Tomorrow it is exactly 60 years ago that the invasion of Normandy started, June 6th 1944, D-Day. That day some 156,000 troops landed on the beaches of northern Normandy: the Americans on Utah and Omaha, the British and Canadians on Sword, Juno and Gold. Over 4,000 of them would die during the landings, with the US forces on Omaha having an especially hard time, thought he Canadians at Juno having not much of a cakewalk either…
But there were not just British, American and Canadian troops involved in D-Day. Also present were French, Chzech, Polish, Greek, Australian, New Zealand, Norwegian and Dutch troops. Even though the bulk of the invasion force was made up of Britsh, American and Canadian troops, it is important not to forget the contributions of other nations, some of which, like the Polish and Czech had been fighting from the start of World War II, first for their own countries, later for the Allied cause.
Therefore I would like to remember the Dutch contribution here. After the Netherlands were overrun by the Nazis in May 1940, quite a lot of people managed to escape to England. Much of the navy crossed the North Sea once it became clear the Netherlands would surrender, including some ships which were still being built in the great naval ship yards of Rotterdam and Vlissingen. The same held true for much of the Netherland’s merchant navy, whose ships would serve with honour in the various convoys to Russia.The airforce had lost most of its planes during the invasion, but several pilots managed to escape anyway and served in the Dutch squadrons of the Royal Air Force during the rest of the war. Finally many soldiers and civilians alike fled to France and from there to England with the retreating French troops, which had reached the southern Netherlands at the time of the Dutch surrender .
At D-Day, Dutch B-25’s bombarded targets in Normandy, including the headquarters of a German armoured division; eight of them were lost on operations in June 1944. The Dutch gunboats Hr. Ms. Soemba and Hr. Ms. Flores supported the invasion, targeting German positions on the landing beaches; they were valued so much by the British they gave them the nick name “The Terrible Twins”. To counter the threat of German torpedo boats, the dreaded “Schnellbote”, Dutch motor torpedo boats were active, while Dutch minesweepers were making the Normandy coast safe, one of which, the Hr.Ms. Marken was destroyed while doing so on 20th May 1944, sinking with only one survivor. A Dutch cruiser, the Hr. Ms.Sumatra was deliberately sank as a wave breaker for the two artificial harbours the Allies constructed at the Normandy coast. (Some of the caissons built for the construction of those harbours and not needed for them were later used to mend Dutch dykes damaged by Allied bombardement later in the year, as well as after the 1953 flood.) Finally, a large number of Navy and merchant marine people and ships were of course used to transport Allied soldiers and supplies to the beaches.
The international remembrance of D-day is happening today, at which Dutch veterans will also be present. There will also be a Dutch remembrance tomorrow, at Scheveningen, at which Dutch, British and Canadian veterans will be present.
: When the Netherlands surrender on May 15th 1940, this did not include the province of Zeeland, where French troops where still present and fighting the Germans. This led on May 17th to the bombardement of Middelburg, my hometown, whose historic centre was completely destroyed in it. Fortunately, much of it was restored after the war.