Called ‘ The Lost Victory’ by some Dutch historians, this epic battle started in the early morning hours of May 10, 1940. A German airfleet crossed The Netherlands under cover of darkness and, once over the North Sea, headed back towards the Dutch coast aiming for The Hague, the Dutch seat of government.
Surrounded by fighters and fighter-bombers, a large number of Junkers 52/3m transports carried the 5.000 men of the German 22nd Airborne Division. The audacious objective of this unprecedented massive airborne operation was to seize the three airfields surrounding the city, arrest the Dutch government and capture the Dutch Royal family in their residency.
Attacks on Dutch airfields began at 04.15 and despite the alarm that had gone out around 03.00 (when the German airfleet had crossed the border) many Dutch fighters and bombers were damaged or destroyed on the ground.
At the same time the Luftwaffe bombed and strafed the The Hague airfields (Ypenburg, Valkenburg, and Ockenburg). Several waves of paratroopers were dropped at 04.30 in the fields surrounding Ypenburg airfield. Despite fierce resistance of a machine gun company (that had unexpectedly arrived overnight) the German paratroopers managed to reach and seize the control tower and adjacent buildings and raised a German flag. On this signal the remaining Ju 52’s came in to land but they were in for a nasty surprise.
The grass surface of the recently completed airfield still wasn’t completely drained. The first few relatively heavy Ju 52’s got stuck in the mud and crashed, some of them with fatalities, completely blocking the field. The same happened at Valkenburg airfield.
Out of fuel and with no place to land (Ockenburg was still in Dutch hands) the German pilots had no other option but to put their planes down wherever they could. Scores of transports landed in meadows, on a motorway and on the nearby beach, scattering the German troops over a wide area.
A small number of Dutch troops improvised a counterattack at Ypenburg, using weapons and ammo taken from killed or captured Germans. In a ferocious gunfight they managed to push the paratroopers far enough back to shell the airfield with hurriedly brought up artillery. This bombardment drove the lightly armed paratroopers from their defensive position and many of them surrendered during the ‘mopping up’ that followed.
Later that day Valkenburg airfield was also reconquered on the Germans and the airborne troops dispersed. Many small scale skirmishes between advancing Dutch patrols and retreating Germans followed during the rest of the day but at sundown all airfields were back in Dutch hands.
That day, 1.600 Germans were taken prisoner and 1.400 of them were immediately shipped off to Britain. Besieged by advancing Dutch troops, German general Von Sponeck and 1100 surviving soldiers were forced to retreat into the dunes north of The Hague. Only the Dutch armistice on May 14 saved him and his men from an ignoble surrender.
The first really massive airborne assault ever had been an abject failure.
On May 10 1940, the Luftwaffe lost most of its troop transporters and many fighters and bombers. The various statistics for the 10 – 14 May period are hazy, varying from 253 to a staggering 712 German aircraft destroyed or damaged in The Netherlands.
Enraged by the prolonged Dutch resistance the Germans unleashed one of their terror bombardments and razed the Rotterdam city centre to the ground on May 14, 1940 …