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French actions in Holland 1940??

Discussions on WW2 in Western Europe & the Atlantic.

French actions in Holland 1940??

Postby ducatim901 on 13 May 2006 10:55

I know the French army assisted the Dutch army, but in holland the French part of the war in Holland is greatly underestimated (i think!!) does anyone know what actions and what orders the French soldiers had to take part in, was there just maintaining the front with the BEF, Belgian and Dutch forces or were there other tactical or political issues??
Greetings Jack
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Postby David Lehmann on 13 May 2006 17:12

Hello Jack,

I probably don't have all the elements to answer completely your question but I can nonetheless indicate several points.

The allied Dyle-Breda plan is to stop the German offensive in Belgium and the Netherlands with the French 1st (Belgium) and 7th (Netherlands) armies and the BEF, using the Ardennes and the Sedan area as a hinge on their right flank. The 3 French DLMs have to delay the German troops of Armee Gruppe B (including 3.PzD and 4.PzD in Belgium and 9.PzD in the Netherlands). Their task is to establish contact with the Belgian and Dutch armies and to cover the allied infantry deployment. The French have therefore a fast mechanical force but lacking AA protection and without serious air cover.

General Blanchard (French 1st army) was opposed to the entry in Belgium, judging the Belgian army unable to delay the Germans long enough to enable the deployment of the French troops in Belgium. Indeed the Belgian neutrality obsession did not allow the allied troops to enter Belgium before the German invasion. He evaluated the required time at about 1 week. The Belgians should also have prepared entrenched positions and anti-tank ditches on the future French positions but roughly nothing was done except the beginning of an anti-tank ditch next to Gembloux.

General Gamelin, the commander in chief, nevertheless saw several advantages in the Dyle-Breda operation:
• Protection of the industrial area of north-eastern France
• Shortening the front between the Maginot Line and the North Sea by 70 km
• Offering better chances to rescue the Belgian army and integrate it in the whole allied deployment

The British of course wanted the war as far as possible from the homeland.

The generals Georges (commander in chief north-east) and Bilotte (1st army corps) thought that only a reduced version of this operation, on the Escaut (Scheldt) River, was really possible and that the Dyle-Breda line was too far. General Prioux, commander of the cavalry corps, which will have the task to delay the Germans in Belgium with the 2e DLM and the 3e DLM shared the same point of view and did not think that the Belgian army was able to face the German troops.

General Corap, commander of the 9th army on the Meuse River is also opposed to the Dyle-Breda operation and is worried about the weakness of his troops and the too huge front they have to defend (20-30 km for one division instead of 5-7 km). General Giraud (French 7th army), known for his rather offensive spirit, is also opposed to the operation in Belgium. Nevertheless, Gamelin persisted and engaged not only French troops in Belgium on the Dyle but also the potential of the 7th army in an operation in the Netherlands, sacrificing troops that could have constituted a crucial reserve later.



THE 1e DLM IN THE NETHERLANDS

While the 2e DLM and 3e DLM are engaged in Belgium with the French 1st army, the 1e DLM (General Picard) has to fulfil a similar mission in the Netherlands for the 7th army. The French 7th army has to deploy between Breda and Turnhout but this line was rather far away from the starting line in France. The 1e DLM was to move first, to provide intelligence and reconnaissance for the 7th army and to establish contacts with the Belgian and Dutch armies. Its mission was then to delay the German troops long enough to allow the 25e DIM (General Molinié) and the 9e DIM (General Didelet) to occupy the position on the Marck River.

The 1e DLM will have to face the XVIII. Armee (General von Kuchler) including the 9.PzD (General Hubrig) and the 1.Kavallerie Division. The 9.PzD has to cross the Meuse River, to reach Tirlburg and to take Breda. It will then be split in two groups:
• A first group reinforced by the SS Verfügung (mot) division
• A second group reinforced by the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (LAH) regiment and 2 airborne troops battalions of the VII.Fliegerdivision with the mission to take Rotterdam

The Dutch troops concentrated their armored cars, strong infantry and AA elements around their airfields. They inflicted significant losses to the airborne German operation. The Luftwaffe lost about 225 aircraft in the Netherlands due to the allied air forces but also because some 170-200 transport planes (mostly Junkers Ju52s) were destroyed, mainly on the ground by artillery fire.


May 10, 1940

The 1e DLM will be supported by 2 reconnaissance groups:
• one with the 2e GRCA and the 5e GRDI under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Lestoquoi, which will operate with the 1e DLM
• one with the 2e GRDI, 12e GRDI and 27e GRDI under command of Colonel Beauchesne, which will operate independently

Nevertheless these reconnaissance units are reduced; only the motorized elements are used, the horse mounted elements being to slow. All these reconnaissance groups include motorcycle platoons. The 2e GRDI is the reconnaissance group of the 9e DIM and includes also 13 Panhard 178 armored cars and 13 Hotchkiss H39 tanks. The 5e GRDI is the reconnaissance group of the 25e DIM and includes 13 Panhard 178 armored cars and 13 Hotchkiss H35 tanks.

The reconnaissance regiment of the 1e DLM is the 6e RC (Régiment de Cuirassiers), commanded by Colonel Dario, with about 40 Panhard 178 armored cars. It is reinforced by the Lestoquoi group (2e GRCA and 5e GRDI). Together, they cross the Belgian border at 10h30 and reach the Albert canal east of Anvers during afternoon. They move beyond Turnhout during the night. The tanks of the 1e DLM arrive by train around Oosmalle, 15 km west of Turnhout.


May 11, 1940

To be sure to have troops as early as possible in the Netherlands, a landing of French troops has been organized on the Walcheren and Zuid Beveland islands (Zeeland islands). This landing is known as operation F (F as Flessingue = Vlissingen).
Channel boats from the Calais-Folkestone line like the "Côte d'Azur" and the "Rouen" are used to load the troops at Dunkirk. The transport ships are escorted by 7 torpedo ships provided by the 2e DT (division de torpilleurs), 11e DT and 14e DT. Other ships were present like French submarine chasers, French "aviso" ships and several British vessels. The "Diligente" is a second class "aviso" but it was used to supply seaplanes. This ship arrives with 15,000 litres of fuel. At 9h00 a Heinkel He-111 bomber attack the harbor of Flessingue but without result.
On May 11, there are 2 landings: one at 4h15 and a second one at 13h40. The French troops landing in the Netherlands are the 224e RI from the 68e DI (General Beaufrère), supported by 1 artillery group (12 75mm Mle1897 field guns) provided by the 89e RA from the 60e DI (General Deslaurens).

The reconnaissance elements reach Breda, Tilburg and Eindhoven. 400 German paratroops held the Moerdjik bridge next to Breda. They have occupied the previously Dutch fortifications and are equipped with MGs, mortars AT rifles and AT guns. 1 Panhard 178 platoon (5 armored cars) and 2 motorcycle platoons are ordered to prevent the Germans to move towards Breda which is the final objective of the 1e DLM. They block the Germans with the help of Dutch infantry units.

Motorized German elements are moving north-east of Tilburg and skirmish with French advanced elements. One German tank is destroyed. Around 21h00, detachment Dudognon (Panhard 178 armored cars from the 6e RC) defend the Moergestel Bridge over the Reussel River. At 23h00, 3 German armored cars accompanied by 3 side-cars and a truck full of troops appear. Maréchal-des-logis (NCO rank) Gaulthier recalls: "the leading 2 German armored cars do not see me and head for the Panhard 178 "La Varende". The first German armored car crushes 2 of our side-cars and barely dodges the "La Varende" (tearing off a mudguard on the way) and crashes into a cement pole. The second German armored car (an 8-wheeled Sd.Kfz.231 probably) stops to my left and opens fire. Meanwhile the third German armored car turns out in front of me on the bridge. I open fire with my 25mm SA35 gun and I hit it square on. The German armored car rolls for several extra meters before stopping to my right. At the same time, the explosive charges placed under the bridge explode as the German truck is on the bridge. I was in the turret so the deflagration stunned me and I fell inside. When I recovered and went back to the hatch I saw the second German armored car still firing on my left. I pivoted the turret and fired point blank with both the main gun and MG (with AP bullets). It quickly ceased firing. The whole action only lasted a quarter of an hour. The enemy lost around 20 dead and drowned. The 6e Cuirrasiers detachment has captured 4 men including 2 wounded. The three German armored cars whose motors cannot be started again are scuttled as well as a German side-car. Two more intact BMW side-cars will replace the 2 that were crushed and we used them up to Dunkirk." The French troops had only a few lightly wounded men.

The 2e GRCA deploys in Breda and the 5e GRDI is in Tilburg after the loss of 1 armored car in an ambush. The infantry of the 1e DLM is deployed on the Reussel River between Tilburg and Turnhout, north-west of the Belgian 18th infantry division. The deployment would be satisfactory but the Belgian and Dutch troops retreat rapidly and the 1e DLM is suddenly alone to face the German troops. The Belgian army abandoned a triangle formed by 3 canals (Turnhout, Campines and Albert). The right flank is completely unprotected and German troops are infiltrating. Tilburg, Breda, Turnhout and Oostmalle are bombed by the Luftwaffe.


May 12, 1940

The 9.PzD has crossed the Meuse River at Gennep and moves towards Breda. The French reconnaissance elements retreat to the Wortel – Merxplas – Turnhout – Desschel line after having skirmished with German armored elements. The movement of the 7th army towards Breda is cancelled to reconstitute a continuous front after the retreat of the Belgian army on the Berg op Zoom – Anvers line. The 25e DIM is deploying in Wortel. The infantry of the 1e DLM and Belgian troops are in contact with the enemy on the Turnhout canal and are reinforced by the 9e DIM on May 13 only. The pressure of the 9.PzD is increasing in the area of Turnhout and a German infantry division crosses the canal but cannot advance more.

On May 12, two additional convoys unload French troops in the Zeeland islands. The Luftwaffe is now very active and attacking the harbor every 2 hours. The ships are not hit but these bombings have the effect of hampering the unloading of the equipment and fuel supplies. A truck is thrown on the "Diligente" by the explosion of a German bomb. The ship is still full of fuel but there is no explosion. The "aviso" is nonetheless blocked and will leave the harbor on May 13 only. All the other ships leave except the submarine chasers "chasseur 6" and "chasseur 9".


May 13, 1940

The 1e DLM is strongly attacked by the Luftwaffe and the 9.PzD. Movements through the Anvers tunnel are delayed because Dutch employees in charge of the air intake went on strike !
General Picard launches 2 Hotchkiss squadrons of the 18e RD (42 tanks) in a counter-attack against the German troops who managed to cross the Turnhout canal. The objectives are Moll and the bridges on the Turnhout canal. An other canal has to be crossed and only one, 8 meters long, engineered bridge enables the crossing of tanks but only the lighter ones. The Somua S35 tanks cannot be engaged. 1 German battalion is forced to retreat from Moll but the bridges are strongly defended by AT guns and infantry. Without infantry the French attack cannot go on. Several German AT guns are destroyed or crushed and the enemy infantry sustained losses. Several French tanks are damaged but only when engaged at close range. At the end of the day, receiving no infantry support to open the way, the French tanks have to move back.

During the night, the French troops in the Walcheren and Zuid Beveland islands are reinforced by the 271e RI, motorized elements of the 68e GRDI and 1 engineer company from the 60e DI. These troops crossed the Escaut (Scheldt) River thanks to ferries.


May 14, 1940

The 1e DLM is attacked south of Berg op Zoom and defeats the Germans. Because of the context of the German breakthrough in Sedan and the very advanced position of the French 7th army and of the 1e DLM, the French troops are ordered to retreat towards Anvers. The 9e DIM and the 25e DIM are sent to the south to reinforce the French 1st army.

During this day 1 tank battalion of the 9.PzD, reinforced by German infantry, AT guns and supported by artillery fire encircles and destroys the 12e GRDI and several armored cars of the 6e RC in Berg op Zoom, west of Tilburg.


May 15, 1940

Rotterdam and La Haye have been captured by the Germans. On May 15, the Dutch army capitulates.
The 1e DLM is deployed in the area of Kontich and begins to move back at 21h00. The 1e DLM will fight hard delaying combats. In one week the division moved on more than 600 km, managing to defeat all the German encirclement attempts before being trapped around Dunkirk.

A strong German attack (including SS-Standarte Deutschland) is launched against the French troops still in the Zeeland islands. The French 271e RI is in Zuid Beveland and the French 224e RI (B reserve regiment) is in Walcheren. The French troops are completely cut from the 7th army and encircled by the Germans. The 271e RI launches a counter attack but without success. The regiment is destroyed, only 300 survivors retreat to the island of Walcheren to defend the Sloedam (a small dam between Walcheren and Zuid-Beveland). The canal between Walcheren and Zuid Beveland is a poor defence since it is completely dry at low water.
Walcheren is defended by the 224e RI supported by 1 group (12 75mm Mle1897 field guns) of the 89e RA and the remains of the 271e RI who are completely demoralized. These troops are nevertheless supported by the fire of the French torpedo boats from the 2e DT and 6e DT and by several French submarine chasers. The Loire-Nieuport LN.401 dive bombers from AB.2 squadron (French fleet air arm) support the ground troops by attacking the German forces and the Potez 631 twin-engine fighters from AC.2 squadron (French fleet air arm) provide air cover. The French troops will resist until May 17.


May 17, 1940

The French defense collapses slowly and the troops have to retreat to the harbor of Flessingue to be evacuated. The first French troops evacuating Flessingue have the luck to still find several ferries. These ferries are ordered to return to Flessingue to evacuate additional troops but they will never do that. The Royal Navy lost the destroyer "Valentine", and had the destroyer "Winchester" damaged whilst protecting these ferries.

The 14e DT (division de torpilleur) reinforces the French troops and takes part to the evacuation. The torpedo boat "Cyclone" fires 80 shells of 130mm on the main road of Zuid Beveland where German troops are concentrating. It is replaced for the fire mission by the "Siroco" and later by the British ships "Wolsey" and "Vimiera". During the same time, the 12 guns of the 89e RA fire 3,000 75mm shells. Nevertheless that does not prevent the Germans to cross the little canal separating the 2 islands, mainly thanks to the support of the Luftwaffe.

General Deslaurens (commander of the 60e DI and of the operation) is killed in Flessingue (Vlissingen) while fighting, a carbine in his hands. Most of the French troops are embarked by the French navy (Chasseur 5, 6, 10, 41 and 42) but operation F is a failure. The General commanding the operation has been killed, the 271e RI doesn’t exist anymore as operational unit and 2 battalions of the 224e RI have been captured. The 12 guns of the 89e RA group have been destroyed or scuttled. Concerning the navy it proved able to land and to embark troops under heavy German air attacks; only 1 British ship was sunk.

Regards,

David
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Postby ducatim901 on 15 May 2006 16:52

Thanks very much, i'll read it carefully, and maybe i can find something in the dutch archives, I made copies of the after war action reports made by the Dutch, around the coastaltowns of IJmuiden and Hook of Holland, have to make copies of the battles around Den Helder and in Zeeland.
Greetings Jack Koorneef.
If i find something about French actions in Holland i'll post them.
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