I’ve finally completed sufficient models to field a WW2 Dutch force for wargaming. The models depict a small mixed force of the Dutch army as it was when the Germans invaded the Netherlands in May 1940.
All but one of the figures and models are made by the Dutch company May ’40 Miniatures. The exception is the little Carden-Loyd carrier, which is by Reiver Castings. The figures are all 28 millimetres tall.
The buildings in the background of all these pictures, by the way, are cardboard models by Dutch gamer ‘Gungnir’ that I had bought from WargameDownloads. I’ve added home-made detailing of windows and doors.
In my force I have three infantry squads like this one, plus one squad of Marines.
The Dutch infantry in 1940 consisted mainly of conscripts, with only a small number of career officers and NCOs. Infantry companies were commanded by a Captain, and made up of rifle or light machine-gun sections. A section was commanded by a Lieutenant, candidate officer or senior NCO, and had three or four squads. Squads were commanded by sergeants, and had 9-12 men armed with Steyr rifles.
On the left is a machine gun team. The light machine-gun squads had a M.20 Lewis light machine-gun operated by a gunner and assistant gunner. But the Lewis gun left much to be desired. In a fixed position it had a fairly acceptable level of reliability, but in more dynamic situations it often malfunctioned.
Here’s a rear-view of one of the infantry squads. They wear green M.1927 steel helmets, and the grey uniform that had changed little over the previous twenty years. The NCO wears a yellow stripe on the lower left arm to denote his rank.
The Korps Mariner were the only all-professional branch in the Dutch armed forces, and without any doubt the best the Dutch could field. Marines wore a distinctive dark blue (blackish) uniform tunic or great coat, rather than the grey of the regular army. They were armed like regular army soldiers, but were additionally equipped with a so-called ‘storm-dagger’.
There were about 450 Marines in Rotterdam, the home town of the Korps Mariniers, when the German invasion occurred on 10 May 1940. They defended the bridges across the River Maas for four days. The story goes that when the surrender was declared and the Marines came out of their positions, the German commander was expecting a full battalion of men, but was stunned to see only a few Marines emerge in their dark uniforms. He ordered his men to salute them out of respect for their bravery and determination, and labeled them the ‘Black Devils’.
An army of course needs supporting weaponry, so I’ve assembled a number of machine guns, anti-tank capability, artillery and armour for my Dutch force. We’ll explore each of these in more detail below.
On the left is a three-man Schwarzlose M.08 machine gun team. The gun is complete with its hose and drain bucket. The Schwarzlose was produced in the Netherlands under licence from Austria. In May 1940 the Schwarzlose machine gun was quite outdated. Still, they proved to be highly reliable and robust, and the number of break-downs was extremely low.
On the right is a Solothurn S18-1000 20mm anti-tank rifle. It was a variant of the Solothurn S-18/100, featuring a larger cartridge and higher muzzle velocity for better armour penetration. When it was first introduced its firepower was adequate against light tanks and other soft-skinned vehicles, but by 1940 it was insufficient to deal with newer and heavier tanks.
On the left is a Böhler 47mm anti-tank gun. These guns would prove effective during the intensive fighting in 1940. It could easily penetrate the armour of all German tanks of that time, it had a low profile and it was easy to handle. The 9th Panzer Division lost about 25 tanks, including Pz.III and Pz.IV medium tanks, due to Dutch anti-tank guns at Rotterdam and Dordrecht.
On the right is an 81mm mortar. Like many armies, the Dutch introduced mortars based on the Stokes-Brandt principle. My force is actually quite lucky to have one, as the Dutch army were under-equipped with mortars, and had only two per battalion.
On the left is a Carden-Loyd tankette. The Dutch army had five Mark VI versions of these little British pre-war tankettes named after big cats: Lynx, Poema, Jaguar, Panter and Luipaard. The crew comprised a driver and a machine-gunner, which allowed each to fully concentrate on his own task. Two small domes protected the crew’s heads.
The Carden Loyd tankette was powered by a Model T Ford engine (true!) and had a road speed of 25 mph (40 km/h). The engine was mounted backwards between the two crew. The small bulge at the front of the vehicle housed the Model T’s transmission, which drove the front sprockets.
The Landsverk M.36 armoured car on the right was quite modern for its time. The 37mm gun was relatively heavy for an armoured car, and was better than that of a German Pz.III tank. Their only significant weakness was their poor armour. The Dutch armoured cars that served in the May war (about 35 were operational) would excel in the fighting.
Note the blue overalls worn by the crewmen over their grey shirts. The chap in black standing drinking a cup of coffee is a hussar in leather tunic and trousers. Hopefully sometime in the future May ’40 Miniatures might produce a motorcycle for him!
Tanks? Well, the Dutch army had none! Before the German invasion, the Dutch considered the introduction of powerful anti-tank guns as marking the end of the tank era. As the website War Over Holland says, this belief was “amazing for an army that had not seen anything of modern warfare and that got all of its ‘knowledge’ from papers or magazines.” Of course, they couldn’t have been more wrong, resulting in the Dutch being the only belligerent to have no tanks!
Here’s my headquarters section – an officer with two escorting soldiers. Dutch officers wore an impressive shako for their walking-out uniforms, but in combat they wore the standard green helmet (nevertheless, I’d still like to add a shako-wearing officer to my force one day!)
Like the French, the Dutch had a strict chain of command, and were expected to operate ‘according to order’. This contrasted unfavourably with the Germans’ much more liberal command structure. The War Over Holland site gives an example of the difference between these two philosophies of command:
If a Dutch officer was instructed to take a certain position, he would be instructed to take that position, following a premeditated route, get a time to gain his objective and be sure about it not to go off-track. If the Dutch officer would establish that the instructed route to his objective was blocked, he would return to his senior command with the simple message that his order could not be executed.
His German equivalent would have been informed of the tactical reason why he was given a certain objective, he was given the time when to have reached his objective, possibly some relevant other information and off he went. Any obstruction on the way would be dealt with. He would adapt, he would improvise and he would overcome – anything to fulfill his objective.
OK, so why build an army that survived only five days?
Many dismiss the Dutch because they capitulated so quickly. But War Over Holland posits that there are two factors that should be considered when explaining the quick Dutch defeat:
- the first-ever use by the Germans of massive air-landing tactics
- the sudden occurrence of an instant war on five fronts from all directions.
Both of the above were unprecedented in May 1940.
But there’s another more personal reason why I have built a Dutch army. In September 1939 my father was conscripted into the Depot Battalion of the Medical Troops in Amsterdam (see my previous posting on this subject). In 1940 he was promoted to sergeant, a rank he had held for only one month when the Germans invaded on 10 May.
What Dad experienced over those five days, we don’t know. He never told us anything about the events of 1940. My mother believes he was in Rotterdam, which was badly bombed, though as a conscript from the southern province of Limburg, it was also possible he was stationed there.
So my Dutch army includes a team of medics, in Dad’s honour.