From Holland to the Rhine : A World War Two Account

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Excursions and activities on the Rhine

Sadly, during a skirmish Myrtle was exposed to fire and killed.

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The radio problems suffered by the 1 st Airborne Division at Arnhem are well-known. The radios may have worked sufficiently in carefully controlled exercises on Salisbury Plain, but they did not function well in the tree-lined suburbs, woods and polder of Holland [lowland reclaimed from a body of water by building dikes and drainage canals]. However, the British could have just picked up the phone. Much of the local telephone system functioned throughout the battle and was used to great effect by the Germans, who had seen a lot of their radio equipment destroyed during the retreat from Normandy.

The British made limited use of the telephones as they did not trust them to be secure. The famous episode in the movie A Bridge Too Far , in which 1 st Airborne Division commander Major General Roy Urquhart played by Sean Connery is forced by radio problems to race around in a jeep, trying to speak to his commanders face-to-face, is absolutely true. Not only was Urquhart at one point trapped in an attic while evading enemy patrols, but he really did shoot dead a German soldier who made the mistake of peering in the front window of another house the general was hiding in.

Radio contact was established with higher command headquarters and even between some units, when ranges were short. They exchanged insults over the airwaves, sometimes also masquerading as each other in attempts to glean intelligence or trip up their foe. The British replied with loud curses and used their weapons to destroy the offending enemy loudspeakers.

Capturing the Bridge at Remagen,

At the Arnhem bridge, the senior Waffen SS commander thought he could persuade Lt Col John Frost, commander of the British force, to surrender by sending a captured Airborne soldier to tell him resistance was useless. They best give up or die! Frost decided such a tactic was evidence of enemy desperation. He and his troops became even more determined to keep on fighting, hoping Allied tanks and troops charging up the highway would soon reach his besieged force.

Eventually, with very few weapons left to fight the panzers, the British at the Arnhem road bridge surrendered. Many of these elite troops were determined that this was not going to be the end of the matter. Hundreds of them evaded the enemy, or almost immediately escaped captivity to go on the run and into hiding with brave Dutch hosts.

Some escaped from prison camps in Germany. As the Reich collapsed in April and May , many of the remaining PoWs found themselves left to their own devices by guards who disappeared to avoid capture by the Allies. One of the most remarkable escapes was by Major Tony Deane-Drummond who, after being taken prisoner in Arnhem, hid in a book cupboard for two weeks, surviving on a lump of stale bread and a little water. Once he felt the coast was clear of enemy troops, Deane-Drummond emerged and eventually made it to sanctuary and then home thanks to help from the Resistance and other Dutch people.

Along the way, while hiding out with a Dutch family, Deane-Drummond would visit nearby homes to listen to secret radios in an attempt to keep up with news from the outside world. Working with the SAS, Dutch Resistance and British intelligence operatives, some fugitive 1 st Airborne Division officers organised a mass escape over the Rhine in late The British escapers were organised into fully armed units and, with assistance from American paratroopers and Canadian assault engineers, finally got out of enemy territory. Arnhem was the last time the Germans inflicted a major defeat on the Allies in the west.

From then on, they lost every battle against the British, American and Canadian armies, while the Red Army steamroller shattered German armies in the east. At Arnhem, and also during the subsequent Ardennes offensive of December , the Germans expended their last military capital in the west.

While the fighting remained hard in the west, the British-led forces in the north were able to send a massive airborne and amphibious assault across the Rhine in spring The Reich was finished. In the early 19th century this line was shifted somewhat to the east, beyond Utrecht , and later modernised with fortresses. This new position was called the New Hollandic Water Line. The line was reinforced with new pillboxes in as the fortifications were outdated.

The line was located at the extreme eastern edge of the area lying below sea level. This allowed the ground before the fortifications to be easily inundated with a few feet of water, too shallow for boats, but deep enough to turn the soil into an impassable quagmire. The area west of the New Hollandic Water Line was called Fortress Holland Dutch: Vesting Holland ; German: Festung Holland , the eastern flank of which was also covered by Lake IJssel and the southern flank protected by the lower course of three broad parallel rivers: two effluents of the Rhine , and the Meuse or Maas.

It functioned as a National Redoubt , which was expected to hold out a prolonged period of time, [68] in the most optimistic predictions as much as three months without any allied assistance, [69] even though the size of the attacking German force was strongly overestimated. In it was understood such an attitude posed an invitation to invade and made it impossible to negotiate with the Entente about a common defence. Proposals by German diplomats that the Dutch government would secretly assent to an advance into the country were rejected. This second main defensive position had a northern part formed by the Grebbelinie Grebbe line , located at the foothills of the Utrechtse Heuvelrug , an Ice Age moraine between Lake IJssel and the Lower Rhine.

In the south the intention was to delay the Germans as much as possible to cover a French advance. First Army Corps was a strategic reserve in the Fortress Holland, the southern perimeter of which was manned by another ten battalions and the eastern by six battalions. In front of this Main Defence Line was the IJssel-Maaslinie , a covering line along the rivers IJssel and Maas, connected by positions in the Betuwe , again with pillboxes and lightly occupied by a screen of fourteen "border battalions".

Late in General Van Voorst tot Voorst, reviving plans he had already worked out in , [75] proposed to make use of the excellent defensive opportunities these rivers offered. He proposed a shift to a more mobile strategy by fighting a delaying battle at the plausible crossing sites near Arnhem and Gennep to force the German divisions to spend much of their offensive power before they had reached the MDL, and ideally even defeat them. The latter wanted the army to first offer heavy resistance at the Grebbe Line and Peel Raam Position, and then fall back to the Fortress Holland.

Reijnders had already been denied full military authority in the defence zones; [77] the conflict about strategy further undermined his political position.

Broad front

Winkelman who decided that in the north the Grebbe Line would be the main defence line where the decisive battle was to be waged, [80] partly because it would there be easier to break out with a counteroffensive if the conditions were favourable. During the Phoney War the Netherlands officially adhered to a policy of strict neutrality. Given its obvious strategic importance, Belgium, though in principle neutral, had already made quite detailed arrangements for co-ordination with Entente troops.

This made it difficult for the Dutch to have these plans changed again to suit their wishes. The Dutch desired the Belgians to connect their defences to the Peel-Raam Position, that Reijnders refused to abandon without a fight. When Winkelman took over command, he intensified the negotiations, proposing on 21 February that Belgium would man a connecting line with the Peel Raam Position along the Belgian part of the Zuid-Willemsvaart.

Repeated Belgian requests to reconsider the Orange Position were refused by Winkelman.

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Therefore, the Belgians decided to withdraw, in the event of an invasion, all their troops to their main defence line, the Albert Canal. This created a dangerous gap forty kilometres wide.

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Second World War

But he did not dare to stretch his supply lines that far unless the Belgians and Dutch would take the allied side before the German attack. When both nations refused, Gamelin made it clear that he would occupy a connecting position near Breda. In secret, Winkelman decided on 30 March [90] to abandon the Peel-Raam Position immediately at the onset of a German attack and withdraw his Third Army Corps to the Linge to cover the southern flank of the Grebbe Line, leaving only a covering force behind.

After the German attack on Denmark and Norway in April , when the Germans used large numbers of airborne troops , the Dutch command became worried about the possibility they too could become the victim of such a strategic assault. To repulse an attack, five infantry battalions were positioned at the main ports and airbases, such as The Hague airfield of Ypenburg and the Rotterdam airfield of Waalhaven.

In addition to the Dutch Army and the German 18th Army , a third force, not all that much smaller than either, would operate on Dutch soil: the French 7th Army. It had its own objectives within the larger French strategy, and French planning had long considered the possibility of operations in Dutch territory. The coastal regions of Zealand and Holland were difficult to negotiate because of their many waterways.

However, both the French and the Germans saw the possibility of a surprise flanking attack in this region. For the Germans this would have the advantage of bypassing the Antwerp- Namur line. The Zealand Isles were considered to be strategically critical, as they are just opposite the Thames estuary, so their capture would pose a special menace to the safety of England. Rapid forces, whether for an offensive or defensive purpose, were needed to deny vital locations to the enemy. Long before the Germans did, the French had contemplated using airborne troops to achieve speedy attacks. As early as the French had commissioned the design of light airborne tanks, but these plans had been abandoned in , as they possessed no cargo planes large enough to carry them.

A naval division and an infantry division were earmarked to depart for Zealand to block the Western Scheldt against a German crossing. These would send forward forces over the Scheldt estuary into the Isles, supplied by overseas shipping. French Commander in Chief General Maurice Gamelin feared the Dutch would be tempted into a quick capitulation or even an acceptance of German protection. He therefore reassigned the former French strategic reserve, the 7th Army, to operate in front of Antwerp to cover the river's eastern approaches in order to maintain a connection with the Fortress Holland further to the north and preserve an allied left flank beyond the Rhine.

The force assigned to this task consisted of the 16th Army Corps, comprising the 9th Motorised Infantry Division also possessing some tracked armoured vehicles and the 4th Infantry Division; and the 1st Army Corps, consisting of the 25th Motorised Infantry Division and the 21st Infantry Division. This army was later reinforced by the 1st Mechanised Light Division, an armoured division of the French Cavalry and a first class powerful unit. Together with the two divisions in Zealand, seven French divisions were dedicated to the operation.

Although the French troops would have a higher proportion of motorised units than their German adversaries, in view of the respective distances to be covered, they could not hope to reach their assigned sector advancing in battle deployment before the enemy did. Their only prospect of beating the Germans to it lay in employing rail transport. This implied they would be vulnerable in the concentration phase, building up their forces near Breda.

They needed the Dutch troops in the Peel-Raam Position to delay the Germans for a few extra days to allow a French deployment and entrenchment, but French rapid forces also would provide a security screen. These consisted of the reconnaissance units of the armoured and motorised divisions, equipped with the relatively well-armed Panhard armoured car. These would be concentrated into two task forces named after their commander: the Groupe Beauchesne and the Groupe Lestoquoi. During the many changes in the operational plans for Fall Gelb the idea of leaving the Fortress Holland alone, just as the Dutch hoped for, was at times considered.

A swift defeat would also free troops for other front sectors. Though it was thus on 17 January [] decided to conquer the whole of the Netherlands, few units could be made available for this task. The attack on central Belgium was only a feint — and the attack on Fortress Holland only a side show of this feint.

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It contained only four regular infantry divisions the th , th, th and th Infantry Division , assisted by three reserve divisions th , th, and th Infantry Division that would not take part in the fighting.

From Holland to the Rhine : A World War Two Account From Holland to the Rhine : A World War Two Account
From Holland to the Rhine : A World War Two Account From Holland to the Rhine : A World War Two Account
From Holland to the Rhine : A World War Two Account From Holland to the Rhine : A World War Two Account
From Holland to the Rhine : A World War Two Account From Holland to the Rhine : A World War Two Account
From Holland to the Rhine : A World War Two Account From Holland to the Rhine : A World War Two Account
From Holland to the Rhine : A World War Two Account From Holland to the Rhine : A World War Two Account

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