Dutch Cabinet of Ministers Flees the Netherlands Amidst German Invasion

In the early morning of 13 May General Winkelman, advising the Dutch government, considered the general situation to be critical.

On land the Dutch had been cut off from the Allied front and it had become clear no major Allied landings were to be expected to reinforce over sea the Fortress Holland; without such support there was no prospect of a prolonged successful resistance. Also, German tanks might quickly pass through Rotterdam; already Winkelman had ordered all available antitank-guns to be placed in a perimeter around The Hague, to protect the seat of government. However, an immediate collapse of the Dutch defences might yet be prevented if the planned counterattacks would seal off the southern front near Dordrecht and restore the eastern line at the Grebbeberg. Therefore the cabinet decided to continue the fight for the time being, giving the general the mandate to surrender the Army when he saw fit and the instruction to avoid unnecessary sacrifices. Nevertheless it was also deemed essential that Queen Wilhelmina was to be brought to safety; she departed around noon from Hoek van Holland, where a British Irish Guards battalion was present, on HMS Hereward, a British destroyer, and when sea mines made it too dangerous to try to reach Zealand, eventually went to England. The previous evening, as had been arranged before the invasion, Crown Princess Juliana, together with her husband Prince Bernhard and children, had departed from IJmuiden on HMS Codrington for Harwich. As the Queen constitutionally was part of the government, her departure confronted the cabinet with the choice whether to follow her or remain. After heated discussions it was decided to leave also: the ministers sailed at 17:20 from Hoek van Holland on HMS Windsor, having conferred all governmental authority over the homeland to Winkelman, eventually to form a government in exile in London.

While two tank companies of 9.PD remained with XXVI AK to pursue the withdrawing French, the other four began to cross the Moerdijk traffic bridge from 05:20. The Dutch made some attempts to indirectly block their advance. The last operational medium bomber, a Fokker T. V, around 06:00 dropped two bombs on the bridge; one hit a bridge pillar but failed to explode; the bomber was shot down. Dutch batteries in the Hoekse Waard, despite dive bomber attacks, tried to destroy the bridge by artillery fire, but the massive structure was only slightly damaged. An effort to inundate the Island of Dordrecht failed, as the inlet sluices were too small.

The Light Division tried to cut the German corridor by advancing to the west and linking up with a small ferry bridgehead over the Dortse Kil. However, two of the four battalions available were wasted on a failed effort to recapture the suburbs of Dordrecht; when the other two battalions approached the main road, they were met head on by a few dozen German tanks. The vanguard of the Dutch troops, not having been informed of their presence, mistook the red air recognition cloths strapped on their tops for orange flags French vehicles might use to indicate their friendly intentions — orange being seen by the Dutch as their national colour — and ran towards the vehicles to welcome them, only understanding their error when they were mowed down. The battalions, already wavering because of a bombardment, fled to the east; a catastrophe was prevented by 47mm and 75 mm batteries destroying with direct AP fire two Panzerkampfwagen II, after which the remainder of the German tanks fell back. The Light Division then successfully completed an ordered withdrawal to the Alblasserwaard around 13:00. In the early afternoon eight tanks reduced the ferry bridgehead. A tank company also tried to capture the old inner city of Dordrecht, without infantry support audaciously breaching barricades, but was beaten back in heavy street fighting after two PzKpfw. IIs had been destroyed and three other tanks heavily damaged. All Dutch troops were however withdrawn from the island in the night.

German armoured forces advanced north over the Dordrecht bridge into IJsselmonde island. Four tanks, three PzKpfw. IIs and a Panzerkampfwagen III of the staff platoon of the 1st Tank Battalion, from there stormed the Barendrecht bridge into the Hoekse Waard, but all of them were lost to a single 47 mm antitank-gun. Though the Germans did not follow up their attack, this area also was abandoned by the Dutch troops.

In Rotterdam a last attempt was made to blow up the Willemsbrug. The commander of the 2nd Battalion Irish Guards in Hoek van Holland refused to participate in it as being outside the scope of his orders. Two Dutch compagnies, one of them of Dutch marines, stormed the bridgehead. The bridge was reached and the remaining fifty German defenders in the building in front of it were on the point of surrender, when the attack was abandoned because of heavy flanking fire from the other side of the river.

In the North, the commander of 1. K.D., Major General Kurt Feldt, because of a lack of ships faced the unenviable task of having to advance over the Enclosure Dike. It was blocked by the Kornwerderzand Position, which protected a major sluice complex regulating the water level of Lake IJssel, which had to be sufficiently high to allow many Fortress Holland inundations to be maintained. The main fortifications contained 55 mm antitank-guns. In front of and behind the sluices to the right and the left long channel piers projected; on these pillboxes had been built which could place a heavy enfilading fire on the dam, which did not provide the slightest cover for any attacker. On 13 May the position was reinforced by a 20 mm AA-battery. It had been Feldt's intention to first destroy the position by a battery of siege mortars, but the train transporting it had been blocked on 10 May by a blown railway bridge at Winschoten. Several air attacks on 13 May had little effect; in the late afternoon five bicycle sections tried to approach the main bunker complex under cover of an artillery bombardment, but soon fled after being fired upon; the first was pinned down and could only retreat under cover of darkness, leaving behind some dead.

In the East the Germans tried to overcome the resistance in the Grebbe Line by also deploying the other division of X. AK, 227. Infanteriedivision, that had to break through a second attack axis near Scherpenzeel, where a dry approach route had been discovered through the inundations. The line was defended by the Dutch 2nd Infantry Division. Two regiments were to attack simultaneously, in adjacent sectors. However, when the regiment on the right, 366. Infanterieregiment, had already positioned itself for the attack, the other, 412. Infanterieregiment, became delayed by flanking fire from Dutch outposts, the position of which had not been correctly determined. It allowed itself to get involved in fragmented firefights; though eventually also the reserve regiment was brought forward, little progress was made against the outpost line. Meanwhile, the waiting 366. IR was pounded by concentrated Dutch artillery fire and had to withdraw, resulting in a complete failure of the attack by 227 ID.

More to the south at the Grebbeberg, the Dutch during the evening and night had assembled about a dozen battalions for a counterattack to retake the main line. These forces consisted of the reserve battalions of several army corps', divisions and brigades, and the independent Brigade B, which had been freed when the Main Defence Line in the Land van Maas en Waal had been abandoned as part of the withdrawal of III Army Corps from North Brabant. However, not all of these units would be concentrated into a single effort. Some battalions had been fed immediately into the battle at the Stop Line, others were kept in reserve, mainly behind the fall-back line near the Rhenen railroad, and four were to be used, under command of Brigade B, for the flanking attack from the north. This attack was delayed for several hours and when it finally started, late in the morning of 13 May, it ran right into a comparable advance by two battalions of Der Fuehrer, which brigade, unaware of Dutch intentions, had shifted its attack axis to the north to roll up the Grebbe Line from behind. A confused encounter fight followed in which the vanguard of the Dutch troops, poorly supported by their artillery, around 12:30 began to give way to the encroaching SS-troops. Soon this resulted in a general withdrawal of the brigade, which turned into a rout when the Grebbeberg area was from 13:30 bombed by 27 Ju 87 Stukas.

Meanwhile, at the Grebbeberg itself, for the first time 207. Infanteriedivision was committed to battle when two battalions of its 322. Infanterieregiment attacked the Stop Line. The first wave of German attackers was largely beaten off with serious losses, but a second wave managed to fragment the trench line, which then was taken after heavy fighting. The regiment afterwards proceeded to mop-up the area to the west, delayed by resistance by several Dutch command posts, but withdrew in the late afternoon, just as the SS-battalions further north, to redeploy for a renewed attack after a preparatory artillery bombardment, shifted to a more western position, to take the Rhenen fall-back line and the village of Achterberg. However, these preparations would be prove to be superfluous: the Dutch had already disappeared.

The same Stuka bombardment that made Brigade B rout also broke the morale of the reserves at Rhenen, which already in the morning had shown severe discipline problems, units disintegrating and leaving the battlefield because of German interdiction fire.

In the late afternoon most of 4th Infantry Division was fleeing westwards. Dutch command suffered such a loss of control that any thoughts to plug the line, as the Germans had expected them to do — it had indeed been considered to shift two regiments of 3rd Army Corps for this — had to be abandoned. In it a five mile wide gap had appeared. Fearing that otherwise they would be encircled, Van Voorst tot Voorst ordered at 20:30 that the three Army Corps had to immediately abandon both the Grebbe Line and the Waal-Linge Position and retreat during the night to the East Front of Fortress Holland, the New Holland Water Line. The Germans however, did not at once exploit their success; only around 21:00 had it become apparent to them that the gap even existed, when the renewed advance had met no enemy resistance.

After a devastating air attack, the Dutch city of Rotterdam surrendered to the Germans. Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch government escaped to Britain to set up a government-in-exile.