Operation Battle of Mill

The 'Battle of Mill' was fought between German and Dutch forces in and around the Dutch village of Mill toward the northern end of the 'Peel-Raamstelling' (Peel-Raam line) on the first day of the German 'Gelb' invasion of the Netherlands (10/11 May 1940).

The Germans broke through, but in the process suffered heavy casualties and their advance was delayed by one day. The German forces favoured an attack on Mill in North Brabant for several reasons: the eastern approach was covered by thick forest, there was no swamp ahead of it, and once it had been penetrated there were a number of roads and nearby railway that could be used for the German advance to the west.

Covering the 'Peel-Raamstelling' in this area was an anti-tank ditch lined with barbed wire and 47 pillboxes sited to fire to the east, the direction from which any German invasion would come. The line was held by two battalions, and was equipped with four 57-mm field guns. These were supported by one artillery battalion located to the west of Mill: this battalion was equipped with 12 wholly obsolete 84-mm (3.31-in) field guns. One company of engineers was also stationed in the area to barricade roads and prepare bridges for demolition. The engineers were also equipped with a special railway barricade known as an 'asparagus'. During the battle smaller units were to be ordered to reinforce the position at Mill, and it was planned that these initial defence forces would be backed by the Dutch III Corps, but this was not to be. Overall, the Dutch strength was about 2,000 men.

The Germans planned to spearhead the assault with two trains carrying the 3/481st Infanterieregiment, and this battalion was shortly thereafter to be joined by the rest of Generalleutnant Gerhard Kauffmann’s 256th Division, a component of General Albert Wodrig’s XXVI Corps. However, issues with movement over the Maas river meant that the whole division would not be assembled in the Mill area until 12.00, and would be without its heavy artillery.

The German armoured and troop trains crossed the border without meeting any opposition, and arrived in the town of Zeeland at 04.30. At the time unaware of the German invasion, the Dutch forces had been taken by complete surprise and did not have time even to open fire. The German troops detrained at Zeeland station and radioed that they had successfully penetrated the Dutch lines. Disappointed that it had not made contact with the Dutch, the armoured train was sent back to the border but, now fully aware of the situation, Dutch engineers installed the 'asparagus' barricade on the track and reinforced it with several mines. Unable to stop in time, the armoured train crashed into the obstruction, coming off the rails and losing its first carriage into the ditch beside the track. The small unit on board quickly disembarked and in an attack from the west captured two pillboxes whose weapons, as noted above, faced the east. The German attackers were then pinned down by rifle and machine gun fire, and retreated to the train. Unable to penetrate the train’s armour plating with their machine guns and rifles, the Dutch called in artillery support. This forced the Germans to take cover in the ditch, unable to return fire effectively. At about 05.00, Generaal-majoor Adrianus Antonius van Nijnatten, commander of the III Corps, telephoned the Dutch general headquarters to report that the Germans had seized a bridge at Gennep intact and that a train had broken through near Mill, and was then authorised to despatch the 2nd Hussars-Motorcyclist Regiment to reinforce the town.

Meanwhile, a German company which had been dropped off in Zeeland headed to the north-east to outflank the Dutch pillboxes on the defence line, but encountered the Dutch artillery battalion, which it had not known was present. This Dutch artillery battalion was a new unit which had only just arrived and was equipped with 84-mm (3.31-in) guns of a type that was so old that it had been formally retired but then been recalled to service. The battalion was equally surprised to see the Germans behind its position, but quickly turned its guns and opened fire, albeit only one gun at a time. The Germans sustained relatively heavy casualties, and after about an hour decided to withdraw into nearby woods.

Another company infiltrated through unoccupied trenches and launched an attack on the Dutch pillboxes along the road between Mill and Volkel. The Dutch sustained some casualties, but returned fire, forcing the Germans to withdraw to the troop train. German forces then advanced along the railway line toward Mill. Along the way they encountered 10 pillboxes, whose weapons faced to the south-east and whose detachments were caught by complete surprise. The Germans promptly captured nine of these pillboxes, flanked the tenth and captured most of its crew, although one man refused to surrender and slammed the door shut before firing wildly through the pillbox’s loopholes, forcing the Germans to back off.

At 07.30 the 2nd Hussars-Motorcyclist Regiment found the still-operational German troop train in the area to the south of Mill. Armed with anti-tank guns and heavy machine guns, the Dutch regiment quickly disabled the locomotive and boarded the train, inside finding Dutch uniforms that had been used by German commandos to take the border posts. The hussars departed after setting the train on fire.

Farther to the north, the Germans fell on a Dutch company stationed in a small forest and by 11.00, after several hours of fighting with grenades and flamethrowers, had cleared the area and moved up to the railway. At 12.00 the rest of the German force arrived, engaging the Dutch defence line. The armoured train detachment, still trapped in the ditch, prepared to break out. Around 14.00, the Dutch hussars appeared to reinforce the line. Some of the newly arrived troops relieved the soldier who had single-handedly defended his pillbox from the Germans, and then proceeded to recapture the three adjacent to this concrete structure. A German reconnaissance squad appeared but was forced to retreat under heavy fire from the hussars. Had this squad found the armoured train’s men and attempted to link with them, the entire Dutch defensive line would have been compromised. Artillery support from the battalion to the west of Mill checked the Germans' advance and, frustrated by this lack of progress, Oberstleutnant Friedrich Weber, commander of the 481st Infanterieregiment in Kauffmann’s 256th Division of the XXVI Corps in General Georg von Küchler’s 18th Army, ordered an all-out assault on the line. The Germans were forced to pause, though, as their heavy artillery had still not crossed the Maas river. Instead, Weber ordered a probing assault along the railway. Some of the Dutch pillboxes were destroyed by anti-tank guns, while in the village a German machine gun position was neutralised by a field gun.

By 18.00, German heavy howitzers had arrived together with another infantry regiment. and the Germans prepared to launch their assault. Some 37 Junkers Ju 88 twin-engined medium bombers attacked the northern portion of the defence line, but failed to kill any Dutch soldiers or destroy any pillboxes. The German infantry then launched its attack, and heavy fighting followed. By 22.00 the Germans had established a wide gap in the 'Peel-Raamstelling'. As the Dutch retreated, the Germans linked with the armoured train unit, which they at first misidentified as Dutch soldiers. A rearguard covered the Dutch withdrawal to the Zuid-Willemsvaart (South Willem’s Canal) until 04.00 on 11 May, while heavier fighting continued in the north.

Over the course of the fighting the Dutch lost 30 men killed and 50 wounded, and in the village nine civilians were killed. While figures for the Germans are incomplete, it is estimated that they suffered more than 500 casualties. The Dutch defence had allowed for the escape of larger forces deeper into 'Vesting Holland' and delayed the Germans progress by one day. But with the 'Peel-Raamstelling' breached, the Germans could now advance farther into the Netherlands.