The Battle of Maastricht
was one of the first battles that took place during the German Campaign on the Western Front
The Western Front of the European Theatre of World War II encompassed, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and West Germany. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale ground combat operations...
Maastricht is situated on both sides of the Meuse river in the south-eastern part of the Netherlands, on the Belgian border and near the German border...
was a key city in order to capture the Belgian Fort Eben-Emael
Fort Eben-Emael is an inactive Belgian fortress located between Liège and Maastricht, on the Belgian-Dutch border, near the Albert Canal, and designed to defend Belgium from a German attack across the narrow belt of Dutch territory in the region. Constructed in 1931–1935, it was reputed to be...
and split the allied armies in half.
The German goal of the operation was to take the bridges over the river Maas intact, in order to have an easier road to France. Therefore, the Germans sent in teams disguised as civilians whose jobs were to sabotage the bridge charges. However, they were spotted and arrested, and when they attempted to run, shot.
The sluice complex at Borgharen
—just north of Maastricht—was another water-works that could not be destroyed. A section infantry was stationed here. Close to the bridge, one casemate
A casemate, sometimes rendered casement, is a fortified gun emplacement or armored structure from which guns are fired. originally a vaulted chamber in a fortress.-Origin of the term:...
with a machine gun could assist. In the early morning hours, a patrol of six motorised infantry-men approached the eastern guard post. They were a reconnaissance party of the Hocke squad. They were ordered to stop and four of them were taken prisoner. The other two were able to escape. The Dutch Lieutenant was confident that more would be coming, and he ordered his men to remain prepared. Not so much longer later, more German soldiers appeared on motorcycles. The Dutch let them approach to within 50 m (54.7 yd) of their ambush and opened fire with two machine guns and every rifle available. The Germans temporarily retreated. However, when the Germans brought in reinforcements, the squad was overwhelmed. The defenders tried to draw back to the sluice. The move was difficult under the ever increasing German fire. The occupation of the sluice itself was able to resist the Germans, but the south-eastern squad—which defended the northern entrance into Maastricht—had to give in when their machine gun failed. The gap that now existed in the outer defences of the city was soon penetrated by the majority of the Germans that had agitated against the sluice.
The 4. Panzerdivision
had encountered some resistance around Gulpen and this delay cost hours. A southern column—which was instructed to advance against Maastricht from the south—was able to move forward quicker. They appeared in front of the outer defences at Heugem. Here, the barricades had been sealed and locked as instructed. The defending unit was ordered to move back behind the Maas, because it had become clear that the outer defences had been penetrated.
It was now up to the rearguard of the outer defences to slow down the German advance. The rearguard managed to destroy two armored cars and block the road for the remaining cars. When the German infantry had almost reached its position the commanding Dutch sergeant ordered an organised retreat. The squad safely reached the westbank of the Maas a little later.
By this time, only the railway bridge remained intact. The Germans felt that it could be a very useful crossing point for tanks, and only 35 Dutch soldiers defended it. As the Germans advanced to the bridge, they were briefly held off by the Dutch defenders. A few German soldiers were killed. The Dutch however soon fell back, because of overwhelming numbers. As the Germans began to cross the bridge, the charges were planted and the bridge fell into the river. After all of the bridges over the Maas River were destroyed, the only task that remained was to hold off the Germans as long as they could.
At the destroyed bridges in Maastricht, some stray Dutch units continued piecemeal attacks on the Germans; the Dutch had spread over many strategic points, including a sniper squad in the towers of the bridge. When the Germans boldly placed an anti-tank gun in front of the bridge, aimed at the adjacent St. Servaesbrug, the Dutch instantly killed the crew. A new crew shared the same fate. A small number of rubber boats tried to cross the Maas but were shot to pieces. Then the Germans retreated from this location.
At the destroyed railway bridge, the heaviest fighting would be seen. What remained of the German squad that had tried to take the bridge was soon reinforced by the German main force. Two armored cars tried to approach the east bank but were destroyed by two anti-tank rifles. Also a light tank was put out of action by the AT rifles. The German losses were high. However, soon after, three more German armored cars approached. The situation for the light Dutch infantry had become critical. Many defenders were killed or wounded by the German fire, and soon one of the two anti-tank rifles was destroyed by a hit. The headquarters were contacted to report the situation. From this contact, it became clear that the Dutch resistance at Maastricht had been ordered to cease.
Govers—Territorial Commander (TC) of Limburg—had called a meeting later in the day. The German battle plans had been found on a German POW in the morning. All German units were mentioned in the plans and maps with directions had been part of the catch. It was clear that all bridges had been destroyed. It was also clear than an entire German Tank Division was deployed in South-Limburg. The TC had only two companies left under his command, without anti-tank guns or artillery. The ancient city of Maastricht—with all its cultural heritage—should not suffer more than necessary. The outcome of the meeting was that all further opposition to the Germans in and around Maastricht—the last standing defences in Limburg—would cease. The TC himself went to the Wilhelminabrug under the banner of truce. Soon, contact was established. A few hours later, all Dutch troops in Maastricht and its surroundings capitulated.
The battle in South-Limburg (Sector Roosteren - Maastricht) had cost the lives of 47 Dutch soldiers (two officers, seven NCOs, 38 corporals and soldiers). The German losses are again not known in detail, although at some scenes accurate figures are available. It is estimated that between 130-190 Germans died due to the fighting in the south. After the battle, it was reported that 186 German bodies were found. It is confirmed from German material-states that nine armored cars and tanks were destroyed in Limburg. Also, 10 German aircraft—mainly Junkers Ju 52
The Junkers Ju 52 was a German transport aircraft manufactured from 1932 to 1945. It saw both civilian and military service during the 1930s and 1940s. In a civilian role, it flew with over 12 air carriers including Swissair and Deutsche Luft Hansa as an airliner and freight hauler...
s and Ju 87
The Junkers Ju 87 or Stuka was a two-man German ground-attack aircraft...
s—crashed or were shot down in Zuid-Limburg.