World War I: The Netherlands


Figure 1.--Here is a World War I era postcard, printed in the United States. It shows Dutch peasant children looking at the interned Belgian soldiers. I'm bot sure just what point the photographer printer was making. It was attributed to the International News Service, New York. No. 53. W.C.A. w.c.a. series 146. On the back it reads, "Children of Dutch Peasants photographed outside the internment camp for Belgian soldiers at Harderwijk." Notic the wooden shoes.

The Dutch were neutral during World War I. Neither the Allies or the Germans occupied the Netherlands. The German invasion launching the war was directed at neighboring Belgium to the south. Belgian civilians and soldiers sought reguge in the Netherlands. The Dutch as a trading nation, however, were significantly affected by the Allied naval blockade. The Allies were concerned that the Germans might obtain goods and supplies through Dutch ports. The Allies thus carefully regulated Dutch trade and put them under strict quotas. The Netherlands Trust was established to administer the Allied quotas regulating Dutch imports through the blockade. The Allies even attempted to prevent Dutch trade with Germany, but were unsuccessful. It is less clear why the Germans did not occupy the Netherlands. The German offensive launching the war did not need to pass through the Netherlands. The port of Rotterdam was important to Germany, but rendered useless by the Allied naval blockade. In part because of the allied blockade there was considerable sympathy in the Netherlands for the Germans during World I. Ethnic and commercial ties were also factors. The Dutch offered asylum to the Kaiser at the end of the War and refused to turn him over to the Allies for trial. After the war, the Dutch supported charities offering relief to children in both Germany and Austria.

Outbreak of War (August 1914)

Austria-Hungary was determined to punish Serbia for the assaination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. When Austria-Hungary with German backing declared war on Serbia, Russia was committed to defend the Serbs--fellow Slavs. Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas exchanged telegrams, but ther personal relationship could not restrain the developing tragedy. The Tsar ordered a mobilization. France also began to mobilize its troops. Russia had the largest army in Europe and once moibilized posed a forbidable danger to Germany. Germany thus felt impelled to strike at France before Russia could mobilize. Germany declaring war on Russia (August 1) and France (August 3). The strike at France followed the Schlieffen Plan which meant invading Belgium. German armies crossed the Belgian birder (Aufudy 4). This brought Britain, which had treaty obligations to Belgium, into the War. Britain may have entered the War with out Germany invasion of Belgium, but the invasion provided both the causus bellum and popular support for war. Germany's decession to support Austria's desire to punish Serbia turned a Balkans crisis into a major European war. Germany probably would have prevailed in a war with France and Russia. The invasion of Belgium provided tactical advantages, but at the cost of brining Britain and the Empire with its immenense military and material resources into the War.

Neutrality

The Dutch were neutral during World War I. Neither the Allies or the Germans occupied the Netherlands. The German invasion launching the war was directed at neighboring Belgium to the south. The Dutch mobilized their small armed forces and maintained a position of armed neutrality. Germany could have, however, very easily have occupied the Netherlands if they so desired. Dutch political parties endorsed the Government's policies. They agreed to discontinue partisan politics until after the War. Important changes were were made, including an constitutional amendment approving universal male sufferage (1917).

Refugees

Belgian civilians and soldiers sought reguge in the Netherlands. The Dutch opened its doors for Belgian refugees when the Interment camps were established througout the camps away from the border. They included lkmaar, Amersfoort, Gaaterland, Groningen, Harderwijk, Oldenbroek, and Soesterberg. There were after the German invasion, 1 million Belgian civilians in the Netherlands. Eventually many returned even during the German occupation. About 0.1 million remained in the Netherlands thrpoghout the War. Retreating Belgian troops interned in camps located in the South. Refuge relief was a major financial burden--costing 37 million Guilders. The Dutch Government closed the camps immdidiately after the War (1919).

Allied Naval Blockade of Germany

The principal impact of the naval war was Britain's ability to blockade Germany. The British with the outbreak of war established a naval blockade on Germany. The British blockade crippled the German economy. Food shortages in Germany became severe as early as 1916. France produced adequate food domestically. The British maintained domestic food production and imports until mid-1917, when the U-boat campaign began to affect food imports. Germany could not feed itself and the British blockade severely affected the availability of food. Garman and even more so Austrian families were affected by severe food shortages in 1916. Cffee a German stapl was impossible to obtain. Consumption of fish and eggs declined sharply. Even potatos became difficult to obtain in the winterof 1916-17. Civilians had to turn to less nutritious turnips. Basic necesities like coal for heating and soap were raioned. Most civilians by late 1916 were increasingly affected by the War. Life for all but the rich " ... became a time of eating meals never entirely filling, living in unheated homes, wearing clothing that proved dificult to replace and walking with leaky shoes. It mean starting and ending the day with substitutes for nearly everything." [Moyer, p. 164.] The poor were most severly impacted. The bread winners in many families were at the front leaving their families destitute. State allounces were provided, but were inadequate and brought less and less food as the War progressed. [Wall and Winter , p. 117.] by the end of the War food shortges were at crisis levels. Mlnutritiin affected many and real starvation loomed. Without a surface fleet strong enough to challenge the Grand Fleet, the Germans were left with only one response--unrestricted submarine warfare. This had the impact of alienting neutrals--most importantlythe United States.

Food

The Netherlands was a highly industrialized country. Dutch farmers did not produce enough food to feed the population. The Dutch had to import food. With trade restrictions associated with the War, food was in short supply. The Dutch Government had to intriduce rationing. Bread coupons were issued (1915).

Netherlands Trust

The Dutch because they were dependant on food imports were severely affected by the Allied naval blockade. The Dutch also faced possible attacks from German U-boats. The British closed the Channel and Dutch ships had to go all the way around Scotland to reach the Atlantic. There was a shipping corridor into the North Sea was allowed by the Allies, but the trade was severly restricted. The Allies maintained a strict blockade on Germany. As part of that blockade, the Allies established a tight quota for shipping to pass through the blockade for the Dutch. The Netherlands Trust was set up to monopolize and administer the rigid quota of imports allowed through the Allied Blockade. The Trust was crated to sustain the Dutch, but prevent the Germans from importing food and war supplies through Dutch ports. The Allies tried to prevent all Dutch trade with the Germans, but were unsucessful. Some authors believe the Germans refrained from invding the Netherlands principally becuse Rotterdam was more useful to them if left in Dutch hands. We can not yet confirm this. We see no great military bebefits to occupying the Netherlands.

Dutch Economy

The Dutch as a trading nation, however, were significantly affected by the Allied naval blockade. The Allies were concerned that the Germans might obtain goods and supplies through Dutch ports. The Allies thus carefully regulated Dutch trade and put them under strict quotas. The Netherlands Trust was established to administer the Allied quotas regulating Dutch imports through the blockade. The Allies even attempted to prevent Dutch trade with Germany, but were unsuccessful.

Military Situation

It is less clear why the Germans did not occupy the Netherlands. The German offensive launching the war did not need to pass through the Netherlands. The port of Rotterdam was important to Germany, but the Allied naval blockade significantly reduced its value. Germany saw no real advantage in invading the Netherlands. There in fact some advantages in not doing so such as access to the port of Rotterdam.

Dutch Opinion

There was considerable sympathy in the Netherlands for the Germans during World War I, despite the fact that the Germans had invaded neutral Belgium. British supression of the Bohr republics in the Boer War (1899-1902) was another factor. The War was widely reported in the press. The Dutch strongly sympathized with the Afrikaners. British actions like setting up concentration camps to prevent the Bohr civilians from supporting the guerrilla fighters. The intent of the British was no genocidal, but thousands of women and children fied as a result of malnutrition and disease. A Dutch reader reports. "Public opinion in the Netherlands was very anti-British at that time, fanned by the books about the war by the popular author L. Penning. (I have read many of them)." [Stueck] Once the War began, the Dutch had further reason to resent the British. The British were concerned that the Germans could make use of Ditch ports. The Allied naval embargo had a devestating impact on the Dutch economy. There were also ethnic, family, and commercial ties that were factors in Dutch public opinion..

Flood (1916)

Although spared the War, the Dutch were hard hit by a flood. Rural areas were had hit as well as some areas of Amsterdam (1916). Hydraulics engineer Cornelis Lely designed the Zuiderzee Project (1880s). It was not fully implemented. The flood had a negative impact on the vital food production. The Dutch Government passed the Act of Closing and Drainage of the Zuiderzee (1918). It w largely based on Lely's plan. The result was the closure of the Zuiderzee and converting it into a freshwater lake. The massive projectwas not finished until 1929. On November 10th 1918, German Emperor Wilhelm II. abdicated, to live in the Netherlands in exile (at Doorn, where he died in 1941).

Asylum for the Kaiser

Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated (November 10, 1918). The Dutch offered him asylum. They refused to turm him over to the Allies after the end of the War. The Allies wanted to try him for war crimes. Wilhelm in the Netherlands at first lived as a guest with Count Bentinck in Amerongen, and then in 1920 purchased the chateau Doorn near Utrecht. Wilhelm soon settled into the life of an English country squire He never returned to Germany. He was distrustful of the NAZIs. Some of his sons were led on by them. Wilhelm died in the Netherlands during the NAZI occupation (1941). He was ignored by the NAZI authorities.

Dutch Charities

The Dutch sent food and clothes to the Belgians as far as the German occupation authorities allowed it. After the war, the Dutch supported charities offering relief to children in both Germany and Austria. Immediately after the war Holland took in hundreds of starving Austrian children. Some of them stayed in the country and later married Dutch citizens.

World War II

The Dutch hoped to remain neutral in World War II, but were invaded by the NAZIs as part of their Western offensive. The Dutch Air Force was destroyed and the country capitulated after the Luftwaffe terror bombing of Rotterdam. Queen Wilhemina fled to London to form a Government-in-exile. The NAZIs occupied the Netherlands for 4 years. They succeeded in killing most Dutch Jews. The Dutch during the World War II German occupation could not help but reflect that their compassion with the Austrians and Germans was repaid by a brutal occupation administer by Arthur Seyss-Inquart, an Austrian. The Resistance had little possibility of armed oposition, but assisted the allies with relaying intelligence and assisting down airmen. After D-Day, the Allies reached the Dutch in September, but the failure of Operation Market Garden (October 1944) left most of the country still in NAZI hands until the Allies crossed the Rhine (March 1945). By this time the Dutch were near starvation.

Sources

Moyer, L. Victory Must Be Ours (London, 1995).

Stueck, Rudi. E-mail message, March 15, 2009.

Wall, R. and J. Winter. The Upheaval of War (London, 1988).






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Created: 4:09 AM 12/26/2005
Last updated: 2:50 AM 3/15/2009