The Dutch resistance to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II can be mainly characterized as non-violent. The primary organizers were the Communist Party, churches, and independent groups. A peak of over 300,000 people were hidden from German authorities in the autumn of 1944, tended to by some 60,000 to 200,000 illegal landlords and caretakers. These activities were tolerated knowingly by some one million people, including a few incidental individuals among German occupiers and military.
On 10 May 1940, the German 10th Army, spearheaded by
airborne troops, invaded the Netherlands. The rest of
the Wehrmacht force committed to “the overrunning of the West
executed the Manstein Plan through Belgium and the Ardennes Forest. On 14 May
1940, the Dutch commander ordered a cease-fire. Three days later, the entire
Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany.
The Netherlands royal family, led by Queen Wilhelmina, along
with some 4,600 Dutch officers, sailors, soldiers, and policemen, staged a
Dutch Dunkirk, assisted by remnants of the country’s Navy and the entire
merchant marine. This evacuation to Britain of the royal family and a cadre of
the Dutch Government was critical in establishing a government-in-exile and the
initial intelligence networks in Holland. Additionally, the emigration to
Britain of Netherlands military people and civilians from all over the
Continent and from overseas Dutch possessions helped form the core of a
reconstituted Dutch Royal Army, Navy, and Air Force.
Stirrings of Resistance
The initial years of the German occupation of Holland were
characterized by the removal of Dutch Jews from their homeland and harsh
economic and political measures. The Nazis set up a puppet government at The
Hague headed by Dr. Seyss-Inquart and established a Dutch National Socialist
Party. Some Dutch citizens eagerly joined the new party and took positions in
the government. Others, however, joined with the purpose of pretending to
collaborate while remaining loyal to the government-in-exile. Their positions
enabled them to keep an eye on Dutch collaborators and to influence
policy-making and implementation. The Leegsma family provided a good example of
this tactic. Agardus Leegsma, his brother, and their father joined the
Nazi-organized Dutch National Police. The father had been a professional
soldier in the Guards Regiment of the Royal Dutch Army during the interwar
years. The family assisted various Resistance organizations during the Nazi
occupation. During the liberation of the Netherlands, Agardus Leegsma and his
brother joined different Allied units, serving as guides and combatants.
As the harshness of the occupation grew, so did Dutch unrest
and resentment toward the Germans. Individual Dutchmen took it upon themselves
to strike back. With no central command, these brave individuals began
recruiting relatives, friends, and neighbors into the first Resistance
organizations. The dangers were exceptionally high: captured members of the
Resistance were usually shot or sent to concentration camps. The primary
anti-Nazi activity came initially from the Social Democrats and Catholic youth
leagues. The Dutch Communists began actively resisting after the Germans
invaded the USSR.
Members of the Dutch royal armed forces who had not escaped
to Britain and had successfully evaded German capture secretly banded together
and began collecting information. Under the leadership of Dr. Johan Stijkel, a
Rotterdam lawyer, Maj. Gen. H. D. S. Husselman and Col. J. P. Bolton organized
a Resistance group of young Dutch citizens. With the help of radio expert
Cornelius Drupsteen, they established a wireless link with the British Secret
Intelligence Service (SIS) and began passing information to the Allies.
Resistance operations consisted primarily of organizational
and networking functions, as well as gathering intelligence on the occupation
forces. Probably the most heroic and dangerous aspect of resistance was the
hiding and sheltering of Netherlands Jews and young draft-age Dutch men and
women by other Dutch, collectively known
as onkerduikers (“underdivers”). The best known story is
that of Anne Frank.
Individual Dutch were horrified and appalled at the
spectacle of their neighbors and friends being rounded up and taken away to an
unknown fate. Most Dutch Jews who escaped capture were smuggled out of Holland
to Britain via Belgium through France and then to Spain, or from Belgium to
France, and then to Switzerland. Smuggling people out via the Dutch coast was
extremely dangerous, as the Germans increasingly fortified the coast in
anticipation of an Allied invasion. Some young Dutch men and women as well as
Dutch Jews hid throughout the war, participating in underground activities. The
underground networks established in this manner were later instrumental in
hiding and exfiltrating Allied airmen shot down over Holland.
MI-9 and the Evaders
The British Military Intelligence Section 9 (MI-9) was set
up to exploit available European Resistance networks and assist Allied airmen
shot down over Europe in returning to Britain. MI-9, also known as IS-9,
infiltrated agents, usually by parachute, into occupied Europe. These agents
would link up with a Resistance cell and organize escape-and-evasion efforts in
a particular area, usually after being notified by the Resistance of the
presence of downed airmen. The agents brought money, maps, and false papers to
assist these airmen. The usual route was either south to Switzerland or to
southern France and then to Spain and Portugal.
One such MI-9 agent was Dick Kragt, who parachuted into
Holland in 1943. He lost his equipment, including his radio, but continued on,
armed only with a Colt.45. He managed to link up with a Dutch Jew named Joop
Piller, living in the town of Emst, and they built a network designed to hide,
protect, and eventually smuggle downed airmen out of Holland.
By operating covertly and passively, members of the
Resistance were able to function without attracting undue attention. This
allowed them to organize their cells, gauge the German counterintelligence
threat, and establish information networks. The telephone was their primary
means of communication, and they always used nicknames. In face-to-face
meetings, masks were often worn to ensure security.
The Dutch Resistance command and control hierarchy was
decentralized and compartmented. Additionally, the creation of small groups by
individual Dutchmen with no outside links was widespread. Some of these groups’
activities will never be known because many of their members were captured and
executed by the Germans. Initially, they used leaflets and underground
newspapers as means to enlist new members and raise money.
The Underground Press
Underground newspapers were helpful, especially in areas
where the telephone lines were monitored and use of radiotransmitters was too
dangerous because of German direction-finding operations. These newspapers
helped counterbalance Nazi propaganda and the German-controlled media. Almost as
soon as the occupation began, anti-Nazi leaflets began to
circulate. Period photographs show such anti-Nazi newspapers
as DeUnion being openly distributed on city streets despite the
obvious danger. By 1943, underground newspapers had attained a collective
circulation of nearly 500,000. Although some were amateurish, they were
effective. One such paper–a translation and transcription of daily BBC
broadcasts–was produced by the Leegsma brothers working at The Hague.
Another newspaper was also a two-man effort. Working out of
a hotel room in Grave, Gerald Peijnenburg and a Dutch Jew in hiding wrote and
copied Young Netherlands. Peijnenburg handled the distribution, and most
of his copies were passed from person to person, providing some degree of security.
The Resistance developed slowly for several reasons. Because
of the Netherlands’ geographic proximity and cultural ties to Germany, many
Dutch were sympathetic to the ideas of German nationalism, and a significant
portion of the population joined the Dutch Nazi Party and even
the Wehrmacht. There were also Dutch civilians who informed on their
The swift German victory, combined with Queen Wilhelmina’s
seeming abandonment of the Dutch population, disillusioned and embittered much
of Holland. Many who collaborated really believed that the Germans represented
the future and felt that Nazi success was inevitable. For these citizens,
occupation was something merely to be accepted. Ruthless German countermeasures
toward any anti-Nazi activity further discouraged active resistance. As the
occupation grew more repressive, a backlash against the Germans grew, fanned by
The government-in-exile made its presence known through the
judicious use of BBC broadcasts, listened to covertly by the Dutch population.
Queen Wilhelmina became a symbol of hope to occupied Holland, and Crown Prince
Bernhard took an active role in Allied planning for military operations in the
Geography also slowed the growth of the Resistance. The lack
of mountainous and forested terrain prevented the establishment of hiding areas
for large groups of maquis. Moreover, the flat terrain, interdicted by
many bodies of water, large and small, confined movement to the established
railroads, road networks, and bridges. These were easily controlled by the
Germans, who established checkpoints to curtail freedom of movement.
Gasoline was scarce, and many Dutch used bicycles for
transportation, sometimes riding on the rims because of a shortage of rubber
for tires. On the other hand, the Germans were plagued by the Resistance’s
incessant sabotage of telephone lines and by damage to the railroads.
Major Resistance Organizations
By the middle of 1944, there were four major Resistance
organizations in Holland. They did not coordinate their activities unless help
from one group to another was absolutely necessary; for the most part they did
not answer to a central headquarters. They conducted their operations as they
saw fit, and members of the groups often did not know which organization they
were part of. Many did not learn the identity of their particular group until
after the war.
“Central Government Organizations For Help To People In
Hiding” (LO) was the most important such group. Its primary goal was the
protection and exfiltration of onkerduikers. Another activity centered
around the coupons used by the Germans and the Dutch Nazi government to ration
food and keep tabs on the population. The LO made counterfeit coupons; it also
obtained authentic coupons from loyal Netherlands citizens in the employ of the
Dutch Nazis. Other groups conducted raids and robberies to steal authentic
coupons from government agencies. And some Dutch civilians gave up their own
coupons to the LO.
Besides keeping an eye on Dutch collaborators, local LO
groups engaged in whatever resistance they could without endangering
themselves. Occasionally, the Leegsma family in The Hague was able to use its
position in the police force to tip off the LO before the impending arrest of
an onkerduiker would occur. The family also was able to funnel
genuine food coupons to the LO.
While the LO maintained a low profile, the “Central
Government Fighting Group” (KP) carried out sabotage operations at the
local level. Its estimated strength was 550 members nationally, but this figure
is probably low. Without central direction, the KP attacked targets of
opportunity in and around the hometowns. It tended mostly to target railroad
tracks, telegraph and telephone lines, German supply points, and motor pools,
but it occasionally assassinated individual German soldiers and Dutch
collaborators. Such activities were dangerous. The Germans would crack down on
the local population in the locale where a killing had occurred; sometimes they
carried out a tit-for-tat retribution. The Germans would also step up their
counterintelligence efforts in the area in an attempt to eradicate any
A third organization, the “Council of Resistance”
(RVV), engaged in both communications sabotage and protection
of onkerduikers. Allied planners regarded this group as “sound from
the security point of view.” With several thousand members, the RVV was in
radio contact with the Bureau Inlichtingen (BI), the government-in-exile’s
intelligence service, and demanded arms and ammunition.
Another organization, the “Order of Service” (OD),
focused on preparing for the return of a Dutch Government following Holland’s
liberation. The OD was made up primarily of former Dutch officers and
government officials who found themselves supplanted by the Nazis and by Dutch
collaborators. Its main missions were to collect intelligence and develop
“plans for the maintenance of administrative services and civil order on
the liberation of Holland.” Although the OD was thought to have been
penetrated, Allied intelligence estimated that most OD cells were still loyal
and could be depended on to provide assistance during the liberation of
A subgroup, the “Dutch Secret Service” (GDN),
functioned as an intelligence agency for the OD. There were also some 20 other
intelligence entities in wartime Holland. Most Resistance groups conducted
some level of intelligence operations, even if it was only counterintelligence
for security purposes. When organized at the national level, the groups were
divided into regional geographic areas of administration.
At the national level, the National Steunfonds (NSV) was an
umbrella financial organization which received money from the
government-in-exile and conducted covert fundraising to finance KP and LO
operations. There was some overlap in responsibilities among members of the
local and regional groups. For example, in the Nijmegen district, the LO
commander was also the chief of staff of the district OD.
Almost every town of any size had one or more of these
groups. It was also possible for one person to belong to more than one such
organization. In some groups, members simply were referred to by nicknames, and
their true identities remain unknown. Many of the groups were named after their
The Eindhoven and Nijmegen Undergrounds
Some organizations, established locally by individual
Dutchmen, operated with no formal, structured links to any other groups. In
Eindhoven, a group known as the “Partisan Action Nederlands” (PAN)
functioned along the lines of the KP but did not consider itself part of that
PAN was founded by Hoynck van Papendrecnt. He studied
engineering at the Technical University in Delft until April 1943, when the
Germans closed the Dutch universities and began forcibly relocating Dutch
students to Germany as a manpower and professional talent pool. Van Papendrecht
went into hiding and eventually moved to Eindhoven, where he established the
PAN. By June 1944, the PAN had reached its full strength of 80 to 100 young men
and women. The PAN had several small cells operating in the small towns around
Eindhoven. These included the Group Sander, named after its leader, which
worked as a KP and LO subgroup.
Margarethe Kelder and her sister were members of the Group
Sander. They smuggled downed Allied airmen and Dutch onkerduikers to
a crossing site on the Belgium border, coordinating their activities with a
Belgian Resistance group. The female members of the PAN were primarily
couriers, but they were also valued intelligence collectors. In early September
1944, Kelder and another female Resistance member were asked to go into the
woods near Eindhoven to confirm the presence of a German antiaircraft battery.
On the pretext of gathering mushrooms, they conducted their reconnaissance and,
when confronted by German guards near the battery, were able to convince them of
Another PAN group in a town north of Eindhoven conducted
sabotage operations. It put salt in gas and oil tanks of German vehicles and
blew up railroad tracks, using smuggled explosives provided by mining
After D-Day, many in the Dutch underground grew impatient
and wanted to conduct more aggressive operations against the Germans. The PAN
did so by launching raids against, among other targets, the 20- to 30-man
German garrison at the Eindhoven airport on 5 September 1944. It also began
conducting a form of psychological warfare; PAN members would approach German
soldiers they knew and try to persuade them of the hopelessness of Germany’s
situation and to surrender. Some PAN members were reported by German soldiers
and arrested. The punishment for belonging to a Resistance organization was
In June 1944, the PAN set up its headquarters in a house in
Eindhoven. Van Papendrecht had little contact with the other groups in the
Eindhoven area, including the RVV, which numbered only three of four members,
but he was aware of their existence. The PAN leader did conduct some joint
activities with other groups when he felt the operational need for outside
assistance. One of his outside contacts was the KP leader in Rotterdam, Jan van
Bijnen, whose nom deguerre was “Frank.” “Frank”
was Van Pupendrecht’s periodic source of weapons and explosives, couriered by
such women as Margerethe Kelder and her sister.
To the east of Eindhoven, in the small town of Helmond, a KP
Resistance group was led by Johan Raaymaerkers, a former Dutch artillery
captain who was a technical engineer and owned his own factory. Hans Bertels, a
member of the group, began distributing an underground newspaper in 1941 in the
Helmond area. Bertels’s contact was a man named Knaapen, who provided him with
the newspapers and occasional operations orders.
South of Eindhoven, in the town of Roermond, a small LO
group consisting of only 15 members had its headquarters in a vault in the
local cemetery. Anya van Lyssens, later awarded the Military Order of William
for her actions in the Resistance, was a member. The group had a radio, with
which it maintained contact with a Belgian Resistance group, and smuggled
downed Allied airmen over the border. By September 1944, it was credited with
saving the lives of 29 airmen.
The Resistance groups in the Eindhoven area had a total of
several hundred members. The local GDN was led by Arie Tromp, a director for
the Phillips electrical firm office in Eindhoven. His nom de
guerre was “Harry.” By placing their headquarters in the
Eindhoven Museum, GDN members were able to come and go without arousing German
suspicions. The GDN began receiving taskings and orders from the BI following its
establishment in November 1942. Tromp and his agents used the underground
electrical cables in the Phillips factory, which also had telephone lines, as
their primary means of communication.
There were several underground groups in the Nijmegen area.
In the city itself, some Resistance activities apparently were centered around
Saint Canisius College. Jules Jansen was an engineering professor at the
college and one of the leaders of the local KP. He set up a laboratory in his
house for manufacturing explosives and an indoor firing range in his basement
to teach KP members the basics of markmanship.
The Resistance organizations were part of the largely
unknown story of the strategic OSS mission into occupied Holland. This story
essentially began in May 1944, when Lt. Jan Laverge constituted the one-man
Netherlands Section of Special Intelligence (SI) of the OSS in London. The
American-born son of Dutch émigrés, he had been personally recruited for the
job by Col. William Donovan. As planning progressed for the invasion of Europe,
Lt. Col. De Vries, the chief of SI, asked Laverge to develop a plan for using
an OSS team to assist in the liberation of the Netherlands. On 25 May 1944,
Laverge submitted his preliminary plan, which called for two officers and three
enlisted men with associated vehicles and communications equipment.
Following the Allied invasion of occupied France, Laverge
looked forward to having a chance to operate an OSS mission in Holland similar
to the OSS mission, codenamed Sussex, which had operated in France. In July
1944, the Netherlands Section came under the control of SI’s Continental
Division. De Vries ordered resubmission of plans for the liberation of occupied
countries, and Laverge reviewed the initial work. The OSS team designated for Holland
would come under the control of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary
Force (SHAEF) military mission to the Netherlands. The OSS team grew to six
officers and eight to 10 enlisted men.
Later that month, Laverge consulted with the BI and used its
contributions for the final plan, submitted on 5 August 1944. Both the BI and
the OSS approved the mission, which was given the codename Melanie. The
Minister of War in the Dutch exile government also approved the mission, which
was to gather intelligence and focus on “transmitting information obtained
from the Dutch service’s intelligence nets, trying to recruit agents, and
extending Dutch nets into Germany.’
After Lt. Laverge got the green light for the mission, he
began recruiting soldiers for the team, choosing men he had worked with before
in England. He also began building up his team to ensure maximum
self-sufficiency. In addition to his radio operators and two Dutch BI analysts,
he recruited an American Army mechanic, a radio repairman, and a Dutch-American
major with no previous intelligence experience. The presence of a Major on the
team would provide Laverge with enough rank to obtain resources.
Melanie Moves Ahead
As operations on the Continent speeded up, so did Laverge’s
preparations. The target date for the start of the mission kept getting moved
forward, and Laverge began to worry that he would not have enough time to
prepare properly. The decision was finally made to deploy an advance team of
two Dutch and two American officers not later than 7 September 1944, with the
remainder of the team to follow as quickly as possible.
When the advance team arrived in Normandy, it reported to
the SHAEF G2 Forward. On 9 September 1944, Lt. Laverge met with a Major Krick
of the SHAEF G2. Krick apparently offered little or no guidance to Laverge as
to Melanie’s intended intelligence-gathering priorities and requirements.
According to Laverge’s report to his OSS superior, Krick only made suggestions,
which Laverge developed into the following requirements:
German unit composition and positions behind the Siegfried
Location of enemy headquarters of any kind and names of
Germans located there.
Locations of the planning and archival sections of German
Information on “controlling personalities” at all
levels of the Reich.
Locations of command, control, and communications nodes.
The OSS team was attached and ordered to report to Field
Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery’s 21st Army Group. In early September, Laverge
moved his team to the Palace Hotel in Brussels, in preparation for deployment
into Holland. He also reported in at Montgomery’s headquarters.
In early September 1944, Montgomery, seeking to maintain the
momentum of the Allied breakout from Normandy, conceived an operation to
outflank the German “West Wall” defensive line. Encouraged by Ultra
SIGINT intercepts which portrayed a disintegrating German Army, Montgomery
persuaded Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower that his bold plan of
forcing a narrow corridor through Holland and establishing a bridgehead across
the Rhine River into northern Germany’s Ruhr Valley industrial complex held the
promise of bringing about a German collapse by the end of 1944.
Montgomery’s Operation Market-Garden had two parts. He
proposed dropping the First Allied Airborne Army to seize seven canal and river
bridges in Holland as well as the bridge across the lower Rhine at the Dutch
town of Arnhem–the “Market” portion of Montgomery’s operation.
Simultaneously, the British XXX Armored Corps would rapidly advance 60 miles
along a narrow road corridor crossing the captured bridges to link up with the
airborne forces in Arnhem–the “Garden” portion. The operation began
on 17 September.
The Melanie mission, with no prior coordination with the
British XXX Armored Corps, deployed into Holland over the Albert Canal and
reached Eindhoven on 21 September 1944. The team established its base of
operations in a house at No. 2 Vestdijk Street.
The Dutch telephone network was a vital communications link
between Melanie and the Resistance cells scattered throughout the country.
Using a TR-4 wireless telegraph radio set, the team’s radio operators
established contact with the OSS SI section in Paris. In addition to the TR-4,
the team used a TR-1 for local communications with the Dutch Resistance groups
in the Market-Garden area of operations.
Even though the team was attached to the 21st Army Group, it
apparently did not provide intelligence to Montgomery’s G2. Instead, its
reporting channel was directly to Paris and the OSS Continental Division of SI.
The exclusion of the 21st Army Group G2 from the intelligence reporting chain probably
stemmed from the sensitive, compartmented nature of all OSS missions. The team
had no contact with the 101st Airborne Division, whose Market-Garden objective
was the seizure of Eindhoven and vital bridges nearby. The only American
paratrooper the OSS team saw was a lone GI who wandered past the house one day
and asked for a cigarette.
Laverge quickly made contact with Arie Tromp, the chief of
the Eindhoven Resistance. With Tromp’s assistance, Laverge recruited four Dutch
civilians to work as interpreters and telephone operators. A Resistance member named
A. Jongbloed was employed as the mission’s intelligence and liaison officer
with Dutch civilian authorities in Eindhoven. The OSS team used the Dutch
telephone system to make contact with various Resistance groups throughout
Holland. This reporting network began yielding excellent information almost
The team’s first message to SI in Paris, on 21 September
1944, reported that it had begun recruiting possible agents for work behind the
German lines. As the Market-Garden battle raged up and down the corridor
along “Hell’s Highway,” the OSS team continued its
intelligence-gathering mission. On 22 September 1944, the team reported the
location of the Gestapo headquarters in Kleve, Germany, a border town just east
of Nijmegen, and the location of the telephone exchange there. This information
was passed via the telephone network by Resistance members. A report dated 24
September 1944 from a “reliable source” stated that, as of 22 September,
all “troops [are] leaving Rotterdam, except demolition squads.” The
team also reported on other concentrations of enemy troops and artillery.
In addition to the Melanie operation, which was to provide
strategic intelligence on the situation throughout Holland, OSS/SOE
Jedburgh teams deployed with each Allied airborne division during
Market-Garden. The Jedburgh teams worked closely with their respective division
commanders and staff. These teams performed civil affairs and unconventional
warfare missions in much the same manner as latter-day special forces units do,
but they were primarily concerned with obtaining tactical intelligence provided
by Resistance members.
During Market-Garden, intelligence supplied by the various
Resistance networks, because of its noncompartmented nature, was passed through
the Jedburgh teams to the various tactical commanders. The commanders received
intelligence on the composition and disposition of German forces, as well as
information on terrain and the conditions of the bridges. Once the paratroopers
were on the ground, this information flow continued. Some of the Resistance
cells were aware to some extent of Market-Garden before its implementation, but
the decentralized nature of the underground network guaranteed that not everyone
would know the time and place of the attack. As Allied parachutes began
blossoming, those previously unaware of the operation reacted by mobilizing
their cells and recovering arms caches.
Some Resistance members carried out independent actions
during the operation. Others actively sought out airborne soldiers and attached
themselves to any unit that would take them. In cases where their loyalties
were suspect, Resistance members were vetted by the Jedburgh teams. Once this
was done, they were farmed out to different units as the need arose.
Jedburgh Team Claude, attached to the British 1st Airborne
Division, was too small to conduct effective operations. One four-man team per
brigade would have been enough, but not one team for the entire division. The
splitting of this team had disastrous consequences, placing the entire
responsibility for the vetting and administration of the available Resistance
on the junior member of Team Claude, Lt. Knottenbelt.
The British plan for using the Resistance fell apart after
Col. Barlow, the officer in charge of civil affairs and of working with the
Resistance in the Arnhem area, was killed. Dutch naval commander Wolters was
attached to the British division, but his stated mission was focused on Dutch
civil affairs after the liberation of Arnhem. His unplanned, ad hoc actions
during the fighting demonstrated his considerable abilities; if his
responsibilities had been broadened before D-Day, he could have been even more
The communications failures suffered by Market forces,
especially the 1st Airborne Division, are legendary. Team Claude’s loss of
communications occurred because the team carried only one radio for the
operation, which was lost during the initial drop on D-Day. Team Edward’s
inability to communicate with Team Claude and the physical isolation of the two
teams prevented a clear assessment of the situation at Arnhem.
Market-Garden ranks among the most serious intelligence failures
of the war. Critiques of the operation have focused on the overly optimistic
interpretations of SIGINT as well as on the failure of planners to credit
airborne reconnaissance indications of recent German armored reinforcements in
the Arnhem area.
Similarly, the operational planners, in their haste to meet
Montgomery’s deadlines, paid too little attention to route, terrain, and
weather assessments. These assessments, moreover, suffered from insufficient
basic intelligence information. Selections of drop zones, especially at Arnhem,
were ill-considered, and estimates of the road system’s ability to support the
armored column were critically flawed, although this latter shortcoming was as
much a planning failure as it was an intelligence failure.
The Dutch Resistance was not alerted to the Arnhem drop
because British intelligence believed the Germans had penetrated their Dutch
networks. If the British had heeded word from their agents in Arnhem, they
would have been alerted to the presence of two enemy panzer divisions.
After Market-Garden, the Melanie mission continued to
collect military, economic, and industrial intelligence. A detailed report
dated 14 December 1944 provided the specifications on a Mauser small-arms
factory in the town of Oberndorf, Germany. The team also provided reports
regarding German atrocities committed against Allied prisoners and Netherlands
The unleashing of German secret weapons such as jet aircraft
and the V-2 rocket made information about these weapons critical. Melanie
responded by providing information on the location of V-2 launching sites, with
detailed sketches. Information on industrial infrastructure was also provided.
A report dated 3 March 1945 stated that V-2 parts were being manufactured in
the Croecke textile factory in Hohenlimburg, Germany.
In late December, coinciding with the German attack through
the Ardennes, Melanie developed intelligence indicating a secondary,
supplementary German attack across the Maas River. Maj. Van der Gracht reported
to his superior, Philip Horton, that in the period of a few days more than 30
German commandos wearing British uniforms had been captured in Eindhoven, some
only a few blocks from the team’s quarters. Van der Gracht also reported,
however, that Eindhoven had received numerous V-2 attacks “with some
accuracy.” The threat became so ominous that Van der Gracht made plans for
the destruction of those files which could not be evacuated.
On 8 February 1945, Melanie reported that Field Marshal
Goering had established his headquarters in a train with three coaches at the
Niederaula train station and that he had been there for several months. Dutch
intelligence agents were routinely able to report the locations of German
regimental and higher headquarters along with descriptions of vehicle and
uniform markings. Reports on German units were usually able to identify the
name of the commander and sometimes what decorations he wore. This type of
information came from underground sources living in the occupied towns and
SI also tasked Melanie to conduct and submit battle damage
assessment reports on the results of Allied bombing raids in the Netherlands.
Again, such reports could only be obtained through eyewitness accounts provided
by Dutch Resistance members and Melanie agents.
A 24 December 1944 memorandum from Lt. Laverge states that
the team had recruited nine Dutch citizens–five observers and four wireless
telegraph operators–and was training them in Eindhoven to penetrate German
lines and collect information. Armed with only their wits and the TR-1
radio, these Netherlanders tried, with varying degrees of success, to
accomplish their assigned missions. From September 1944 until May 1945, several
secondary missions were conducted, each including at least one agent. These
missions involved contacting various Resistance groups and establishing radio
contact between the groups and Melanie for intelligence-gathering purposes.
Some of the agents did not survive.
Operations in occupied Holland were extremely difficult and
dangerous for Melanie’s Dutch agents. After an OSS bureaucrat had recommended
shutting down the operation because of a perceived lack of results, Laverge
responded angrily: “Frankly, if you knew about conditions in Holland like
we do here, you don’t see how the hell those people [Dutch agents] can
accomplish what we are asking.” The lack of archival reports on the
success or failure of these missions makes it impossible to evaluate them
Melanie continued in Eindhoven for the duration of the war.
Besides obtaining intelligence on the strategic and tactical military
situation, the team provided economic, political, and social intelligence on
large and small urban areas and on rural communities. Melanie also put together
a database on Dutch collaborators.
From 25 to 31 March 1945, the Melanie mission sent 251
reports, messages, and maps/sketches to the OSS/ETO SI section. From September
1944 to April 1945, Melanie sent approximately 3,200 courier reports and 750
cable messages to the OSS SI section in Paris. According to an afteraction
report written by the SHAEF G-2 in 1945 evaluating Dutch intelligence
production and reporting, the Melanie mission “supplied more reports
for SHAEF’s Daily Digest than any other OSS mission from
September 1944 to May 1945.
Despite its achievements, Melanie has hardly been mentioned
in most OSS histories. The only sources on Melanie are surviving participants
and the declassified OSS records at the National Archives at College Park,
Maryland. These records include daily situation reports, financial accounting
records, operational reports, and debriefs of Dutch agents sent behind the
lines. There are important gaps in the records; some documents have been pulled
from the files and reclassified.
But the SHAEF G2, at least, gave some credit where it was
justly due, when he reported that Melanie provided the most accurate and
complete intelligence picture for its assigned area of any intelligence
operation during the war As he indicated, Melanie’s efforts and the cooperation
and sacrifices of its Dutch Resistance agents contributed substantially to
Allied intelligence operations in Holland at a crucial stage.
A Bridge Too Far
Operation Market-Garden turned into a military disaster.
Although the American airborne divisions eventually achieved their
objectives–the 82nd Airborne parachuted into Grave and Groesbeek and
controlled the strategic river crossings, while the 101st Airborne seized the
bridges at Eindhoven and Veghel–the Germans managed to demolish one of the
bridges. In addition, the British lst Airborne Division, reinforced by a Polish
airborne unit, was dropped too far from its target, the Arnhem bridge.
More fundamently, German strength in Arnhem was
substantially greater than anticipated in the intelligence estimates. Lightly
armed Allied paratroopers found themselves up against two SS panzer divisions
that had recently been refitting in the area. The British/Polish force,
suffering from the loss in the airdrop of critical vehicles, artillery, and
communications, failed to seize the Arnhem bridge despite a heroic fight.
The situation in Arnhem grew increasingly perilous. The
British armored column which was to break through to relieve the airborne
forces fell behind schedule as the tanks crawled along the narrow, congested
roadway. The operation ended less than 10 days later, with the British and
Polish airborne troops surrounded in Arnhem and the armored column stalled 10
The British were able to pull back some of their forces, but
not before the Germans killed or captured more than 7,000 paratroopers; the two
American airborne divisions fighting along the corridor lost more than 3,500.
With the debacle in Arnhem, hopes of an early end to the war quickly faded. In
the words of the British airborne Commander General Boy Browning, Market-Garden
was “a bridge too far.”