I was watching the 1969 classic movie 'Battle of Britain' the other day and noted numerous scenes where the British were very concerned about a German invasion; "what are they waiting for?" was a quote which stuck in my mind.

In Führer-Directive Number 6 (October 1939) Hitler calls for the invasion of the Low Countries as soon as possible although there was no direct mention of an invasion of France immediately afterwards. Indeed in this document it seems that a long war in the west was assumed.

History records that the resounding success stunned everyone, including Germany. This victory also led to the success of Fall Rot (the Fall of France) in an overall timeline of six weeks. I did a bit of research on Fall Gelb (the Manstein Plan) online but was wondering, just what kind of timetable did the German planners expect?

  • 1
    Germans often didn't plan too much in advance, they adjusted their plans during the battle. As Helmuth van Moltke said "No plan survives first contact with the enemy". – Santiago Mar 15 '19 at 17:21
  • Yes, plans change to fit the situation. However, the Germans must have had some sense of what they wanted to accomplish within some timeframe. – Matt Balent Mar 19 '19 at 19:41

I learned in school the Germans planned to conquer The Netherlands within 24 hrs. They were unpleasantly surprised it took them 5 days to do it.

The initial plan was to drop para's on key points, such as the Meuse bridges in Rotterdam and around The Hague. There they were to capture the government and the royal family, and force a surrender. The main assaults were with infantry in the north, through Groningen and Frisia (Friesland) to capture the strategic Afsluitdijk (Enclosure Dike), and in the center towards the Grebbeline.

The bridges in Rotterdam were captured, but the assault on The Hague failed. Most Fallschirmjaegers there were captured. The German assault in the north was stopped near Kornwerderzand. The fortress guarded the Afsluitdijk.

The Dutch army's main line of resistance was the Grebbelinie. This line wasn't ready (what was ready in the Dutch army?) and taken after heavy resistance. Tthe Dutch army tried to retreat, but this retreat turned into a rout.

For this reason general Reijnders resigned his command before the war in 1939. He never thought the Grebbeline could be held. He was replaced with general Winkelman who was more compliant with the government's wishes to defend an indefensible position.

With the Dutch army in retreat, the German gave an ultimatum: surrender now, or we bomb Rotterdam to smithereens. The Dutch government accepted to surrender, but the Germans still bombed Rotterdam.

The surrender did not include the province of Zeeland, which surrendered independently on 18 mei 1940. (For those of you who wonder why New Zealand is named New Zealand, this is the Zeeland it is named after.)

I'd like to add that had the parachute assault succeeded it's almost certain the Dutch government would have surrendered, within the assigned 24 hrs.

Now we look at the raid on Eben-Emael as the most daring raid in the beginning of WW2. Had the attack on The Hague succeeded, the Eben-Emael raid would be small side note in history.

  • 3
    yes, the Grebbe was a massacre. My grandfather served in the Dutch army on the Grebbe, out of his company of some 200 infantry only about 10 survived (he was one of them). Pre-WW1 rifles against tanks and modern aircraft, plus seriously lacking fortifications, and still they held out for several days against a numerically superior enemy. – jwenting Mar 22 '19 at 9:38
  • @jwenting It was even worse. The Germans send their not so very best units. Mainly infantry with some towed artillery. Almost no armor. Even with the worst of the Germany army they expected to win within 24 hrs. (I know, the LAH was there, but that was an exception.) – Jos Mar 22 '19 at 13:49

I gave a look to Halder's diary, and I did not find any reference to military objetives beyond the line of Antwerp, Namur and Sedan. Most estimations declare that the Meuse would be reachable between days 4 and 10.
There are not other references of time before may 10 of 1940 (day of the attack).

  • 1
    Given that the Meuse forms the border between Germany and France, I'd guess the Germans didn't want to spend 10 days reaching it :) – jwenting Mar 22 '19 at 9:39
  • Given that Halder didn't really think much of Manstein's plan it is not surprising he didn't say much in his diary. – Matt Balent Mar 22 '19 at 12:11
  • @jwenting The Meuse between Sedan (in France) and Namur (in Belgium). Which is 100km from the border. – Santiago Mar 22 '19 at 13:45
  • You should have qualified where they planned to reach the Meuse, then :) – jwenting Mar 25 '19 at 4:39

The stock answer is "As soon as possible." A more nuanced answer is that it became a "secondary" priority after the Mechelen Incident, in which a German plane with the original Fall Gelb plans crash landed in Belgium, meaning that the plans were captured by the Allies.

As a result, Manstein and Co. moved the focus of the invasion "south" to the Ardennes, where 70% of Germany's armor and the crack infantry were concentrated. The northern thrust had little armor and second line troops, meaning that it was now a much lower priority.

In fact, one variant of the French incursion into Belgium had the French seventh army going all the way to the Netherlands. That would have slowed down the German occupation of the Netherlands but left the Allies even more vulnerable to the "left hook" from the Ardennes than they actually were.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.