Defeat of the Netherlands
It took the Germans only five days to defeat the Dutch Army, a force of about 400,000 men under Lt. Gen. Henri Gerard Winkelman. Before daylight on May 10, parachutists landed near Rotterdam and The Hague. They captured bridges vital to Dutch defensive plans and airfields where reinforcements could be landed from transport planes soon after daylight. There and elsewhere a sizable body of fifth columnists ( German nationals or Dutch Nazi sympathizers) aided the invaders. By this daring, revolutionary strike from the air, the Germans in the first blow had pierced the perimeter of the final Dutch defense line, the so-called Fortress of Holland protecting Rotterdam and The Hague. The German Eighteenth Army, led by Gen. ( later Field Marshal) Georg von Kuchler of Bock’s Army Group B, launched the ground attack at dawn, the main column striking through the southern Netherlands to envelop the Dutch south flank. This column captured a railroad bridge across the Maas (Meuse) River intact, forcing the Dutch to relinquish their first line of defense along the river that night.
Beset by German planes, advance guards of the French Seventh Army reached Breda on the second day, May 11, there to try to hold with the Dutch forces that had fallen back from the Maas. Two days later, however, on May 13, the French were forced to retreat toward Antwerp. Meanwhile a German armored division made contact with the airborne troops near Rotterdam. While Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch government left for England, the remainder of the Dutch Army withdrew into the Fortress of Holland. On the morning of May 14, the Germans warned that if resistance continued, Rotterdam and Utrecht would be destroyed from the air. Two hours before the ultimatum was to expire, the Luftwaffe leveled the business section of Rotterdam, inflicting 30,000 civilian casualties. With the tiny Dutch Air Force wiped out, the nation’s final defensive line already breached, and no hope of Allied aid from any source, General Winkelman surrendered late on May 14.