Unknown WW2-battles in the Low Countries, 1940-1944/1945

Tired of Normandy, Arnhem, Berlin? Try Scheldt, Rotterdam, Overloon!

History is full of clichés and so is wargaming. WW2-history of the Low Countries is often summarized as surprise attack in 1940, then 1944 Market Garden (not a gamble, but a blunder, btw) followed by the liberation. Being a Dutch wargamer, I focus on battles in Holland or with a Dutch component. So I researched the subject and discovered many battles that are more or less similar to well-known battles. But – gaming-wise – they have a different ‘twist’.

Rotterdam is Arnhem, but with German paratroopers. Overloon is very Caen/Berlin.

I will give a wargamer’s summary with links to sources.

The Fall Gelb Dutch Assault: The Other Market Garden

The May 1940 campaign was a smaller version of Market Garden. Parachute troops captured the bridges into the Dutch heartland and had the order to capture the Dutch queen and cabinet in The Hague and the Moerdijkbruggen in Rotterdam. German tanks and infantry would come to the rescue. In fact, The Hague was ‘a queen too far’ – the Dutch reorganized their defense and withstood the attack on airfield Ypenburg. The German paratroopers captured a bridgehead in Rotterdam but were nearly defeated by the Dutch Marines. German tanks stormed Dordrecht to reach Rotterdam in time. But the Dutch defense was tougher than expected. So in the end and because the Germans needed an instantaneous capitulation, Rotterdam was bombed.

Fall Gelb modernized the Allied military thinking, but should have been a warning as well. The execution of Fall gelb lacked coördination, the power of the Dutch defense was underestimated and the power of the parachute attack was overestimated. Grebbeberg, Mill and Dordrecht slowed the German attack.

Flames of War gives an excellent summary of the Dutch campaign here. Different (historical) link here or in Dutch here. If you’re looking for a tense ‘capture/defend the bridge’ scenario with German paratroopers, try Rotterdam.

Fall Gelb subscenario #1: Mill

Interesting skirmish sub-scenario is Mill: a German armored train breaks through a gap, the train derails, Germans attack Dutch bunkers and minefields and the Dutch counterattack. A 

(Dutch) historical site here (Mill historical society. and this Mill battle report might help you. Flames of War summarized:
The most important result for the Germans was the capture of one railway bridge. This allowed an armoured train, followed by an armoured troop train, to advance towards the Peel-Raamstelling, more precisely: towards Mill. For both parties Mill was the key to taking the Peel-Raamstelling (…) the armoured train reappeared and was then thoroughly demolished. The German battalion split up into two forces, one of one company, one of two companies, each advancing on either side of the railroad.(…)
Acting on his own initiative, the Dutch captain had the full battery turned 90 degrees and open fire. This proved enough to force the Germans back. However, the other German task force managed to capture several bunkers and trenches by attacking from the rear. But, they failed to fully break the line, became pinned down, and had to wait to be relieved. (…)
The Dutch commander realized that a breach of the Peel-Raamstelling could jeopardize his withdrawal. He ordered a unit of motorcycle hussars to reinforce Mill and help to retake the bunkers and trenches. (…) Although this threatened the Germans, they were able to repulse attempts to retake the position. The lack of a sufficient amount of bridges led to huge traffic jams around the available water crossings. All troops were in a hurry and disputed priority. It wasn’t until the German Feldgendarmerie took over traffic control that the situation improved. The only unit that managed to reach the Peel-Raamstelling in time was an infantry battalion. The regimental commander was concerned to relieve his ‘trapped’ train battalion and recognised the need for speed. The German infantry commander had to attack whatever the cost and it was made clear that there was no artillery support available. (…)
Just as the attack was about to set off and much to his surprise, a flight of Stukas appeared (…) many Dutch soldiers left their positions and fled, (..) The troops at Mill however did not receive the order and stood their ground until they were almost surrounded (…) The Peel-Raamsteling had been breached in one day. The German armoured column destined to relieve the paratroopers had been able to race towards Moerdijk almost unhindered. But, after that they would meet more spirited opposition.

Fall Gelb subscenario #2: Mook

Or try Mook. If you can read Dutch and are interested in a 1940 skirmish scenario for an amphibious bridge crossing, read this elaborate Dutch military report / analysis about the defense of the Mook bridge or check the pictures. The bridge was blown up in time but the Germans crossed the Maas river, captured the bunkers and built a pontoon bridge.

Eben-Emael: The Other Pegasus Bridge

The airborne commando attack on the Belgium Eben-Emael fort was in fact – although a Nazi victory – a brilliant commando action. Pegasus Bridge, but more daring. A small skirmish, good for Bolt Action, Chain of Command, etc.

Geel: The Other Bridge Crossing

The Battle of Geel is overshadowed by Arnhem, but it was the largest WW2-battle in Belgium, between 8-23 september 1944, 2000 victims on both sides. It’s a canal crossing not unlike the Nijmegen river crossing, with hard fighting and a German counterattack on the town of Geel. Wikipedia gives a summary of the battle. A good Flemish historical blog about this unknown battle can be found here.

Veghel: The Other Saving Private Ryan

American paratroopers captured the Veghel bridge and defended it against heavy German attacks. This would be a very heroic wargame. A good summary of the events can be found here.

In fact the situation is quite similar to the closing part of the Saving Private Ryan movie, the defense of the Ramelle bridge.

In the town, Miller’s squad find a small group of paratroopers preparing to defend the key bridge, and where Miller tells Ryan about his brothers and their orders to bring him home, with two of his men having been lost in finding him. He is distressed at the loss of his brothers, but asks Miller to tell his mother that he intends to stay “with the only brothers [he has] left.” Miller decides to join his unit with the paratroopers in defense of the bridge against the imminent German attack. Miller forms ambush positions throughout the ruined town, preparing to attack arriving tanks and infantry with mines, Molotov cocktails, detonation cords and “sticky bombs” made from socks filled with Composition B smeared with thick grease.

Elements of the 2nd SS Panzer Division arrive with infantry and armor, comprising two Tiger I tanks and two Marder tank destroyers/light assault guns.

The Battle of the Scheldt: The Other D-Day

After Overlord and the invasion of France the German defense collapsed and the Germans hastily retreated. The Allied forces captured Brussels and Antwerp but overlooked the logistical importance of Antwerp port, leaving the mouth of the Scheldt in German hands. Instead of cornering the German army in Zeeland and thus end the blocking of the port of Antwerp, Arnhem became first priority. The rest is history. Bloody history.

The Scheldt is the story of veteran Canadian forces battling Fallschirmjäger and other troops for five weeks in murderous battles. Wikipedia:

Despite the fact that Montgomery had chosen to fight the Battle of Arnhem instead of clearing the Scheldt in September 1944, thus having allowed the Germans to dig in, he criticized the 3rd Canadian Division for its slow advance, saying the Breskens Pocket should have been cleared weeks ago and calling the Canadian officers cowards for their unwillingness to take heavy losses.[63] As a result, the 157th Brigade was withdrawn as a punishment and the 3rd Division was ordered to press on with “all speed”.[65] Despite the fact that the Canadians could not afford heavy losses, the 3rd Division began a period of “intense combat” to clear out the Breskens Pocket.[66] The Régiment de la Chaudière attacked the town of Oostburg on October 24, losing an entire company, but since they had been ordered to take Oostburg at “any price”

(…) The Battle of the Scheldt has been described by historians as unnecessarily difficult, as it could have been cleared earlier and more easily had the Allies given it a higher priority than Operation Market Garden. American historian Charles B. MacDonald called the failure to immediately take the Scheldt “[o]ne of the greatest tactical mistakes of the war.”[92] Because of the flawed strategic choices made by the Allies in early September 1944, the battle became one of the longest and bloodiest that the Canadian army faced over the course of the Second World War.

Overloon: The Other Caen/Berlin

According to Wikipedia this was a ferocious battle, with many tanks involved and German infantry trying to halt the Allied forces in a strong defensive position. “The battle of Overloon has become known as the second battle of Caen due to its ferocity and also as the forgotten battle, because like the other engagements in the Peel area it is not well known in much of the Netherlands.” (the Dutch version of the Wikipedia battle report is more detailed than the English version, btw).

The Dutch War Museum summarized:

On 30 September the Allies began a large attack with 7th American Armoured division, which had been called in specifically for this purpose. It was the beginning of one of the fiercest battles in Western Europe. For nine days, the American Sherman tanks tried to breach the German defences, but time and time again, they ran into German mines, artillery and Panther tanks. (…) On 12 October at 11.00 a.m., all hell broke loose. For an hour and a half, the Allies attacked the German defences with heavy artillery and air strikes (…) When Overloon lay completely in ruins, the advance of the British began. House by house was conquered, at the cost of huge losses. And intense man-to-man fighting also took place in the woods. (…) The Germans re-grouped in the woods between Overloon and Venray. The British gained ground only very slowly under harsh weather conditions. The greatest drama followed at the small river Loobeek.(…) The Germans were able to prevent a bridge being spanned across water for a long time, but in the end it was done. The tanks that passed over the bridge immediately got stuck in the mud. Under murderous machine gun fire, the British tried to reach the other side over the bridge and through the water. The brook ran red with their blood, and thus got the nickname ‘Blood Brook’. In the evening of 16 October, the 

British managed to cross en masse. Three days later, Venray was also taken after heavy house-to-house fighting, which meant the end of the great battle. Anger Over Arnhem: The Other Arnhem Battle

Following the invasion of Germany, the Canadians finally liberated Arnhem after conventional river crossings and artillery barrages. ‘Cannonshot’ was the river crossing near Deventer and ‘Operation Anger’ was the liberation of Arnhem in April 1945. Wargame stuff is the SAS operating behind enemy lines, the Dutch SS Landstorm with tank support attacking the Canadians, the German counterattack/city fight at 16 April 1945 near Otterlo and the Canadians attacking Dutch SS in the city of Ede. Historical action with good old fashioned black knights vs white knights mythology. A detailed report of the Canadian March-April Campaign to liberate Holland including the Canadian attack on Germans dug in at Delfzijl can be found here, btw. A good what-if campaign could be a southern attack on Holland – Antwerp/Scheldt first – and THEN a Rijn crossing, or a Canadian/British maneuver to capture Utrecht, Dordrecht, The Hague and Kornwerderzand (a mirror image of Fall Gelb).
A 1945 Mini Market Garden Subscenario: Operation Amherst

From Wikipedia:

Operation Amherst was a Free French and British SAS attack designed to capture intact Dutch canals, bridges and airfields during World War II. It was led by Brigadier Mike Calvert of Chindit fame (…) 
The operation began with the drop of 700 French Special Air Service troopers of 3 and 4 SAS (French) on the night of 7 April 1945.[3] The teams spread out to capture and defend key facilities from the Germans. Advancing Canadian troops of the 8th Reconnaissance Regiment relieved the isolated French SAS. The majority of the French paratroopers were dropped over the north-western part of the province of Drenthe. Here they occupied a series of bridges and conducted hit and run attacks on the withdrawing German troops. A small group of paratroopers under the command of Captain Pierre Sicaud were dropped in south-east Friesland close to the border of Drenthe. (…) Sicaud and his paratroopers occupied an important bridge, seriously frustrating German troop movements. A series of running battles between the French, the Germans, and Dutch Nazi collaborators were conducted near the bridge (…) 
One group of paratroopers was dropped too far from Captain Sicaud and ended up on the outskirts of the small village of Haulerwijk, ten kilometers north of Appelscha. German troops discovered the French in the early morning of 8 April and a fire fight broke out between the French and the Germans. This mini battle was referred to as “the last Amherst” where part of the town was destroyed, and a huge conflict ensued.
A French/English SAS-page describes it as the most important SAS operation of WW2.

The whole operation, the Canadian breakthrough from Arnhem to Leeuwarden/Delfzijl is a Market Garden operation on a smaller scale, which can be played with less miniatures than the standard Market Garden wargame table. For Dutch readers: the whole campaign is archived in this archived newspaper article

Kapelsche Veer: The Other Hamburger Hill

After Market Garden the Germans retreated from the south of Holland, but kept a small bridgehead near Kapelle, Noord-Brabant. They dug in and hoped to support the German ‘Battle of the Bulge’ counterattack from there. The Allied attack on the stronghold became a prestige battle between the Allied and the Germans, both employing elite troops. A report in English can be found here.

Throughout the final three days, the battle for Kapelsche Veer became a contest of wills. If Crocker’s decision to attack the island is to be questioned then what of the 6th Parachute Division’s determination to hold a position of little strategic or operational value? The German attempts to continuously reinforce their garrison and to mount counter-attacks simply made no sense. Allied artillery, using air bursts, inflicted enormous casualties on the enemy especially during efforts to cross the river. As late as the evening of Jan. 30, artillery fire smashed several crossings and inflicted many casualties. This proved to be the enemy’s last gasp and on the night of Jan. 30-31 the paratroopers who were still alive abandoned the island.

The Georgian Uprising on Texel: The Real Final Battle of WW2

This story (wikipedia link here) is a good background for Germans vs Germans skirmish, with involvement of the Dutch resistance and Canadians, but it is a sad an bloody story indeed:

Shortly after midnight on the night of 5–6 April 1945, the Georgians rose up and gained control of nearly the entire island. Approximately four hundred German soldiers were killed in the initial uprising, almost all while sleeping in the quarters they shared with Georgians, who used knives and bayonets. (…)

A counterattack was ordered (…) Approximately 2,000 riflemen of the 163rd Marine-Schützenregiment were deployed from the Dutch mainland. Over the next five weeks they re-took the island; fighting was particularly heavy at Eierland and around the lighthouse. The German troops then combed the length of the island for any remaining Georgian soldiers, while the Dutch inhabitants sought to hide them. The German commander of the 882nd battalion, Major Klaus Breitner, stated long after the war that the uprising was “treachery, nothing else”; the captured mutineers were ordered to dig their own graves, remove their German uniforms, and be executed.

During the rebellion, 565 Georgians, at least 812 Germans, and 120 residents of Texel became casualties. The destruction was enormous; dozens of farms went up in flames, (…) The bloodshed lasted beyond the German capitulation in the Netherlands and Denmark on 5 May 1945 and even beyond Germany’s general surrender on 8 May 1945. The fighting continued until Canadian troops arrived 20 May 1945 to enforce the German surrender, and disarmed the remaining German troops.

Miniatures & Scenery

1940 Dutch & Belgian defenders: May ’40 miniatures has a great range of historically correct Dutch 28mm infantry and marines, vehicles and artillery.
In 15mm I found Peter PigOld Glory and QRF.
Romanian WW2 troops have the same helmet as the Dutch, you can convert them quite easily to Dutch.
Belgians: in 28mm try Warlord, in 15mm Old Glory and QRF again.
Gamodis has a Belgian 15mm vehicle range.
For an impression how a ‘Dutch’ tabletop should look like, check this FoW article.
A Final Word: WW2 Or The Other History

Reading the sad ‘true’ stories – not the articles in Wargames Illustrated, Lead Adventure of WSS magazine, but historical websites – made me realize again that my innocent hobby is inspired by war movies, Alistair Maclean novels, Airfix box covers, my uncle’s model railway table. And Risk.

Not by real war. Real war is ugly. Many of my wargame friends are ugly, too. But that’s the only similarity!

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