Holland during World War II

Early in the morning of May 10th 1940, the German SS unleashed one of its most successful Blitzkrieg campaigns. The German invasion of Holland is cited today as one of the prime examples of the infamous German war machine at work; attacking with the element of surprise, swift bombing raids and fast troop deployments at strategic points throughout the country.

Although Holland had maintained an officially neutral status for the first year of the war, since the invasion of Poland, Germany’s neighbours had braced themselves for the inevitable. Militarily unprepared, though nonetheless expectant of a German advance, the Dutch forces fought with tenacity against overwhelming SS numbers and armoured divisions.

For five days the Dutch government held out against the Germans, operating from their base in Amsterdam. However, the German plan was effective, and after the city of Rotterdam was ruined by German bombing raids, and the Dutch citizens there had suffered more than 30,000 casualties, the Dutch government quickly realised they were fighting a losing battle. On the 15th of May they offered an official surrender and, along with the royal family, made for London and exile.

The so called Rotterdam Blitz had devastated the city, and came even after the ranking Dutch military official in the city, Colonel Scharroo, had issued the surrender of Rotterdam to the Germans. It was the fate of Holland’s second city that proved the tipping point for the Dutch, and convinced the statesmen in Amsterdam that resistance was futile. All that was left was to minimise damage to the country and its magnificent historical city centres; if these could be preserved throughout the War it would perhaps be something of a small consolation to the oppressed Dutch people. So, when the Germans threatened Utrecht with the same fate as Rotterdam, surrender was received promptly.

While some small battles continued throughout the next few days, and the remaining, divided military forces of Holland did have some successes defending a number of areas from the Nazi onslaught (particularly on the narrow waterways, where naval commanders had ordered the navy to fortify major crossings), by May 20th Holland was entirely under German control. In fact, Hitler had expected Holland to be much easier to take, and hadn’t bargained for the excessive continued military presence that would be required here to keep the vivacious resistance movement at bay, especially in the later years of the war.

From the very beginning of German occupation, groups in the country had begun organising underground resistance cells that attempted to disrupt Nazi logistics. The first of these was organised by the Dutch communists, who created the first national network of cells. In the first year of occupation the communists were responsible for the first civil disobedience en masse that protested the Nazi deportation of Dutch Jews. The so called February Strike was instigated by the clandestine printing activities of the Dutch Communist Party (CPN), and successfully saw thousands of the capital’s municipal workers take to the streets in open opposition to the activities of the Nazis in Amsterdam.

Generally speaking however, the Dutch resistance throughout World War II is characterised by non-violent efforts to conceal and facilitate the escape of people in hiding. The Dutch were good at it too, and it’s estimated that at one point between 1942 and 1943 there were as many as 300,000 so called onderduikers (people in hiding) concealed throughout Holland.
This admirable effort was largely organised by the national network set up by the Landelijke Organisatie voor hulp aan onderduikers (LO), and their successes are well documented; from aiding the concealment of Holland’s Jews, like Anne Frank and her family, to the systematic concealment of entire hospital floors to help aid the recovery and return of fallen British air force servicemen.

A number of militarised wings of the Dutch resistance were also formed, organising sabotage efforts and assassination attempts on Nazi officials. Many of these managed to establish connection with the Dutch government in exile, which particularly worried the Germans and made them particularly useful for reconnaissance in the months leading up to the 1944 Operation Market Garden.

Efforts of the Dutch civilian populations in the South during this period helped Allied forces liberate great swathes of the country, and while Amsterdam remained under Nazi control until the surrender of Germany per se in 1945, the Dutch resistance had proved themselves indispensable as sources of information to the advancing allies in the battles around Arnhem, at Nijmegen and Eindhoven in particular.

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