World War II: Liberating the Dutch (September 1944-May 1945)


Figure 1.--When the Dutch Resistance supported Market Garden, the Germans relatiated by cutting off food deliveries. During the Hunger Winter, food in the German controlled areas virtually disappeared (early 1945). The Dutch were starving when the Allies finally reached them. Children roamed the streets begging food. Some perished, many others were permanently stunted.

The failure of Operation Marget Garden (September 1944) was a disaster for the Dutch people. This was the Allied effort to cross the Rhine and end the War in 1944. The Netherlands south of the Rhine was liberated, but the Germans still held the north bank. This left most of the Dutch people in German hands. Few countries of comparable size took so long to liberate. A Dutch reader writes, "the part of Holland that could not be liberated at that time became a German fortress. It sadly was the most populous part of the Netherlandswith the cities Utrecht, Amsterdam, Haarlem, Rotterdam and The Hague, where the majority of the Dutch population. The River Rhine flows through the Netherlands east to west. Nobody could leave or get in anymore. That meant that the people were starving and had to eat the food that was locally available. That was very little. We had to line up every day (only once a day!) to receive a bowl of soup at the Central Kitchens that were opened everywhere. It always was thin cabbage soup without meat. We received a food package from Sweden (February 1945). Also clothes were scarce. We got textile coupons, but the stores were empty. My father made me a pair of 'sandals' from an old rubber tire. We wore the same clothes for months. Fortunately I still had a pair of indestructable brown corduroy Scout shorts and a woollen pullover my grandma had knitted for me, although it was tight, since I kept growing in spite of the bad nourishment. We were near starvation when finally liberated by the Canadians."

German V-2 Campaign (September 1944)

The Germans launched the V-2 campaign in early September. Paris was the first Allied city to be hit. But London was the city Hitler was determened to hammar. After the liberation of France, London was out of range of the V-1s. And with the liberation of elgium and half of the Netherlands, the Netherlands nrth of the Rhine was the only place the German could launch the V-2s and still hit London. The V-2 was a technological triumph of the first order. It was a fearsome weapon, but despite the enormous resources invested it was a weapon of no military value. It was purely a terror weapon. All that could be targerted was a large city. It could not be used to destroy military targets, only civilians in cities. The V-2 is perhaps the only weapon in histort for which more people were killed in its manufacture than were killed wjen the weapon was used.

Dutch Begin Celebrating (September 1944)

The Allied D-Day opened the way for the liberation of Western Europe (June 6, 1944). The Germans managed to bottle the Allies up in Normandy, but could not dislodge the beachhead or prevent an enormous build-up. The Allies found it difficult to fight in the Bockage country, but finally Operartion Cobra succeeded in breaking out led by Patton's 3rd Army (July). The German 7th Army was largely destroyed. The Allies liberated Paris and crossed the Seine. The Germans retreated to the West Wall and prepared to defend the Rhine while the Allies raced for the Rhine. Unfortunately for the Dutch, much of the country was north of the Rhine and the NAZIs decided to use the Rhine as the major defensive line in the West. After the Allies liberated France (August 1944) they reached the Belgian border (early-September). The Dutch, including those north of the Rhine knew of the Allied drive through Belgium and then the Allies reached the Dutch border. As a result, September 5 is now known as Dolle dinsdag (mad Tuesday). A reconnaissance-patrol of the U.S. 113th Cavalry Group Red Horse crossed the Dutch border near Maastricht (September 9). The American 30th Infantry Division "Old Hickory", entered the southern Netherlands in force at Zuid-Limburg (September 12). The British and Canadians entered the Netherlans further east. The Dutch at this time believing their long-awaited liberation was at hand.

Dutch Railroad Strike (September 1944)

The Dutch Government in London ordered a railway strike (September 17, 1944). The intention was to support Market Garden--a plan to secure seven bridges and transport lines to the rail bridge across the Rhine at Arnhem. The Allies believed that shutting down the Dutch rail lines would slow the German reaction and delay troop and supply transports. The Wehrmacht was heavily dependent on rail transport. The Allies and the Dutch thought the Germans were on the run and could not stop a Rhine crossing. Unfortunarely the Germans were sucessfully regrouping, including a SS Divison near Arnhem. The Allies make considerable porogress toward Srnhem and a Rhine crossing, nuth Arnhem proved to be the bridge too far. The Germans held on the area of the Netherlands beyond the Rhine. The Railway strike succeed in bringing Dutch rail traffic to a halt. Knowing that the Gestapo would arrest striking eworkers, 30,000 railway employees went into hiding. The Allies attempted to support the strikers. The strike, however, failed in its main goal. The Germans used their own trains for transporting troops and supplies. This complicated German operations, but did not stop them. The Germans claimed that the strike would harm vivilands by preventing food shipments. This was partially true and the Germans refused to transport food for civilians on their trains. The result was the 'Hunger winter'--the Dutch famine of 1944. The Germans dis nore than just not transport food. They set up road blocks on roads leading into the cities which prevented food from the country reaching the city. The Germans retaliated by rounding up 120,000 men. Some were rail workers, but most were not. They were deported to labor camps in Germany. The railroad workers held frirm and the strike continued until the Allies crossed the Rhine and liberated the rest of the Netherlands. By this time the people in the cities were starving.

Southern Linburg

The liberation of the Netherlands began with crossing of the Meuse. The southern Netherlands included an unusal projection into northern Belgium -- southern Linburg including Masstrict. The province nasmes can be a little confusing. Many have north and south names like North Barbant or South Holland. In this case we are talkibng about the southern areas of Linburg Province, there was no North and South Linburg. The southern area of Lindburg projected far to the south of the rest of the Nettherlands. This projected was located east of the Meuse. As a result, southern Linburg separated northern Belgium from Germany, significantly reducing the length of the Belgian-German border. It was important in World War I as Germany respected Dutch neutrality, but not in World War II as Germany invaded, both Belgium and the Netherlands. This southerly projection was an artifact of the Dutch War of Independence. The Spanish Catholic armies that retook the southern Netherlands and reinstituted Catholicism, were unable to take Maastricht. In medieval times, the province was strategic with trade routes connecting Masstricht, Aachen, and Cologne. The American Army crossed the Dutch border near Maastricht from Belgium. The American 30th Infantry Division liberated Maastrict (September 13-14, 1944). The Americam Army managed to to liberate large areas of southern Linmburg, all thewayto Hoensbroek with itshistoriccastle. Theliberastion pf Linburg only slowed when the Americans moving north reached the 'waistline' of Linburg. Just south of Linburg lies Aachen--the first German city to fall to the Allies (October 21). The Americasns had to fight a costly a 19-day battle to take the city. After the rapid advancethrough France, thechastened Americans began to ask if the Germans were going to resist so fiercely city by city.

Operation Market Garden (September 1944)

Montgomery had been pressuring Eisenhower to order one big push into Germany which of course he thought he should direct rather than Patton. Eisenhower kept insisting on a broad front advance. At this stage of the campaign. Most of the Allied supplies were still coming in over the Normandy beaches. Ports like Brest, Boulogne and Calais were still in German hands. The German V-2 attacks while not a real military threat, were terrifying civilians and it was Montgomery who was best placed to seize the launching sites in the Netherlands which could still be used to hit London. Eisenhower as a result, acceeded to Montgomery's plan to seize the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem and cross the Rhine through the Netherlands. Available supplies were diverted toward this effort, Operation Market Garden (September 17-26). While more attention is given to airborn opertions on D-Day, Market Garden was the largest airborn operation of World War II. Over 30.000 allied paratroopers were employed in the operation. Eisenhower was a proponent of a broad-front offensive against Germany. He felt this was the best way of keeping the pressure on the Wehrmacht and not expose advancing Allied armies to counter attacks. His field commnanders, especially Montgomery and Patton, wanted to focus the offensive on specific sectors (their own) to pierce the enemy defenses. Allied supply lines in September 1944 were inadequate for a general broad-front offensive against the Germans. The Germans had held on to ports to restrict Allied logistics. If there was to be an Allied war-winning offensive in Septmber against the Germans, Eisenhower had to chose a specific sector which he could adequately supply. He chose Montgomery in the Netherlands. Eisenhower has never fully explained this decission. His relations with Montgomery were far from cordial. Several factors were certainly involved. The route through the Netherlands was the most direct and shortest over the Rhine and into the industrial heart of Germany. The Germans were launching V-2 missles from the Netherlands which were causing civilian casualties in London and other British cities. Montgomery's plan offered a key objective, the seizure of the Rhine River bridge at Arnhem. In addition, the liberation of Belgium had brought with it the port of Antwerp which meant that if Montgomery was successful, supplies to exploit the crossing of the Rhine could be brought in through Antwerp, instead of the long truck routes through France. The effort achieved some success, liberating large areas of the Netherlands. Tragically it failed at Arnhem despite a valiant fight by lightly armed British paratroopers. This allowed the Germans to stabilized their Western front as Winter approached and prepare their last offensive of the War.

Allied Liberated Zone (September-December 1944)

Market Garden failed in its objective to cross the Rhine before winter weather set in. The Rhine was the only significant natural barrier which could be used to defend the Reich. Market Garden did, however, suceed in beginning the liberation of most of the Netherlnds south and east of the Rhine. The Allies did get across the Meuse and Waal liberating large areas of the Netherlands. After the failure of Market Garden, the British launched Operation Pheasant (October 20). This was the beginning of the liberation of central and western Noord-Barbant Province. The first Canadian Army attacked from Belgium and the British Second Army attacked from the eastern Netherlands. The 51st Highland Division drove to Schijndel village (October 23). The British, Canadians, and Poles liberated souheastern Metherlands (Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, Walcheren and Noord– and Zuid-Beveland) (September through November). The 2nd British Army liberated northwestern Limburg (November-December). This largely completed the liberation of the Netherlands south of the Rhine. The final step was Canadian and American operations after the Buldge which succeeded in liberating northeast Limburg and the German Rhineland. Nijmegen and much of North Brabant, were liberated. Parts of the southern Netherlands were not immediately liberated by Operation Market Garden, which was designed to open a narrow salient between Eindhoven and Nijmegen. British and American forces in Operation Aintree managed to defeat the remaining German forces west of the Meuse (east of North Brabant and in Limburg) (late-September and early-December 1944). They destroyed the German bridgehead between the Meuse and the Peel marshes. The only tank battle ever fought in the Netherlands occurred at Overloon. The Allies also drove into Zeeland. The Germand continue to hold Walcheren and the Scheldt estuary. This was a serious error on Montgomery's part. The Scheldt estuary controlled the approaches to the all important port of Antwerp, vitally needed to supply the advancing Allied armies. Fixated on Market Garden, Montgmery allowed the disorganized Germans to consolidated their position in the Scheldt estuary. Thus after Market Garden, Canadian units were forced to fight the Battle of the Scheldt. The Poles played an important role in liberating the Dutch. Tthe Polish 1st Armoured Division after the Mormandy breakout (July 1944) pursued the retreating Germans along the Channel coast. The Poles liberated, the towns of Ypres, Ghent and Passchendaele. General Maczek then outflanked the Germans suceede in liberating Breda in thesouthern Netherlands without any civilian casualties (October 29, 1944). The Netherlands is a tiny country that at the time of World War II hd only a small army. The coyntry's principal defense is opening the dikes and with the resulting flood, would slow an invading army. The Dutch government when Hitler invaded dcided not to do this (May 1940). This would essentially turn Holland into an island by flooding the polders. And he resulting island contains the main Dutch cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht). The Government decided that the flooding would be disaterous for the Dutch people which given NZI policy of reserving availabke food for the German people was probably the case. Hitler had no such cruples. He ordered the creation of Fortress Holland (Festung Holland) and for it to be held at any price. The creation of such Festugen was a degensive tactic adopted by the Germans in both the East and West as the Allied armies closed in on the Reich.

German Occupied Zone--The Hunger Winter

The Netherlands was one of the countries where the Germans at least at first conducted a 'correct' occupation. Here etnicity was a factor. The Germans wanted to incorporate the Duch people into the Greater Reich. The Germans from the beginning of the occupation (May 1940), however, used the Netherlands as a source of food. Rationing meant that all but the Jews and those in hiding got were allocated enough food to survive which was not the case in the East. As the War went against Germany, rationing got more severe, but was still enough to survive on for most of the Duch people, espcially with a few black mrket purchases anf the help of friends and family ijn the countryside. After the failure of Market Garden and the onset of the Dutch Railway Strike, the German authorities reetaliated by embargoing food transports to the western Netherlands. The Germans partially lifted thre embargo (early November 1944). They allowed restricted food on water transports--primarily barges. The early onset of a particularly harsh winter disrupted barge traffic. The canals froze over making barge operations impossible. Occupation authorities instituted mneasures which virtuall stopped farmers from delivering food to cities and towns. Coal, gas, and electricity was also cut off. Dutch municipal officials did as best they could. Rations were 1,500 calories in October, but sliced to 900 in November. Further cuts were made. Availability differed from town to town, but in some places had declined to 230 calories and even that was not always available by April. Municipal kitchens were set up, but little food was available. Old buildings were cut down as well as avaiable trees. The children an elderly especially began to exhibit symtoms of starvation (January 1945). The underground issued pleas, but crossing the Rhine was a huge military obstacle. Children were sent by their parents into the streets to steel food. City dwealers in weakened conditions treaked into the country side attemoting to trade whatever they possesed for food. Some farmers tried to help, but others saw these city people as thieves and looters. Often the food they obtained at great cost was confiscated by German patrols when the treakers tried to return home.

Crossing the Rhine (March 1945)

The Rhine was the last important geographic barrier faced by the Allies. The Allies after reducing the Bulge in Belgium had also conquered the Rhineland and pushed forward to the Rhine. They had also resolved the supply problems that had hampered operations earlier. In addition, Allied air supremecy was so dominant that the Germans east of the Rhine were no longer a mobile force. Thus they could not respond in force to allied crossings. The Rhine Crossings began in March at several locations all along the strech of the Rhine. The British and Canadians crossed in the north. Montgomery typically carried out one of the most carefully executed offensives of the War. The Americans in the central and southern sectors. They actually beat Montgomery by a day. The American crossing was aided by the seizure of the Remagen Bridge. The French crossed in the extreme south. As it was the British and Canadians who crossed in north, but they crossed to the south of the German-occupied Netherlands. The Allied strategy was to get across the Rhine, destroy the remainging Whermacht forces and drive east into the Reich to end the War. This left the Dutch north of the Rhine still occupied.

Liberating the Dutch North of the Rhine (April-May 1945)

The Allies crossed the Rhine, both the British and Americans (March 1945), but this was south of the Netherlands. A Rhine crossing was a major operation and this meant the Allies had to concentrate their forces and cross in a small number of ares. The Allied plan was to push into the Reich destroy the important remaining Whermacht formations and end the War as rapidly as possible. This ruled out a Dutch crossing because the terraine there woukd have held up a rapid Allied advance. Thus the Germans were left still in the Netherlands and the Dutch starving. The Canadian First Army spearheaded the liberation of the Netherlands and began to move north into German held areas (April). By the time the Allies reached the Dutch north of the Rhine, people were starving. Estimates suggest that 14,000 died during the Hunger Winter. Many were children. The Georgian Legion serving with the Whermacht as Osttruppen rebeled on the island of Texel (April 5). Nearly 800 men participated in the action. The Germans crushed the rebellion, but it took 2 weeks. Casualties included 565 Georgians, 120 inhabitants of Texel, and 800 Germans dead. The 228 surviving Georgians were forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union after the War where most were sumarily executed. Canadian forces crossed the Rhine at Wesel and Rees (German cities). They then moved north and began the liberation of the Dutch north of the Rhine from the east which meant German territory. To assist the Canadians, a Free French SAS attack was launched to capture the Dutch canals, bridges and airfields in tact--Operation Amherst. It was led by brigadier Mike Calvert who made a name for himself as a Chindit in Burma. Operation Amherst began with 700 Special Air Service French troopers of 3 and 4 SAS (French) dropped (night of April 7). The SAS teams spread out to capture and defend key facilities before the Germans could destroy them. Advancing Canadian troops of the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment crossing the Rhine relieved the isolated French SAS units. The Canadians managed to liberate the Dutch eastern and northern provinces. The western provinces, where the food situation was worst, however, remained in German hands. The Germans had allowed the Swedish Red Cross to provide some relief efforts. The Allies in response to pleas from the Dutch Government, executed Operation Manna--airborn food drops near Rotterdam and the Hague (April 29). Cartons of powdered eggs, flour, and chocolate were included in the drop. Canadian General Charles Foulkes and the German Commander-in-Chief Johannes Blaskowitz reached an agreement on the capitulation of German forces in the Netherlands (May 5). They negotiated in the Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen. The capitulation document was signed the following day in the auditorium of Wageningen University, located next door (May 6). This opened the way for massive deliveries of food to the Dutch.

Retribution for Collaborators

Many Dutch assumed at first that the Germans had won the wore and decided to collaboate with the Germans. One of the most famous was actor and singer Johannes Heesters. He became successful in Nazi-Germany, befriending high-ranking officials, especially Joseph Goebbels who took a great interest in film making. He liived in houses stolen from wealthy Jews, most of whom who remained in Germany were then deported to the death camps. The most serious collaborators were Dutch Fascists--Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging (National Socialist Movement--NSB). Membership reached 100,000 people. Many Dutch Fascists reported people leading their arrest and execution. Others had participated inn police actions against Jews and the Resistance. The Henneicke Column was working in the investigative division of the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung (Central Bureau for Jewish Emigration in Amsterdam was especially helpful to the Germans. Many others who were not NSB members aided in the German oppressio of the population. The NSB reported on members of the Resistance and Jews. Theyb provided auxilieries to assist the Germans in police actions. With liberation, the Dutch led by the Resistance, began rounding up collaborators. This included both Dutch Fascists and women who had been sleeping with the Germans. We also see youths who had joined the Fascist youth group (the Jeugdstorm) being rounded up. There was of course a huge difference. The women mostly were just trying to get on withtheir lives ahnd survive in the occupied Netherlands. A Dutch reader writes, "The photograph of the Parisian collaborators reminds me of scenes I witnessed during the liberation of the Netherlands. Women who fraternized with the Germans--the moffenmeiden, They were despised by the Dutch who had to suffer through the occupation. Girls and women who had been seen with German soldiers were dragged from their homes and were made to stand on platforms where they were shaven bald. Then they had to stand in open trucks that slowly drove through the neigborhood under loud geering and twanting from the crowd. While on display they were insulted by the liberated population. I have seen it with my own eyes. It actually was awful and I am sure that many citizens regretted later what took place. But somehow it was understandable after 5 years of German occupation." [Stueck] The Resistance did not get their hands on the thousands of Dutch volunteers who joined Waffen-SS formations which fought on the Eastern Front. They suffered grevious losses and many who survived the War perished in Soviet Gulag.

Personal Experiences

A Dutch reader writes, "The part of Holland that could not be liberated at that time became a German fortress. It sadly was the most populous part of the Netherlands with the cities Utrecht, Amsterdam, Haarlem, Rotterdam and The Hague, where the majority of the Dutch population. The River Rhine flows through the Netherlands east to west. Nobody could leave or get in anymore. That meant that the people were starving and had to eat the food that was locally available. That was very little. We had to line up every day (only once a day!) to receive a bowl of soup at the Central Kitchens that were opened everywhere. It always was thin cabbage soup without meat. We received a food package from Sweden (February 1945). Also clothes were scarce. We got textile coupons, but the stores were empty. My father made me a pair of 'sandals' from an old rubber tire. We wore the same clothes for months. Fortunately I still had a pair of indestructable brown corduroy Scout shorts and a woollen pullover my grandma had knitted for me, although it was tight, since I kept growing in spite of the bad nourishment. We were near starvation when finally liberated by the Canadians." [Stueck]

Sources

Stueck, Rudi. E-mail message, September 5, 2004.






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Created: 6:12 AM 9/1/2004
Last updated: 7:42 AM 2/10/2019