Battle of Rotterdam

Battle of Rotterdam

Infobox Military Conflict
|conflict=Battle of Rotterdam

Royal Dutch Army
flagicon|Nazi Germany|size=50px
|date=May 10-May 14 1940
|place=Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and the surrounding area
|Territorial Changes=
|result=German victory
|commander1=Colonel P.W. Scharroo
|commander2=General Kurt Student
|strength1=3,000 Soldiers
12 Guns
|casualties1=185 Killed [ Dutch History Site] ]
|casualties2=170 Killed [ Dutch History Site] ]

The Battle of Rotterdam was a battle during the Battle of the Netherlands in which the Germans attempted to seize the city. The battle would end following the bombing of Rotterdam. [ Dutch History Site] ]


Rotterdam had no prepared defences and had not been incorporated in any strategic defence plan. The reason for this was the fact that it was relatively far from the boundaries of the Fortress Holland and quite far from the coast. The troops quartered in Rotterdam were basically school-companies, and some smaller miscellaneous units. A modern artillery battalion with 12 guns of 105 mm was stationed in Hilligersberg. Its guns had a range of over 16,000 meters, and could assist almost anywhere around Rotterdam. The Rotterdam garrison commander was a military engineer, Colonel Scharroo. Altogether the military representation in Rotterdam comprised about 3,000 men - of which only 1,000 had a combat function (Marines, 39RI). Around the Nieuwe Maas seven platoons light AA had been dislocated, equipped with heavy machineguns and 2 cm Oerlikon and Scotti guns. One battery heavy AAA was stationed north of the Nieuwe Maas. [ Dutch History Site] ]

The original German plan had foreseen in a taskforce from Waalhaven that would bash into town and seize the bridges - making use of the total surprise. When the plans were carefully evaluated the changes of a taskforce being able to achieve such an action were rated below acceptable figures and as such the Germans had come up with a daring new plan (some believe that Hermann Göring himself came up with the idea). Twelve especially adapted water planes [Heinkel He-59D bi-planes] would land on the wide Nieuwe Maas and drop the 11th Company of the 16th Air Landing Regiment. The 120 men of the company would seize the bridges. They would be reinforced by another unit that was scheduled to land around the football stadium of Feyenoord, close to the Nieuwe Maas. Later, units from Waalhaven would be sent in with additional support weapons. [ Dutch History Site] ]

The Landing

One hour after x-hour, twelve He-59 landed on the Nieuwe Maas. When the sea-planes had come to a complete stop, rubber boats were launched. In each of the boats ten soldiers could take place, with their equipment. The boats landed on three points. Both the north and south bank of the river and on the isle. The Germans quickly seized some the bridges, which were not guarded, and also seized some strategic points around the bridges. The only resistance they met were some Dutch policemen.

General Kurt Student, the German commander, began to organize the troops and send them to attack the bridges in Rotterdam. The Dutch did not station many troops in the southern part of the town. The Company stationed there received reinforcements from Dutch riflemen retreating from the airfield. The Dutch troops hid is houses that were on the road to the bridges. There they ambushed the approaching German troops, killing an entire crew of Germans. The adjutant officer of Oberstleutnant von Coltizt took himself charge of an assault on the Dutch position but was also killed instantly, together with some of his men. When the Germans looked for a reroute to the bridges, around the Dutch stronghold, they managed to find a weak spot in the defences, and deployed anti-tank guns and infantry guns in order to mop up the resistance. They were able to kill quite a number of defenders after which the local commander surrendered.

Hereafter the airlanding troops managed to reach the Nieuwe Maas, but this time their forward unit lost many men due to Dutch heavy machinegun fire from the other side. The Germans backed-off and now concentrated on surrounding the Dutch troops that had moments before rejected their assault. The German force gradually grew and their grip around the Dutch pocket increased. The ammunition stock rapidly decreased and when the Germans started shelling the men with intensive mortar-fire the odds shifted. Following 9 hours of fighting, the Dutch troops surrendered.

The Battle

May 10

The Dutch troops in the north of town had been alarmed by the noises of war, especially the roaring of planes overhead. The garrison headquarters were temporarily manned by only a Captain, who had the troops assemble and who coordinated the distribution of ammo. Many detachments were sent out to the bridges, station and areas around the Nieuwe Maas where landings had been reported. The Germans had noticed the activity on the Dutch side and compressed their bridgehead around the bridges. The station was evacuated by them and also other areas that were considered too far from the two bridges.

The Dutch soldiers took over these positions and started deploying some machinegun crews at strategic points. Soon the first fire exchange between the invaders and regular Dutch army units was seen and heard. A Dutch squad of cadets the occupation of a strategic point by the Germans and took position in the houses looking out on the bridge. When they opened fire, the Germans quickly retreated, where they found shelter behind a barricade of parked cars. On the Dutch side a company of signal-troops arrived, and soon suffered its first casualties from German fire. They dispersed between the houses and took suitable firing positions. The German team that had occupied the Koningsbrug was largely outnumbered now, and attempted to break out, but they were all killed during the process.

About 250 meters north of the bridges there was a train station. It was seized by a German unit shortly after their landing. These men captured the few overwhelmed guards. They then decided to fall back, in order to get reinforcements. Meanwhile a back-up Dutch guard force had arrived at the station and soon realized that the Germans had already been there. They took defensive positions, and when the Germans returned in force they were successfully held off. A second German attempt was again rejected. Their leading officer received a belly-shot and was mortally wounded.

Gradually the Dutch fist around the German bridgehead grew tighter. The airlanding troops were squeezed into a quickly shrinking pocket. It was said that many civilians watched the battle. During the early afternoon the Germans lost many machine gun posts, and the Dutch had two naval vessels that had begun to bomb the bridges. [ Dutch History Site] ]

Colonel van Scharroo - aware that his small garrison was dealing with a massive German attack - had requested substantial reinforcements in The Hague. Some reinforcements would be sent, all coming from the reserves behind the Grebbeline.

May 11

During the night and in the early morning the garrison commander Scharroo received reinforcements from the northern sector of Fortress Holland. Colonel Scharroo reorganised his defences. He deployed troops along the entire river and to the west, north and east of the city. The latter was done because the Colonel feared actions from landed Germans against the city from these directions. His small staff was very much occupied with the numerous reports about phantom landings and treacherous civilian actions. The arrival of new units, the redeployment of the defences and the intensive coordination of all reports about phoney landings and civilian subversion occupied the staff to such an extend that no organised counter-measures against the German bridgehead would be organized on the 11th.

At 4AM, the fighting erupted around the Bridgehead. The German spearhead was their occupation [about 75 men] of an Insurance building north of the traffic bridge. This building and its occupation had become isolated from the balance of the German forces by Dutch progress on the 10th. All Dutch attempts to seize the building failed.

The Dutch airforce assisted the ground forces upon request from Scharroo. Dutch bombers began dropping bombs on the bridges, and although most of them missed, some bombs hit German positions. Another raid followed, but this time the Lufftwaffe responded by sending twelve Bf-110's. Although it succeeded in ending the bombing raid, the Germans lost 5 planes compared to 3 of the Dutch. [ Dutch History Site] ]

The Germans had used the ship "HMS Statendam" for some machineguns posts. These positions attracted the Dutch attention and soon mortar and machinegun fire was aimed at the German positions on the ship and the adjacent installations. Many fires had broken out, and the ship itself caught fire too. The Germans quickly evacuated the vessel that would continue to burn, and eventually sink within the next few days.

May 12

On the 12th, the street to street fighintg continued. Although the Dutch didn't regain control over the town, the Germans were suffering from continuous assaults on their positions. Casualties mounted up at both sides and the German command grew increasingly worried over the state and status of their troops in the heart of Rotterdam.

To the north-east of Rotterdam, at the village of Overschie, the left over forces of both the air landings at Ockenburg and Ypenburg assembled. General Graf von Sponeck had moved the remainder of his force from Ockenburg to Overschie, negotiating between Dutch forces in the area. In the village of Wateringen the Germans bumped into a guard squad of a Dutch command post, and when two armored cars appeared to support the Dutch defenders, the Germans backed-off and took a detour. The majority of the Von Sponeck's group succeeded in reaching the village, where the joint up with the already present Germans of the forces that had survived the Ypenburg battle. [ Dutch History Site] ]

May 13

On the evening of the 12th the commander-in-chief of the troops in Rotterdam, Colonel Scharroo, received orders from the General Headquarters to put all his efforts in clearing the German resistance at the northern land head and eventually destroy the bridges. Commander of the local marines, Lieutenant-Colonel Von Frijtag Drabbe, was ordered to defeat any German occupation at the north end, and afterwards occupy the northern bridge approach in order to secure the area. He formed a company (a little over 100 men) of his most experienced marines. Another company of navy auxiliary troops, also with a strength of about 100 men, was provided as back-up. These two companies would be supported by two batteries modern 105 mm howitzers and two armoured cars. Also a company of six 81 mm mortars was attached to the taskforce.

As the marines advanced they were soon suppressed by fierce German machine gun fire from the south. The artillery had not fired a single round until this point, but after a brief contact with the artillery battalion commander a number of volleys were fired. All the rounds fell short or over, and after corrections failed to improve the accuracy the artillery ceased fire. Meanwhile the two armoured cars had arrived and tried to approach the bridge. The Germans responded to their appearance with anti-tank fire, crippling one of the cars. Although the damaged car was able to retreat, it could no longer contribute to the assault. The second car stayed at a safe distance and wasn't able to challenge the Germans in the Insurance Building. Since also the commander of the mortar company convinced the Lieutenant-Colonel that his mortars would not be able to lay effective fire on the high building, the assault on this eastern side of the bridgehead was cancelled. [ Dutch History Site] ]

From the west a full section of marines advanced along the Nieuwe Maas, and reached the northern land head without any German challenge. However, they were soon after noticed and the Germans opened fire from both sides of them and many marines were fatally hit. The marines immediately returned fire with their carbines and light machineguns. It was however impossible to survive the German fire that surrounded them. After a few more marines fell, the remainder retreated. Some were killed while falling back, others found shelter underneath the bridge, but were unable to leave this shelter. The rest of the marines had found shelter under the bridge, at the northern end. They found themselves soon engaged in a fire fight with a small group of Germans also taking shelter here. The Germans in the Insurance Building kept on launching suppressive fire at this group too. The group retreated, leaving behind some casualties.

It was clear to the senior officers in Rotterdam that with the failed action against the bridges, all hope would have to be fixed on a successful defence of the northern river bank. In order to achieve such a defence, seven infantry companies were ordered to form a screen along the river. Both bridges were covered by three anti-tank guns, and the three batteries 105 mm howitzers at the Kralingse Plas were ordered to prepare barrages on both the land heads. [ Dutch History Site] ]

In the meantime the first German tanks had arrived in the southern outskirts of Rotterdam. The commanding German General Schmidt and General Student were very reluctant to launch an all out tank assault to the north side. They had received the reports of firm Dutch opposition and the presence of both Dutch artillery and anti-tank guns. The losses of tanks at the Island of Dordrecht had impressed them to such an extent that they were convinced that only a tactical aerial bombardment of the direct vicinity of the northern land head could break the Dutch resistance. As the German tanks arrived, all German forces north of the bridges were ordered to retreat, but it failed as many German soldiers were killed as they attempted to fall back.

It was during this time that the German high command got involved. Fearing a possible British air-landing in the Netherlands, Hermann Goring wanted to launch an all out ariel-bombardment on the city. However, both Schmidt and Student were opposed to the idea, and believed that all that was needed was a tatical bombardment.General Georg Von Küchler, commander-in-chief over the Dutch operational area, sent instructions to Schmidt that in the morning of the 14th an ultimatum had to be presented to the Dutch local commander in which unconditional capitulation of the city would be demanded. [ Dutch History Site] ]

May 14

During the night Generalleutnant Schmidt had prepared an ultimatum, which was to be handed over to the Dutch commander of Rotterdam. The text of the ultimatum was set in Dutch. The German negotiators, with the ultimatum of Schmidt, appeared at the Maas bridges. The three men held the banner of truce, but were treated harshly by the Dutch. They were stripped of all their weapons,which were thrown into the water, and than blindfolded. The men were then sent to the command post of Colonel Scharroo.

Scharroo received the letter, which said if resistance did not cease it would result in the destruction of Rotterdam. Scharroo was called by the General Headquarters. The ultimatum had to be returned to the German commander with the reply that only an undersigned ultimatum, together with statement of name and rank of the commanding officer was to be accepted by the Dutch as a legitimate parliamentary letter of ultimatum. [ Dutch History Site] ]

The Dutch sent a Captain to the Germans with their reply, which said the letter had not been signed and did not mention name and rank of its originator.

The Bombing

The Germans received the reply from Scharroo, and while it was being sent back, German planes appeared over Rotterdam. As General Schmidt saw the planes, he cried out "My God, this is a catastrophe!" The German bombers were split into 3 groups, and began bombing the city. The final result of the raid was that 800-900 people got killed, over 80,000 people lost their homes and more than 25,000 houses and buildings had been destroyed.


The Dutch defences were hardly hit by the raid, and remained intact. But soon the fires started threatening some of their positions. The troops started to pull back. In the meantime Colonel Scharroo - now isolated from The Hague since all communication lines had been destroyed - had to decide over the fate of the defence of Rotterdam. The Mayor and his aldermen insisted that the city had to capitulate. The Colonel realized that his decision would not only decide over the fate of Rotterdam, but over that of the whole country. Scharroo then made the decision tp capitulate, which General Winkelman approved of.

The German troops started to work their way through the blazing town. The Dutch troops in Rotterdam did no longer resist. They had laid-off their arms, as ordered by their commander. In the evening the Germans had reached Overschie. [ Dutch History Site] ]


Meanwhile a meeting took place between a representative of the Dutch commander Scharroo and the Germans. Student met with the Dutch command to arrange the final details of the surrender. Scharroo refused to attend. He was very upset about the German "breach of their word of honor" and refused any further contact with them whatsoever.

At the same time a Dutch battalion was assembling for their surrender - as ordered by the German military authority. For security reasons a huge white flag was waived to the SS men. Suddenly the German battalion, seeing so many armed Dutch troops, in the square started shooting. General Student, who had just opened the meeting, ran to the window and within seconds he was hit by a bullet in the head. However, the skill of a Dutch surgeon saved his life. The German soldiers considered the fact that their famous General had been shot as a cowardly act of Dutch betrayal. All Dutch soldiers and officers, including citizens present, were lined up in order to be executed. Machineguns were positioned in front of them. However, Oberstleutnant Von Coltitz of the German army stopped the execution. An investigation waslaunched that showed it was a stray German bullet that had hit Student.


185 Dutch were killed in the battle, but German casualties are not exactly known. They are at least 91, but are believed to be higher. [ Dutch History Site] ]



* [ Dutch History Site]

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