and had a direct interaction with the aim of the operation: breakthrough via the center to the Channel." The German colonel Langmann of the general staff called the operation against the Fortress Holland of paramount importance for the success of the attack on France.
Of course the Germans didn't bet on one horse. The 18e and the 6th Army were drawn up along the Dutch border with a combined strength of more than 24 divisions. There were 3 main attacks. One in the north with the intention to penetrate into the Fortress Holland via the Afsluitdijk. The center attack was aimed at the Grebbeline, to force breakthroughs at the Grebbeberg and Amersfoort and thereafter advance to Utrecht and Amsterdam. The southern attack had to push on to the Moerdijk bridges with the utmost speed to make contact with the paratroopers and air landing troops on the axis Moerdijk-The Hague.
Let us now go back to the Grebbeline, where one of the most bloody battles of the "Blitzkrieg" was fought. Of course we had tried to make this line as strong as possible with our means. In many sectors there were small inundations. But - owing to the level of the terrain - it was not possible to flood the terrain in front of Scherpenzeel and the Grebbeberg. The Grebbeline itself consisted of 2 defense lines. The first was called the "Frontline" and there the majority of the weapons were posted. The frontline had to stop the enemy, supported by the artillery in the rear. If he nevertheless should penetrate, the second line would come into action. This so called "Stopline" was weaker. The idea behind this was that an enemy that had penetrated was weakened as result of losses suffered. Moreover, troops that had retreated from the Frontline could reinforce the Stopline. The intention was to throw back the halted enemy over the Frontline by a reserve unit as soon as possible. After that the original situation had to be restored.
Both defense lines consisted of trenches and weapon positions made of wood and soil. Only in the Frontline there were a limited number off small pillboxes.
We know already that there was no inundation before the Grebbeberg. To compensate this disadvantage there were outposts between the river Rhine and an inundation about 3 Kilometres to the north.
A very serious matter was that the government did not permit to remove obstacles. Woods, orchards, houses etc. restricted the view and fields of fire for our troops. Furthermore they presented the enemy protection for an easy approach. In spite of the insistence on the part of the military commanders, the government refused the permission. The claims they had to pay to the owners were considered as being too high.
Another bad circumstance was the fact that the government didn't fulfill its promise to declare martial law for the whole country. The military commanders only got limited authority and they were not allowed to declare sensitive areas out of bounds to non military personnel and so avoid unwanted interest. The German espionage services made thankful and extensive use of it. Officers in plain clothes visited defensive areas many times, disguised as innocent tourists. By this the Germans were well-informed about all details in this defense line. On the 20th of March 1940 it was officially decided to break through the Grebbeline at the Grebbeberg, which had to be taken on the first day of the war against The Netherlands. This had to be executed by the reinforced 207th Division and an SS Brigade, the notorious SS Standarte "Der Führer". This is the same SS-unit that - later on - committed the mass murder at Saint Oradour in France, where they killed the whole population. The 207th Division had played a major role in cutting the Polish corridor in the first week of World War 2. A second breakthrough had to be executed at Amersfoort bij the reinforced 227th Division and another SS Brigade, the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler.
To further a quick approach some bridges over the river IJssel had to be taken by surprise. The Germans sent ahead, well before the time of attack, commando troops disguised as Dutch soldiers, immediately supported by three armoured trains.
Let us look now, at what happened during the battle for the Grebbeberg in these moving days of May 1940.
To cross the river IJssel as soon as possible a commando troop in Dutch military uniforms had to capture the railway bridge at Westervoort. After that an armoured train, followed by two trains for transport of troops had to drive on to the Grebbeline for a surprise attack. On the 10th of May, at 03.55 hrs the Germans crossed the border. The raid on the bridge at Westervoort failed by the vigilance of a squad near a road-bloc between the border and the IJssel. The Germans in Dutch uniform were disarmed. The armoured train was forced to stop just before the bridge by a barricade, caught fire by several hits of a Dutch antitank gun and had to withdraw. After that the enemy opened heavy fire with artillery, antitank guns and mortars. The defenders - only one infantry company in this sector - were powerless against this violence, because we couldn't afford to incorporate artillery in the IJsselline. Yet three attacks over the river were repulsed. Eventually, after destroying the few Dutch pillboxes by artillery and antitank guns, an SS battalion succeeded in crossing the river.
Another division, the 227th and the Sepp Dietrich's SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, tried to cross the IJssel at 4 places but met more difficulties. Only at Zutphen, where about hundred Germans were killed or drowned, they succeeded in the afternoon.
After crossing the IJssel at Westervoort, the SS Standarte Der Führer advanced upon the Grebbeberg but was slowed down by a squadron of hussars for some hours at Oosterbeek and Heelsum. After that, this squadron brought the enemy units to a halt before the open terrain at Renkum. According to the reports of the 3rd Battalion of the SS Standarte Der Führer the SS suffered heavy losses. But in the evening the squadron was ordered to fall back behind the frontline of the Grebbeline.
Let us now see what happened in the rest of the Netherlands on that first day. Without any doubt the air landings near The Hague dominated this day. However, the most extensive and surprising air landing operation ever seen in the world, had resulted in a catastrophic failure. Broken winged or burned, up to 200 transport planes lay in the polders around the town. After a short initial success, the enemy had to relinquish the three airfields around The Hague and was partly destroyed or captured, partly confined at a number of places. General Von Sponeck, the commander of the Airborne Division, was surrounded in the woods of Ockenburg, south of The Hague. He was not in contact with the other units of his division and was confronted with a hopeless task. This result is in fact very remarkable. Especially as the first countermeasures were carried out in an atmosphere of great confusion, with complete German air superiority and in a situation in which countless false rumors hampered the operations greatly. Remarkable too, because the troops that actually carried out the counterattacks, were even in numbers not or hardly stronger than their opponent, who consisted of regulars and volunteers. An explanation can only be found in their fast, spontaneous reactions, in their courage, indignation and often amazing resourcefulness. The Dutch troops made hundreds of prisoners. Their number would finally add to about 1640.
The air landing operation of the paratrooper division between Rotterdam and Moerdijk was more successful than around The Hague. The enemy managed, although with heavy losses, to capture the bridges at Moerdijk and Dordrecht. Things didn't go so well at Rotterdam. Marines and recruits of the engineers managed to mop up the majority of the Germans into the north part of the town, after which fighting commenced with the enemy on the other side of the river.
In the southern part of the Netherlands the Germans encountered the first resistance at the river Meuse, where - like at the IJssel - weak troops equipped with light infantry weapons formed an outpost line. To capture the bridges over this river by surprise, the Germans sent commando troops ahead before the time of attack, disguised as Dutch soldiers, railroad workers and civilians. Thanks to the alertness of our border guards their intentions miscarried at nearly all spots. At Venlo and Buggenum the assault commando was blown up together with the bridges. Near Gennep, however, the enemy was successful. An armoured train managed to cross the bridge, drove to Mill behind the Peel-Raamline and disembarked a battalion in the rear of our line. Along the Meuse the Germans attacked 6 Dutch infantry battalions with not less than 6 German divisions in first line. The resistance was, however, impressive. Many attacks were repulsed, before the enemy with his overwhelming superiority managed to force the river crossings. Near Mill in the Peel-Raam (delay)line hard fighting went on all day and the next morning. The Germans, who had detrained in the rear were brought to bay and the armoured train was destroyed. In the night of the 10th to the 11th of May 2 German divisions however, managed to annihilate the defenders, who numbered only 2 battalions.
That the lines along Meuse and IJssel would be broken on the first day, had already been envisaged. The thin line served only to delay the enemy for a short time so as to enable the lines behind to take the necessary measures. The units had come fully up to expectations. The losses inflicted on the Germans were serious and on some places isolated troops were to hold out and resist until the 11th and 12th of May. The attack on The Hague was a failure. Thus there was every reason to view the future with moderate optimism. A gloomier situation was that of our air force, consisting of 124 partly antiquated aircraft. The pilots had joined unequal combat without hesitation and with true contempt of death, with a hypermodern force that outnumbered them manifold. Although our pilots showed themselves masters in aerial combat, our losses were also heavy and hit us harder.
In the southern part of the country there was the danger that the advancing German army would quickly make contact with the airborne troops at Moerdijk. Our greatest hope was the French 7th Army, which contained strong mechanized units and whose advance elements had already arrived in Brabant. On top of that, the French Commander in Chief, general Gamelin, in a telephone conversation with general Winkelman, the Dutch Chief of Staff, personally guaranteed help in the form of armoured forces that would be committed against the Moerdijk bridges.
Let us go back again to the Grebbeberg. At 2 o'clock in the night from 10th to 11th of May the German artillery opened fire with 5 artillery battalions on the outposts in front of the Grebbeberg. In the morning the SS brigade attacked with 3 battalions on the outposts. In the beginning Dutch artillery could successfully support the defenders, but soon all field cables were destroyed by German artillery fire. Our army had no radio sets at that time and the defenders couldn't prevent a break through in the northern sector of the outposts. The battle was dreadful for our conscripts. After the first hours, nearly every attack by the SS was executed under the cover of Dutch prisoners of war. They were forced to walk in front into the Dutch fire. On 3 places during the battle for the Grebbeberg. a whole Dutch infantry group was murdered by the SS after their surrender. However, fierce resistance slowed down the attack considerably and not until the evening the last position was lost after a hard fight. The first two soldiers who left the trench after the surrender, were shot by the SS.
That tough resistance was encountered is proved by the fact that the SS Brigade took all day, and - according to the enemy's reports - at the cost of heavy losses to annihilate the Dutch troops with the strength of 2 infantry companies and a heavy machinegun unit.
The Germans did not want to postpone the conquest of the Grebbeberg for the second time to the next day, but continued attacks - one with armoured cars - as well as an attack along the road Ede-De Klomp were repulsed.
The whole following night was characterized by heavy German artillery fire and much shooting on the Dutch side.
The news of the battles in the country started to be gloomier on the 11th of May.
In the south, desperate resistance was still rendered. The enemy colossus couldn't be stopped, however. French troops entered the province and got mixed up with fleeing civilians and retreating Dutch troops. On the overcrowded road chaotic situations developed, especially as German dive-bombers attacked frequently.
The countermeasures against the Germans who had landed between Rotterdam and Moerdijk made hardly any headway. The enemy brought in reinforcements via the airfield Waalhaven in the south of Rotterdam. Dutch artillery fire and British aerial bombardments could only hinder, but not prevent this. Along the northern river bank in Rotterdam a defensive line developed against the Germans in the south part of the city.
A start was made with mopping-up operations against the remnants of the Airborne division around The Hague. By nightfall the smaller units, dispersed in the polder region, were destroyed. Attacks on the stronger German units didn't achieve the same successes as on the first day. Furthermore, two Dutch battalions were ordered to cross the river Merwede , to clear the area south of Dordrecht. If they succeeded, the Germans at Rotterdam would be cut off and the Moerdijk bridges would be safeguarded again. Together with the armoured attack on the Moerdijk, promised by the French, there was still a possibility to save the situation.
Back again to the Grebbeberg. A strong attack on the frontline was preceded by a 9 hours during shelling. As a result of this, many telephone communications got out of order, movements and also the command became very difficult. Supply of ammunition was almost impossible. At the "Hoornwerk" - an old entrenchment with some pillboxes, jutting out of the frontline - it caused lack of ammunition, while nearly all machineguns were destroyed by the continuous enemy fire. By this the Germans succeeded to penetrate the frontline in the early afternoon, partly via the bridge over the small river Grebbe, which was not completely blown up. The attack was executed by the SS Brigade "Der Führer", supported by 5 artillery battalions. After heavy fighting the attack came to a standstill before the Stopline, as you know, the second line of defense. Immediately attempts were made to throw the enemy back. But the strength of the SS formations was underrated. The commander of one of the two infantry battalions that defended the Grebbeberg, major Jacometti, rallied about one platoon and started a counter attack. He led the way, shouting: "DOWN WITH THOSE JERRIES" and "LONG LIVE THE QUEEN !". But this brave attempt was repulsed by the overwhelming German fire. Major Jacometti was killed. Also from the southern part of the Stopline some desperate counterattacks were executed. However, they were without success, in spite of all courage. In the Stopline - in fact only one long trench - the actions caused confusion and the officers and NCO's had to stop the gaps and to reorganize the defense. Nevertheless all following German attacks were repulsed. But in the evening suddenly all German fire was concentrated on the Stopline where it crossed the road to Rhenen. Immediately a bold attack by an SS battalion followed which broke through the Stopline. This caused a local panic; the Germans made a number of prisoners of war and pushed through in the direction of the viaduct east of Rhenen. This viaduct was guarded by captain Gelderman of the Military Police with a number of his men. He had the order to prevent the withdrawal of Dutch soldiers, if necessary by force. The SS shock troops tried to capture the viaduct by using their POW's as a cover. The captain, however, ordered to open fire, after which the enemy retired and entrenched himself in and near a factory almost opposite the viaduct. Unfortunately some Dutch prisoners were also killed. In the meantime the situation in the Stopline was restored, with the result that the penetrated SS troops were cut off.
Meanwhile our staffs worked feverishly to seal off the enemy from a line, from which a counter attack could start. The aim was to throw the enemy back behind our original frontline.
Twice the Germans also tried to threaten the Grebbeberg from the north, by attacks via the road Ede-De Klomp. They were executed by the 368th Infantry Regiment of the 207th Division, supported by artillery but they didn't have any success. South of the Grebbeberg, in the so called Betuweline fighting also broke out. The first attack on the outposts was repulsed and a considerably booty of left behind material fell into Dutch hands. The second attack was also unsuccessful but infiltrations of the enemy during the night forced to evacuate the outposts.
On this third day the developments elsewhere in the country were as follows.
The situation around The Hague gave no reason for anxiety, but the situation in Brabant did not work out as planned. French armoured and mechanized units had formed a line of resistance on the level of Tilburg. The promised French attack on the Moerdijk bridges with French armoured forces was actually carried out, but not in a very aggressive way. Contact with the Dutch commanders were awkward. After a German bombing attack the French rapidly retreated to Breda.
The enemy attack on Tilburg quickly met with success. The French brigade stationed here disappeared for the major part to Belgian territory. By prematurely breaking off the attack on the Moerdijk, the French enabled the German 9th Armoured Division to penetrate almost unopposed to the Moerdijk bridges
The Dutch operations here had started with an attack of 2 cyclist battalions on the Island of Dordrecht. On the eastern flank there was a quick success. After some time the advance had to be stopped to wait for the battalion that would deal with the Westside of the island. This however, was engaged in heavy fighting near and in the town of Dordrecht. The startled enemy under the command of general Student had sent hundreds of paratroopers to this endangered location. Only late in the afternoon did the eastern troop go forward again. Towards the evening they were only a few kilometers away from the Moerdijk bridges.
On the fourth day of the war the Germans has also tried to advance into the Fortress Holland via the Afsluitdijk, the dike across the IJsselmeer. After many aerial and heavy artillery bombardments an attack was launched that was however devastatingly repulsed. The intended attack on the Grebbeline at Amersfoort was given up by the enemy. Instead of this he tried to penetrate the Grebbeline with his whole 227th Division, supported by at least 6 artillery battalions. Vicious Dutch resistance ensured that this action was a complete failure. The Germans were forced to retreat, mainly by the resistance of the outposts and the excellent aimed fire of our artillery. An attack on the Betuweline near Ochten was also unsuccessful. Near that same place a German flotilla of naval vessels approached over the river Waal and was sent fleeing. Two ships were sunk and another one got a few direct hits.
Still all this success couldn't remedy the dangerous situation on the Grebbeberg.
While there was terrible fighting in the Stopline, a last desperate effort was made to save the situation. Four battalions, brought together in a hurry, were to counter attack from the north with two battalions in front and two behind them. It was hoped that this would seal off the German penetration. As we practically had no reserves, the battalions had to come from elsewhere. The consequence was that they were very tired by long marches and shortage of sleep and food, before the start of the counterattack.
At 7 o'clock in the morning the troops moved forward after many delays. Caused by lack of communications it was not known where the exact enemy positions were and where in front our own soldiers were still fighting. Afraid to hit our own troops, artillery fire was only allowed in front of the Grebbeberg. Some hours before the start of the attack some Dutch aero planes bombed and machine-gunned German positions between Wageningen and the Grebbeberg. Fortunately there were no German planes in the air at that moment.
Although slowly, owing to many ditches and barbed wire entanglements in the open field north of the Grebbeberg, the counterattack made progress and the Germans were driven back. Meanwhile a few things happened on the German side. The offensive against the Stopline was taken over by the 322th Infantry Regiment of the 207th Division and the SS Standarte got the order to roll up the Grebbeline to the north. Again in many instances the SS used POW's as a cover. Soon the Germans discovered the counterattack and the German artillery opened a heavy fire on the approaching troops. Then suddenly Stuka bombers dived with their terrible sound and carried out prolonged bombing of the Dutch troops. This was too much for the exhausted soldiers and broke the morale. They began to retire and tried to escape this place of terror. After some time officers succeeded to stop the troops and to organize a defense again. But the SS battalions also seemed to be exhausted. They did not continue their attack and informed the division that they had to stop because of tough resistance.
On the Grebbeberg itself the Stopline crumbled under hellish fighting. In many places it came to a man-to-man fight with the penetrated enemy, who - in the beginning - could be kept at a distance with hand grenades and bayonets. During this fight German shock-troops pushed forward. But again the fight flared up. This time not in a defense line, but at the command posts of both Grebbeberg-battalions. Especially the cp of the 1st Battalion, under the inspiring leadership of Major Willem Pieter Landzaat, offered resistance with grimness during many hours against a superior enemy. With all together 16 men in a small pavilion near the entrance of the well-known zoo on the top of the Grebbeberg, the house was defended with great courage in which they inflicted severe losses on the enemy. At last the pavilion collapsed by heavy gunfire. At that time nearly all available ammunition was consumed. Major Landzaat thanked the survivors with the words: "You fought like heroes; my thanks!". He continued with the order to leave and to try to reach own troops. The major did not follow his men. He considered it as his duty to do what he had ordered his troops: "fight to the last bullet" and later on: "stand firm in the ruins". With the last cartridge-clip in his pistol he went out to meet the enemy. A tragic detail is that his charred body was found after the battle by his wife. Not only in the pavilion, elsewhere too heavy fighting took place with all kinds of small groups which did not want to give up. This exhausted the attackers so much, that the whole 322th Regiment came to a standstill at the railway-line east of Rhenen.
Before this stage was reached, a lot of things had happened at the viaduct over this railway. Perhaps we can remember that it was defended by a small group of military policemen under the command of captain Gelderman. The SS detachment nearly opposite him was under the command of Obersturmbann-führer Wäckerle. It is hard to believe, but this man - a battalion commander - was the first commander of the concentration-camp Dachau, where he was fired because of cruelties! After his first attempt to capture the viaduct behind the cover of POW's, he posted his prisoners with their hands up behind a low fence, while the SS men fired between them. The captain was not intimidated, after which Wäckerle changed tactics. A number of half-dressed prisoners was driven forward in the direction of the viaduct, in front of the German troop. Machine gunfire was the answer to this criminal action. The prisoners immediately fell on the ground, by which the enemy became visible and was repulsed with losses. After some time a fourth attempt followed to capture the viaduct. Now the Germans were dressed in Dutch military uniforms, robbed from their prisoners. The sly intention was discovered because the SS men had kept on wearing their heavy boots. This ploy also failed.
Earlier and in a hurry an improvised defense was organized behind the railway, partial with retreated troops. However, connection between these mixed up units was lost. There were no means of communication, except by orderly or dispatch-rider. The attacks by Stuka dive bombers and the heavy shelling appeared to be the finishing stroke. Desperate, dazed and morale-broken, many sought safety in flight. Not all, because at the viaduct captain Gelderman's men refused to desert their posts. The same applied to a group of hussars south of the viaduct and an infantry platoon at the bend of the railway, north of Rhenen.
It may appear incredible, these lone units stopped the attack of the 3 battalions of the 322th Regiment. The situation became even more bizarre. In the late afternoon a company of a called-in unit attacked over the railway south of the viaduct and captured the positions of Wäckerle's SS troops.
Although no German succeeded in passing the railway, it was clear that the end was in sight. There were no troops available any more, to deal with a break-through. Behind the Grebbeline there was a possibility to continue the battle. There was the Dutch Waterline, a defense line that was not finished after the decision to organize our main defense in the Grebbeline. But there was no choice and in the night from 13 to 14 May the troops were ordered to withdraw. A dangerous operation which succeeded, thanks to covering detachments and a thick fog that protected our troops against the German Luftwaffe.
After this retreat one could still say there was an uninterrupted frontline, north and east of the Fortress Holland. In the south this was not the case. There the 9th German Armoured Division had crossed the Moerdijk bridges. Our cyclist troops on the Island of Dordrecht were no match for the might of tanks. In Dordrecht street-fighting developed in which 4 tanks were destroyed. The Germans withdrew from the town, but pushed on in the direction of Rotterdam, that now came to lie in the frontline. Our improvised line of resistance along the river formed the last obstacle on the way to The Hague. Our last bomber and last fighter bomber were lost in a desperate attempt to destroy the Moerdijkbridge. The situation had now become so grave, that general Winkelman urged Queen Wilhelmina to leave The Hague, but she wanted to stay. The general now however said he could no longer guarantee her safety. Queen Wilhelmina was a woman of unshakable, firm convictions that sometimes seemed to weigh heavier than reality. She reacted very emotional and considered to go to the Grebbeberg to seek death on the battlefield to share the fate of the warrior and - like she said as King William III had expressed it: to fall as the last man in the last trench. Initially it gave the general a lot of trouble to convince her. The cabinet ministers would also leave so as to not only carry on governing, but also the war of the Kingdom (Netherlands East- and West Indies) against Germany. Thus the queen started her sad voyage to Hook of Holland, where she boarded a British destroyer. She had been told that the ship was going to Zeeland. On the high sea, however, she was informed it had been decided to go to England. The queen who was deeply upset by this, thought that on arrival she could see in what way she could return to Holland. Soon the course of the fighting made this impossible.
In the early morning of the fifth day, Adolf Hitler issued his "Weisung" Nr. 11. Concerning the Dutch theatre of operations he says the following:
"The resistance capability of the Dutch army has proved to be stronger than expected. Political as well as military reasons demand that this resistance is broken as soon as possible. It is the task of the army to capture the Fortress Holland by committing enough forces from the south, combined with an attack on the east front. In addition to that the air force must, while weakening the forces that up till now have supported the 6th Army, facilitate the rapid fall of the Fortress Holland."
The breakthrough should be made at Rotterdam. In the meantime there had also been thoughts about a bombing raid. The German historian Hans-Adolf Jacobsen published an extensive study in 1958, in which he remarks:
"Without a doubt the reports and the situation in The Netherlands caused an atmosphere of persistent high tension at army HQ. Would it be possible to carry out the important war mission before Allied units got to the Fortress Holland? there was no time to lose."
General Von Küchler, commander of the 18th Army, sent out the following order: "Resistance in Rotterdam must be broken with all possible means. The city must be threatened with annihilation that must be carried out if necessary." Unlike the precision bombing that was intended by general Student, the annihilation of the town was completely contrary to the rules of war. The order was of a criminal nature. In accordance with Von Küchler's order a German delegation appeared on the river bridge, equipped with white flags, under the command op captain Hoerst, who carried an ultimatum requiring the surrender of the town. The captain pointed out that an air raid could be expected if the town didn't surrender within two hours. He also said that Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and Haarlem would share the fate of Rotterdam if we didn't surrender. The letter was not signed and didn't mention name or rank of the sender. Was it a ruse of war? When this distrust became clear on the German side, a new ultimatum was presented that complied with the Dutch demands. It was signed by general Schmidt, the commander of the German 39th Army Corps and had to be replied to, before 20 past 4 in the afternoon. At half past one already, a long time before the expiration of the ultimatum, the well known and terrible bombing of Rotterdam started. Indescribable was the suffering that was inflicted on the civilian population. It was not an attack on the defensive positions along the river - they were not hit - but on the center of town. Later on the Germans explained that they couldn't stop the bombers because the communications with the squadrons were jammed again and again. As the last resort the German generals Student and Schmidt had tried to check the danger by firing red signal flares. But it only resulted in being noticed by a squadron coming from the south. It turned away but not before the first 3 planes had dropped their bomb load. A moment later, Göring, the commander of the German air force, would give an example of his monstrous thinking. Now that some planes had returned from Rotterdam without having dropped all their bombs, he reacted furiously. He didn't care a rap for surrender negotiation and ordered general Kesselring to repeat the bombardment. Kesselrings sent the following order: "Field-marschall orders breakthrough this very day without taking into account capitulation."
In the sea of flames of Rotterdam, every defense became impossible. The town surrendered. It looks as if the German general Schmidt had a certain foreboding. At 1715 hrs (Rotterdam had already surrendered) he sent an - by the way - inaccurate message that saved the town from a second attack. This read: "Northern part of Rotterdam occupied; don't bomb." This message came through in time and the planes that had already left, could be recalled this time. Long after the second world war German historians persisted in claiming that it had certainly not happened on purpose. But, for the first time in 1979 we read in "Das deutsch Reich und der zweite Weltkrieg" (The German State in the Second Word-war), published by the authoritative Investigation Office for military history at Freiburg:
"When strong resistance in Rotterdam endangered the rapid occupation of The Netherlands, Göring ordered a concentrated air attack on this city on the 14th of May. According to the notes of the Chief of Operations of the Airforce Staff, general Von Waldau, only this radical solution was left to them."
After the fall of Rotterdam the situation had become very critical indeed. This, however, was not immediately a reason for general surrender. New lines of resistance were already considered, like an antitank front around The Hague and Delft and the unaffected Waterline could perhaps be linked up to form a new closed front. But in the meantime also the city of Utrecht and inhabitants were threatened with destruction. The same applied - as we know - for The Hague, Amsterdam and Haarlem. General Winkelman had nothing to oppose this strategy of terror. We had hardly any planes left. Our antiaircraft was getting short of ammunition. The general decided to end the fighting.
The battle had been fought. At the end of this lecture we come to the unavoidable question: had the offered resistance had any sense; was it worth the price of so many human lives and so much damage. I think yes. The justification of this statement cannot be limited to the subject of this lecture: the battle for the Grebbeberg. This was a part of the entire defense that created the possibility and the time to inflict a far-reaching and heavy defeat upon the enemy in the western part of The Netherlands. This defeat was the failure of the only airborne division of the German forces. Next to the men killed in action and the injured men, the Dutch troops had taken prisoner about 1640 men of the air landing troops and paratroopers. About 1240 were shipped just in time to England on the ships Phrontis and Texelstroom. After the fighting the Germans were obviously furious about the loss of the special troops, that had received an extensive and for those days exceptional training. They were also troops that couldn't be replaced rapidly and that were of great importance for the rest of the war. This last especially in view of the intended invasion in England. According to a report of the Airlanding division 42% of the officers and 20% of the NCO's and men were put out of action. In an order of the 22nd of May an order of the division followed in which the following was mentioned:
"It is prohibited to talk to civilians or soldiers, not belonging to the division, about details of the fighting in Holland. The losses sustained by the air landing troops and the transport-aircraft must also be kept secret, as the enemy might be able to draw conclusions from conversations in café's and in public; the greatest reticence must be exercised. The enemy is listening in!"
In his book "The last ditch" the British historian David Lampe writes:
"Many people in England thought in those days that the Germans would attempt an invasion from the air, but the reports of the intelligence service showed that this was impossible, as Hitler didn't have the aircraft and trained airborne-troops any more, required for such an operation."
The German plane losses are a record in history for 5 days of war: 108 combat aircraft and at least 280 transport planes. The well-known German historian Werner Haupt wrote in his "Sieg ohne Lorbeer":
"Colonel Morzik commands 430 transport planes at the beginning of the offensive. On the evening of the 10th of May, 280 are lying burned out between the coast and the German border."
According to a statement made after the war by Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, the loss of transport planes was something the Germans never recovered from during the rest of te war. His Chief of Staff general Speidel wrote that the effects were felt for years.
A last quotation from the German staff-work "Der Einsatz der Luftlandetruppen im Westen":
"The high losses in men and material, that made the action around The Hague a failure, warned the army command against too ambitious designs during later intended operations , like Seelöwe (the invasion in England), Malta and Gibraltar."
Author: LtCol rtd Eppo H. Brongers.94