Adolf Hitler rises to power in Germany in 1933. He manages to develop a very strong German army in a short amount of time. Hitler equips this army to invade Austria and Czechoslovakia near the end of the 1930s, making these countries a part of the German Empire. When he invades Poland in September 1939, Great-Britain and France declare war on Hitler. This marks the start of the Second World War.
The invasion of the Netherlands
Hitler manages to invade even more European countries like Denmark and Norway in 1940. The 10th of May marks the day on which the German army attacks the Netherlands. The Dutch army is not strong enough and is forced to surrender after five days. From this moment on the Netherlands is ‘occupied’ by Germany, as are Belgium, Luxemburg, and France. Germany is in control over almost all of West-Europe at this moment. Great-Britain is the only European country that is still fighting against Hitler.
The allied forces and D-day
The United States does not want to fight against Germany with Great-Britain at first. On 7 December 1941, Japan, an ally of Germany, bombs the American military base Pearl Harbor. Only now, the United States declares war against Japan and Germany. Russia also becomes an ally of Great-Britain and the United States. The combination of countries that fight against Germany, Japan, and Italy are called the allied forces. Russia attacks the German Empire from the east and they want the United States and Great-Britain to attack it from the west. This means that Germany would be attacked from two sides. After long conversations and extensive planning, the allied forces decide to invade Normandy (France) on 6 June 1944. The allied forces, which include American, British, Canadian, and French soldiers, defeat 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 is so successful that Paris is already liberated on 25 August 1944. A small group of troops go southwards to liberate the rest of France. The remaining allied troops travel northwards in the direction of the Netherlands and Germany. Brussels and Antwerp are liberated on 3 and 4 September. The soldiers reach the south of the Netherlands only a couple of days later. However, they do not have enough supplies to march on, which is why they temporarily stop in the already liberated south of the Netherlands. The rest of the Netherlands remains occupied.
Only the south of the Netherlands is liberated in the summer is 1944. British Field Marshal Montgomery drafts a plan to liberate the rest of the Netherlands. The operation is code named ‘Market Garden’, which consists of two components. The first component is called ‘’Market’’. During this part of the operation, more than 35.000 airborne troops are 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’, is a codeword for the British land forces. They will move on the ground from Belgium to Arnhem, using the bridges, to aid the airborne troops. If this succeeds, they can easily push on to liberate the rest of the Netherlands and Germany.
The Battle of Arnhem
The Rhine bridge near Arnhem is one of the bridges that needs to be captured in light of the Operation Market Garden. This bridge is located far behind enemy lines. It is the intention that more than 10.000 British and Polish airborne troops keep the Rhine bridge occupied until the land forces arrive. The first planes with airborne troops take off on 17 September 1944. They land in the area located west from Arnhem. Meanwhile, American airborne troops land near Son, Veghel, and Sint Oedenrode to capture the other bridges. The Americans succeed to capture all the bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen after heavy combat. Arnhem is the only obstacle left. The British do not encounter a lot of resistance from the surprised Germans during the first day.
The second day is characterized by heavy resistance from the Germans and the British are backed into a corner. Only 600 British airborne troops reach the Rhine bridge near Arnhem led by Lieutenant Colonel John Frost. They must surrender after four days because the Germans are too strong. The remainder of the British troops are stuck in Oosterbeek, as are the Polish troops near Driel (other side of the Rhine). These troops have nowhere left to go but remain hopeful, because they expect the rest of the land troops to back them up. After nine days of fighting it becomes evident that the land troops will not arrive on time, which forces the remaining allied airborne troops to retreat over the Rhine. They do so in the night of 25-26 September, so they will be noticed by the Germans. The Germans wake up the following morning to find out that the British and Polish troops have left, leaving only the wounded and medical caretakers behind.
Only 600 British parachutists reach the bridge, while the rest of the army is gets stuck in Oosterbeek. British Major General Urquhart picks Hartenstein hotel as the army’s headquarters. This hotel, which is now the museum, is the British retreat base. The area surrounding the Hartenstein hotel is subject to heavy combat because it is closely located to the British headquarters. The British stand their ground and Major General Urquhart keeps leading his troops from Hartenstein. They leave the hotel and retreat over the Rhine only until they have nothing left to fight for. Hartenstein is 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 are forced to leave their homes because of the heavy combat around Arnhem. They are evacuated. The Germans fear that the Dutch citizens are going to aid the allied forces. Citizens take along all their necessary belongings, but are forced to leave a lot of things behind. After all the inhabitants have left, Arnhem has turned into a ghost town. The Germans take all the belongings that are left behind to Germany, because the allied forces have bombed numerous of their cities. They regard this act as a retribution for the damage on their own cities. When the Arnhem citizens return to their homes in May 1945, they find nothing but empty and ruined houses.
The Dutch famine and the liberation
The failure of the Battle of Arnhem causes the Dutch area above the Rhine (West- and North-Holland) to remain occupied until after the winter of 1944. This winter turns out to be a very harsh one, and because of the war there is a serious lack of fuel to warm the houses. It is even worse that there is not enough food for everyone. A lot of people, therefore, roam from village to village every day in a desperate search for food. The sad truth is that 20.000 Dutch citizens die that winter because of the shortages. This period is referred to as ‘The Dutch famine’. The allied forces are not able to beat the Germans until May 1945, when the Germans in the Netherlands also surrender. Peace negotiations take place in ‘De Wereld’ hotel in Wageningen on 5 May. The western and northern parts of the Netherlands are freed at last. The reconstruction of the Netherlands can commence only now.