World War 2 was the most destructive conflict in world history, bringing with it the ruin of many of Europe’s most magnificent cities. How did Amsterdam, the beautiful city sometimes called “the Venice of the north” far in that terrible conflict?
Amsterdam was not subjected to particularly heavy bombing in World War 2, particularly in comparison with the horrific bombing of Rotterdam, the second-largest city in the Netherlands. However, it was bombed by the Luftwaffe and the allies at various stages in the war.
The Netherlands played a key role in the war, first, the Nazis used the lowlands as an essential part of their path to conquer France and threaten the United Kingdom. Later, the allies incorporated it into their plan to free Western Europe. Remarkably, the city remained relatively unscathed.
The Role of the Netherlands in the German Invasion Plans
In the First World War, the German military had avoided invading the Netherlands. The German high command figured that since France and Holland did not share a border, conquering the country would be a needless distraction.
The government in the Hague attempted to maintain neutrality again, as they did in the previous war. However, the plan in the Second World War differed significantly.
This time the Wehrmacht was determined to secure the Netherlands on their way to France. This would give Germany more options for attack and prevent the British military and navy from using it as a forward position to endanger the operation.
The main goal of the German thrust westward was to take France quickly before the British Empire could muster its full potential to help support its defense. This meant that the lowlands had to be conquered as quickly as possible.
The Strategic Plan to Bring the Netherlands to its Knees
On the morning of May 10, the invasion commenced. The pretext was that England had sent troops into the country. This was a lie.
To bring the Dutch to their knees, a decapitation attack was planned. German paratroopers were dropped on the Hague with orders to take the long-serving Queen Wilhelmina and her government hostage.
However, the fierce resistance of the Dutch troops foiled that plan. Nonetheless, as the German troops advanced the Queen was eventually evacuated to England. This was a massive blow to national morale.
The Bombing of Rotterdam
The Dutch military regrouped after their initial retreats and held the line at Rotterdam. Four days after the invasion started, the German general on the scene gave the defenders of the city an ultimatum. Surrender the city or face massive bombing.
The Luftwaffe did not wait until the ultimatum expired and launched a bombing of unprecedented ferocity on the city. The entire city center was destroyed. 900 people were killed in the bombings and over 80,000 were rendered homeless.
Though the bombing of the Dutch city was minor in relation to later bombing campaigns waged by both sides, it was psychologically devastating. When the Germans threatened that Utrecht would suffer the same treatment, the Netherlands surrendered and Nazi occupation began.
Though it was the biggest and most important city in the Netherlands, Amsterdam fared relatively well in the war.
On the second day of the Nazi operation, a single bomber dropped several bombs at Herengracht. The bombs landing near the beautiful canal killed 44 individuals and injured 79. However, this was not followed up by further significant attacks on Amsterdam.
It appears the city was saved by two factors. First, it is not the capital of the country and therefore had less political importance than the Hague. Second, it is located far enough to the north, that it was not in the way of the Wehrmacht advance towards France and Belgium.
Therefore, Germany could bring the Netherlands to its knees without destroying Amsterdam.
Occupation and Liberation
The Netherlands and Amsterdam suffered terribly under Nazi occupation. The famous story of Anne Frank is just the most famous example of the oppression the people of the city suffered in that period.
The Royal Air Force and US Air Force hit military positions in the country during the occupation years but usually managed to avoid hitting civilian concentrations. The exception to this was the tragic attack of July 17, 1943, when 158 Dutch civilians were killed when allied planes missed their military targets.
The Netherlands saw combat again after allied forces crossed the Rhine in 1945 and began the liberation of the country, which would be completed on May 4 of that year.
If so, although Amsterdam fared relatively well in World War 2, it suffered through occupation and two significant lethal bombings.