May 5th Liberation Day
Today it is Liberation Day in the Netherlands. A day the whole country celebrates that we became free again in 1945 after the capitulation of the Third Reich.
In the Netherlands we celebrate that on May 5 Germany capitulated in the western Netherlands. On that date the capitulation supposedly should be signed between the German General John Blaskowitz and the Canadian General Charles Foulkes. This happened in Hotel De Wereld (The World) in Wageningen, in the presence of Prince Bernhard. The agreement was signed on May 6 at the adjacent to Hotel The World placed Auditorium of the then Agricultural College. Prince Bernhard was not present there. The deed itself, presently in the Municipal Wageningen, is dated Wageningen May 5, 1945. Actually it was merely an agreement on the technical development of German troops in the Netherlands in accordance with the capitulation of German troops on 4 May in north-west Europe. This fact is not widely known in the Netherlands.
Despite what some Americans think, the Netherlands was actually just partially liberated by US forces.
The southern part of the Netherlands – down the large rivers – was liberated in the fall of 1944. On September 12, 1944 , the Americans entered South Limburg and the first Dutch municipalities were liberated ,Eijsden , Mesch , Mheer and Noorbeek. On September 14, 1944 Maastricht was liberated .
Operation Market Garden was subsequently deployed, a risky plan to cross over the river in one go and thus draw into Germany . Obviously Netherlands would then be liberated in the process . The operation ran from 17 to September 25, 1944 , and ended in a German victory in the Battle of Arnhem . In the fall of 1944, the remaining part of the Netherlands south of the river , except for the area east of the Meuse , was liberated , mainly to get free access to the important port of Antwerp
The Germans resisted fiercely and particularly in Zeeland. Walcheren was flooded by the Allies in November 1944 by bombing the dikes. This drove the Germans out of their positions . The front was now positioned at the major rivers and the Allied advance stalled temporarily in the Netherlands.
Then the worst winter in the history of our country followed.The Dutch famine of 1944, known as the Hongerwinter (“Hunger winter”) in Dutch, was a famine that took place in the German-occupied part of the Netherlands, especially in the densely populated western provinces above the great rivers, .A German blockade cut off food and fuel shipments from farm areas. Some 4.5 million were affected and survived because of soup kitchens. About 22,000 died because of the famine. Most vulnerable according to the death reports were elderly men
Towards the end of World War II, food supplies became increasingly scarce in the Netherlands. After the landing of the Allied Forces on D-Day, conditions grew increasingly worse in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands After the national railways complied with the exiled Dutch government’s appeal for a railway strike starting September 1944 to further the Allied liberation efforts, the German administration retaliated by placing an embargo on all food transports to the western Netherlands.
In search of food, people would walk for tens of kilometers to trade valuables for food at farms. Tulip bulbs and sugarbeets were commonly consumed. Furniture and houses were dismantled to provide fuel for heating. From September 1944 until early 1945 the deaths of 18,000 Dutch people were attributed to malnutrition as the primary cause and in many more as a contributing factor. The Dutch Famine ended with the liberation of the western Netherlands in May 1945. Shortly before that, some relief had come from the ‘Swedish bread’, which was actually baked in the Netherlands but made from flour shipped in from Sweden. Shortly after these shipments, the German occupiers allowed coordinated air drops of food by the Royal Air Force over German-occupied Dutch territory in Operation Manna. The two events are often confused, even resulting in the commemoration of bread being dropped from airplanes, something that never happened.
The northern part of the Netherlands was only released in the spring of 1945 . This second phase of liberation began outside the Netherlands after the Allied capture of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen in Germany on March 7, 1945, British-Canadian forces bent down to eastern Netherlands . On March 23, 1945 , the first Allied units entered in Dinxperlo Netherlands and Elten , which was a hard battle.
At this time there was no longer a regular front . The Canadians used a kind of ‘relay’ tactiek which involved the forward units getting relieved by units behind them.They tried to advance as far as possible with blockades and reinforcements circumvented and success exploited directly.About flank security the allied units no longer could be bothered This was almost no longer necessary since the defending German forces consisted largely of unmotivated old men and young boys who were also poorly stocked .
Conversely, the city of Groningen ,on 14 , 15 and 16 April was defended fiercly by thousands of fanatical German and Dutch SS . In the ensuing battle , the north side of the Market went up in flames . Groningen was not the only example : part of the occupiers and collaborators indeed defended themselves to the end.
After the capitulation the Allied forces could finally enter the remaining part of the Netherlands to flush out the remaining resisting German and Dutch fighters.The island Schiermonnikoog was the last municipality in the Netherlands, on June 11, 1945, that was liberated. When in April 1945 the province of Groningen was liberated by the Canadians, a group of about 120 SS fled to the island, which had still a German garrison. On June 11, the last 600 German troops on Schiermonnikoog were taken by the Canadians.
So you see, the liberation of the Netherlands was a matter of different countries working together and we owe these countries a great deal. And I like to think that we do show it when possible. Many WWII Veteran, be it a Canadian, British or American (and let’s not forget the Polish forces in English service), that has visited our country after the war will be able to attest to that. Today the whole country will celebrate in honor of those that fought and gave life and limb for our freedom. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts