Belgium 1940 Armour

M39 Pantserwagen: When the Battle of the Netherlands started on 10 May 1940, of the twelve vehicles manufactured, four were in Eindhoven with DAF, eight at Delft; of the last, two were still lacking their main armament and none were fully completed, though some had been equipped with machine-guns. No crews were fully trained. The base at Delft, in between the Dutch seat of government The Hague and the port of Rotterdam, had been seen as a safe rear-area location at the very heart of the Dutch National Redoubt, the Fortress Holland. On the early morning of 10 May however, these two major cities were assaulted by German parachutists and airborne troops attempting to capture the Dutch government. The attack did not come as a total surprise; as it had been feared that a German invasion was imminent, Supreme Command had ordered several security measures on 8 May, among which the formation of a small cavalry security force from Delft depot units, the Depotdetachement Bewakingstroepen Cavalerie, to guard The Hague, to which a DAF M39 platoon was added. In the night of 9–10 May, these three M39s were parked at a base in The Hague. As another base in the city had already been bombed, the cars were on 10 May initially ordered to seek cover from aerial observation in the Haagse Bos, a park.

The German attempt to seize The Hague failed, partly because Landsverk armoured cars destroyed many Ju-52 transport planes and thereby blocked the runway of the main city airfield, Ypenburg. As a result the next waves of planes landed on meadows and roads, dispersing the airborne troops into many small groups which, unable to be reinforced, in the following days tried to break out towards Rotterdam, the southern part of which city was firmly in German hands. In the confused situation the platoon in the afternoon of 10 May was ordered to convoy a munition truck to Delft. At a Dutch roadblock the commander of one car was killed, both sides mistaking each other for Germans. Finally arriving in Delft, two of the armoured cars were in the late afternoon ordered to support an advance of some depot companies to the south, in the direction of Rotterdam, that soon was blocked by enemy fire. Lacking bulletproof tyres, the cars were held back, only supporting the troops by shelling enemy positions at a distance. Though this was forbidden, one of the cars fired shells in a nine o’clock or three o’clock position of the turret; the lateral recoil forces distorted the front wheel suspension so severely that the car could no longer be steered. Repair proving impossible, the vehicle was, somewhat prematurely, on 11 May destroyed by its own crew to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. Later that evening the second car also showed a defect, probably a main armament malfunction, causing it to be withdrawn the next day to the base. In the same evening of 10 May the third car, III-2203, that experimentally had been fitted with bulletproof Michelin tyres, positioned itself on the southern edge of Delft, without making enemy contact, but in vain trying to shoot down a low-flying German aircraft with the main gun.

On 11 May III-2203 was ordered to support an advance over the Delft-Rotterdam highway. At first this met little enemy resistance, the main problem being that the car was fired upon by a fighter aircraft that the vehicle commander recognised as a Dutch Fokker G.1. Then several Junkers Ju 52s were encountered, that had landed on the road and were now used by the German airborne troops as cover in the open polder landscape. Of one undamaged plane the DAF M39 shot off the engine; another, stuck in a ditch, was put on fire by some 37 mm HE-shells, fired at distance. The fire generated an enormous black smoke cloud, forcing the armoured car to break off the attack. The armour of the car during the action easily deflected enemy machine-gun rounds. By noon most of the Dutch infantry was withdrawn to rest and eat; during the afternoon the armoured car again made a probing attack against the cluster of Ju 52s. The commander decided to hold his fire and approached within forty metres of the enemy position, to provoke a reaction. Suddenly the vehicle was hit from all sides by a hail of bullets, some of these penetrated the thinner turret armour. Now responding with its main gun and hull machine-gun the M39 forced the Germans to take cover, but the gunner suddenly reported: “I am wounded” and sagged bleeding to the floor of the fighting compartment. The car drove back to the Dutch positions to seek medical assistance for the gunner, who was hospitalised. At a civil garage in Delft some brake malfunction was repaired. Most ammunition had been expended.

On 12 May the commander of III-2203 discovered that all trained crews had been moved to The Hague. Most of that day and the morning of 13 May were used to find a truck and fetch a replacement gunner and new munition from The Hague. In the afternoon the vehicle protected the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division at Rijswijk. On 14 May the car supported an attempt to eliminate the largest remaining pocket of German airborne troops, that had gathered around Major-General Hans Graf von Sponeck at Overschie, together with a Landsverk M38 armoured car from 2e Eskadron Pantserwagens. During the advance the clutch of III-2203 malfunctioned and the car returned to Delft for repairs. Rejoining the fight in the afternoon, III-2003 first took a civilian, fled from the village, on-board to point out the exact German positions. Shortly afterwards the attacking Dutch troops witnessed the devastating bombardment of Rotterdam, just south of Overschie. Continuing to advance nevertheless, the two armoured cars were suddenly hit by antitank rifle fire and returned to the Dutch lines. It transpired that the M39 had been penetrated twice low in the side hull armour, without the projectiles doing any damage or even being noticed; a third round had been stopped by the thin strip of reinforcing steel around the turret base that doubled the normal armour thickness. Rotterdam capitulating as a result of the carpet bombing, III-2203 was withdrawn to The Hague.

In The Hague also the five DAF M39s were present, two of them without main armament that had not been used in the Depotdetachement Bewakingstroepen Cavalerie. In the morning of 10 May these vehicles had been readied and then moved to the headquarters of the Commander Fortress Holland. In the subsequent days they had remained in the city, sometimes patrolling the streets or responding to the many false alarms about presumed Fifth Column activities. In one incident, on 11 May, a M39 had set fire to some railway wagons where, probably groundlessly, German paratroopers were suspected to have hidden.

Fearing a further destruction of the Dutch cities, the Dutch supreme commander Henri Winkelman at 16:50 ordered his troops to destroy their equipment and then surrender themselves to the Germans. In the evening of 14 May it was accordingly attempted to disable some DAF M39s by driving them into the sea at Scheveningen. Two vehicles indeed reached the waves, a third got stuck on the boulevard stairway to the beach.

Besides the eight cars at Delft, on 10 May four M39s were present in the DAF factory at Eindhoven. In the morning Wim van Doorne, the brother of Hub, phoned the military authorities in The Hague to remind them of this fact, because the German invaders might soon overrun the area. He was advised to contact the military commander of the forces in North Brabant province. The latter asked DAF to drive the cars to Vught, where they were transferred to the 4e Compagnie Korps Motordienst, a motorisation unit of his main force, the Peeldivisie, that would remain in the province. As a result the vehicles were not evacuated to the Fortress Holland. A persistent story that the M39s had tried to reach the North but were blocked by the German paratroopers having captured the bridges at Moerdijk is thus likely apocryphal. Probably the armoured cars accompanied the Peeldivisie staff to Princenhage near Breda in the night of 10–11 May. Lacking full crews or munition they were apparently later abandoned in the west of the province when the remnants of the division withdrew to Zealand on 13 and 14 May.

Vickers-Armstrong Utility Tractor: These tractors were manufactured under license from Vickers-Armstrong by the Belgian company Familleheureux in two version, infantry and cavalry.

Renault FT: 1920-2 Two-man light tank Seventy-five vehicles acquired. Armed with either a 37mm gun or MG.

Carden-Lloyd M1934: 1935 Two-man light tank Forty-two vehicles acquired — High conical turret — Armed in Belgium with a 13.2mm Hotchkiss air-cooled MG Belgian designation: T15 France

AMC-35 (ACGI): 1937 Three-man medium tank Twelve vehicles acquired — Fitted with a Belgian-made turret housing a 47mm A/Tk gun and a 13.2mm MG. Belgian designation: Auto-mitrailleuse du Corps de Cavalerie

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