Withdrawal from the Netherlands
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Hook Force; at any time all Royal Marines can be called upon to
carry out one of their functions of; providing an emergency
landing party from a warship for a special purpose or work of a hazardous nature. They hold themselves in readiness for sending a self-contained fighting unit overseas at an hour's notice, to prepare and hold a bridgehead, cover a demolition party, and, if need be, to act as a rearguard.
Such a call was made on 11th May 1940; the day after the German invasion of Holland had begun. When the bugler sounded the "General Assembly" every man in the barracks promptly mustered on the parade ground. About three-hundred in-all.
The call upon the Corps had been very great, besides fulfilling
the demands of the Fleet, Marines had been dispatched for
guarding neighbouring airfields, guarding the Cabinet in London
and to defend Admiralty buildings.
The first two-hundred men were told
that they were required for a defensive role in an unknown place. They were ordered to return to their quarters, pack enough gear in their kitbags for three days, and parade fifty-minutes later in full fighting-order.
They were organised into three platoons under the command of Major B.G.B. Mitchell, with three officers. They were driven in buses at full speed through the City Centre with police clearing the way.
They boarded two destroyers H.M.S. Verity and H.M.S. Venomous.
even Major Mitchell had been unaware of the Forces mission.
The destroyers reached the Hook at 5:15 a.m. on Whit Sunday 12th May, escorted by three Blenheim fighter bombers. Once ashore machine guns were mounted for anti-aircraft protection. One platoon was put out as a protective screen. The rest of the Force was employed in disembarking stores. A Blenheim and a
Messerschmitt 110 both fell from the sky in flames.
Major Mitchell held a consultation
With the Commandant of the Dutch Naval Force; he learnt that two-hundred German paratroopers were occupying the woods less than three-miles from the port.
Mitchell positioned his men one and a half miles on a perimeter
round the jetty, sharing the positions with the Dutch troops
some of whom were Marines. He made his headquarters the
stationmaster's office on the jetty.
The Royal Marines were settling down in the front line with allies whose language they could not understand. But marines are good mixers and it wasn't long before all were on friendly terms. When Major Michell inspected the lines he ordered a rum ration for everybody.
Meanwhile, one of the platoons had been suffering from German
snipers in a row of houses to their front. a party of eight
marines and eight Dutch soldiers rushed the houses, killed the
Germans and burnt the houses down.
There was an air raid along the
Whole waterfront. Then three German troop-carriers started dropping more Germans in the direction of the woods. One of the Royal Marine machine gun sections engaged them. A German mechanised column was reported advancing on the town from Rotterdam.
At noon the Force saw the Queen of the Netherlands embark in
the destroyer H.M.S. Hereward, which immediately sailed for
England. That evening the Dutch Government and large number of
refugees followed her.
The Germans made a determined bombing raid on the jetty. Major
Mitchell's headquarters was straddled with bombs and machine gunned with cannon fire, everything was riddled with bullets.
An ammunition dump alongside went up in flames, but was gallantly extinguished by Marine S. Glenn. "It was a miracle that the Marines suffered no casualties," wrote Major Mitchell, "even though they had made the best of every available cover. The steadiness of all concerned, in a most terrifying scene of leaping flames, exploding ammunition, and a destroyer very badly hit and blowing off steam, made one proud of them."
During the night it became evident
That it would be impossible for the Guards to advance to the Hague, as first intended. But the Queen and the Government had sailed in safety, now it was decided that the Hook Force should be withdrawn. The Marines were to act as rearguard, with a small party of Guardsmen to strengthen the left flank.
In the morning The Germans systematically raided the town,
bombing and machine-gunning the fleeing civilians. The Guards
embarked on two destroyers, and at 1 p.m., when they were clear
of the harbour, Major Mitchell brought in the rearguard.
The withdrawal was made difficult because the driver of one of
the commandeered buses was found to be pro German. He had to be
persuaded to carry out his orders with a revolver at his back.
A quartermaster-sergeant is said to have performed this duty most efficiently.
During the Guards' withdrawal
Major Mitchell had re-embarked his stores in H.M.S. Malcolm, so that there should be no delay when the outposts come in. The arrival of the last party coincided with the appearance of thirteen German bombers.
The Marines scrambled aboard the Malcolm with all speed. Then one of the officers found that he had left the bag containing his washing gear in the bus and asked permission to return for it. This was granted.
The Marines manned the whaler falls and hoisted the whaler on the port side. The naval demolition party, cool and unhurried, made their final preparations and embarked.
The Malcolm sailed and as she left the harbour those on board had the cheering sight of ten destroyers coming in at speed to screen her.
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The Force reached Dover at midnight
and arrived back at Chatham Barracks at 4 a.m. on 15th May 1940, 'very tired, very hungry, but very happy and thankful for being alive.'
There had been no casualties and so far from having lost equipment, they had returned with 'one anti-tank rifle in excess.'
Major Mitchell was awarded the D.S.C. and two of his men the D.S.M.
He was also decorated by the Queen of the Netherlands with the Order of the Orange Nassau. Colour-Sergeant E.W. Parker was given the Silver Medal of the same Order.
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