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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

Hitler was getting quite worried, he expected this part of the war to be over in just a day and now it had already taken four and there was no end in sight yet. Goering was embarrassed, his Luftwaffe and the paratroopers had taken heavy losses and Hitler demanded the Dutch should be defeated very soon, it was all taking too long.

The Dutch troops in Rotterdam were now suddenly threatened with heavy bombing, an ultimatum was handed over that demanded their surrender. The ultimatum wasn’t signed by a German official and so it was sent back by the Dutch commander. A new ultimatum was written and this time properly signed by the Germans, the Dutch now decided to surrender and the new ultimatum was on its way to be signed by the Dutch commander. However German planes were already on their way and would only cancel the bombings if red flares would be shot from the ground.


The German commander Schmidt was very surprised when he saw the planes and knew they were here for the first ultimatum, not the second. They shouldn’t have been there. The red flares he shot were seen by one squadron but not by another and this one dropped its bombs on the old city. The bombs didn’t damage any of the Dutch defences, the target had been the old city centre and its population.

Archive photo – The centre of Rotterdam after the German bombing

Half an hour before the ultimatum was due to expire, the Dutch handed over the signed surrender documents, the city was already ablaze. Within 15 minutes more than 24,000 houses were destroyed, nearly 900 people died and 80,000 people lost their homes. Rotterdam will forever be a city without a heart. The next day the Germans threatened to do the same to other cities and the Dutch General Winkelman decided to capitulate. The battle for the Netherlands was over although in the south province of Zeeland the fighting would continue a few more days.

A small country and a short but fierce battle, perhaps not very impressive if compared to the other events of World War Two but traumatic to the Dutch nevertheless. The bombing of Rotterdam was relatively ‘mild’ compared to some of the bombings of other cities that would follow, but to a country unprepared for war it left an impression that wouldn’t go away.

There aren’t many re-enactment or Living History groups that portray troops from the early part of the war. Most groups concentrate on the late war years. Here in the Netherlands there is a group that portrays the Dutch soldiers that defended our country during those terrible days of May 1940. They are a unique and very good group that educates the people about a little known story, a story that needs telling.

Re-enactment photo – Caspar and Erik, two Dutch soldiers on guard just like it could have looked in May 1940

Visit the site of the Living History group here.

In the UK there is a German group specialized in portraying the early war infantryman.

In the US there is a French group showing the French infantrymen of the 1940 campaign.

Miss Joeri

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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)