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Posted on Mar 17, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like, War College

Life During The Dutch Occupation – Part 2: May 1940, The Battle For The Netherlands

By Joeri Teeuwisse

When you look at the history of World War Two, the battle for the Netherlands seems little more than a footnote, a small country invaded and overrun by the German army in just a few days. Nevertheless some very interesting and unique things happened during those five days.

The Netherlands had known nothing but peace for over a century. Known as a liberal and tolerant country it was relatively wealthy and had succeeded in remaining neutral during the First World War. Sadly it didn’t succeed in staying out of the depression or the political tension that had taken hold of Europe during the interbellum.

In this re-enactment photograph, the German soldiers were members of the Studygroup and Living History organization"3.Kom 60.PzGrReg 116.PzDiv Der Windhund."

Still somehow the Netherlands felt a bit like a small island that could once more stay out of the storm that was hanging over the rest of the world. By 1940 many Dutch still believed that their neutrality would keep them out of the war, all the involved countries had promised to respect the neutrality of the small country even though it had a strategically important location between Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

But to others the inevitable soon became obvious, thousands of communists, socialists, Jews and others who felt at danger in Germany, fled across the border bringing with them horrible stories of the situation within the Third Reich. Many were sent back as the Netherlands, like many other countries, didn’t want to accept too many refugees. One of the lucky families that was allowed to stay was the Frank family from Frankfurt am main with their then 4 year old daughter Anne.


The Dutch army wasn’t prepared for war, little money had been spent modernizing the weaponry and by the time the government realised that the neutral state of the country might possibly be ignored in case of war, it was too late and too difficult to buy new weapons from countries that were not very willing to sell them anyway. Still they were well prepared for defending their country, the Dutch army knew its country very well and made a plan that would use the unique geography of the flat land that was mostly below sea-level, only protected from the water by dykes. The west of the country could be turned into a fortress on its own, by flooding certain areas the Dutch would be able to keep the Germans busy long enough for the promised Allied support to arrive. But after the invasions of Denmark and Norway the Dutch realised the danger of a invasion using Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) and decided to position extra troops at the The Hague airfield of Ypenburg and the Rotterdam airfield of Waalhaven.

Archive photo – Dutch troops heading to battle

On the morning of may 10th 1940 Germany invaded Belgium, France and the Netherlands with an impressive amount of troops, tanks and airplanes, the massive invasion was called ‘Plan Gelb’. The plan for the Netherlands was simple but risky, special airborne troops would on the first day take over the airfields near The Hague where the government was seated and where the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina lived. It would be a real Blitzkrieg and if it would work the Netherlands could be conquered within a single day. But as soon as German paratroopers and planes attacked The Hague they were beaten back with unexpected force. A incredible 275 Ju-52 transport planes were destroyed in the entire campaign, many around The Hague, their wreckages made more landings difficult, the government and the queen were safe for now.

In the east of the Netherlands the Germans fought at the Grebbeline and managed to push further into the country but got stuck at the Afsluitdijk, a dyke built shortly before the war that connected the north-east of the country with the north-west. During this attack on the east the Germans used soldiers disguised as Dutch policemen and even some Dutch Nazi agents to try and capture important bridges without giving the Dutch soldiers a chance to blow them up.

In most cases they failed but where they succeeded the Germans quickly raced armoured trains across the bridges to unload battalions behind the front line. In the south the Germans pushed into Belgium and France but also towards Rotterdam. Here the German attack had been more successful, on the first day of the invasion waterplanes had landed in the heart of the city and their troops conquered bridges and a local airport even though they too were surprised by the fierce resistance of the Dutch soldiers.

At first the Dutch were positive, they felt they could keep the Germans busy for a few days and that British and French troops would come to their help, a few allied troops did cross into the Netherlands to fight the Germans but not enough to make a difference. After 4 days of fighting the Germans had conquered most of the country but not the major cities and the political heart of the country. The German invasion was slowing down, paratroopers were stuck and other troops couldn’t succeed in getting closer, it was almost a stalemate.

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  1. Was 6 years old when thewar broke out, in 1953 I came to Canada I am presently writing a book, about my experiences, as a child during the war, therefor, I wish to read, all I can about it.
    So far, this article, helps me a lot, and i think you, for publishing it.
    Do you have pictures, and comments, about the Americans liberating the South, like South Limburg, as it is were I was at the time.

    Thank you

    Yohanna Loonen

  2. Well this website is very detailed. I am sorry to say it did not help me find what i was looking for. I was looking for the MAIN occupations of the Dutch. This website did not contain that information. Therefore i am very disappointed with the person who wrote this website. Thanks for wasting my time.


  3. Thanks, love the site. excellent work. Looking for information on the meeting site below.
    address, pictures or description, weather report.
    Trying to use this as a scene in a book I am writing.
    (3 Sep, Göring met with his senior officers at the Hague in the Netherlands)