When the Germans finally launched their offensive in the West on May 10, 1940, a powerful new Dutch fighter were ready to stand in their way, though there was not enough of them to do so for long.
Designed by a team headed by Dr. Erich Schatzki, the prototype of the Fokker G-1 twin-engine fighter was first unveiled at the 1936 Paris Salon, where it caused a sensation. A twin-boomed heavy fighter with a central nacelle that could be modified to fulfill a variety of tasks, the G-1 made its first flight on March 16, 1937, and entered service with the Royal Netherlands Air Force in May 1938. Officially referred to as a Jachtkruiser, it came to be nicknamed Le Faucheur (The Reaper) by its crews.
The original G-1, powered by two 830-horsepower Bristol Mercury VIII nine-cylinder radial engines, had no less than eight 7.9mm FN-Browning M36 machine guns in the nose of the nacelle, as well as a ninth gun in a rotating tail cone, in addition to which it could carry an internal bombload of 880 pounds. Another G-1 variant, twelve of which had been intended for use by the Spanish Republican forces before the Dutch government placed an embargo on their export, was powered by two 750-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-1595-SB4-G Twin Wasp Junior fourteen-cylinder radials and had a nose armament of two 23mm Madsen cannon and two 7.9mm FN-Brownings.
The primary duty of Dutch aircraft during the first months of the war was to guard the country’s neutrality, and it was in that pursuit that the Fokker G.1 first fired its guns in anger. At 2305 Greenwich time on the night of March 27, 1940, Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V N1357, call sign KN-H of No. 77 Squadron, departed Driffield to drop propaganda leaflets, but strayed into Dutch air space on the homeward leg and came under attack at 0630 by a Mercury-powered Fokker G.1 piloted by 1e Luitenant-Vlieger (First Lieutenant) Piet Noomen of the 3e Jachtvliegtuig Afdeling. Set on fire, the Whitley came down on the Vondelingenweg at Pernis. The bomber’s observer, Sgt. J. E. Miller, was killed and is believed to have fallen from the plane seconds before it crashed. The rest of the crew—Flying Officers T. J. Geach and W. P. Copinger, Leading Airman S. E. E. Caplin, and Airman 2nd Class R. B. Barrie—were interned but soon released and returned to Driffield by the Dutch, who may have little suspected that the unwelcome intruders Noomen had intercepted would be his allies just seven weeks later.
A total of twenty-three serviceable Fokker G.1s were available to the Dutch—eleven with the 3e JaVA at Rotterdam/Waalhaven and twelve with the 4e JaVA at Bergen—when the Germans invaded. Expecting trouble, pilots of the 3e JaVA had started their engines at 0300 hours Amsterdam time on May 10, just to warm them up before shutting down again. That would be to their benefit at 0350 (0530 Berlin time), when twenty-eight He 111Ps of II./KG 4, in a succession of three-plane Vs led by the Geschwader-kommandeur, Oberst Martin Fiebig, skirted the Dutch coast, then turned shoreward over the Maas estuary and came from the southwest to bomb the Koolhoven aircraft factory near Waalhaven.
The first of 3e JaVA’s G.1s to get off the runway was apparently No. 312 crewed by Luitenant Noomen and Korporaal (Corporal) H. de Vries, who attacked the three lead Heinkels, damaging one and wounding three crewmen before attacking Fiebig’s He 111P 5J+DA. Noomen was credited with both bombers before return fire compelled him to land with one damaged engine and two punctured fuel tanks after ten minutes in the air. Retiring to the southeast, Fiebig belly-landed south of Zwartedijk fifteen minutes later with his rear gunner mortally wounded; he and the rest of his crew were taken prisoner.
Hard on Noomen’s heels, at 0351 1e Luitenant Jan Pieter Kuipers scrambled up in G.1 309 and engaged a second wave of bombers from KG 4’s 5th Staffel. He had to abort his first attack when his rear gunner, Sgt. Jan Reinder Venema, reported three German aircraft approaching from behind and to the left. Kuipers made a climbing turn to the left, found himself behind three He 111s and opened fire at two hundred meters distance. He subsequently reported:
The enemy gunners immediately responded. The combat offered a fascinating spectacle: all the bullets that the antagonists served up were tracers. My first reaction had to be to try to put the machine-gunners out of action. For that effect, I fired successively on all three airplanes. During that action, the distance between the squadron and I finally came down to 25 to 50 meters.
As we flew over Rotterdam (Charlois quarter), the squadron turned south, all maintaining a tight formation. Southwest of Waalhaven aeroport, the first bomber was finally forced to land on its belly east of Pernis, another Heinkel went into a pronounced turn and fell into a dive. I would not observe the result further because I had already thrown myself into the pursuit of the third machine. However, my Fokker had not left the fight without harm and at a given moment my left motor’s power diminished and then it stopped completely. Forced to make a half turn, it was only with great effort that I succeeded in landing at Waalhaven airport.
It was 0410 as Kuipers and Venema scrambled out of their disabled plane and joined the ground forces defending the airfield. Kuipers assisted an antiaircraft section at the northeast part of the field until Ju 88As of KG 30 attacked them so vigorously that he was forced to take cover in a crater, miraculously emerging unhurt. Most of the antiaircraft gunners were less fortunate. Only after the war did Kuipers learn that Venema was among those killed in the attack.
Meanwhile, at 0352, 2e Lt. Gerben Sonderman, an experienced G.1 test pilot, took off in No. 311, with Sgt. H. Holwerda as his gunner, and headed west to engage a plane he’d spotted milling around the area. This was apparently a Do 17M of the Fernaufklärerstaffel (Long-Range Reconnaissance Squadron) of General (Lieutenant General) Kurt Student’s 7. Fliegerdivision, who was there to observe the airborne assault about to occur. Sonderman drove the Dornier off in a damaged state and claimed to have shot down an “Me 110.”
While the G.1s that scrambled up were engaging the bombers, at 0450 a horde of Ju 52/3m transports of 9th Staffel, Kampfgeschwader zur besonderen Verwendung (Special Purpose Battle Wing) 1 arrived over Waalhaven. G.1 315, crewed by 1e Lt. G. A. van Oorschot and Sgt. W. P. Wesly, attacked an He 111P of 1./KG 4 that had just bombed Ypenberg, chased it as far as Arnhem, damaging it and wounding the rear gunner, and then returned to the Rotterdam area in time to shoot down a Ju 52. Van Oorschot then landed at De Kooy, only to damage 315 on an obstruction on the airfield. Less fortunate was 2e Lt. Johannis van der Jagt in G.1 319, who was last seen attacking a Ju 52 when he was shot down, probably by an escorting Bf 109D flown by Obfw. Hermann Förster of the 12th Staffel (Nacht) of Jagdgeschwader 2.
Sergeantmajoor-Vlieger (Sergeant Major) Jan J. Buwalda was preparing to take off in G.1 No. 330 at 0400 when he saw three unidentified single-engine planes approaching, while Dutch antiaircraft gunners, equally uncertain of their nationality, held their fire. Then the trio—which turned out to be Me 109Es—began strafing the field. Gunning his engine and slaloming between barrages of cannon shells and machine gun bullets, Buwalda managed to get his plane airborne. While he fought for altitude his gunner, Sgt. J. Wagner, noted German bombers coming, while two kilometers to the left, flights of Ju 52s were dropping paratroopers over the airfield. Buwalda recalled:
The Germans destroyed Waalhaven aerodrome to assure their airborne operation. It was 4:00 in the morning, and as the bombardment reached its paroxysm, I succeeded in taking off and found myself in the middle of a packet of bombers flying at 150 meters. In my first attack, I downed a Heinkel . . . then I saw another and I got on his tail, my eight machine guns spitting three short volleys at a distance of 100 meters.
Buwalda was credited with the second plane, a Dornier Do 215 of 2nd Staffel (Fernaufklärung) of the Oberbefehlshaber (Supreme Commander) der Luftwaffe, but then he came under attack by twelve Me 109Es. He dived with the enemy in pursuit, his gunner firing at each in turn, allegedly causing one to explode in the air and shooting down a second. “Then they fired at us from above,” Buwalda said, “hitting both motors and forcing me to the ground. I was unhurt, but Sergeant Wagner was wounded.”
Buwalda’s was probably the Fokker G.1 credited as downed over Zevenbergen at 0450 hours to Obltn. Richard Leppla of 3./JG 51. The other three Fokkers fared somewhat better. Sonderman claimed a Ju 52 and two fighters before being damaged by fighters. One of his assailants, Fw. Peter Keller of 10(N)./JG 2, crash-landed his Bf 109D near Rotterdam, was subsequently transferred from a Dutch compound to England, and spent the rest of the war in a Canadian POW camp. Sergeant H. F. Souffrée in G.1 328 brought down He 111P 5J+DN of 5./KG 4 and claimed an Me 109E, while Lt. K. W. Woudenberg in 329 claimed two Junkers. Unable to return to Waalhaven, the three planes landed on the beach west of Oostvoorne, where they were hurriedly camouflaged. Amid the confusion of the German offensive, however, it was not until the morning of May 14 that Souffrée and his gunner, Sgt. J. C. de Man, managed to return to the beach with fuel, oil, ammunition, and ground personnel for the three G. 1s—only to discover that they had been strafed and set afire by Me 109Es just half an hour earlier.
At Bergen, the Luftwaffe found all twelve Fokker G.1s of the 4e JaVA parked wingtip to wingtip when they attacked at 0359. One Fokker was destroyed and ten damaged, leaving only aircraft No. 321 to take off, with Lt. J. W. Thijsse at the controls, to intercept the next wave of bombers. As he did, however, he came under fire not only from enemy fighters but from Dutch antiaircraft gunners, who were already assuming anything in the air to be German. Thijsse therefore gave up the idea of fighting and sought a safe haven at Schipol airfield—only to find it in flames. He then headed for the beach at Katwijk, where he found three newly landed Ju 52s, which he strafed and set afire. After reconnoitering Ypenberg and Schipol airfields, he opted to return to Bergen, which was having a momentary respite from German attack, and landed at 0620.
Considering the circumstances, the Fokker G.1s—of the 3e JaVA, at least—gave an extraordinarily good account of themselves, shooting down at least a dozen German aircraft in their first chaotic two hours of combat. Heavily armed and easy to fly, though too slow to compete with single-engine fighters, the G.1 had lived up to its nickname of Le Faucheur, but it would only have four more days in which to fight before the Netherlands was overrun. After that, most surviving G.1s became part of a growing trove of war booty, to serve the Germans as trainers for their twin-engine fighter pilots.