Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933. He managed to develop a very strong German army in a short amount of time. Hitler equipped this army to invade Austria and Czechoslovakia near the end of the 1930s, making these countries a part of the German Empire. When he invaded Poland in September 1939, Great-Britain and France declared war on Hitler. This marked the start of the Second World War.
The invasion of the Netherlands
Hitler managed to invade even more European countries like Denmark and Norway in 1940. The 10th of May marks the day on which the German army attacked the Netherlands. The Dutch army was not strong enough and was forced to surrender after five days. From this moment on the Netherlands was ‘occupied’ by Germany, as were Belgium, Luxemburg, and France. Germany was in control over almost all of West-Europe at that moment. Great-Britain was the only European country that was still fighting against Hitler.
The allied forces and D-day
The United States did not want to fight against Germany with Great-Britain at first. On 7 December 1941, Japan, an ally of Germany, bombed the American military base Pearl Harbor. Only now, the United States declared war against Japan and Germany. Russia also became an ally of Great-Britain and the United States. The combination of countries that fought against Germany, Japan, and Italy are always referred to as the allied forces. Russia attacked the German Empire from the east and they wanted the United States and Great-Britain to attack it from the west. This meant that Germany would be attacked from two sides. After long conversations and extensive planning, the allied forces decided to invade Normandy (France) on 6 June 1944. The allied forces, which include American, British, Canadian, and French soldiers, defeated the Germans in Normandy. The attack on Normandy by the allied forces is always referred to as D-day.
March up to the south of the Netherlands
From Normandy onwards the allied forces succeeded in recapturing more and more land from the Germans. The operation was so successful that Paris was already liberated on 25 August 1944. A small group of troops went southwards to liberate the rest of France. The remaining allied troops travelled northwards in the direction of the Netherlands and Germany. Brussels and Antwerp were liberated on 3 and 4 September. The soldiers reached the south of the Netherlands only a couple of days later. However, they did not have enough supplies to march on, which is why they temporarily stopped in the already liberated south of the Netherlands. The rest of the Netherlands remained occupied.
Only the south of the Netherlands was liberated in the summer is 1944. British Field Marshal Montgomery drafted a plan to liberate the rest of the Netherlands. The operation was code named ‘Market Garden’, which consisted of two components. The first component was called ‘’Market’’. During this part of the operation, more than 35.000 airborne troops were dropped near important bridges (crossing the Meuse, the Waal, and the Rhine) between Eindhoven and Arnhem to keep them occupied. The second part of the operation, named ‘Garden’, was a codeword for the British land forces. They moved on land from Belgium to Arnhem, using the bridges, to aid the airborne troops. If this would succeed, they could easily push on to liberate the rest of the Netherlands and Germany.
The Battle of Arnhem
The Rhine bridge near Arnhem was one of the bridges that needed to be captured in light of the Operation Market Garden. This bridge was located far behind enemy lines. It was the intention that more than 10.000 British and Polish airborne troops kept the Rhine bridge occupied until the land forces arrived. The first planes with airborne troops took off on 17 September 1944. They landed in the area located west from Arnhem. Meanwhile, American airborne troops landed near Son, Veghel, and Sint Oedenrode to capture the other bridges. The Americans succeeded to capture all the bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen after heavy combat. Arnhem was the only obstacle left. The British did not encounter a lot of resistance from the surprised Germans during the first day.
The second day was characterized by heavy resistance from the Germans and the British were backed into a corner. Only 600 British airborne troops reached the Rhine bridge near Arnhem led by Lieutenant Colonel John Frost. They had to surrender after four days because the Germans were too strong. The remainder of the British troops were stuck in Oosterbeek, as were the Polish troops near Driel (other side of the Rhine). These troops had nowhere left to go but remained hopeful, because they expected the rest of the land troops to back them up. After nine days of fighting it became evident that the land troops did not arrive on time, which forced the remaining allied airborne troops to retreat over the Rhine. They did so in the night of 25-26 September, so they would not be noticed by the Germans. The Germans woke up the following morning to find out that the British and Polish troops had left, leaving only the wounded and medical caretakers behind.
Only 600 British parachutists reached the bridge, while the rest of the army was stuck in Oosterbeek. British Major General Urquhart picked Hartenstein hotel as the army’s headquarters. This hotel, which is now the museum, was the British retreat base. The area surrounding the Hartenstein hotel was subjected to heavy combat because it was closely located to the British headquarters. The British stood their ground and Major General Urquhart kept leading his troops from Hartenstein. They left the hotel and retreated over the Rhine only until they had nothing left to fight for. Hartenstein was left heavily damaged. Get to know more about the history of villa Hartenstein here.
Arnhem: a ghost town
All the inhabitants of Arnhem and the surrounding areas were forced to leave their homes because of the heavy combat around Arnhem. They were evacuated. The Germans feared that the Dutch citizens were going to aid the allied forces. Citizens took along all their necessary belongings, but were forced to leave a lot of things behind. After all the inhabitants had left, Arnhem had turned into a ghost town. The Germans took all the belongings that were left behind to Germany, because the allied forces had bombed numerous of their cities. They regarded this act as a retribution for the damage on their own cities. When the Arnhem citizens returned to their homes in May 1945, they found nothing but empty and ruined houses.
The Dutch famine and the liberation
The failure of the Battle of Arnhem caused the Dutch area above the Rhine (West- and North-Holland) to remain occupied until after the winter of 1944. This winter turned out to be a very harsh one, and because of the war there was a serious lack of fuel to warm the houses. It is even worse that there was not enough food for everyone. A lot of people, therefore, roamed from village to village every day in a desperate search for food. The sad truth is that 20.000 Dutch citizens died that winter because of the shortages. This period is referred to as ‘The Dutch famine’. The allied forces were not able to beat the Germans until May 1945, when the Germans in the Netherlands also surrendered. Peace negotiations took place in ‘De Wereld’ hotel in Wageningen on 5 May. The western and northern parts of the Netherlands were freed at last. Only now, the reconstruction of the Netherlands could commence.