Netherlands in World War II

Despite being neutral, the Netherlands in World War II was invaded by Nazi Germany on 10 May 1940, as part of Fall Gelb.[1] On 15 May 1940, one day after the bombing of Rotterdam, the Dutch forces surrendered. The Dutch government and the royal family saved themselves by going to London. Princess Juliana and her children moved on to Canada for additional safety.

The Netherlands was placed under German occupation, which endured in some areas until the German surrender in May 1945. Active resistance was carried out by a minority, which grew in the course of the occupation. The occupiers deported the majority of the country's Jews to Nazi concentration camps.[2]

Due to the high variation in the survival rate of Jewish inhabitants among local regions in the Netherlands, scholars have questioned the validity of a single explanation at the national level. In part due to the well-organized population registers, about 70% of the country's Jewish population were killed during the conflict, a much higher percentage than comparable countries, such as Belgium and France.[3] In 2008, records were opened that revealed the Germans had paid a bounty to Dutch police and administration officials to locate and identify Jews, aiding in their capture. But, uniquely among all German occupied areas, the city of Amsterdam organized an industrial action to protest the persecution of its Jewish citizens.

World War II occurred in four distinct phases in the European Netherlands:

  • September 1939 to May 1940: The war breaks out with the Netherlands declaring neutrality. The country is subsequently invaded and occupied.
  • May 1940 to June 1941: An economic boom caused by orders from Germany, combined with the "velvet glove" approach from Arthur Seyss-Inquart, results in a mild occupation.
  • June 1941 to June 1944: As the war intensifies, Germany demands higher contributions from occupied territory, resulting in a decline of living standards. Repression against the Jewish population intensifies and thousands are deported to extermination camps. The "velvet glove" approach ends.
  • June 1944 to May 1945: Conditions deteriorate further, leading to starvation and lack of fuel. The German occupation authorities gradually lose control over the situation. Fanatical Nazis want to make a last stand and commit acts of destruction. Others try to mitigate the situation.

Most of the south of the country was liberated in the second half of 1944. The rest, especially the west and north of the country still under occupation, suffered from a famine at the end of 1944, known as the "Hunger Winter". On 5 May 1945, the whole country was finally liberated by the total surrender of all German forces.


Dutch governments between 1929 and 1943 were dominated by Christian and center-right political parties.[4] From 1933, the Netherlands were hit by the Great Depression, which had begun in 1929.[4] The incumbent government of Hendrikus Colijn pursued a programme of extensive cuts to maintain the value of the Guilder, resulting in workers' riots in Amsterdam and a naval mutiny between 1933 and 1934.[4] Eventually, in 1936, the government was forced to abandon the gold standard and devalue the currency.[4]

Numerous fascist movements emerged in the Netherlands during the Great Depression era, inspired by Italian Fascism or German Nazism. But, they never attracted enough members to be an effective mass-movement. The National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging, NSB) supported by the National Socialist German Workers' Party which took power in Germany in 1933, attempted to expand in 1935. Nazi-style racial ideology had limited appeal in the Netherlands, as did its calls to violence.[5] At the time of the outbreak of World War II, the NSB was already declining, both in numbers of members and numbers of voters.

During the interwar period the government undertook a significant increase in civil infrastructure projects and land reclamation, including the Zuiderzee Works. This resulted in the final draining of seawater from the Wieringermeerpolder, and the completion of the Afsluitdijk.[4]


"The new Reich has endeavored to continue the traditional friendship with Holland [sic]. It has not taken over any existing differences between the two countries and has not created any new ones."

German guarantee of neutrality, 6 October 1939[6]

During World War I, the Dutch government under Pieter Cort van der Linden had managed to preserve Dutch neutrality throughout the conflict.[7] In the inter-war period, the Netherlands had continued to pursue its "Independence Policy", even after the rise to power of the Nazi Party in Germany in 1933.[8] The conservative prime minister Colijn, who held power from 1933 until 1939, believed the Netherlands would never be able to withstand an attack by a major power. Pragmatically, the government did not spend much on the military.[9] Although military spending was doubled between 1938 and 1939, amid the rising international tensions, it constituted only 4% of national spending in 1939, in contrast to nearly 25% in Nazi-ruled Germany.[9] The Dutch government believed it would be able to rely on its neutrality, or at least the informal support of foreign powers, to defend its interests in case of war.[9] The government did begin to work on plans for the defence of the country.[10] This included the "New Dutch Waterline", an area to the east of Amsterdam, which would be flooded. From 1939, fortified positions were constructed, including the Grebbe and Peel-Raam Lines, to protect the key cities of Dordrecht, Utrecht, Haarlem and Amsterdam, and creating a Vesting Holland (or "Fortress Holland").[10]

In late 1939, with war already declared between the British Empire, France and Nazi Germany, the German government issued a guarantee of neutrality to the Netherlands.[6] The government gradually mobilized the Dutch military from August 1939, reaching its full strength by April 1940.[10]

German invasion

Despite its policy of neutrality, the Netherlands was invaded on the morning of 10 May 1940, without a formal declaration of war, by German forces moving simultaneously into Belgium and Luxembourg.[11] The attackers meant to draw Allied forces away from the Ardennes and to lure British and French forces deeper into Belgium, but also to pre-empt a possible British invasion in North Holland. The Luftwaffe needed to take over the Dutch airfields on the Dutch coast to launch air raids against the United Kingdom.

The armed forces of the Netherlands, with insufficient and outdated weapons and equipment, were caught largely unprepared.[10] Much of their weaponry had not changed since the First World War.[12] In particular, the Royal Netherlands Army did not have comparable armoured forces, and could mount only a limited number of armoured cars and tankettes.[13] The air force had only 140 aircraft, mostly outdated biplanes.[14] Sixty-five of the Dutch aircraft were destroyed on the first day of the campaign.[15]

The invading forces advanced rapidly but faced significant resistance. A Wehrmacht parachute assault on the first day, aimed at capturing the Dutch government in The Hague and the key airfields at Ockenburg and Ypenburg, was defeated by Dutch ground forces, with heavy casualties.[16] The Dutch succeeded in destroying significant numbers of transport aircraft that the Germans would need for their planned invasion of Britain. But, the German forces succeeded in crossing the Maas river in the Netherlands on the first day, which allowed the Wehrmacht to outflank the nearby Belgian Fort Eben-Emael and force the Belgian army to withdraw from the German border.[17]

In the eastern Netherlands, the Germans succeeded in pushing the Dutch back from the Grebbe Line, but their advance was slowed by the Dutch fortifications on the narrow Afsluitdijk Causeway linking the north-eastern and north-western parts of the Netherlands.[18] The German forces advanced rapidly, and by the fourth day were in control of most of the east of the country. They did not control the major cities in the west.[18]

The Dutch realized neither British nor French troops would be able to reach the Netherlands in sufficient numbers to halt the invasion, particularly given the speed of the German advance into Belgium.[18]

Bombing of Rotterdam

Fighting in Rotterdam had taken place since the first day of the campaign, when German infantrymen in seaplanes landed on the Maas River and captured several bridges intact. The Germans hesitated to risk a tank attack on the city, fearing heavy casualties. Instead, the German commander presented an ultimatum to the Dutch commander in the city. He demanded the surrender of the Dutch garrison and threatened to destroy the city by aerial bombing if they did not accept.[19] The ultimatum was returned on a technicality, since it had not been signed by the German commander.[19] While the corrected ultimatum was being resubmitted, Luftwaffe bombers (unaware that negotiations were ongoing) struck the city.[19]

During the so-called "Rotterdam Blitz", between 800 and 900 Dutch civilians were killed, and 25,000 homes were destroyed.[19] The bombers' targets were the civilian areas of Rotterdam, rather than the town's defenses.[19] Under pressure from local officials, the garrison commander surrendered the city and his 10,000 men on the evening of the 14th, with the permission of Henri Winkelman, the Dutch commander-in-chief. This opened up the German advance into "Fortress Holland".[19]

Dutch surrender

The Dutch high command was shocked by the Rotterdam Blitz. Knowing the army was running low on supplies and ammunition, and after receiving news that the city of Utrecht had been given an ultimatum similar to that of Rotterdam,[15] Winkelman held a meeting with other Dutch generals. They decided that further resistance was futile and wanted to protect civilian residents. In the afternoon of 14 May, Winkelman issued a proclamation to his army, ordering them to surrender:

On 15 May, the Netherlands officially signed the surrender with Germany. Dutch forces in the province of Zeeland, which had come under French control, continued fighting alongside French forces until 17 May, when the bombardment of the town of Middelburg forced them to surrender also. The Dutch Empire, in particular the Dutch East Indies, supported the Allied side; the colonies were unaffected by the surrender. Many ships of the Royal Dutch Navy in Dutch waters fled to the United Kingdom.[21]

During the four-day campaign, about 2,300 Dutch soldiers were killed and 7,000 wounded, while more than 3,000 Dutch civilians also died. The invading army lost 2,200 men killed and 7,000 wounded. In addition, 1,300 German soldiers captured by the Dutch during the campaign, many around The Hague, had been shipped to Britain and remained POWs for the rest of the war.

Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch government succeeded in escaping from the Netherlands before the surrender; they formed a government-in-exile. Princess Juliana and her children went to Canada for safety.

German occupation

Life in the occupied Netherlands

Initially, the Netherlands was placed under German military control. However, following the refusal of the Dutch government to return, the Netherlands was placed under control by a German civilian governor on 29 May 1940, unlike France or Denmark which had their own governments, and Belgium, which was under German military control. The civil government, the Reichskommissariat Niederlande, was headed by the Austrian Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart.

The German occupiers implemented a policy of Gleichschaltung ("enforced conformity"), and systematically eliminated non-Nazi organizations. In 1940, the German regime more or less immediately outlawed all Socialist and Communist parties; in 1941, it forbade all parties, except for the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands.

Gleichschaltung was an enormous shock to the Dutch, who had traditionally had separate institutions for all main religious groups, particularly Catholic and Protestant, because of decades of pillarisation. The process was opposed by the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, and, in 1941, all Roman Catholics were urged by Dutch bishops to leave associations that had been Nazified.

A long-term aim of the Nazis was to incorporate the Netherlands into the Greater Germanic Reich.[22] Hitler thought very highly of the Dutch people, who were considered to be fellow members of the Aryan "master race".[23]

Initially, Seyss-Inquart applied the 'velvet glove' approach; by appeasing the population he tried to win them for the national socialist ideology. It meant that he kept repression and economic extraction as low as possible, and tried to cooperate with the elite and government officials in the country. There was also a realistic reason behind this: the NSB offered insufficient candidates and had no great popular support. The German market went open and Dutch companies benefited greatly from export to Germany, even if this might be seen as collaboration in case of goods which might be used for German war efforts. In any case, despite the British victory in the Battle of Britain, many considered a German victory a realistic possibility and it would therefore be wise to side with the winner. As a result, and due to the ban on other political parties, the NSB grew rapidly. Although gasoline pumps were already sealed in 1940, the occupation seemed tolerable.

This rosy picture ended with Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 and the subsequent German defeats at Moscow and Stalingrad. Germany was now fighting a mighty enemy in the East, and in order to defeat it, occupied territory had to make its contribution. Economic extraction increased, production was limited mostly to sectors relevant for the war effort as it was simply impossible to produce guns and butter. Repression increased, especially against the Jewish population.

After the Allied invasion of June 1944, due to the railroad strike and the frontline running through the Netherlands, the Randstad was cut off from food and fuel. This resulted in acute need and starvation: the Hongerwinter. The German authorities lost more and more control over the situation as the population tried to keep what little they had away from German confiscations and were less inclined to cooperate now that it was clear that Germany would lose the war. Fanatical Nazis prepared to make a last stand against the Allied troops, followed Berlin's Nerobefehl and destroyed goods and property (battle for Groningen, destructions of the Amsterdam and Rotterdam ports, inundations). Others tried to mediate the situation. Eventually, in April and May 1945, the Netherlands was liberated by the Canadian troops.


The Luftwaffe was especially interested in the Netherlands, as the country was designated to become the main area for the air force bases from which to attack the United Kingdom. The Germans started construction of 10 so-called Fliegerhorst, major military airports, on the day after the formal Dutch surrender, 15 May 1940. Each of these was intended to have at least 2 or 3 hard surface runways, a dedicated railway connection, major built-up and heated repair and overhaul facilities, extensive indoor and outdoor storage spaces, and most had housing and facilities for 2000 to 3000 men. Each Fliegerhorst also had an auxiliary and often a decoy airfield, complete with mock-up planes made from plywood. The construction work was performed by Dutch contractors and Dutch workers on a totally voluntary basis. The largest became Deelen Air Base, north of Arnhem (12 former German buildings at Deelen are now national monuments). Adjacent to Deelen, the large central air control bunker for Belgium and the Netherlands, Diogenes, was set up.

Within a year, the attack strategy had to be altered to a defensive operation. The ensuing air war over the Netherlands cost almost 20,000 airmen (Allied and German) their lives and 6,000 planes went down over the country - an average of 3 per day during the five years of the war.

The Netherlands turned into the first line of western air defense for Germany and its industrial heartland of the Ruhrgebiet, complete with extensive flak, sound detection installations and later radar. The first German night-hunter squadron started its operations from the Netherlands.

Some 30,000 Luftwaffe men and women were involved in the Netherlands throughout the war.[24]

Forced labour and resistance

The Arbeitseinsatz—the drafting of civilians for forced labour—was imposed on the Netherlands. This obliged every man between 18 and 45 to work in German factories, which were bombed regularly by the western Allies. Those who refused were forced into hiding. As food and many other goods were taken out of the Netherlands, rationing increased (with ration books). At times, the resistance would raid distribution centres to obtain ration cards to be distributed to those in hiding.

For the resistance to succeed, it was sometimes necessary for its members to feign collaboration with the Germans. After the war, this led to difficulties for those who pretended to collaborate when they could not prove they had been in the resistance — something that was difficult because it was in the nature of the job to keep it a secret.

Atlantic Wall

The Atlantic Wall, a gigantic coastal defense line built by the Germans along the entire European coast from southwestern France to Denmark and Norway, included the coastline of the Netherlands. Some towns, such as Scheveningen, were evacuated because of this. In The Hague alone, 3,200 houses were demolished and 2,594 were dismantled. 20,000 houses were cleared, and 65,000 people were forced to move. The Arbeitseinsatz also included forcing the Dutch to work on these projects, but a form of passive resistance took place here with people working slowly or poorly.


Shortly after it was established, the military regime began to persecute the Jews of the Netherlands. In 1940, there were no deportations and only small measures were taken against the Jews. In February 1941, the Nazis deported a small group of Dutch Jews to Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. The Dutch reacted with the February strike, a nationwide protest against the deportations, unique in the history of Nazi-occupied Europe. Although the strike did not accomplish much—its leaders were executed—it was an initial setback for Seyss-Inquart. He had intended both to deport the Jews and to win the Dutch over to the Nazi cause.[25]

Before the February strike, the Nazis had installed a Jewish Council (Dutch: Joodse Raad). This was a board of Jews, headed by Professor David Cohen and Abraham Asscher. Independent Jewish organizations, such as the Committee for Jewish Refugees — founded by Asscher and Cohen in 1933 — were closed.[26] The Jewish Council ultimately served as an instrument for organising the identification and deportation of Jews more efficiently; the Jews on the council were told and convinced they were helping the Jews.[27]

In May 1942, Jews were ordered to wear the Star of David badges. Around the same time the Catholic Church in the Netherlands publicly condemned the government's action in a letter read at all Sunday parish services. Thereafter, the Nazi government treated the Dutch more harshly: notable Socialists were imprisoned. Later in the war, Catholic priests, including Titus Brandsma, were deported to concentration camps.[27]

In 1942, the Germans established a transit camp (Durchgangslager) at Westerbork. It converted the pre-war camp opened by the Committee for Jewish Refugees. Concentration camps were built at Vught and Amersfoort as well. Eventually, with the assistance of Dutch police and civil service, the majority of the Dutch Jews were deported to concentration camps.[28]

Germany was particularly effective in deporting and killing Jews during its occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. Of the 140,000 Jews in 1941, inclusive both of Dutch Jews and the refugees ensnared by the German invasion of 1940, about 38,000 survived at war's end in 1945. The survival rate of 27% is much lower than in neighboring Belgium, where 60% of Jews survived. It is also lower than in France, where 75% survived.[29]

Historians have offered several hypotheses about why the survival rate was much lower in the Netherlands than in the other western European countries; including the possibility that the German occupiers in the Netherlands were particularly vigorous in comparison to other occupied countries. The Netherlands included religion in its national records, which reduced the opportunity for Jews to mask their ethnic and religious identity. How much did the cooperation of the Dutch authorities and the Dutch people contribute? Did the absence of forests in the Netherlands deprive the Jews of hiding places? Marnix Croes and Peter Tammes have examined these hypotheses by looking at the variations in survival between the different regions of the Netherlands. They conclude that most of these hypotheses do not explain the data. They suggest that a more likely explanation was the varying "ferocity" with which the Germans and their Dutch collaborators hunted Jews in hiding in the different regions.[29] In 2002, Ad Van Liempt published Kopgeld: Nederlandse premiejagers op zoek naar joden, 1943 (Bounty: Dutch bounty hunters in search of Jews, 1943). It was published in English as Hitler's Bounty Hunters: The Betrayal of the Jews (2005). He had found in newly declassified records that the Germans paid a bounty to police and other collaborators, as in the Colonnie Henneicke group, for tracking down Jews.[30]

A 2018 publication, De 102.000 namen, lists the 102,000 known victims of the persecution of Jewish, Sinti, and Roma people from the Netherlands; the book is published by Boom, Amsterdam, under the auspices of the Westerbork Remembrance Center.[31]


Not all Dutch offered active or passive resistance against the German occupation. Some Dutch men and women chose or were forced to collaborate with the German regime or joined the German armed forces (which usually would mean being placed in the Waffen-SS). Others, like members of the Henneicke Column, were actively involved in capturing hiding Jews for a price and delivering them to the German occupiers. It is estimated that the Henneicke Column captured around 8,000-9,000 Dutch Jews who were ultimately sent to their death in the German death camps.

The National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands was the only legal political party in the Netherlands from 1941 and was actively involved in collaboration with the German occupiers. In 1941, when Germany still seemed certain to win the war, about three percent of the adult male population belonged to the NSB.

After World War II broke out, the NSB sympathized with the Germans, but nevertheless advocated strict neutrality for the Netherlands. In May 1940, after the German invasion, 10,000 NSB members and sympathizers were put in custody by the Dutch government. Soon after the Dutch defeat, on 14 May 1940, they were set free by German troops. In June 1940, NSB leader Anton Mussert held a speech in Lunteren in which he called for the Dutch to embrace the Germans and renounce the Dutch Monarchy, which had fled to London.

In 1940, the German regime had outlawed all socialist and communist parties; in 1941, it forbade all parties, except for the NSB. The NSB openly collaborated with the occupation forces. Its membership grew to about 100,000. The newcomers (meikevers) were shunned by many existing members, who accused them of opportunist behavior. The NSB played an important role in lower government and civil service; every new mayor appointed by the German occupation government was a member of the NSB. However, for most higher functions, the Germans preferred to leave the existing elite in place, knowing that the NSB neither offered enough suitable candidates nor enjoyed enough popular support.

After the German signing of surrender on 6 May 1945, the NSB was outlawed. Mussert was arrested the following day. Many of the members of the NSB were arrested, but few were convicted; those who were included Mussert, who was executed on 7 May 1946. There were no attempts to continue the organization illegally.

In September 1940, the Nederlandsche SS was formed as "Afdeling XI" (Department XI) of the NSB. It was the equivalent to the Allgemeine SS in Germany. In November 1942 its name was changed in Germaansche SS in Nederland. The Nederlandsche SS was primarily a political formation but also served as manpower reservoir for the Waffen-SS.

Between 20,000 and 25,000 Dutchmen volunteered to serve in the Heer and the Waffen-SS. The most notable formations were the 4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Nederland which saw action exclusively on the Eastern Front and the SS Volunteer Grenadier Brigade Landstorm Nederland which fought in Belgium and the Netherlands.[32]

The Nederland brigade participated in fighting on the Eastern Front during the Battle of Narva, with several soldiers receiving the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, Nazi Germany's highest award for bravery.

Another form of corruption was providing goods and services essential to the German war efforts. Especially in 1940 and 1941, when a German victory was still a possibility, Dutch companies were willing to provide such goods to the greedily purchasing Germans. Strategic supplies fell in German hands, and in May 1940 German officers placed their first orders with Dutch shipyards. This cooperation with the German industry was facilitated by the fact that due to the occupation the German market 'opened' and due to facilitating behavior from the side of the (party pro-German) elite. Many directors justified their behavior with the argument that otherwise the Germans would have closed down their company or would have replaced them with NSB members - in this way they could still exercise some, albeit limited, influence. After the war, no heavy sentences were dealt to high officials and company directors.

Dutch resistance

The Dutch resistance to the Nazi occupation during World War II developed relatively slowly, but its counter-intelligence, domestic sabotage, and communications networks provided key support to Allied forces beginning in 1944 and through the liberation of the country. Discovery by the Germans of involvement in the resistance meant an immediate death sentence.

The country's terrain, lack of wilderness and dense population made it difficult to conceal any illicit activities, and it was bordered by German-controlled territory, offering no escape route, except by sea. Resistance in the Netherlands took the form of small-scale, decentralized cells engaged in independent activities. The Communist Party of the Netherlands, however, organized resistance from the start of the war. So did the circle of liberal democratic resisters who were linked through Professor Dr. Willem or Wim Schermerhorn to the Dutch government-in-exile in London, the LKP ("Nationale Knokploeg", or National Force Units, literal translation "Brawl Crew"). This was one of the largest resistance groups, numbering around 550 active participants; it was also heavily targeted by Nazi intelligence for destruction due to its links with the United Kingdom. Some small groups had absolutely no links to others. These groups produced forged ration cards and counterfeit money, collected intelligence, published underground newspapers, sabotaged phone lines and railways, prepared maps, and distributed food and goods. After 1942 the National Organisation (LO) and National Force Units (LKP) organized national coordination. Some contact was established with the government in London. After D-day the existing national organizations, the LKP, the OD and the Council of Resistance merged into the internal forces under the command of Prince Bernhard.[33]

One of the riskiest activities was hiding and sheltering refugees and enemies of the Nazi regime, Jewish families like the family of Anne Frank, underground operatives, draft-age Dutch, and others. Collectively these people were known as onderduikers ('under-divers'). Later in the war, this system of people-hiding was also used to protect downed Allied airmen. Reportedly, resistance doctors in Heerlen concealed an entire hospital floor from German troops.[34]

In February 1943, a Dutch resistance cell rang the doorbell of the former head of the Dutch general staff and now collaborating Lieutenant general Hendrik Seyffardt in the Hague. Seyffardt commanded the campaign to recruit Dutch volunteers for the Waffen-SS and the German war effort on the Eastern Front. After he answered and identified himself, he was shot twice and died the following day. This assassination of the high-level official triggered a harsh reprisal from SS General Hanns Albin Rauter, who ordered the killing of 50 Dutch hostages and a series of raids on Dutch universities. On October 1 and 2, 1944, the Dutch resistance attacked German troops near the village of Putten, which resulted in war crimes on behalf of the occupying Germans. After the attack, part of the town was destroyed, and seven people were shot in the Putten raid. The entire male population of Putten was deported and most were subjected to forced labour; 48 out of 552 survived the camps. The Dutch resistance attacked Rauter's car on March 6, 1945, unaware of the identity of its occupant, which in turn led to the killings at Woeste Hoeve, where 116 men were rounded up and executed at the site of the ambush and another 147 Gestapo prisoners executed elsewhere.[35]

Dutch government in exile

Several days before the surrender, Queen Wilhelmina, her family, and the Dutch government left the country for the United Kingdom. Shortly after the German victory, the Dutch government, led by Prime Minister Dirk Jan de Geer, was invited by the Germans to return to the country and form a pro-German puppet government, as the Vichy government had agreed to do in France. De Geer wanted to accept this invitation but the Queen did not and dismissed De Geer in favour of Pieter Gerbrandy.

Dutch East Indies and the war in the Far East

On 8 December 1941, the Netherlands declared war on the Japanese Empire.[36] On 10 January 1942 the Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

Dutch naval ships joined forces with the Allies to form the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) Fleet, commanded by Dutch rear admiral Karel Doorman. On February 27–28, 1942, admiral Doorman was ordered to take the offensive against the Imperial Japanese Navy. His objections on the matter were overruled. The ABDA fleet finally encountered the Japanese surface fleet at the Battle of the Java Sea, at which Doorman gave the order to engage. During the ensuing battle the allied fleet suffered heavy losses. The Dutch cruisers Java and De Ruyter were lost, together with the destroyer Kortenaer. The other allied cruisers, the Australian Perth, the British Exeter, and the American Houston, tried to disengage but they were spotted by the Japanese in the following days and eventually all were destroyed. Numerous ABDA destroyers were also lost. According to legend, admiral Doorman's attack order was Ik val aan, volg mij! ("I am attacking, follow me!"); in reality, the order was "All ships follow me."

After Japanese troops had landed on Java and the KNIL had been unsuccessful in stopping their advance (due to the Japanese ability to occupy a relatively unguarded airstrip) the Dutch forces on Java surrendered on 1 March 1942. Some 42,000 Dutch soldiers were taken prisoner and interned in labor camps, though some were executed on the spot. Later all Dutch civilians (some 100,000 in total), were arrested and interned in camps, and some were deported to Japan or sent to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. During the Japanese occupation between 4 and 10 million Javanese were forced to work for the Japanese war effort. Some 270,000 Javanese were taken to other parts of Southeast Asia; only 52,000 of those survived.

A Dutch government study described how the Japanese military recruited women as prostitutes by force in the Dutch East Indies.[37] It concluded that among the 200 to 300 European women working in Japanese military brothels, "some sixty five were most certainly forced into prostitution."[38] Others, faced with starvation in the refugee camps, agreed to offers of food and payment for work, the nature of which was not completely revealed to them.[39][40][41][42][43]

The Dutch submarines escaped and resumed hostilities with the Allies from bases in Australia such as Fremantle. As a part of the Allied forces, they were on the hunt for Japanese tankers on their way to Japan and the movement of Japanese troops and weapons to other sites of battle (including New Guinea). Because of the significant number of Dutch submarines active in this theater of the war, the Dutch were named the "Fourth Ally" in the theatre — along with the Australians, Americans, and New Zealanders.

Many Dutch Army and Navy airmen escaped and, with airplanes provided by the U.S., formed the Royal Australian Air Force's Nos. 18 and 120 (Netherlands East Indies) Squadrons, equipped with B-25 Mitchell bombers and P-40 Kittyhawk fighters, respectively. No. 18 Squadron conducted bombing raids from Australia to the Dutch East Indies, and both squadrons eventually also participated in their recapture.

Gradually control of the Netherlands East Indies was wrested away from the Japanese. The largest Allied invasion of this theater took place in July 1945 with Australian landings on the island of Borneo, to seize the strategic oil-fields from the now cut-off Japanese forces. At that time the Japanese had already begun independence negotiations with Indonesian nationalists such as Sukarno, and Indonesian forces had taken control of sizable portions of Sumatra and Java. Following the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945, Indonesian nationalists led by Sukarno declared their country's independence and a four year armed and diplomatic struggle between the Netherlands and Indonesian republicans began.

Dutch civilians, who suffered greatly during their internment, finally returned home to a land that had suffered greatly as well.[44]

The final year

After the Allied landing in Normandy in June 1944, the western Allies rapidly advanced in the direction of the Dutch border. Tuesday 5 September is known as Dolle dinsdag ("mad Tuesday") — the Dutch began celebrating, believing they were close to liberation. In September, the Allies launched Operation Market Garden, an attempt to advance from the Dutch-Belgian border across the rivers Meuse, Waal and Rhine into the north of the Netherlands and Germany. However, the Allied forces did not reach this objective because they could not capture the Rhine bridge at the Battle of Arnhem. During Market Garden, substantial regions to the south were liberated, including Nijmegen and Eindhoven.

Parts of the southern Netherlands were not liberated by Operation Market Garden, which had established a narrow salient between Eindhoven and Nijmegen. In the east of North Brabant and in Limburg, British and American forces in Operation Aintree managed to defeat the remaining German forces west of the Meuse between late September and early December 1944, destroying the German bridgehead between the Meuse and the Peel marshes. During this offensive the only tank battle ever fought on Dutch soil took place at Overloon.

At the same time, the Allies also advanced into the province of Zeeland. At the start of October 1944, the Germans still occupied Walcheren and dominated the Scheldt estuary and its approaches to the port of Antwerp. The crushing need for a large supply port forced the Battle of the Scheldt in which First Canadian Army fought on both sides of the estuary during the month to clear the waterways. Large battles were fought to clear the Breskens Pocket, Woensdrecht and the Zuid-Beveland Peninsula of German forces, primarily "stomach" units of the Wehrmacht as well as German paratroopers of Battle Group Chill. German units composed of convalescents and the medically unfit were named for their ailment; thus, "stomach" units for soldiers with ulcers.[45]

By 31 October, resistance south of the Scheldt had collapsed, and the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division, British 52nd (Lowland) Division and 4th Special Service Brigade all made attacks on Walcheren Island. Strong German defenses made a landing very difficult, and the Allies responded by bombing the dikes of Walcheren at Westkapelle, Vlissingen and Veere to flood the island. Though the Allies had warned residents with pamphlets, 180 inhabitants of Westkappelle died. The coastal guns on Walcheren were silenced in the opening days of November and the Scheldt battle declared over; no German forces remained intact along the 64 mi (103 km) path to Antwerp.

Following the offensive on the Scheldt, Operation Pheasant was launched in conjunction to liberate North Brabant. The offensive after some resistance liberated most of region; the cities of Tilburg, s-Hertogenbosch, Willemstad and Roosendaal were liberated by British forces. Bergen Op Zoom was taken by the Canadians and the Polish 1st Armoured Division led by General Maczek liberated the city of Breda without any civilian casualties on 29 October 1944. The operation as a whole also broke the German positions which had defended the region along its canals and rivers.

The Dutch government had not wanted to use the old water line when the Germans had invaded in 1940. It was still possible to create an island out of the Holland region by destroying dikes and flooding the polders, but this island contained the main cities. The Dutch government had decided then that there were too many people to keep alive to justify the flooding. However, Hitler ordered that Fortress Holland (German: Festung Holland) be held at any price. Much of the northern Netherlands remained in German hands until the Rhine crossings in late March 1945.

Hunger Winter

The winter of 1944–1945 was very harsh, which led to "hunger journeys" and many cases of starvation (about 30,000 casualties), exhaustion, cold and disease. This winter is known as the Hongerwinter (literally, "hunger winter") or the Dutch famine of 1944. In response to a general railway strike ordered by the Dutch government-in-exile in expectation of a general German collapse near the end of 1944, the Germans cut off all food and fuel shipments to the western provinces in which 4.5 million people lived. Severe malnutrition was common and 18,000 people starved to death. Relief came at the beginning of May 1945.[46]


After crossing the Rhine at Wesel and Rees, Canadian, British and Polish forces entered the Netherlands from the east, liberating the eastern and northern provinces. The western provinces, where the situation was worst, however, had to wait until the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands was negotiated on the eve of 5 May 1945 (three days before the general capitulation of Germany), in the Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen. Previously the Swedish Red Cross had been allowed to provide relief efforts, and Allied forces were allowed to airdrop food over the German-occupied territories in Operation Manna.[47]

On the island of Texel, nearly 800 men of the Georgian Legion, serving in the German army as Osttruppen, rebelled on 5 April 1945. Their rebellion was crushed by the German army after two weeks of battle. 565 Georgians, 120 inhabitants of Texel, and 800 Germans died. The 228 surviving Georgians were forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union when the war ended.

After being liberated, Dutch citizens began taking the law into their own hands, as had been done in other liberated countries, such as France. Collaborators and Dutch women who had had relationships with men of the German occupying force, called "Moffenmeiden" were abused and humiliated in public, usually by having their heads shaved and painted orange.


By the end of the war, 205,901 Dutch men and women had died of war-related causes. The Netherlands had the highest per capita death rate of all Nazi-occupied countries in Western Europe (2.36%).[48] Over half (107,000) were Holocaust victims, deported and murdered Jews. There were also many thousands of non-Dutch Jews in the total, who had fled to the Netherlands from other countries, seeking safety, the most famous being Anne Frank. Another 30,000 died in the Dutch East Indies, either while fighting the Japanese or in camps as Japanese POWs. Dutch civilians were also held in these camps.[49]

After the war

After the war, some accused of collaborating with the Germans were lynched or otherwise punished without trial. Men who had fought with the Germans in the Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS were used to clear minefields and suffered losses accordingly. Others were sentenced by courts for treason. Some were proven to have been wrongly arrested and were cleared of charges, sometimes after being held in custody for a long period of time.

The Dutch government initially developed plans to annex a sizeable portion of Germany (Bakker-Schut Plan), either with or without its German population — which in the latter case would have to be "Dutchified" — doubling the land area of the Netherlands. This plan was dropped after an Allied refusal (although two small villages were added to the Netherlands in 1949 and returned in 1963). One successfully-implemented plan was Black Tulip, the deportation of all holders of German passports from the Netherlands, resulting in several thousand German deportations.

The bank balances of Dutch Jews who were killed are still the subject of legal proceedings, more than 70 years after the end of the war.

The end of the war also meant the final loss of the Dutch East Indies. Following the surrender of the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies, Indonesian nationalists fought a four-year war of independence against Dutch and initially British Commonwealth forces, eventually leading to the Dutch recognition of the independence of Indonesia. Many Dutch and Indonesians emigrated or returned to the Netherlands at this time.

World War II left many lasting effects on Dutch society. On 4 May the Dutch commemorate those who died during the war. Among the living, there are many who still bear the emotional scars of the war, both first and second generation. In 2000, the government was still granting 24,000 people an annual compensatory payment (although this also includes victims from later wars, such as the Korean War).

In 2017, the Dutch Red Cross offered its “deep apologies” for its failure to act to protect Jews, Sinti and Roma, and political prisoners during the war, following the publication of a study that it had commissioned from the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies. [50][51]

See also

Part of a series on the
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  48. See World War II casualties
  49. See World War II casualties#endnote Indonesia
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Further reading

  • Bijvoet, Tom and Van Arragon Hutten, Anne. The Dutch in Wartime, Survivors Remember (Mokeham Publishing, Oakville, Ontario 2011-2017) The Dutch in Wartime
  • Croes, Marnix (Winter 2006). "The Holocaust in the Netherlands and the Rate of Jewish Survival'" (PDF). Holocaust and Genocides Studies. Research and Documentation Center of the Netherlands Ministry of Justice. 20 (3): 474–499. doi:10.1093/hgs/dcl022.
  • Dewulf, Jeroen. Spirit of Resistance: Dutch Clandestine Literature during the Nazi Occupation (Rochester NY: Camden House 2010)
  • Diederichs, Monika. "Stigma and Silence: Dutch Women, German Soldiers and their children", in Kjersti Ericsson and Eva Simonsen, eds. Children of World War II: The Hidden Enemy Legacy (Oxford U.P. 2005), 151–64.
  • Foot, Michael, ed. Holland at war against Hitler: Anglo-Dutch relations 1940-1945 (1990) excerpt and text search
  • Foray, Jennifer L. "The 'Clean Wehrmacht' in the German-occupied Netherlands, 1940-5," Journal of Contemporary History 2010 45:768-787 doi:10.1177/0022009410375178
  • Friedhoff, Herman. Requiem for the Resistance: The Civilian Struggle Against Nazism in Holland and Germany (1989)
  • Goddard, Lance. Canada and the liberation of the Netherlands, May 1945 (2005)
  • Hirschfeld, Gerhard. Nazi Rule and Dutch Collaboration: The Netherlands under German Occupation 1940–1945 (Oxford U.P., 1998)
  • Hirschfeld, Gerhard. "Collaboration and Attentism in the Netherlands 1940–41," Journal of Contemporary History (1981) 16#3 pp 467–486. Focus on the "Netherlands Union" active in 1940–41 in JSTOR
  • Hitchcock, William I. The Bitter Road to Freedom: The Human Cost of Allied Victory in World War II Europe (2009) ch 3 is "Hunger: The Netherlands and the Politics of Food," pp 98–129
  • Maas, Walter B. The Netherlands at war: 1940–1945 (1970)
  • Mark, Chris (1997). Schepen van de Koninklijke Marine in W.O. II. Alkmaar: De Alk b.v. ISBN 9789060135228.
  • Moore, Bob. " Occupation, Collaboration and Resistance: Some Recent Publications on the Netherlands During the Second World War," European History Quarterly (1991) 211 pp 109–118. Online at Sage
  • Sellin, Thorsten, ed. "The Netherlands during German Occupation," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol. 245, May, 1946 pp i to 180 in JSTOR, 18 essays by experts; focus on home front economics, society, Resistance, Jews
  • van der Zee, Henri A. The hunger winter: occupied Holland, 1944–1945 (U of Nebraska Press, 1998) excerpt and text search
  • Warmbrunn, Werner. The Dutch under German Occupation 1940–1945 (Stanford U.P. 1963)
  • Zuehlke, Mark. On to Victory: The Canadian Liberation of the Netherlands, March 23 - May 5, 1945 (D & M Publishers, 2010.)
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