Hitler had launched Fall Gelb, Operation Yellow in the early hours of the 10th. His order to the German armed forces declared:
The hour has come for the decisive battle for the future of the German nation. For three hundred years the rulers of England and France have made it their aim to prevent any real consolidation of Europe and above all to keep Germany weak and helpless. With this your hour has come. The fight which begins today will decide the destiny of the German people for a thousand years. Now do your duty.
German paratroopers had begun landing in Holland and Belgium at 3.30am, taking a number of key defensive positions by surprise.
Dirk Van Der Heide was then 12 years old, living in Rotterdam:
Rotterdam: Friday, 10 May
Something terrible happened last night. War began!!! Uncle Pieter was right. The city has been bombed all day. … At first most people thought the noise was only practice. All the time people kept running outside and coming back with news. It was war all right and the radio was giving the alarm and calling all the time for all men in the reserves to report for duty at the nearest place. The radio said this over and over. It was very exciting.
The bombing kept on all the time, boom-boom-boom, and everyone said they were falling on Waalhaven, the airport, which is only about five miles away. The Baron went upstairs and began telephoning. The voices on the radio sounded strange and terribly excited. Father put Keetje into Mother’s arms and went away. A few minutes later he came back dressed and carrying a gas mask and a knapsack. He kissed Mother and Keetje and me very hard and then hurried out. He shouted something about taking care of his animals and Mother nodded and told him to be careful, please.
His mother would die in the bombing of Rotterdam that followed, see Dirk van der Heide: My Sister and I. For much more on the invasion of Holland, including a huge gallery of images see War Over Holland.
The greater part of the direct French-German border was protected by the heavily fortified Maginot line, so the French had anticipated that the Germans would attack France through the ‘Low Countries’; Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. In this event the French plan called for the Allies to move forward into Belgium and meet the advancing Germans there. The Belgium position of strict neutrality (intended to deny the Germans any claim of ‘provocation’) did not help in preparing for such a move. However Gamelin, the French commander believed that the Allies could take over Belgium prepared fortified positions.
The ‘D plan’ now called for the majority of the British Expeditionary Force to move forward into Belgium and create a new defensive line on the River Dyle.
The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders go to War
The daily experiences of Captain R. Leah, 1st Battalion, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders provide a representative example of the movements of many in the British Army:
Friday 10th May.
Renton woke me at the usual time 7.30 am. with the news that Germany had invaded Holland and Belgium early this morning
We did not leave Haut Hameau until just before midnight. This afternoon there was a great deal of air activity, we saw several fights and heavy enemy bombing this evening in the Nomain area. Appeared to be incendiary bombs, and myself and C.S.M. Maclean went up past M.Lejeuse’s house to watch the fire.
Battalion assembled at road junction Dornock and main Rumecies Road about midnight and marched off an hour later. Maurice [Major M. Wilson] was commanding. Peter also present.
Very sorry to leave M. and Mme Picquet. Had been very comfortably billeted here. They sat up till I left. We listened to the wireless news and had coffee and I brandy. Saw a very good air fight at 9 p.m. and plane came down in flames over Planard, pilot following in a parachute.
See TNA WO 217/15
The 10th May deserves to be regarded as the European “Day of Infamy”, involving surprise attacks on three neutral nations, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Nevertheless it did not wholly go Hitler’s way, particularly in the air. On this single day 519 aircraft were shot down, most of them German, a world record for aircraft downed in a single day. The Dutch Airwar Studygroup 1939-1945 maintains a database with details of every aircraft and the fate of the crew, where known. For more Dutch war news see Arthur Graaff’s NIEUWS WO2.