The German invasion of the Netherlands was meant to be a lightning-fast surgical strike, aimed at shoring up the right flank of the assault on France and Belgium. With a bold plan based largely on Luftwaffe air power, air-landing troops, and the biggest airborne assault yet seen, a Dutch surrender was expected within 24 hours.
But, as told by Ryan K. Noppen in his book Holland 1940 The Luftwaffe’s first setback in the West, the Netherlands possessed Europe’s first fully integrated anti-aircraft network, as well as modern and competitive aircraft.
On May 10, 1940 at 0430hrs shortly after the Heinkel He 111s of II./KG 4 began their attack against Waalhaven Airfield, 1e Luitenant Gerben Sonderman climbed into his Fokker G.1, 311, which was on the north-west corner of the tarmac. After his mechanics started its engines, Sonderman began taxiing as his gunner pulled out the chocks under the wheels; his gunner was still climbing into the cockpit when Sonderman applied full throttle and took off. Sonderman was arguably the most skilled pilot within 3e JaVA. He had served as the Fokker company’s chief test pilot from 1938 until he was called up for military service in early 1940 and he was used to performing aerobatic manoeuvres in most of the Fokker aircraft employed by the ML and knew the limits to which he could push his G.1.
As Sonderman climbed, he observed a Ju 52 flying above him. Sonderman let loose a burst with his eight machine guns and the Ju 52 made an immediate evasive dive as the G.1 zoomed past the slow transport. Sonderman put his G.1 into a tight turn and he was quickly again on the transport’s tail. A second gun burst sent the lumbering transport down; this Ju 52, no. 6404 from 9./KGzbV.l, made a forced landing near Heinenoord on the Oude Maas south of Rotterdam and its crew and 15 Fallschirmjäger from III./IR16 were taken prisoner. As Sonderman watched the Ju 52 go down, bullets tore through the G.1A’s radio set as a Bf 109 flew past from above. Sonderman took evasive action and observed several Bf 109s to his rear; he had been bounced by the Bf 109Ds of 10.(N)/JG 2. The fighter that first attacked him was turning to get on the G.1’s tail but Sonderman used the superior manoeuvrability of the G.1 to twist himself into a firing position on the German. A sweep of machine-gun fire damaged the Bf 109 which went down (the identity and fate of the aircraft is unknown). There were still other German fighters swarming around him and Sonderman continued to fly evasively, using his aerobatic skills to dance around the faster single-engine fighters. One of the Bf 109s made a wide turn and attempted a head-on attack against the G.1 but missed. Sonderman, having dodged the incoming fire, shot back before banking to avoid a head-on collision. His marksmanship was spot on; the Bf 109 was hit and was last seen diving toward the ground.
This Bf 109D, piloted by Feldwebel Peter Keller of 10.(N)/JG 2, made a forced landing south of Rotterdam and Keller was taken into captivity, eventually being sent to a POW camp in Canada. By this time Sonderman realized that his ammunition was low and disengaged from the remaining Bf 109s, heading west toward the sea. His hunt was not quite yet over however. As he approached the coast, Sonderman spotted an He 111 at low altitude heading east. Sonderman got behind the bomber and poured his remaining ammunition into it. Sonderman’s final kill happened to be He 111 5J+DA, Oberst Martin Fiebig’s aircraft; the bomber made a belly landing in a farm field and Fiebig and three of his crew were later taken prisoner for the duration of the Meidagen. Now out of ammunition, Sonderman felt it imperative to land and he observed a smooth stretch of beach below him that would make a suitable landing site. Sonderman landed G.1A 311 on a beach near Oostvoorne, where he was later joined by two of his comrades from 3e JaVA.
On May 10, the German attack was only partly successful, and the Dutch fought on for another four days. On the fifth day, with its original strategy having largely failed, the Luftwaffe resorted to terror-bombing Rotterdam to force a surrender.
Holland 1940 The Luftwaffe’s first setback in the West is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Adam Tooby via Osprey Publishing
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