Battle for The Hague
|Battle for The Hague|
Destroyed German Junkers Ju 52 aircraft at Valkenburg
|Commanders and leaders|
|Henri Winkelman||Hans Graf von Sponeck|
|Royal Netherlands Army
|11,100 soldiers (3 divisions)
Two squads of armored cars
|Casualties and losses|
|515 killed||134-400 killed (see casualties)
125 transport aircraft lost
47 transport aircraft damaged
The Battle for The Hague was the first opposed paratroop assault in history. (Unopposed assaults took place on 9 April 1940 against Masnedøfortet and Aalborg airport, Denmark.) It took place on 10 May 1940 as part of the Battle of the Netherlands between the Royal Netherlands Army and Luftwaffe Fallschirmjäger (paratroops). German paratroopers dropped in and around The Hague in order to capture Dutch airfields and the city. After taking the city, the plan was to force the Dutch queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands to surrender and to thus defeat the Kingdom of the Netherlands within a single day. The operation failed to capture the Queen, and the German forces failed to hold on to the airfields after Dutch counterattacks. The main body of surviving troops under Von Sponeck retreated toward the nearby dunes where they were continually pursued and harassed by Dutch troops until the Dutch supreme command, due to major setbacks on other fronts, surrendered five days later.
The Germans planned to surprise the Dutch and so catch them off guard, allowing them to isolate the head of the Dutch Army. It was their intention to fly over the Netherlands in order to lull the Dutch into thinking that England was their target. This was to be followed by approaching the country from the direction of the North Sea, attacking the airfields Ypenburg, Ockenburg and Valkenburg to weaken potential Dutch defenses before taking The Hague. It was expected that the queen and the commander in chief of the Dutch forces, Henri Winkelman, might agree at this point to surrender. However, if the Dutch did not surrender, the Germans planned to cut off all roads leading to The Hague in order to quell any subsequent Dutch counter-attack.
The German attack
According to plan, the Germans flew over the Netherlands in the early hours of the morning on 10 May, but rather than lulling the citizens of The Hague, their passage alarmed them. The Germans circled back and, at approximately 06:00, bombed the airfield at Ypenburg. Immediately thereafter, their transport planes dropped paratroopers in several waves into the field and its surroundings, though Dutch machine gun fire inflicted casualties on these arrivals and scattered their landings. Many planes landed and were damaged or destroyed by the defenders, blocking further arrivals. The paratroopers attacked and occupied the base's main building, raising the German flag to signal their victory. In spite of this, the Dutch managed to prevent the Germans from advancing beyond Ypenburg to enter The Hague.
At around the same time, German paratroopers were dropped at the airstrip in Ockenburg. The defenders of Ockenburg were unable to prevent the Germans taking the airfield, but they were able to delay them long enough to ensure that the Dutch infantry units arrived to prevent the paratroopers from advancing into the Hague. As the Germans were using the Ockenburg airfield to strengthen their numbers, the Dutch bombed it themselves to prevent the landing strip being used further.
The Valkenburg airfield was only partially constructed. As with Ypenburg, the Germans troops bombed the airfield prior to dropping paratroopers, causing heavy casualties among the defenders. Though the subsequent waves of paratroops also sustained heavy losses, the defenders were unable to prevent the Germans taking the field. However, as the airfield remained under construction, the Germans could not fly their transport aircraft from it and further transports were unable to land. Many landed on the nearby beaches and were destroyed there by Dutch planes and fire from a Dutch destroyer. Following several ground skirmishes, the German troops occupied the village of Valkenburg as well as some of the bridges and buildings at Katwijk, along the Old Rhine river.
The Dutch counter-attack
Although the German troops managed to capture the three airfields, they failed in their primary objective of taking the city of Hague and forcing the Dutch to surrender. Accordingly, the Dutch Army launched a counter-attack several hours later.
The counter-attack was started from Ypenburg. Though outnumbered and relying on ammunition that they had captured from the Germans, the Dutch Grenadier Guards fought their way into position to launch artillery attacks against their own airfield, causing heavy damage to it. Following the attacks, the German troops were forced to evacuate the airfield's burning buildings, losing their strong defensive position. The Dutch troops were able to advance into the airfield, and in the skirmishes that followed, many of the German soldiers were forced to surrender. Those who did not were eventually defeated.
The airfield of Ockenburg was bombed by the Dutch forces. The Dutch troops followed up their own bombing of Ockenburg by storming the airfield. The Germans were forced into retreat, and several were captured. However, some of the German troops withdrew to the woods near the field and successfully defended themselves from the Dutch. The Dutch forces were later ordered to disengage and turn instead to Loosduinen, the Germans headed toward Rotterdam.
Having sealed off Leiden and the village of Wassenaar, the Dutch retook a strategic bridge near Valkenburg. When reinforcements arrived, the Dutch began attacking the Germans on the ground at the same time that Dutch bombers arrived to destroy the grounded transport planes. While the Germans put up a defence at the outskirts of the airfield, they were forced under heavy fire to evacuate. Several skirmishes to liberate occupied positions in the village of Valkenburg nearby were fought between small groups of men on both sides, the Dutch with artillery support from nearby Oegstgeest, the village being heavily damaged in the process.
By the end of 10 May, Dutch forces had retaken the captured airfields, but this tactical victory would be short lived as German Rotterdam Blitz on the 14th of May ensured the surrender of the Dutch armed forces.
The Dutch suffered 515 killed. The German casualty numbers are given as 134 killed by German sources, while Dutch sources estimate that 400 Germans were killed. Numbers of wounded, missing and captured are not known with certainty, but Dutch sources estimate that 700 Germans were wounded. 1,745 were captured according to Dutch sources (German source quoted below does not confirm such a high number of captured, but it might be simply incomplete, as about 1⁄2 of the POWs were recaptured by German forces soon after the Dutch surrender. They also lost 182 transport aircraft, including 47 damaged. Most of the aircraft were of the Ju-52 model.
The main effect of the battle was unforeseen: the large loss of German transport aircraft. According to military historian Lt. Col. E.H. Brongers (ret.), the loss of the transport aircraft had a direct effect on the planning for the proposed German cross channel invasion of Britain. Also, Brongers mentions the impact of the loss of transport aircraft during the invasion of Crete. Since the Germans did not have sufficient aircraft to land troops in force, they had to drop them instead in groups, which resulted in heavy casualties. Brongers' conclusions are supported by military historian Col. Adriaan Hakkert (ret.).
The remaining German forces who had escaped from the airfields were scattered over the dunes in the area. Von Sponeck was ordered to go and aid the attack on Rotterdam. Of his force, 1,600 were captured of which 1,200 were shipped to England as POWs. On his way to Rotterdam, Von Sponeck's isolated group twice avoided Dutch traps but eventually had to dig in for all-around defense with as many as 1,100 men, only avoiding humiliating capture by the strategic bombing of Rotterdam on 14 May, according to some sources, especially ordered by Reichmarschall Hermann Göring to save his protégé Von Sponeck and force a solution in the Netherlands. Because of the failure of this campaign, Hitler lost interest in this "new weapon" and only used it again in the attack on Crete in 1941, that made airborne assault necessary. A pocket of German paratroops managed to ward off enemy attacks at the village of Valkenburg until the Dutch surrendered on the 14th.
- Battle for the Hague 1940: The First Great Airborne Operation in History ISBN 9059113071
- De Slag Om De Residentie ISBN 9059111389
- E.R Hooton 2007 Vol. 2, p. 50.
- Go2War article on airborne landings in Fortress Holland.
- Section source, except where otherwise noted: War over Holland.nl: The Battle for The Hague, 1940
- Section source, except where otherwise noted: War over Holland.nl: May, 1940: The Dutch Struggle
- Name list of German KIA
- German source
- 2nd German source
- Go2War article, stating that 800 of the POWs were sent to England prior to the Dutch surrender.
- Hooton, E.R (2007). Luftwaffe at War; Blitzkrieg in the West: Volume 2. London: Chervron/Ian Allen. ISBN 978-1-85780-272-6.
- Hooton, E.R. (2010). The Luftwaffe: A Study in Air Power, 1933-1945. London: Arms & Armour Press. ISBN 978-1-906537-18-0.
- Brongers, E.H. (2004). The Battle for the Hague 1940. Uitgeverij Aspekt BV. ISBN 90-5911-307-1.
- Harff, D. en Harff, P (2012). Valkenburg mei 1940, de strijd om het vliegveld en het dorp. P.E. harff, ISBN 978-90-816707-0-8