This was the German airborne and air-landing attack on Den Haag, Rotterdam, Dordrecht, and Moerdijk in the Netherlands as part of ‘Gelb’ (10/11 May 1940).
The UK and France declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 after the German invasion of Poland, but no land operations in western Europe occurred during the period of the so-called ‘Phoney War’ as the British and French built up their forces, expecting a long war, and the Germans completed their conquest of Poland, Denmark and Norway.
On 9 October 1939, however, Adolf Hitler signed his Führerweisung Nr 9 ordering the creation of plans for an invasion of the Low Countries in order to secure some of the bases which would be needed for any invasion of the UK, and also to pre-empt any Allied attempt to secure the same bases as the launch points for air and possibly land attacks on Germany’s vital Ruhr industrial region.
After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 the Netherlands had began to rearm, albeit at a slower pace than other nations concerned by the growth of German power, for a succession of Dutch governments did not see a Nazi-ruled Germany as a significant threat to the Netherlands, wished not to antagonise Germany, and believed that the expenditure would not be worth the result, especially as there were strict budgetary limits with which the conservative Dutch governments sought to lift their country out of the worst of the ‘great depression’.
Even after the outbreak of World War II, the Netherlands hoped to remain neutral, as they had in World War I, and to ensure this neutrality the Dutch army was mobilised and deployed. Large sums were at last made available for re-equipment, but it proved very difficult to obtain the necessary matériel in time of war, all the more so as the Netherlands ordered much of its new equipment from Germany.
The strategic position of the Low Countries, located between France and Germany on the uncovered northern flanks of their respective ‘Maginot’ and ‘Westwall’ lines of fortification, made the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg the logical route for an offensive by either side. The Allies sought to convince the governments of the Low Countries not to wait for the German assault which they thought inevitable, but instead to join the Allied cause. Both Belgium and the Netherlands refused, however, even after the German plan for the ‘Gelb’ operation, including the assault on the Low Countries, fell into Belgian hands after the crash of a German aeroplane in January 1940. The French considered a violation of the Low Countries’ neutrality if Belgium and the Netherlands had still not joined the Allied cause before the major offensive which the Allies were planning for the summer of 1941.
After the Germans had made their 'Weserübung' invasions of Norway and Denmark, neither of them with the benefit of any declaration of war, it finally became clear to the Dutch military that remaining aloof from the conflict might prove impossible, and the Netherlands started to prepare fully for war: this took the form of psychological and material efforts, the latter including provision for the countermeasures which might yield useful results against an airborne assault.
Even so, most of the Dutch population still willed themselves to believe that their country might be spared.
Nearly all the material conditions for a successful defence were available in the Netherlands, namely a dense population, wealthy, young, disciplined and well-educated; terrain favouring the defence over the offence; and a strong technological and industrial basis including a moderately large armaments industry. What could not be ignored, though, was the fact that none of these advantages had been exploited to anything approaching their fullest potential: thus the Dutch army had only a minuscule armoured force (one inoperable Renault FT-17 light tank of World War I vintage, 39 armoured cars and five tankettes) and an infantry arm still equipped largely with the Steyr-Mannlicher M1895 bolt-action rifle designed and made before World War I. The air force was also in a poor state, and was equipped largely with biplanes and a small number of monoplanes, most of the latter already technically obsolescent. Dutch equipment shortages were so acute that they limited the number of formations which could be raised: the limited availability of artillery meant that there could be no more than eight infantry divisions (combined in four corps) and one light (motorised) division.
With the exception of two independent brigades, all the troops were raised as light infantry ‘border battalions’, which were dispersed all over the Netherlands with the task of delaying any invasion force. The fixed defences were based on a number of lines of pillboxes which lacked depth, and there were no modern fortresses, such as that which the Belgians had built at Eben-Emael. The extent to which the Netherlands were unprepared for war is indicated by the fact that Belgium, with a smaller population, was able to field 22 divisions.
After September 1939, therefore, the Netherlands made a determined but largely fruitless effort to improve the Dutch situation. For obvious strategic reasons, Germany delayed deliveries of modern weapons and equipment; France was hesitant to equip an army which would not unequivocally take its side; and the one abundant source of readily available weaponry, the USSR, was inaccessible as the Dutch had refused to recognise its communist regime.
On 10 May the most obvious of the Dutch army limitations was its shortage of armour. Whereas the other major participants all had sizeable armoured forces, the Netherlands had not been able to obtain the minimum of 140 modern tanks they thought necessary. The single Renault tank, for which just a driver had been trained and which had the sole task of testing anti-tank obstacles, remained the only example of its kind. There were two squadrons of armoured cars, each with a dozen Landsverk vehicles; another dozen DAF M39 cars were in the process of being fitted with armament. A single platoon of five Carden-Loyd Mark VI tankettes used by the artillery completed the list of Dutch armour.
The Dutch artillery comprised 676 howitzers and field guns: 310 Krupp 75-mm (2.95-in) field guns; 52 105-mm (4.13-in) Bofors howitzers, which were the only really modern pieces; 144 obsolete Krupp 125-mm (4.92-in) guns; 40 150-mm (5.91-in) sFH13 howitzers; 72 Krupp 150-mm (5.91-in) L/24 howitzers; and 28 Vickers 152-mm (6-in) L/15 howitzers. Many of these were so old that they could be used only with black powder rather than nitro-celluluse propellants.
For the anti-tank role there were 386 47-mm Böhler L/39 equipments, and another 300 antiquated 57- and 84-mm (2.24- and 3.31-in) field guns performed the same role for the covering forces. None of the 220 modern pieces ordered in Germany had been delivered at the time of the invasion.
The Dutch infantry arm had some 2,000 6.5-mm (0.26-in) Schwarzlose M.08 machine guns and 800 Vickers machine guns. Because many of these had to be fitted in the pillboxes, each battalion had a heavy machine gun company of only 12 automatic weapons. The Dutch infantry squads were equipped with an organic light machine gun, the Lewis M20 weapon as a time when each German division had 559 light machine guns. There were only six 80-mm (3.15-in) mortars for each battalion.
After the German ‘Weserübung’ attack on Denmark and Norway in April 1940, when the Germans made pioneering use airborne forces, the Dutch high command became concerned that the Netherlands could also become the victim of a similar strategic assault. To repulse airborne attack, five battalions of infantry were deployed at the country’s main ports and air bases, including Ypenburg airfield near Den Haag and Waalhaven airfield near Rotterdam. These were reinforced by additional anti-aircraft guns, two tankettes and half of the operational armoured cars. These specific measures were accompanied by more general measures, the latter including the positioning of no less than 32 hospital vessels throughout the country and 15 trains to facilitate troop movements.
On 10 May 1940, the Dutch air force had 155 aircraft, in the form of 28 Fokker G.I ‘destroyers’, 31 Fokker D.XXI monoplane and seven Fokker D.XVII biplane fighters, 10 Fokker T.V monoplane bombers, 15 Fokker C.X and 35 Fokker C.V biplane light bombers, 12 Douglas DB-8 monoplane dive-bombers, and 17 Koolhoven F.K.51 biplane reconnaissance aircraft: thus 74 of the 155 aircraft were biplanes. Of these aircraft 121 were both operational and part of organic strength. Of the remainder, the air force school used three D.XXI, six D.XVII, one G.I, one T.V and seven C.V machines, along with several training aircraft. Another 40 aircraft served with the marine air service.
The Dutch army was as poorly trained as it was inadequately equipped. Before the war only a minority of eligible young men had actually been conscripted, and often the conscripts were the least fit of those nominally liable to service, as exemption was easy except for the unemployed. Those enlisted served for a mere 24 weeks, just enough to receive basic infantry training. After mobilisation readiness improved only slowly: most time was spent constructing defences. By its own standards the Dutch army in May 1940 was unfit for battle.
The German senior leadership had an equally low opinion of the Dutch forces, and believed that even the core region of Holland proper would be taken in less than one day, and the whole country in a period of three to five days. When the moment came, though, the German army was checked after three days by an army which, despite its limited strength and lack of modern weapons, nonetheless offered stiff resistance. When informed of this situation, Hitler demanded that Dutch cities should be bombed into ashes to force a capitulation.
From the 17th century, the Netherlands had relied on an effective defensive system called the Water Line, which provided for the protection of all the major cities in the west of the country by a policy of deliberate flooding part of the countryside. In the late 19th century this line was modernised with fortresses and shifted somewhat farther to the east, beyond Utrecht. This new position was the New Water Line. As the fortifications were outdated in 1940, it was reinforced with new pillboxes. The line was located at the extreme eastern edge of the area lying below sea level, and it was this which allowed the area in front of the fortifications to be inundated with a few feet of water, too shallow for boats, but deep enough to turn the soil into an impassable quagmire.
The area to the west of the New Water Line was called the Vesting Holland (Fortress Holland), whose eastern flank was also covered by the IJsselmeer (Zuiderzee) and southern flank by three broad parallel rivers, in the form of the lower reaches of the Nederrijn, Waal and Maas rivers. Vesting Holland was thus the planned national redoubt.
Dutch pre-war plans had been posited on the army’s retirement into this position almost immediately on the opening of hostilities, the general belief being that Germany would transgress only though the southern Dutch provinces as its forces passed through on their way to Belgium, and thereby leave Holland proper untouched. Late in 1939 there was a shift in attitude as it came to be appreciated that such a defensive posture was little more than an invitation to invade, and also made it impossible to negotiate with the Allies about the possibility of a common defence.
A more easterly main defence line was therefore constructed on the basis of the Grebbelinie (Grebbe Line) located along the foothills of an ice age moraine between the IJsselmeer and the Nederrijn river, and the Peel-Raamstelling (Peel-Raam Position) located between the Maas river and the Belgian border along the Peel marshes and the Raam rivulet. The II and IV Corps were positioned on the Grebbelinie, the III Corps in the Peel-Raamstelling with the Light Division behind it as a mobile reserve. The Brigades A and B provided the link between the Nederrijn and Maas rivers, and the I Corps was the strategic reserve in Vesting Holland. All these lines were reinforced by pillboxes.
The defensive value of the Grebbelinie was only limited for, with the exception of its pillboxes, it consisted mostly of trenches, protected by flooded areas. Also, the government had refused permission to clear the forest directly in front of the line, even though it offered ample cover for an attacking force.
The Light Division was the only force which was motorised, and then only partially, in the Dutch army, but in addition to its trucks it had also to make use of large numbers of bicycles for movement.
In front of this main defence line was a covering line along the IJssel and Maas rivers, this IJssel-Maaslinie, which extended as far to the south as Maastrict, being connected by positions in the Betuwe, again with pillboxes and lightly occupied by a screen of 14 ‘border battalions’.
Northern Holland was protected by the O-O Linie between the IJssel river in the south and the estuary of the Ems river in the north; Amsterdam was at the heart of the Stelling Amsterdam, and access to Walcheren island and the port of Vlissengen (Flushing) was controlled by the Bathlinie and Zanddijklinie at the south-eastern and north-western ends of the Beveland causeway. The last major element of the Dutch fixed defences was the Kornwerderzand, which was the notably strong defensive position holding the north-eastern end of the Afsluitsdijk dam sealing the fresh-water IJsselmeer from the salt-water North Sea.
Late in 1939 the Dutch commander-in-chief, General Izaak H. Reijnders, proposed use of the excellent defensive opportunities offered by these rivers to shift to a more mobile strategy by first fighting a delaying battle with the corps at the plausible crossing sites near Arnhem and Gennep to force the German divisions to spend much of their offensive power before they had reached the main defence line. This concept was deemed too risky by the Dutch government and, when also denied full military authority in the defence zones, Reijnders resigned and was succeeded by General Henri G. Winkelman.
During the ‘Phoney War’ period between September 1939 and May 1940, the Netherlands adhered overtly to a policy of strict neutrality, but negotiated covertly with Belgium and France to co-ordinate a common defence against German aggression. This effort failed as a result of insurmountable differences of opinion about the strategy which was to be followed. The Dutch wanted the Belgians to connect their defences to the Peel-Raamstelling, but the Belgians wished to fight along the Albert Canal. This created a dangerous gap which the French were invited to fill.
The French commander-in-chief, Général d’Armée Maurice Gustave Gamelin, was more than interested in including the Dutch in his continuous front as he hoped eventually to outflank the ‘Westwall’ when the Allies launch the offensive they were planning for the summer of 1941. But Gamelin was not prepared to stretch the French lines of supply that far unless the Belgians and Dutch joined the Allies before any German attack. When both nations refused, Gamelin stated that he would occupy a connecting position near Breda. The Dutch did not fortify this ‘Orange Position’, however, and secretly decided to abandon the Peel-Raamstelling as soon an any German invasion happened and to withdraw the III Corps to the Linge river to cover the southern flank of the Grebbelinie, leaving only a covering force behind.
During the many changes in their operational plans for ‘Gelb’, the German high command sometimes considered the total avoidance of Vesting Holland, which was just what the Dutch wanted. But Generalfeldmarschall Hermann Göring, the commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, insisted on a full conquest as he needed the Dutch airfields for possible air operations against the UK, in the process also satisfying Hitler, who was concerned that in the event of only a partial German success the Allied forces might reinforce Vesting Holland and use its airfields to bomb German cities and troops. A third reason for the complete conquest was that the defeat of France could not be taken wholly for granted, so political considerations demanded that the Dutch, at least, be compelled to capitulate, perhaps bringing the governments of France and the UK to considerations of a negotiated settlement with Germany.
The complete defeat of the Netherlands was therefore planned, though only a modest number of formations could be made available for the task. The main effort of ‘Gelb’ would be made in the centre, in the area of France between Namur and Sedan after an approach through southern Belgium and the Ardennes in ‘Sichelschnitt’. The attack into central Belgium was only a feint; and the attack on Vesting Holland only a side show of this feint.
Generaloberst Fedor von Bock’s Heeresgruppe ‘B’ was deployed against the Netherlands and northern Belgium using Generaloberst Walther von Reichenau’s 6th Army and General Georg von Küchler’s 18th Army. The 6th Army was to advance to the south of Venlo in the direction of Belgium, leaving just the smaller 18th Army to defeat the Dutch main force. Of all German armies to take part in the operation, the 18th Army was the weakest as it had only four regular and three reserve infantry divisions 1. These divisions were grouped into General Christian Hansen’s (later General Otto von Knobelsdorff’s X Corps and General Albert Wodrig’s XXVI Corps. The army was also strengthened by Generalleutnant Alfred Ritter von Hubicki’s 9th Panzerdivision, Generalleutnant Moritz Andreas’s 208th Division, Generalleutnant Ernst Schaumburg’s 225th Division and the German army’s sole horsed cavalry division, Generalmajor Kurt Feldt’s 1st Kavalleriedivision. The mounted troops of this unit, accompanied by some infantry, were to occupy the weakly defended provinces east of the IJssel river and then try to cross the Afsluitdijk (enclosure dike) and simultaneously attempt a landing in Holland using barges to be captured in the small port of Stavoren. As both efforts were thought to have only a small chance of success, the regular formations were reinforced by SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Paul Hausser’s SS-Division ‘Verfügungstruppe’ 2 and the Leibstandarte SS ‘Adolf Hitler’, which would serve as assault infantry to breach the Dutch fortified positions.
Six of the army’s seven core divisions were ‘third-wave’ divisions raised only in August 1939 from Landwehr territorial troops. They had few professional officers, and the only men with combat experience were the 42% of the personnel with an age of greater than 40 years and therefore veterans of World War I. Like those of the Dutch army, some 88% of the German soldiers were considered to have insufficient training. The seventh formation was the 526th Reserve-Division, a security formation lacking any significant combat training. Even when accounting for the fact that the German divisions, with a nominal strength of 17,807 men, were half as large again as their Dutch counterparts and possessed three times their effective firepower, the generally accepted numerical superiority necessary for a successful offensive was lacking. In an effort to remedy this situation, the 18th Army was boosted by a number of other formations and units, as noted above.
Even so, the four Waffen-SS Standarten added the equivalent of only four regiments to the German side of the equation, and to boost their chances of overall success the Germans resorted to more unconventional means. By this time the Germans had trained two airborne assault divisions. The first of these was Generalleutnant Kurt Student’s 7th Fliegerdivision, which comprised Luftwaffe paratroopers, and the second was Generalleutnant Hans Graf von Sponeck’s 22nd Luftlande-Division, which comprised air-landed army infantry.
At the time when it was planned that the main German effort was to be made in Flanders, consideration was given to the use of these formations to capture and hold a river-crossing area on both banks of the Scheldt river near Ghent in Belgium. The operation was then cancelled, and it was then decided to use the two airborne formations to facilitate victory in the Netherlands.
On the first day of the operation, ‘Festung Holland’ would be launched as an airborne operation to secure the airfields around the Dutch seat of government, Den Haag, and then capture that government, together with Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch high command. It was realised that this would not necessarily yield the whole of the result the Germans desired, namely the immediate collapse of Dutch resistance, so it was decided that at the same time the bridges at Rotterdam, Dordrecht and Moerdijk would simultaneously be secured to allow a mechanised force to relieve the airborne troops from the south. This force was to be von Hubicki’s 9th Panzerdivision which, with 141 tanks, was the weakest of all German armoured divisions. The Panzerdivision was to exploit the breach in the Dutch main line of defence created by the 254th Division and 256th Division on the axis from Gennep to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. At the same time a holding offensive would be made against the Grebbelinie in the east by the 207th Division and 227th Division.
In the early morning of 10 May 1940 the Dutch awoke to the sound of aircraft engines over their country. Germany had launched its ‘Sichelschnitt’ alternative to 'Gelb' and attacked the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, in the case of the Low Countries without any declaration of war. During the night the bombers of Oberst Martin Fiebig’s Kampfgeschwader 4 had violated Dutch airspace, crossing it and disappearing to the west, giving the Dutch the illusion that the operation was directed to the UK. But above the North Sea the German squadrons reversed course to the east one more and started surprise attacks on the Dutch airfields. Many aircraft were destroyed on the ground, and the few Dutch aircraft which were able to take-off shot down 13 German aircraft, but lost a larger number of their own aircraft.
Immediately after this, German paratroopers started to land in ‘Festung Holland’. The Dutch anti-aircraft batteries shot down numerous Junkers Ju 52/3m transport and glider-tug aircraft, and thus the Luftwaffe’s Transportgruppen suffered heavily: their losses amounted to 125 Ju 52/3m machines destroyed and 47 damaged, representing 50% of the fleet’s strength. Organised into an extemporised air-landing corps under the overall command of Generaloberst Albert Kesselring’s Luftflotte II, the corps comprised the two divisions and their transport aircraft, the latter formed into 11 Gruppen. Student himself, apart from commanding the corps, also commanded the 7th Fliegerdivision, which could field four parachute battalions and three battalions of the army’s 16th Regiment in the air-landing role; also part of the air-landing corps was the 22nd Luftlande-Division, which had six battalions (three each of the 47th Regiment and 65th Regiment) in the air-landing role, and one battalion of the 2nd Fallschirmjägerregiment in the parachute role. Each if the divisions had its own divisional troops, those of the 7th Fliegerdivision all being capable of parachute deployment.
Student’s plan for the two divisions was bold, perhaps too bold in the circumstances. Fixed before the invasion of Norway in ‘Weserübung’, the plan might have worked but for the fact that the element of tactical surprise, so essential for such an operation, had been ‘blown’ by the use of airborne forces in the Norwegian campaign. Reduced to its basic elements, Student’s plan was for the 22nd Luftlande-Division to land around Den Haag, the Dutch capital, after parachute troops had captured the necessary airfields, move on the capital, seize the government and royal family, and then hold the area to prevent the airfields being used by the Allies and to prevent the free movement of Dutch troops. At the same time the 7th Fliegerdivision was to use its parachute capability to take and hold the bridges at Moerdijk, Dordrecht and Rotterdam so that von Hubicki’s 9th Panzerdivision could sweep through to the north to Rotterdam and then on to Den Haag to relieve the 22nd Luftlande-Division.
Over Kesselring’s very legitimate objections, Student decided to lead the 7th Fliegerdivision personally rather than stay behind and exercise a higher level of control the efforts of his corps. This lack of an adequate command capability was to have dire results for the whole operation, and there can be little doubt that Student should have sacrificed his own personal desires to the more important command task.
Two other major failings are also discernible in the German plan: for a variety of reasons, the approach route was to be direct from bases in Germany to the target areas, across Dutch territory, so that the 22nd Luftlande-Division could not hope for tactical surprise; and the decision to employ virtually the whole strength of the two divisions (4,000 paratroops and 12,000 air-landed troops) in the initial attacks meant that Student had no real reserve. This second failing meant that as Dutch resistance strengthened, as inevitably it would, the Germans would have no reinforcements to be flown into the battle, and that any delay by the relieving forces would pose the real threat of destruction for the airborne forces. On the credit side, it must be pointed out that as overall control of the operation was a Luftwaffe responsibility, tactical air support was likely to be first class. Student was very aware of the difficulties posed by his divisions’ lack of organic heavy weapons (i.e. weapons that are part of any division’s normal complement of arms), and had emphasised the importance of full and effective use of Luftwaffe tactical air support, from Junkers Ju 87 dive-bombers and Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters for the most part, in all aspects of training and preparation.
Preceded by heavy bombing, carefully planned to avoid the airborne forces’ objectives, the men of the air-landing corps flew into action early on 10 May, directly from its base in Westphalia in some 580 Ju 52/3m transports. At the southern end of the ‘airborne carpet’ for the German armour, Hauptmann Fritz Prager’s 2nd Bataillon of Oberst Bruno Bräuer’s 1st Fallschirmjägerregiment landed at each end of the bridge across the Holland Deep at Moerdijk, one company at each end. The Dutch were taken completely by surprise and Prager’s men smashed the defence ruthlessly and quickly, rushed the bridge and removed the demolition charges. Prager reported this to Bräuer, who had dropped with the headquarters and staff of the regiment just to the north, and prepared to defend his prize. Bräuer’s headquarters had been dropped in a sensible place, for located between the Moerdijk and Dordrecht objectives, he could co-ordinate the activities of the forces in both these areas.
But at Dordrecht, where the Oude Maas river bridge was to be taken, the lack of suitable dropping zones meant that only Leutnant Freiherr von Brandis’s 3rd Kompanie of the 1/1st Fallschirmjägerregiment could be dropped. The force proved insufficient for the task, and the company could take only part of the bridge. The action at Dordrecht was very severe, the Dutch holding on with considerable tenacity. von Brandis was killed in the strenuous fighting for the bridge, and the Dutch succeeded in recapturing the rail bridge which the Germans had taken in their first rush. Yet although they had retaken the bridge, the Dutch did not blow it, for it was essential in their plans for bringing forward reserves from the Vesting Holland area around Den Haag.
The Germans enjoyed greater success at the northern end of the 7th Fliegerdivision’s corridor, where the twin bridges over the Nieuwe Maas river in Rotterdam were the objective. The ingeniously devised plan worked perfectly, yet again demonstrating the advantages of surprise and originality in small-scale military operations. Under the command of Leutnant Schrader, the 11th Kompanie of the 16th Regiment (attached to the 7th Fliegerdivision from the 22nd Luftlande-Division) was flown into Rotterdam by 12 Heinkel He 59 floatplanes, which taxied right up to the bridges before disgorging their loads of infantry. These immediately swarmed onto the bridge, and before the astounded Dutch could react, had taken the bridges and disarmed the demolition charges.
At the same time a party of paratroops, about 50 strong, had landed in a stadium to the south of the bridges, seized some trams and driven to reinforce Schrader’s infantrymen. Dutch fire had made movement across the bridges difficult, and soon after the arrival of Leutnant Horst Kerfin’s paratroops had raised the garrison at the northern end of the bridge to 60, movement became impossible. The Germans set up their de fences at each end of the bridges and waited for the inevitable Dutch counter-blows. The promise of support was, however, close at hand.
While the initial fight for the twin bridges was in progress, Waalhaven airfield to the south-west of Rotterdam had fallen to a neat ploy. The 3/1st Fallschirmjägerregiment, led by Hauptmann Karl-Lothar Schulz, jumped just to the east of the airfield. The Dutch airfield defence force immediately attacked the paratroops, but as soon as it had started to do so the 3/16th Regiment began to air-land on the field. Caught between two forces, the Dutch were overwhelmed in a sharp action, leaving the Germans free to move on the Nieuwe Maas bridges in Rotterdam, where they reinforced the garrison at the southern end.
The Germans were now in full control of two of the three bridges they had set out to take, and in partial control of the third bridge, that at Dordrecht. So far, then, the 7th Fliegerdivision’s plan was going reasonably well.
Farther to the north, though, the 22nd Luftlande-Division was having a very rough time of it. With only one reinforced parachute battalion, Hauptmann Noster’s 1/2nd Fallschirmjägerregiment, with which to take three airfields, the timetable of the 22nd Luftlande-Division quickly went wrong, and the transport aircraft carrying the air-landing infantry arrived before the paratroops had been able to secure and clear the airfields. In the ‘1st Landing Area’ at Valkenburg, up the coast from Den Haag, the Ju 52/3m aircraft delivering the 47th Regiment found the airfield still under Dutch fire. The aircraft which did manage to land were greeted by intense fire and then stuck in the soft surface of the field, preventing the landing of other aircraft, which had therefore to turn back without delivering their troops. At the ‘2nd Landing Area’ at Ockenburg, just down the coast from Den Haag, the story was the same, with the airfield covered by wrecked Ju 52/3m aircraft. Worst of all, perhaps, was the ‘3rd Landing Area’ at Ypenburg, between Delft and Den Haag, where von Sponeck was due to land. This airfield had been chosen for the 65th Regiment’s assault, but after 11 of the first 13 aircraft to arrive had been despatched by Dutch anti-aircraft fire, von Sponeck abandoned the site and flew on to Ockenburg, where his aeroplane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and had to make a forced landing.
Pilots were compelled to come down wherever they could, and the whole of the 22nd Luftlande-Division's plan was now in disarray. von Sponeck was able to contact Kesselring by radio to report the disaster. In the absence of Student, Kesselring took it upon himself to cancel the plan for an attack on Den Haag, but instead ordered von Sponeck to gather as large a force as he could and strike out to the south-east in the direction of Rotterdam, where he might be able to link with the most northerly elements of the 7th Fliegerdivision. Some 2,000 men of the 22nd Luftlande-Division had landed, while another 5,000 had been unable to get down, but von Sponeck was able to gather only a part of those who were on the ground under the command of his extemporised Kampfgruppe ‘von Sponeck’. Those elements which were unable to link with von Sponeck dug in where they could and prepared to sell their lives in as costly a way as possible, so that Dutch reserves would at least be held up from moving south toward the main front.
Farther afield, though, the battle in the airborne carpet area was gathering momentum as Dutch forces arrived, and the Germans strove to build up their forces in the region. Although under constant fire, Waalhaven airfield was kept operational, allowing two battalions of the 16th Regiment and the 3/1st Fallschirmjägerregiment to be landed. Bräuer commandeered Dutch vehicles to rush forward reinforcements to Dordrecht, and after some very severe fighting the bridge fell into German hands.
The fighting for all of the 7th Fliegerdivision’s bridgeheads continued unabated until the morning of 12 May, when the forward elements of the 9th Panzerdivision pushed through the corridor after relieving the Moerdijk bridge garrison at first light.
Yet the 7th Fliegerdivision’s task was not yet over, for with the arrival of the ground forces the formation became an element of the 18th Army, part of whose task was to push through Rotterdam and relieve the remnants of the 22nd Luftlande-Division, cut off in Overschie on the road linking Den Haag and Rotterdam road after fighting their way back from Den Haag. Progress to Rotterdam was slow, however, and on 14 May, with the Germans ground forces on the outskirts of the city, there took place the bombing of the city’s old quarter, which finally persuaded the Dutch authorities of the futility of continued resistance.
The Netherlands surrendered at 20.30 on 14 May. For the German airborne arm, though, there was still one near-tragedy to come. Student had occupied a Dutch military headquarters where a group of Dutch soldiers was surrendering its weapons. An SS regiment arrived on the scene, saw armed Dutch troops, and opened fire. In the following firefight Student, who had rushed over to a window to see what was happening, was hit in the head by a bullet and seriously injured. Generalleutnant Richard Putzier, who had commanded Student’s air support formations during the Dutch operations, succeeded Student as temporary head of the airborne forces.
Matters gradually settled, and the survivors of the 22nd Luftlande-Division began slowly to emerge just as the two airborne divisions were pulled back to Germany for rest and rehabilitation.
The severity of the 22nd Luftlande-Division’s ordeal may be gauged from the fact that casualties among those who actually managed to land totalled 40% of the officers and 28% of the men. Aircraft losses were also high, with 170 completely destroyed and a further 170 badly damaged. Aircrew losses had also been severe, with adverse effects on future operations and on Luftwaffe training programmes. On the whole, therefore, the 7th Fliegerdivision had been successfully dropped near the Dutch/German frontier, for it had enjoyed tactical surprise, and was well within the reach of tactical air support and the relieving ground forces. The 22nd Luftlande-Division, on the other hand, had fared very badly, and for this the plan devised by Student was largely to blame as no tactical surprise had been possible, the parachute forces allocated were insufficient, and long-range tactical air support was all but impossible. Even so, something might have been achieved by the division had Student been on hand to control matters, rather than on the ground controlling the 7th Fliegerdivision from his headquarters near Waalhaven.
It was clear to the political and military heads of the German war machine, though, that airborne forces had much to offer as demonstrated by the Albert Canal (Eben-Emael) and ‘carpet’ operations, and so it was decided to enlarge and reorganise the airborne force. The 22nd Luftlande-Division was retained in the air-landing role, the 7th Fliegerdivision was expanded into a full three-regiment formation, and the assault group involved in the 'Granit' assault on Eben-Emael was upgraded into a full assault regiment.
The command problems of the Dutch operation were appreciated, and it was decided to form Fliegerkorps XI, with Student as commander as soon as he had recovered, to control all airborne operations. Student’s wound proved quite serious, and it was January 1941 before he was able to resume command of his upgraded formation. Student therefore had about two months before his forces were once again to be committed in the invasion of the 'Marita' invasion of Greece and and the 'Merkur' airborne element of the assault on Crete.