The Battle of the Netherlands saw one of the first major uses of paratroopers to occupy crucial targets prior to ground troops reaching the area. The German Luftwaffe utilized paratroopers in the capture of several major airfields in the Netherlands in and around key cities such as Rotterdam and The Hague in order to quickly overrun the nation and immobilize Dutch forces.
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Battle of the Grebbeberg
At 03:55 local time on 10 May 1940, the German Army Group B invaded the Netherlands. The 207th Infantry Division, commanded by Karl von Tiedemann, and part of the 18th Army had been tasked with overrunning the Grebbeberg within a day. Resistance at the IJssel Line near Westervoort was fiercer than anticipated and it was dusk by the time the Germans had occupied Wageningen, the city directly to the east of the Grebbeberg. The 207th Infantry Division, reinforced with the SS-brigade Der Führer — made preparations to assault the hill next morning.
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Blitzkrieg – Fall Gelb
In the campaign in Holland paratroopers of Fallschirmjäger Regiment 1 [Luftlande-Sturm-Regiment wikipedia] (FJR1) from the 7th Air Division [1st Parachute Division wikipedia] (Div) under Major General Kurt Student [Kurt Student (1890-1978) wikipedia] in a series of battalion strength jumps seized the two bridges at Moerdijk, and bridges at Dordecht and Waalhaven. The 2nd Battalion (FJR1) commanded by Captain Prager captured the Moerdijk road and rail bridge which at 1,554 metres (5,100ft) was the longest in Europe. This gave the tanks of the 9th Panzer Div [9th Panzer Division wikipedia] under General Ritter von Hubicki [Alfred Ritter von Hubricki (1887-1971) wikipedia] a fast route across rivers and flooded land into the core of the Dutch defences. The motorised units of the French 7th Army [Seventh Army wikipedia] under General Giraud [Henri Giraud (1879-1949) wikipedia] that had pushed through Belgium into southern Holland attempted to recapture the bridges and link up with the Dutch were driven back by the 9th Panzer Div.
The troops tasked with the capture of the bridges at Gennep, Nijmegen and Roermond were the Brandenburgers [Brandenburgers wikipedia], a shadowy German Army special forces unit. Formed in October 1939 as the Baulehr-Kompanie zbV 800 – Special Duties Construction Company – they quickly expanded to battalion strength. In Holland Brandenburgers disguised as Dutch soldiers escorted German ‘deserters’ onto the bridges before doffing their disguises and attacking. The ruse was only successful at Gennep but this opened the road to ‘s Hertogenbosch for the 9th Panzer Div.
The air landing troops of the 65th and 47th Infantry Regiments of the 22nd Air Landing Div [22nd Air Landing Division wikipedia] under General Graf von Sponeck [Hans Graf von Sponeck (1888-1944) wikipedia] spearheaded by a battalion of FJR 2 were tasked with the capture of the Dutch government at the Hague and the airfields at Delft and Ypenburg. The airlanding forces came under sustained anti-aircraft fire and were widely scattered along the coast. Sponeck was wounded in fighting with the Dutch I Corps and by late evening 1,000 German PoWs were being shipped to Great Britain from the port of Ijmuiden. However the Germans enjoyed more success at Rotterdam airport where they were supported by the 3rd Battalion FJR 1 and backed up by troops diverted from The Hague and Valkenburg.
Among the formations assigned to the attack on Holland was the élite Waffen-SS regiment, the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler [1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler wikipedia], which linked up with paratroopers in Rotterdam. It was here that Student as Inspector Airborne Forces and commander of the 7th Air Div. had come forward to observer operations. It is not entirely clear whether the sniper’s round that seriously wounded him was fired by a Dutch defender or a member of the LAH. Student’s life was saved by a Dutch surgeon working in the wreckage of Rotterdam and throughout his career the paratroop general, while respecting the fighting ability of the Waffen-SS, retained reservations about their discipline.
On May 14 2.8sq km (1.1sq miles) in the centre of Rotterdam were devastated by German air attacks even though its garrison had agreed to surrender. The attacks were the result of a signals failure between the German ground forces and the Luftwaffe. Though some 43 bombers had turned back, 57 attacked killing between 800 and 980 civilians. At the time it was seen as another example of the ruthless cruelty that characterised the new German way of war – compared with the later attacks by the RAF Bomber Command against civilian targets in Germany it would seem puny.
The Netherlands surrendered on May 15. The Dutch army commanded by General H.G. Winkelman [Henri Winkelman (1876-1952) wikipedia] had suffered 2,100 killed and 2,700 wounded in the fighting. Some of the ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy escaped and some were sunk or scuttled. Of the 132 serviceable Dutch aircraft, 62 were destroyed on the first day and few survived up to the capitulation.
Taken from France, Holland and Belgium 1940-1941
Ian Allan Publications
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