1940 Invasion

The Germans attacked the Netherlands in the early hours of 10 May 1940. The Dutch had hoped to be able to remain neutral, but that was not the Nazi plan. German military superiority was so overwhelming that the Dutch army stood no chance and was forced to surrender. On 13 May, the Dutch cabinet fled to London with Queen Wilhelmina. There the government remained in exile for five years.



Dead Dutch soldier at a barrack. Netherlands, 1940

Downed German aircraft. Netherlands, 1940

The battle for the Netherlands lasted five days. German paratroopers tried to capture the government precinct in The Hague directly in the morning of 10 May 1940, but failed. Other assaults from the air succeeded. Within hours of entering the country, German troops had taken control of the northern provinces. The Dutch army took up a defensive position in the hills of Utrecht province near Grebbeberg and at Kornwerderzand at the end of the Afsluitdijk in Friesland. There the fighting was intense. After the Grebbeline fell on 13 May and the centre of Rotterdam was destroyed in an air raid on 14 May, surrender was inevitable. In May 1940, around 2,200 Dutch soldiers lost their lives and 2,700 were wounded. Civilian casualties stood at around 2,000.



Rotterdam in ruins, with part of St Laurens church still standing. Rotterdam, 1940

Rotterdam in ruins after the air raid. Rotterdam, 1940

German planes began attacking Rotterdam on 14 May 1940 at one-thirty in the afternoon. The air raid lasted ten minutes. A wide swathe of buildings collapsed and burst into flames. In the strong wind, the fire storm spread quickly. Flames were visible for kilometres in all directions and it took days for the fire to die down. Apart from hospitals and other essential services, the air raid and the fire also destroyed densely populated residential areas. Almost 900 people died; thousands of Rotterdammers were left without a roof over their head. When the Germans threatened to bomb other cities too, the Dutch commander General H.G. Winkelman announced that same day that he would surrender.