Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Netherlands Campaign (10–15 May 1940)

Title: German occupation yields citizen casualties in Amsterdam
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In May 1940, the Germans launched case yellow, their attack against France and the neutral Low Countries. In the case of the Netherlands, the country was overrun in five days and suffered heavy losses. The German strategy to invade western Europe called for an attack through neutral Belgium and the Netherlands as well as across the Franco-German border farther south to enable the German forces to carry out a grand sweeping movement. Known as Operation sichelschnittthe cut of the sickle), it was in effect a reverse of the World War I Schlieffen Plan designed to trap advancing British and French forces in Belgium.

General Henry G. Winkelman's Netherlands army of 8 infantry divisions plus 2 in reserve faced Colonel General Fedor von Bock's Army Group B consisting of General of Artillery (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general) Georg von Küchler's Eighteenth Army of 11 divisions (9 infantry and 1 each of cavalry and tanks) and Colonel General Walther von Reichenau's Sixth Army with 17 infantry and 2 panzer divisions. The Dutch forces were basically militia with little training and no fighting experience. They also had no tanks and hardly any antitank weapons. Although some Dutch units fought well, the army as a whole broke down rather rapidly.

The attack against Fortress Holland, as the defensive strategy was known, began in the early hours of 10 May 1940. As in the previous month's offensive against Norway, an air assault spearheaded Germany's operation. Most of these air assaults were successful, as with 12 seaplanes landing at Rotterdam and their 120 troops on board securing 3 important bridges. This was at some cost to German air assets. On 10 May alone, the Luftwaffe lost some 170 aircraft and had about the same number damaged. Most key defensive installations were in German hands by the middle of the first day, however. Of the crucial bridges over the Juliana Canal, the Germans captured all but one completely intact. Although by 12 May Allied bombers began to target key bridges in the Netherlands, most bridges had already been secured by the Germans, allowing their forces to advance rapidly.

On 13 May, Generalleutnant (U.S. equiv. major general) Alfred Ritter von Hubicki's 9th Panzer Division managed to achieve a breakthrough toward the bridges at Moordijk 15 miles south of Rotterdam, captured intact by German paratroopers at the start of the operations. Two of these structures were then the longest road and rail bridges in the world. This move enabled the Germans to advance to Rotterdam and split the Netherlands in two. Counterattacks by the French Seventh Army failed to retake the bridges and establish contact with Dutch forces. The French then were forced to fall back toward Antwerp, making the Dutch position untenable. Recognizing that further resistance would not reverse the situation, the Netherlands government considered capitulation. On 13 May, Queen Wilhelmina, other members of the Dutch Royal Family, and the government fled to Britain, where a government-in-exile was quickly established.

The resistance of Netherlands forces had surprised the Germans, and they wanted to end the campaign quickly to enable forces there to be shifted to France. When on 14 May the Germans demanded the surrender of Rotterdam, the Dutch at first refused. In one of the most controversial decisions of the war, Reichsmarschall and commander of the German air force Hermann Göring then decided to employ Ju-87 Stuka dive-bombers of Fliegerkorps IV against the city to hasten Dutch capitulation. Talks began at noon, but faulty communications meant that the air attack went forward and the city center was virtually destroyed. On 15 May, the Netherlands surrendered. In the five-days campaign, the Netherlands had lost 2,890 dead and 6,900 wounded. There are no separate German casualty figures for the Netherlands fighting. The Netherlands remained under German occupation for the next four years.

Thomas J. Weiler


Further Reading
Deighton, Len. Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.; Messenger, Charles and John Keegan, eds. The Second World War in the West (The History of Warfare). London: Cassell Academic, 1999.; Powaski, Ronald E. Lightning War: Blitzkrieg in the West, 1940. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2002.
 

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