Osprey's Holland 1940

AUTHOR: Ryan Noppen
PRICE: $24.00
NOTES: Subtitled "The Luftwaffe's first setback in the West"

Prior to reading this book, I was under the impression that the German invasion of the low countries in World War Two happened so fast that they were unable to put up any effective resistance prior to being overwhelmed. Holland 1940 chronicles the ferocious defense mounted by the Dutch that inflicted heavy losses on the invaders and presaged what would happen to the Luftwaffe when they again encountered an integrated air defense system in the Battle of Britain. Although possessing a tiny military in relation to the Germans, the Dutch were well led, well trained, and ready to fight.

Originally “Fall Gelb” (Case Yellow), the German offensive move against the French and British armies in Western Europe, did not encompass violating Dutch neutrality. It would have only used a narrow strip of Dutch territory running about 50 kilometers along Belgium's eastern border with Holland and no occupation by German troops. However, Luftwaffe Supreme Commander Hermann Goring and Luftwaffe Chief of Staff Hans Jeschonnek were alarmed by the omission of The Netherlands as territory to be occupied, fearing that the British would not hesitate to violate Dutch neutrality in order to use the Dutch airfields for British bombers to raid the ruhr. Jeschonnek was eventually able to convince Hitler to earmark Dutch territory for occupation.

Despite lingering fallout from the Great Depression, the Dutch had secured funding in 1936 to upgrade their air defenses, Although the Dutch had not acquired all the upgrades by the time of the German invasion, they had significantly improved their inventory of modern aircraft and anti aircraft guns, They had also created an effective telephone communication system that linked 146 observation posts to a central air observation office. On May 10, 1940 The Dutch possessed the most sophisticated and efficient air defense system in Western Europe.

The German plan was to obtain air superiority then use paratroops to seize the Dutch airfields in order to land transports carrying additional infantry. The combined paratroop and landed infantry force would then capture four strategic bridges, occupy the capital, and capture the Dutch political and military leadership. The plan was highly dependent on the element of surprise and, to that end, the aircraft in the initial strike waves flew out over the North Sea before turning back and dropping to an altitude of one hundred meters just prior to crossing back over the coast. This action was intended to create the ruse that the bombers were planning to attack targets in Great Britain. However, the initial intrusions into Dutch airspace served mainly to alert the defenses and when the Germans arrived over their intended targets they were met by already airborne interceptors and fully manned anti aircraft batteries.

The ensuing five day battle saw the Germans take heavy casualties and suffer numerous setbacks while trying to obtain their military objectives. The Luftwaffe's transport arm in particular suffered catastrophic losses. The Dutch Fokker D.XXI and G.1a fighters proved to be surprisingly effective combat aircraft, the Fokker T.5 medium bombers had some success in their secondary role of bomber destroyers, and the defenders anti aircraft fire proved to be accurate and deadly. However, the German's huge numerical advantage eventually turned the tide in their favor and by day four of the invasion only a handful of Dutch aircraft were still serviceable. The German's frustration with the defender's tenacity led them to launch what amounted to an area bombing attack on Rotterdam. The Dutch had actually agreed to enter negotiations for a ceasefire before the bombers arrived over the target, but some of the raiders did not get the abort order and the city center of Rotterdam was destroyed with over 800 civilian casualties.

The Dutch lost 165 aircraft in aerial combat or due to Luftwaffe bombing and strafing attacks. The Germans lost 454 aircraft (54% of all aircraft committed to the operation) and 2,750 personnel killed, captured, or wounded. Of the captured, the Dutch managed to send 1,305 POWs to Great Britain before the cessation of hostilities. Sadly, as part of the terms of the ceasefire, the Dutch leadership instructed the surviving pilots and aircrew not to leave the country and only a small number would later escape to continue the fight from Great Britain. Despite suffering heavy aircraft losses and the brevity of the campaign, the Dutch managed to hand the Luftwaffe its first significant setback in World War II

Holland 1940-The Luftwaffe's first setback in the West provides a reasonably comprehensive account of both Holland and Germany's preparations for the campaign, the respective orders of battle, Germany's objectives, descriptions of the main battles, and post campaign analysis. Supplementing the text are 65 black and white photos, 9 color photos, 8 maps, and 3 double page spreads of artwork depicting aerial combats.

Holland 1940-The Luftwaffe's first setback in the West provides interesting insights into a lesser known World War Two campaign Highly recommended,

Rob Hart

December 2021

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