The Occupation of the Netherlands

German forces crossed the eastern frontier of the Netherlands in several places early on May 10, 1940, while additional troops landed on the beaches north of The Hague and parachutists dropped near Rotterdam and The Hague seizing vital bridges and isolating the capital. The Dutch Army was relatively small and resistance complicated by the fact that German points of attack were widely separated. The government immediately appealed to Great Britain for help and a force of 200 Marines and a composite Guards battalion (2nd Battalion Irish Guards and 2nd Battalion Welsh Guards) was dispatched. On May 12th, the German columns from the east linked up with the parachutists. That same day, the British forces arrived and advanced towards The Hague but quickly realized that without strong reinforcements they would have to be withdrawn. On the 13th, Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina embarked for England in a British destroyer. That night the Dutch government also left. The British troops returned to Dover at noon on May 14th, the day Rotterdam was bombed by some fifty German aircraft resulting in the deaths of numerous civilians and the destruction of a large part of the city. Utrecht was threatened with a similar fate, but in the evening the Dutch forces surrendered.

During the Occupation

  • 234,000 Dutch citizens lost their lives, they died:
    • in concentration camps
    • in captivity
    • by execution
    • by acts of war
    • from forced labour
    • as a consequence of the "Hunger Winter" of 1944-45 (by April 1945, the official daily ration per person in the Netherlands was only 320 calories)
    • from sickness, disease and a general decline in national health as a result of war conditions (ie. lack of food and lack of fuel for heating, cooking and transportation)
  • In 1940 there were 86,000 Jews in Amsterdam
  • By 1945 there were only 10,000 Jews in this city
  • Anne Frank was one of those who died in the Holocaust
    • it was in a house on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam where Anne Frank and her family hid in an annex
    • today, the house is a museum visited by thousands annually

Apeldoorn

The city was of Apeldoorn one of the first Allied objectives in the advance to the North Sea. The 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade was set to make a decisive strike against the town on April 16, 1945. The plan called for Apeldoorn to be isolated and then the infantry would enter, without artillery. As the Canadians neared, the German garrison abandoned the town.

The Royal Canadian Regiment was in control of the eastern edge of the town by 4:30 a.m. on April 17. The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment and the 48th Highlanders followed at dawn. By mid-morning, the Highlanders had secured the north-western section, the Hastings were on the grounds of Het Loo Palace* and the Royal Canadian Regiment was in the town square. The West Nova Scotia Regiment of the 3rd Brigade took over the south-western perimeter of the town before noon.

Fighting in the region between April 11-17 cost the 1st Canadian Division 506 casualties. Very little damage was done to Apeldoorn itself, as the Canadian forces were aware it was full of refugees. After the town was liberated, there were huge celebrations with Dutch colours flying from every house and shop.

A parade of veterans is a regular highlight of town activities to commemorate the nation's liberation. In 1995, during the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands, over 1,000 Canadian veterans marched or rode, along with a number of Allied veterans, to the cheers of approximately 150,000 Dutch men, women and children who lined the route.

* Het Loo, the summer residence of the Dutch Royal Family, was built for William, Prince of Orange, between 1702 and 1865.

Groningen

Groningen is the largest Dutch city in the northern part of the country. This city was liberated by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division after a heated battle.

On April 13, 1945 troops from the 4th Royal Hamilton Light Infantry entered the city from the southwest, meeting strenuous resistance from German S.S. troops. Fighting off snipers, and in many cases clearing buildings room by room, the 6th Canadian Brigade (including the 11th-12th Les Fusiliers Mont Royal, the South Saskatchewan Regiment, the Royal Regiment of Canada and the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada) entered the city from the south. On April 14, the 5th Canadian Brigade (the Black Watch of Canada, le Regiment de Maisonneuve and the Calgary Highlanders) entered the city from the west. The German Commander and his staff surrendered on April 16; the four-day battle cost the 2nd Division 209 casualties and accounted for 2,400 enemy prisoners. General Crerar's despatch records that after the surrender "...only isolated pockets of resistance remained at various places along the coast, the most stubborn of these, according to expectations, occurring in the area of Delfzijl and along the adjacent shore of the Dollart Inlet opposite Emden."

Groningen is home to one of the largest and oldest universities in the Netherlands. The University of Groningen, which celebrated its 360th anniversary in 1999, houses a Canadian Studies Centre.

Nijverdal

Nijverdal is located just a few kilometres north of Holten War Cemetery, and was liberated by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division.

From operations at the Twente Canal south of Holten, to Ommen and finally to Groningen in the northern reaches of the country, the 2nd Division, including the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, the Essex Scottish Regiment, the Cameron Highlanders of Canada and the Royal Regiment of Canada, met small pockets of resistance.

Utrecht

Following the liberation of Arnhem, the 1st Canadian Corps' next objective was to clear the Germans out of the western Netherlands. The plan called for the British 49th Division to advance from Arnhem and occupy the National Highway south of Utrecht. The 5th Canadian Armoured Division would secure high ground west of Amersfoort, and then the 1st Canadian Division would take Amersfoort, relieve the 5th and capture Utrecht. Later phases of the offensive would target Gouda, The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Although citizens in the region were at grave risk of starvation, the plan was called off. It was feared that liberation by force might result in the Germans opening the dykes and ruining the low-lying countryside between Utrecht and the sea.

On April 12th, the Corps was directed to stand fast a dozen miles east of Utrecht. The British Air Ministry, meanwhile, worked on a plan to drop supplies by air. Negotiations with the Germans proved fruitful and, while they would not surrender and would continue to occupy the provinces of North and South Holland and Utrecht, they would allow the importation of food and coal into the western Netherlands - provided the Allies halted east of the Grebbe River line. By April 19th, offensive operations on the 1st Corps front had virtually ceased. Flooding had already occurred, however, with the area around Utrecht suffering some of the most serious economic damage.

On May 1st, the Germans agreed to create a "truce" corridor for the passage of supplies, running from the railway linking Arnhem and Utrecht to the Waal at Ochten. The relief operation was in full swing within days. Following the German surrender on May 5th, the 1st Canadian Corps entered the western Netherlands on May 7th, with the 49th Division taking over the Utrecht region, from the Ijsselmeer to the Lek. The 1st Canadian Division took control in the remaining territory to the west. Their objectives took them through Amersfoort and Utrecht, towards Rotterdam. On May 8th, the division reported, "Every village, street and house was bedecked with red, white and blue Dutch flags and organ streamers which in the brilliant sunlight made a gay scene. The Dutch people had had a rumour of our arrival and were lining the roads, streets in thousands to give us a tumultuous welcome."*

Colonel C.P. Stacey, Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, page 650.

Wageningen

After pausing in Arnhem to reorganize, the British 56th brigade moved west on two axes toward Wageningen and Bennekom early on April 17, 1945. Facing light opposition, they made rapid progress along the right bank of the Rhine. Mines and other obstacles slowed them in places, but the British troops frequently found alternative routes which the enemy had not had time to mine or block. By the end of the day both Wageningen and Bennekom were captured.

Wageningen is also where the 25th German Army officially surrendered in a battered hotel on May 5th. The surrender was signed by the commander of German forces in the Netherlands, Col.-Gen. Johannes Blaskowitz, in the Hotel de Wereld. The surrender was accepted by Lt.-Gen. Charles Foulkes, commander of the 1st Canadian Corps. (The street is now named General Foulkesweg 1.) Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands was also present at the surrender ceremony, as was Major-General George Kitching, who at the time was Foulkes' senior staff officer.

Over 117,000 German troops were in the western Netherlands at the time of the surrender. The 1st Canadian Corps took over the area previously controlled by the Germans and entered the region on May 7th to be greeted by ecstatic Dutch citizens.

Westerbork Transit Camp

Camp Westerbork was the site of a large transit and work camp in the Dutch province of Drente. Over 100,000 Jews, Gypsies and resistance members were taken to Westerbork. The camp consisted of an orphanage, school, industrial barracks, punishment barracks, housing barracks, a larger square for roll-call and a railway. While interned at Westerbork in 1942, Bob Cahen described camp life in a letter:

"More and more new people have arrived in the camp. The barracks have become crowded, overcrowded. The smithy is working flat out producing beds, one after the other. Straw mattresses or other mattresses haven't been available for a long time now. The people just have to lie down without one, on the iron. People were lying or sitting outside. At night, they would sleep in or under barrows or under the open sky. There was not enough food."

Anne Frank was among the thousands held at Westerbork and part of the wall of the hut where she stayed while at Westerbork remains intact. Anne died with her sister in Bergen-Belsen in April 1945, just weeks before the end of the war.

The last train left Westerbork September 13, 1944 carrying 77 young children who had been taken away from their hiding places by the Nazis.

Westerbork was liberated April 12, 1945 and 876 prisoners were set free when the Canadian Army came upon the camp. After the liberation, the camp remained in service and various activities took place there, but in 1971 the last barracks were torn down. Kamp Westerbork is now a commemoration centre.

Date modified: