The Dutch army had only one tank during WWII

Since Germany started to talk vicious language, the Dutch found it wise to mobilize and modernize the army. However, since the neutrality of WOI worked out well for the Dutch, it was chosen to remain neutral this time. No one thought war was a realistic option. Still, it was decided to buy 110 light tanks and 35 medium tanks. The tanks never made it to the Netherlands before the Germans attacked at May 10 1940. There were however some armored cars in the army, so called “Overvalswagens” (Raid cars). These however more not much more than armor plated tractors or armored cars from Sweden, where the factory was owned by the Germans (hence they knew all the weak spots).

So…no tanks were delivered and only a few armored cars…what was there for the Dutch? A Renault FT-17, as displayed below; the only vehicle that could come close to being a Tank in the Dutch army in 1940.

Renault FT-17


The Dutch army prepared for the war, however their mindset, had not progressed much and could be compared to WW1: fortifications and a sitting war were likely, and that’s where the enemy would be brought to a standstill.

In order to prepare, the Dutch made use of their low land. They would inundate a whole line (the Waterline), from the Ijsselmeer (former Zuiderzee) all the way to the big rivers, creating a huge bottleneck to the Randstad (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, The Hague).

In order to prove that this line would be impenetrable, they would exercise with their impressive Renault “Gevechtswagen” (Combat vehicle). The result was devastating…the tank nearly sunk in the water and mud as displayed below:Renault Gevechtswagen

With great peril and effort the tank was salvaged. The picture however was sent to neighboring countries to induce fear: “Look what happens if you come to our country! Our defenses are impenetrable!”. After that the tank was reassigned and kept at an army base, where the engine was taken out; the tank saw no action in May 1940. Further exercises were not needed, since the use of the line was proven. The Dutch had nothing to fear behind the water.

Arrogance is sadly often intertwined with stupidity, so it went for the Dutch. Media footage showed proud soldiers posing at artillery that was from 1894, a bicycle platoon is cycling with high spirits and their uniforms remind of WO1. The Netherlands thought they were ready for war.

So, how did it go for the Waterline? Estimations showed that the line would be able to hold its ground from 4 weeks to 4 months. In reality, it was 3 days. More than 500 Dutch soldiers died, more than 800 Germans bought the farm. The Germans however, skipped the line by dropping paratroopers in the Randstad (in a daring attempt to kidnap the Dutch Queen). Some Dutch high-ranking officer is believed to have said that Paratroopers were “not fair” to use as a form of warfare.

The Dutch signed a surrender treaty not much later, since the Germans threatened to bomb major cities. Even though the treaty was signed already, the bombers were already on the way and the message never reached the planes….Rotterdam was bombed and over 2000 citizens lost their lives.

What can we conclude? The Dutch were very ignorant by thinking that the war would not affect them, then they thought their Waterline would keep the Germans out, but not taking mobile warfare (including airborne attacks) into account. Spirits were high, but they were simply not ready for the highly modernized and mechanized German Wehrmacht. The Netherlands would remain occupied till the 5th of May, 1945.

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