Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

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Henri Winkelman
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Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Henri Winkelman » 21 Jan 2017 16:16

Hey Guys,

I'm quite new here, although I have been reading some of the topics. My personal interest are Dutch military history and German operations on the Eastern Front.

One of the things I have always asked myself is why the Dutch performed so badly in 1940. Many excuses have been used by the Dutch and they have been accepted very easily by the Dutch people. For example, it has been said that the German command expected to capture the country in just 2 days and that 'we' held out for 5 days. (what an incredible achievement :roll: )

When we look at the Dutch army of 1940 it contained 280.000 troops, compared to 150.000 German troops involved in the operations in Holland. Of course the Dutch material was quite terrible, but it wasn't worse than the Polish or Belgium material, for example. The situation of 14 May 1940 was as follows. (terrible picture I know)

Image

Was it really not possible to hold out a little longer and defend the 'Vesting Holland' (Festung Holland) which was still intact on the 14th of May 1940?

Greetings,

Henri

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BDV
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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by BDV » 21 Jan 2017 16:28

Explanations for Dutch military performance:

On a more general note, level of weaponry and lack of hands-on experience with the speed of operations (action reaction loop) - which Germans were taking to the next level; so Dutch Army was two levels behind.

As to particulars, Dutch army decision to wipe out the Fallschirm, which meant they did not have the reaction capacity (plug the gaps) against the regular attack.
Nobody expects the Fallschirm! Our chief weapon is surprise; surprise and fear; fear and surprise. Our 2 weapons are fear and surprise; and ruthless efficiency. Our *3* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency; and almost fanatical devotion

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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Henri Winkelman » 21 Jan 2017 16:41

BDV wrote:Explanations for Dutch military performance:

On a more general note, level of weaponry and lack of hands-on experience with the speed of operations (action reaction loop) - which Germans were taking to the next level; so Dutch Army was two levels behind.

As to particulars, Dutch army decision to wipe out the Fallschirm, which meant they did not have the reaction capacity (plug the gaps) against the regular attack.
I know that the Dutch weaponry was pretty terrible but historically the Dutch have a pretty good track record when it comes to war. The mentality of Dutch soldiers has always been good, which was proven again by Dutch soldiers joining the Wehrmacht and SS (The 23rd SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nederland fought well in Russia) and also in the colonial war in Indonesia a couple of years later.

In 1940, thousands of Dutch soldiers surrendered in the first four days, which seems strange to me. About the Fallschirm, do you know how many troops the Dutch used to wipe out them? Fallschirm amount was around 8000 troops, so there must have been enough Dutch soldiers left to fight in the rest of the country.

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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Alexander Taper-Bore » 24 Jan 2017 17:02

Not sure if Dutch weaponry overall was that bad: 4 battalions of modern 105mm long range Bofors guns, about a 100 15cm howitzers, the 400 odd 75mm Krupp (modernised) were ok, the 400 or so 47mm/5cm antitank guns were pretty good, the modern 20mm/40mm/75mm AA defences did a terrific job and decimated the Luftwaffe's transport and overall artillery training was at a high level.

But where were these weapons? Given the fact that inudations and defences would reduce the manouvrability of any adversary, relatively small numbers of artillery would be needed - in theory, if at the right positions and used in a concentrated and coordinated way.

The weapons were used the wrong way due to lack of experience in modern warfare. Hardly any of these landguns were actively used in May 1940. The Germans were able to find a weak spot in the Grebbelines where NL artillery cover was pathetic. What would a battalion of 105s have done to te advancing SS? And when the Dutch had thrown in another battalion of 15cm hows? A combined force of 26 Landsverk armoured cars with their 37mm Bofors guns would have easily chewed up any German Panzer column, that is, if you know how to use armoured cars...in combination with artillery. Here the NL forces lacked experience and insight just as the French and BEF missed that and the Germans outwitted everybody.

Not sure what you mean with the statement that the Dutch SS "fought well". I thought they lost?

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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Delwin » 25 Jan 2017 00:03

It is not matter of weaponry that much but the quality of the soldiers. Pre-war Dutch army sported very short training for the conscripts and the number of the professional officers/NCOs was low. When it came to mobilisation, the army was actually consisted of semicivilians with little part of the professional soldiers. In that circumstances both discipline and qualifications were much lower than German. This, addiing the superiority in organisation, gave German unique opportunity to beat theoretically bigger opponent, having also favourable terrain for defence.

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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Henri Winkelman » 25 Jan 2017 00:36

Thanks for the very eleborate comment!
Alexander Taper-Bore wrote:Not sure if Dutch weaponry overall was that bad: 4 battalions of modern 105mm long range Bofors guns, about a 100 15cm howitzers, the 400 odd 75mm Krupp (modernised) were ok, the 400 or so 47mm/5cm antitank guns were pretty good, the modern 20mm/40mm/75mm AA defences did a terrific job and decimated the Luftwaffe's transport and overall artillery training was at a high level.
I know that the Dutch 'flak' did a good job in decimating German transport planes. 295 Junker-52's were lost for the Germans, which seems a lot to me in just 5 days. I don't know how many tanks the Germans lost, and how effective the antitank guns were.
But where were these weapons? Given the fact that inudations and defences would reduce the manouvrability of any adversary, relatively small numbers of artillery would be needed - in theory, if at the right positions and used in a concentrated and coordinated way.

The weapons were used the wrong way due to lack of experience in modern warfare. Hardly any of these landguns were actively used in May 1940. The Germans were able to find a weak spot in the Grebbelines where NL artillery cover was pathetic. What would a battalion of 105s have done to te advancing SS? And when the Dutch had thrown in another battalion of 15cm hows? A combined force of 26 Landsverk armoured cars with their 37mm Bofors guns would have easily chewed up any German Panzer column, that is, if you know how to use armoured cars...in combination with artillery.
As far as I know the Dutch had just 12 M.36 armoured cars, but they were quite modern at te time. I'm not sure that would have made the biggest difference. But you probably know more about this than me.
Here the NL forces lacked experience and insight just as the French and BEF missed that and the Germans outwitted everybody.
That's interesting. So basically you are saying Dutch strategy was terrible? Do you know anything about Dutch commanders Winkelman and Van Voorst tot Voorst? What were the biggest mistakes they made? And is it realistic to think that German fallschirmjäger in The Hague and Rotterdam would have surrendered if the battle took a few days longer?
Not sure what you mean with the statement that the Dutch SS "fought well". I thought they lost?
Of course they lost, (like all German divisions) but they succeeded in inflicting huge casualties on the Soviets. For example during the battle of Leningrad. Besides of that, as far as I know, the mentality of the Dutch SS troops was great. They were more loyal than the Romanians or Italians, for example. (They could use German armour of course, so that might explain it)

Overall, (and when I add your comments to the situation) it seems strange to me that the Dutch surrendered so quickly while the war wasn't lost on the 14th of May 1940. Of course Rotterdam was bombarded, but that was certainly not the only city to be bombarded during the war.

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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Henri Winkelman » 25 Jan 2017 00:49

Delwin wrote:It is not matter of weaponry that much but the quality of the soldiers. Pre-war Dutch army sported very short training for the conscripts and the number of the professional officers/NCOs was low. When it came to mobilisation, the army was actually consisted of semicivilians with little part of the professional soldiers.
Maybe the Dutch lacked the experience of World War I? The Dutch mobilisation started in August 1939, that's around 8 months before the war. (still a lot of time to train your troops) They were able to mobilize 300.000 troops in the end.
In that circumstances both discipline and qualifications were much lower than German. This, addiing the superiority in organisation, gave German unique opportunity to beat theoretically bigger opponent, having also favourable terrain for defence.
I don't know how much you know about Dutch culture and history, but the Dutch have quite a history when it comes to discipline, organisation and preciseness. (You should look up the story of the Dutch registration system during the war, which unfortunately allowed the Germans to find almost all Jews living in the Netherlands) Was this totally different in the army? I wouldn't expect so.

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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Delwin » 25 Jan 2017 13:46

Maybe the Dutch lacked the experience of World War I? The Dutch mobilisation started in August 1939, that's around 8 months before the war. (still a lot of time to train your troops) They were able to mobilize 300.000 troops in the end.
Yes, but at the same time there were 1206 (?) professional officers for the whole army. 8 months is quite long assuming you give people good training, having enough possibilities to do so - time, place, instructors and money to spend on the training. It seems that did not work well. Bit similar story to France where sldiers, instead of training at Sedan were mostly involved in building the trenches - so at the end the trenches and fortification worked well when the soldiers not that much.
I don't know how much you know about Dutch culture and history, but the Dutch have quite a history when it comes to discipline, organisation and preciseness. (You should look up the story of the Dutch registration system during the war, which unfortunately allowed the Germans to find almost all Jews living in the Netherlands) Was this totally different in the army? I wouldn't expect so.
I agree- but you talk about society. Discplined sociates usually give good soldiers since it is much easier to organise such people and keep them disciplined. Level of discipline required in army is much higher though (the bombs are dropping, collegues are dying etc.) so you need to add this level on the people you have to make them effective soldiers - by training and example of the professionals. Germany enjoyed both disciplined society and chance to make the reservist an army. For example, at the end of the war, when Polish units in the west incorporated number of Poles previously forced to fight in Wehrmacht, the general comment was that those people were both competent soldiers and very disciplined (even better that "originals" from Polish units). Proper training makes wonders...

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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Juha » 25 Jan 2017 19:56

I would say that one of the main reasons was the shock of the surprise attack. Probably most of the Dutch soldiers didn’t expect that they suddenly was forced to bloody combat. And because Dutch surrendered so early they didn’t have time to overcome the first shock.

Maybe the reserve army itself wasn’t a so big problem. Finns also had a small standing conscript army and its field army was mainly based on reservists. The small active conscript formations were used to win time for mobilization. Because Finns had mobilized before the soviet attack on 30 Nov 1939 and because the force of the Soviet division size attacks in the northern part of Eastern Finland totally surprised Finns the delaying operations phase was shorter than the Finnish high command had hoped. Even so, in spite of some local panics and some unwillingness to fight against so overwhelming odds during the first few days, the reservist army fought very well even if there were totally insufficient amount of A/T weaponry, very weak artillery support etc. Maybe mostly agrarian society near and at the northern limits of farming produced “harder” men than more urban societies in warmer climate. Finns were not the most disciplined nation but highly motivated.

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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Delwin » 26 Jan 2017 09:06

Yes, there is a lot of factors (geography for example - Netheraland had no space to do any manuvers and whole country could be attacked almost at once), but initial shock is more easy to overcome if you have properly trained soldiers. In case of Finland you had both longer military servce period than in Netherland and (as far as I know) existence of the significant promilitary organisations that gave extra training and drill to the reserve soldiers.

And last but not least -quality of the Sovier forces in 1939/1940 had much to desire comparing to WH - especially in early years of war. It is claimed in Polish military analysis (made in the communist period, which also tells sth: claiming German superiority was not thing easy to accept) that WH (although in 1941) had quality of the professional army - despite being composed from conscripts. It tells sth about the training and discipline...

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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Juha » 27 Jan 2017 01:20

Yes, we had the Suojeluskunta (Civil Guard) but it was a voluntary organisation, so only those who were willing to use their spare time in military exercises got extra training.
IMHO generally speaking the Heer was the best army in the world in 1940 but its skills in forest fighting even in 1941 were rather poor, in fact Finns were rather appalled at Germans inability in forest fighting in 1941, were they Heer or SS troops. And their ability even survive in harsh winter conditions was not that good either.
On the other hand Soviet Tank Brigades used against Finns in 1939 were all-professional and well trained but one. The tank battalions and tank companies attached to Soviet Rifle Divisions were lower quality. The Luftwaffe was hugely better than the VVS but days are short here during the winters and weather often poor for flying.

In fact Soviet tactics were good, Soviets also had problems, also most of their troops were new to combat and they had difficulties to motivate the infantry to attack.

The Soviets plan was in itself good, the Finns were surprised by their movement outside of roads along forest paths and their many flanking movements often forced the Finns to break the contact earlier than planned during the first days of the war when there was not much snow on the ground. As early as on the first day of the war in the eastern part of the Karelia Isthmus just across the border near Lake Ladoga shore at Tappari the border guard company had to abandon its the position due to risk of encirclement, this forced the commander of the M-detachment to pull his troops to the Umpilampi-Line. The rapid retreat opened the road from the church of Metsäpirtin to Rautu.
In the eastern side of the Karelia Isthmus Soviets tried a deep battle idea, attacking partly through forest the 10th Tank Corps (417 BT-tanks, 17 T-26 tanks and 57 armoured cars) was to brazenly break through the Finnish delaying positions through Rautu towards the bridges at Kiviniemi. The plan was to capture the bridges at Kiviniemi then turn to the west and behind the main Finnish defence line and encircle main part of the Finnish Karelian Isthmus Army. The 10th Tank Corps was supported by the 35th Light Armored Brigade, (136 T-26 tanks, 10 flamethrower tanks and 20 armoured cars) and the 142th Division and part of the 90th Division. Against this force Finnish delaying force had appr. 5 battalions and 4 border guard companies with 9 or 10 A/T guns and 2 A/T rifles plus 16 field guns. But utilizing delaying lines with pre-war field fortifications the Finnish forces succeeded to delay Soviet tank units so long that all Finns got across the Vuoksi River and had time to blew up the bridges before Soviets arrived.

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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Henri Winkelman » 27 Jan 2017 01:25

Delwin wrote:Yes, but at the same time there were 1206 (?) professional officers for the whole army. 8 months is quite long assuming you give people good training, having enough possibilities to do so - time, place, instructors and money to spend on the training. It seems that did not work well. Bit similar story to France where sldiers, instead of training at Sedan were mostly involved in building the trenches - so at the end the trenches and fortification worked well when the soldiers not that much.
That sounds interesting, but the problem is also that a big part of the Dutch army wasn't even involved in the fightings. I don't know how many troops surrendered during the first days but I think that at least 200.000 troops were still available on the 14th of May 1940. The Dutch 'Grebbelinie' was succesfully evacuated and the 'Hollandse Waterlinie' was still intact.
I agree- but you talk about society. Discplined sociates usually give good soldiers since it is much easier to organise such people and keep them disciplined. Level of discipline required in army is much higher though (the bombs are dropping, collegues are dying etc.) so you need to add this level on the people you have to make them effective soldiers - by training and example of the professionals. Germany enjoyed both disciplined society and chance to make the reservist an army. For example, at the end of the war, when Polish units in the west incorporated number of Poles previously forced to fight in Wehrmacht, the general comment was that those people were both competent soldiers and very disciplined (even better that "originals" from Polish units). Proper training makes wonders...
All right, we're talking about training here, but like I said: Most Dutch troops didn't even get the chance to prove themselves in battle, because Dutch commanders gave the order to surrender. I very much if that order was necessary.

By the way, German casualties were bigger than Dutch casualties. Dutch troops who had to fight did that (generally) well. In other words, I'm very much interested in Dutch strategical decisions. What were the biggest mistakes?
Last edited by Henri Winkelman on 27 Jan 2017 01:38, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Henri Winkelman » 27 Jan 2017 01:33

Juha wrote:I would say that one of the main reasons was the shock of the surprise attack. Probably most of the Dutch soldiers didn’t expect that they suddenly was forced to bloody combat. And because Dutch surrendered so early they didn’t have time to overcome the first shock.
Like I said in my last post, I'm not so sure Dutch soldiers surrendered very quickly. The situation wasn't that bad after 4 days of fighting unless Dutch commanders gave up. Dutch soldiers fought well.
Maybe the reserve army itself wasn’t a so big problem. Finns also had a small standing conscript army and its field army was mainly based on reservists. The small active conscript formations were used to win time for mobilization. Because Finns had mobilized before the soviet attack on 30 Nov 1939 and because the force of the Soviet division size attacks in the northern part of Eastern Finland totally surprised Finns the delaying operations phase was shorter than the Finnish high command had hoped. Even so, in spite of some local panics and some unwillingness to fight against so overwhelming odds during the first few days, the reservist army fought very well even if there were totally insufficient amount of A/T weaponry, very weak artillery support etc. Maybe mostly agrarian society near and at the northern limits of farming produced “harder” men than more urban societies in warmer climate. Finns were not the most disciplined nation but highly motivated.
All very interesting, I didn't know that much about Finnish mobilization. (although you guys did an amazing job during the war :milsmile: ) The last sentence makes sense to me. Of course I'm biased, but the Dutch usually had (and have) good soldiers, well-trained and professional. I also mentioned examples of other military conflicts in the same period, where Dutch troops fought well. Therefore, the failure of may 1940 still surprises me. The material wasn't that bad and we had enough manpower. To surrender within 5 days is just a terrible result. (especially when you compare it to so many other situations during the war where smaller amounts of troops held out for months, for example in Finland)

Juha wrote:Yes, we had the Suojeluskunta (Civil Guard) but it was a voluntary organisation, so only those who were willing to use their spare time in military exercises got extra training.
IMHO generally speaking the Heer was the best army in the world in 1940 but its skills in forest fighting even in 1941 were rather poor, in fact Finns were rather appalled at Germans inability in forest fighting in 1941, were they Heer or SS troops. And their ability even survive in harsh winter conditions was not that good either.
On the other hand Soviet Tank Brigades used against Finns in 1939 were all-professional and well trained but one. The tank battalions and tank companies attached to Soviet Rifle Divisions were lower quality. The Luftwaffe was hugely better than the VVS but days are short here during the winters and weather often poor for flying.

In fact Soviet tactics were good, Soviets also had problems, also most of their troops were new to combat and they had difficulties to motivate the infantry to attack.
Interesting, but not that relevant for the Dutch situation. ;)

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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Juha » 27 Jan 2017 03:36

Hello Henri.
More to the topic
IMHO the trump card for Germans was the LW. Netherland was good country for attacking planes. Not very good for tanks, at least the southern part of the country as Brits found out in 1944. Too much rivers, brooks, channels and wet ground. But not much cover for defenders against powerful attacking air force or artillery. It is often forgotten that Germans had effective artillery arm. Air attacks had powerful shock effect at first, after a while men learned that they were not as deadly against dug-in men as they appeared to be at the first time.

How you see the combat at the southern end of the Grebbe Line, around was that Grebbeberg?

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Re: Why did the Dutch perform so badly in 1940?

Post by Juha » 27 Jan 2017 08:44

Delwin wrote:Yes, there is a lot of factors (geography for example - Netheraland had no space to do any manuvers and whole country could be attacked almost at once), but initial shock is more easy to overcome if you have properly trained soldiers. In case of Finland you had both longer military servce period than in Netherland and (as far as I know) existence of the significant promilitary organisations that gave extra training and drill to the reserve soldiers.

And last but not least -quality of the Sovier forces in 1939/1940 had much to desire comparing to WH - especially in early years of war. It is claimed in Polish military analysis (made in the communist period, which also tells sth: claiming German superiority was not thing easy to accept) that WH (although in 1941) had quality of the professional army - despite being composed from conscripts. It tells sth about the training and discipline...

Hello Delwin
one more point for the discipline. The Winter War suited for the Finnish system of highly motivated army without so strict discipline. Men were motivated partly because they felt that Finland was subjected to an unprovoked assault which threatened their way of life maybe the very existence of the nation. And it was was fairly short, 105 days. During the much longer Continuation War (25 June 1940 – 4 September 1944) we had problems. During the attack place, there were bad problems in some units because men didn’t want to cross the “old” (the pre-Winter War) border. They thought that they were obligated to defend their country but not to fight on foreign soil. Then during the long period position war (1942-spring 1944) when most of the time war was a trench war on the secondary front only interrupted on some sectors by a couple strong Soviet attacks motivation sunk and the troops became somewhat unruly. When very strong Soviet attacks hit Finns during the June 1944 it took some time to adjust to new situation. The performance of the Heer with its clearly stricter discipline fluctuated less.

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