Monday, January 23, 2023

Dutch Army Part 3 - The Black Devils

The Black Devils

Established in 1665 Dutch Marines were the only volunteer regular unit in the Dutch ground forces. On the tenth of May the Marine Regiment was preparing to depart from Rotterdam to the Dutch East Indies and join the other marine units already posted there. About 650 marines were in the barracks in Rotterdam when the invasion began with a further 200 as part of the training and recruit centre. 

 They became famous for their action during the invasion when the marine regiment in Rotterdam consisting of 100 marines, some artillery, Armoured cars and Naval personnel defended the Willemsbrug traffic bridge across the Nieuwe Maas river and prevented the link up for four days against the German Fallschirmjager who had tried to take the bridges by surprise on the 10th of May. 

The name the black devils was thought to be christened by Oberstleutnant Von Choltitz “ die schwarzen Teufel ” when the 6 marines who were still alive defending the Willemsbrug bridge surrendered. 

I have decided to build a complete battalion for the regiment, structured at full strength like a infantry regiment with support elements, a 81mm mortar, MG section, AT rifle and RHQ and recon coy. The miniatures are all SHQ. 

Regimental Head Quarters 

Co plus 7, AT rifle, reconnaissance platoon cycles. 

RHQ command element, radio trailer and car to be added

Reece platoon

AT rifle platoon 

Battalion Head Qauters

BHQ OC plus 4

1st company
10 figures, Lewis lmg

2nd Company 
10 figs Lewis lmg 

3rd Company 
10 figs Lewis lmg

Support Heavy weapons

81mm mortar 4 crew

MMG 3 crew

The story continues …..

Introduction - a recapitulation of the action

The major events all concentrated in Rotterdam around the Nieuwe Maas, especially the Noordereiland [the Island in the river between south and north Rotterdam]. This island was connected to the mainland by means of a traffic and a railway bridge. These bridges had been the prime target of the German fallschirmjager air landed party in the morning of the 10th. The invaders had soon been driven off the bridges, but they had fortified themselves in the direct vicinity.

After the German airbornes and airlanding troops landed at the Feyenoord [Football Club] stadium and at Waalhaven, reinforcements had been sent to their company at the Willemsbrug (traffic bridge). These reinforcements were not able to cross or hold the bridges, but they had been able to concentrate all their troops on the Noordereiland. About 600 men - commanded by Oberstleutnant Von Choltitz  - equipped with a two 37mm AT guns, heavy machineguns and mortars.

At the northern head a small but determined German squad had occupied a high building [insurance company building]. The group comprised the last standing airbornes and some airlanding men. They were below platoon size. By the fact that the Germans occupied buildings on both the north and south end of the traffic bridge they totally controlled the bridge, although they were unable to cross it due to Dutch machine gun positions that covered both the bridge and its approaches. The rest of the south end of town had been German territory since the evening of the 10th.

Dutch attempts to destroy the bridges

When the bridges at Moerdijk and Zwijndrecht / Dordrecht had been definitely lost to the Germans and the German 9th Tank Division had reached the Island of Ysselmonde, all Dutch cards were set on the destruction of both main bridges crossing the Nieuwe Maas in Rotterdam. In order to be able to destroy these bridges it was imperative to clear the German occupation of the building at the northern head of the bridges. That was easier said than done. The Dutch Troops had already executed numerous endeavours to drive the Germans off from the northern land head, but had failed time and time again.

In the evening of the 12th the commander-in-chief of the troops in Rotterdam, Colonel Scharroo, received orders from the GHQ to put all his efforts in clearing the German resistance at the northern land head and eventually destroy the bridges. At 0300 hours the commander of the local marines, Colonel Von Frijtag Drabbe, was ordered to defeat any German occupation at the north end and afterwards occupy the northern bridge approach in order to secure the area. He formed a company [a little over 100 men] of his most experienced (professional) marines for the main task. Another company of navy auxiliary troops, also with a strength of about 100 men, was provided as back-up. These two companies would be supported by two batteries of modern 10,5 cm howitzers and two armoured cars. Also a company of six 81mmmortars was attached to the taskforce. 

As the marines advanced towards the Jan Kuitenbrug [near the German occupied building on the northend] they got soon suppressed by fierce German machine gun fire from the south. It soon became clear that crossing the bridge would not be feasible as long as the assaulting units would not be closely supported by artillery or armoured cars.

The artillery had not fired a single round until that point though, but after a brief contact with the artillery battalion commander a number of volleys was fired. All rounds fell short or over and after corrections failed to improve the accuracy, the artillery ceased fire. Meanwhile the two DAF 39 armoured cars [with 37mm guns] had arrived and tried to approach the bridge. The Germans responded to their appearance with some well aimed anti-tank fire, crippling one of the cars. Although the damaged car was able to retreat, it could no longer contribute to the assault. The second car then stayed at a save distance and as such wasn't able to challenge the Germans in the Insurance Building on the other side of the Jan Kuitenbrug. Since also the commander of the mortar company convinced the Colonel that his mortars would not be able to lay effective fire on the high building, the assault on this eastern side of the bridgehead was cancelled. Again a show of little determination and a lack of improvisation.

From the west a full platoon of marines advanced along the Nieuwe Maas and reached the northern land head without any German challenge. The latter had not spotted the cautiously stalking Dutch yet. Unfortunately these marines had not been made aware of the German occupation of the Isurance Building. They considered the northend free of enemy! When the section carefully moved forward at the southern bridge ramp, they did not realise that they exposed their rear to the German occupation of the Insurance Building. Disaster struck when the first men had almost reached the middle section of the bridge. Suddenly the Germans opened fire from both sides and many marines were hit [2 were KIA during the action].

Nevertheless the brave marines immediately returned fire with their carbines and light machineguns. It was impossible however to survive the lethal German fire that cornered them. After a few more marines fell, the remainder retreated. Some were killed whilst creping back, 6 others found shelter underneath the bridge, but were unable to leave this shelter again [until after the large bombardement of the 14th]. The rest of the marines had found shelter under the bridge, at the northern end. They found themselves soon engaged in a fire fight with a small group of Germans also taking shelter nearby. The Germans in the Insurance Building kept on launching suppressive fire at this group too. The group retreated, leaving behind 6 casualties. After this dramatic fight, that took hours of intensive close-combat action, no further offensive action would be developed against the bridge.

Upon the surrender of the 14th, the remaining marines surrendered with the rest of the Dutch troops. 


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