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Air Battle over Holland

Distinghuished Site. Awarded with medal 2001

May 1940

(Last updated: may 11, 2001)

 Actions of our Air force in the early May days of 1940.

Before May 1940 the Dutch air force was part of the Army. But during mobilisation time, a new command was formed: the Air Defense Command, commanded by General P.W.Best.  Due to wrong economy measures of an incompetent government, the defense of the Netherlands in comparison with the German Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe was far in minority, as well in materials and weapons as in number.
The fact that our country lasted five days against an overwhelming dominance is deserved to the efforts of our men of the army, navy and airforce.

Although in practice bad trained and supplied with old-fashioned weapons, our forces did a performance that is unique in war history.

Fokkers D 21

Fighters, built in 1936-1937

On the very first day of the battle (May 10, 1940), our Air Defense was surprised by the strategy of attack of the Luftwaffe. The German air force intended to destroy our Air force in one strike, but succeeded only partly. By flying North of our country over the North Sea and after a bend of 180 degrees, our airfields were attacked and bombed from the West, a direction unexpected by our air defense. During this raid, 11 of the 12 Fokker G-1 fighters at the airfield in Bergen were damaged and partly destroyed. Only one pilot succeeded to take off his plane. Later on 6 of the damaged G-1's were repaired by the mechanics, so they could join the battle again.

On the first day of the war, 15 of the 124 operational airplanes were destroyed on the ground. In spite of that, our airmen and anti-aircraft personnel succeeded in destroying 328 of the 1024 deployed  German aircraft. (One third of the whole German Air Transport fleet in one day; this never happened again during WW2!)

At Schiphol(Amsterdam Airport) 8 fighters Fokker D-21 and 9 bombers Fokker T-5 were available on the 9th of May 1940. During the bombing by the Germans, early in the morning the 10th of May, alot of planes were damaged, but some D-21's and T-5's were able to take-off and start fighting against the much faster Messerschmitt  Me-109 fighters of the Luftwaffe.

A number of German Aircraft were shot down by our airmen.

The Navy airfield "De Kooij" at Den Helder had 11 Fo.D-21 fighters of which 4 were destroyed on the first war day.

10 G-1's, were placed at Waalhaven, near Rotterdam,  1 of them was destroyed during German bombing, but the other 9 could take-off amidst the bomb craters and even succeeded in bringing down 7 German aircraft.

Fokker T 5 bomber
One of our in 1938 built bombers

Not all of our T-5 bombers were provided with bomb racks. So part of them were used as fighters and  destroyed a number of German Aircraft.

The T-5 bomber had a wingspan of 21 meters and a weight of 7.250 kg. It could carry a bomb load of 1.000 kg.
With its 2 Bristol Pegasus engines it was fairly fast and reached a maximum speed of 417 km/h.
It was the first aircraft of the LVA that was provided with retractable gear.

Bombing the Maas Bridges in Rotterdam failed, some planes were shot down or damaged.

In addition to Fokker aircraft, some Koolhoven FK-51 reconnaissance and American Douglas-8A bombers were available at Ypenburg airbase.
In those days the last were used as fighters.  Because of low speed and bad maneuverability, these planes could hardly be useful in the air combats. A number of them were destroyed during the attack of Ypenburg and Ockenburg airfields and the Douglas planes succeeding in becoming airborne, were destroyed on the 10th of May.

After landing of Luftwaffe transport planes at Waalhaven Airport,  Rotterdam, from Schiphol airport an attempt was made to destroy those invaders. Three T-5 bombers, escorted by 7 D-21 fighters performed a successful raid and destroyed several of the Junkers on the ground.
During these attack two of the T-5's and one D21 were downed by German fighters.
Also the British Air Force did  bomb raids on Waalhaven Airport that night.

One T-5, commanded by Lt. Swagerman (Lieutenant pilot-observer), performed an effective raid on Ockenburg Airstrip near The Hague, destroying German Junkers that had landed there. Old Fokker C-X and C-V planes attacked Ypenburg Airfield very successful.

Fokker G 1
Fokker G-1
The Pride of our Air Force

After attacking Luftwaffe Aircraft on the first day of war, the G-1's from Waalhaven couldn't land on their base; and lack of fuel and ammunition forced them to divert to the airport of Haamstede (now a Glider field) and the beach of Voorne-Putten.
Dogfighting over South-Holland resulted in the lost of some D-21's. Sgt. Roos shot down an Me 109 and in throwing off his canopy
a German fighter was damaged and fell.
Later this day, Waalhaven was also bombed by British Air forces.

On the 13th of May, Lt. Swagerman in his T-5, only escorted by 2 G-1's, attended to bomb the Moerdijk bridge in order to delay the  march of German tank forces from the South towards Rotterdam.
His plane was carrying two bombs of 300 kgs. each and he decided to make two raids. The first bomb missed the bridge and in the second raid the last bomb grazed on a concrete pile of the bridge, but didn't explode.
They were attacked by German fighters and AAguns and crashed near Ridderkerk. All of the men were killed. Also one of the G-1's was destroyed.

T5/D21 formation

T-5/D-21 formation

After the war B. Swagerman was posthumous decorated with the "Militaire Willemsorde", the highest Netherlands order for courage and faith. One of the D-21 pilots: A.H. Bodaan, killed on the first war day, was also posthumous decorated with the MWO.

Another three G-1's, under construction at the Fokker Aircraft Factory and forced ready, were able to attack the German positions at the Grebbe-frontline.

During the last days of this short war, some old-fashioned C-V and C-X biplanes were used for disturbing activities at the front and near Moerdijk; none of these reconnaissance planes had been destroyed on the first day, because of hided placement round the air field of Bergen. One Fokker C-V, pilot sgt. Roeloffzen, tried to attack enemy positions at the Grebbe Lines near Wageningen, but was shot by 3 Me's and crashed near Opheusden, south of the Rhine in front of the Dutch lines.
A number of C-V reconnaissance planes, from the temporary airfield of Middenmeer, surveyed the Wons and Kornwerderzand positions in Friesland.

Not only the LVA but also the MLD (Marine Luchtvaart Dienst - Naval Air Service) took part in the battle. A Fokker sea-plane C-XIV-W succeeded in bringing down a much faster Messerschmitt.

Sea Plane C-14W

Sea plane of the MLD

Regarding the superiority of the german Luftwaffe, the existence of our small Air Force was finished soon.
After five days of war, only 36 Dutch aircraft were left.
Some of our airmen (mostly from the pilot school), took the chance to escape with their planes to France. They had to leave their planes their and were shipped to Great Britain.
A number of remained aircraft were destroyed by their crew and some were captured by the Germans.

As on the 14th of May the city of Rotterdam was heavily bombed by 84 Heinkel He-111 bombers, this catastrophe caused the Dutch commander-in-chief General Winkelman to surrender, as the Germans threatened to bomb Utrecht, maybe more cities.

A heroic battle was performed with great courage and sacrifice of our airmen, naval- and ground forces.

On the 18th of May, 1940, General Winkelman decorated the Air Force Corps with the Military Willems Order.
The "Militaire Willemsorde" is the highest military reward in the Netherlands.De Militaire Willemsorde/Military Willems Order

Only pilots who reached England could continue the combat against the Germans. They were placed in several RAF-squadrons.

In 1943 the Dutch airmen got their own squadron. As allied pilots they served over Britain, took part in D-Day in France and actions over Holland and had a humble part in destroying the entire German Luftwaffe.

Crew Dutch 322 Spitfire Sqn.

322 Dutch Spitfire Squadron


Source References:

Brongers, E.                  De oorlog in Mei 1940
Norel, K.                       Vliegers in het vuur.        Webpages.
Top, Dik                        Soesterberg 80 jaar militaire luchtvaart
De Jong, Dr. L. de           Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de
                                     Tweede wereldoorlog, (deel 3 - Mei 1940)
Stok, B. van der             Oorlogsvlieger van Oranje
Küpfer, C.C.                   Nederlands vliegers in het vuur
Alarm....Starten!             M.W.J.M Broekmeijer
HuBoBe                         S.J. Postma
Luchtoorlog boven
Nederland                       Johan P. Nater
De Mei-vliegers                Peter Gerritse

* New:
Vliegveld Bergen NH       Johan Schuurman
                                       Uitg. mei 2001 "De Coogh" Bergen (NH) ISBN 90-75440-04-9

Copyright Dick van Faassen. If you have comments or have more details, please e-mail me!

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