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Koninklijke Landmacht - History

A commonwealth of sand-banks, lagoons, and meadows, less than fourteen thousand square miles in extent, had done battle for nearly half a century with the greatest of existing powers, a realm whose territory was nearly a third of the globe, and which claimed universal monarchy. And this had been done with an army averaging forty- six thousand men, half of them foreigners hired by the job. And when the republic had won its independence, after this almost eternal warfare, it owed four or five millions of dollars, and had sometimes an annual revenue of nearly that amount.

Dutch soldiers distinguished themselves in battle from 1588 to 1714. Following humiliation in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), however, the quality of the Dutch Army declined dramatically. Since then, despite individual unit achievements in various theatres of war, the Dutch Army has compiled a mediocre combat record. This lackluster performance in modern times led some to believe that the Dutch Army was merely representative of a people traditionally inclined to pacifism and, therefore, lacked the discipline required of an effective military organization. While there was an element of truth in this assessment, it should not be overstated.

The principal causes for the decline of the Dutch Army, since 1748, were threefold: (1) a greater public and political pragmatism regarding the limited size of the country and its relatively small population; this was further exacerbated by the Belgian Succession in 1831; (2) the huge costs associated with maintaining a large, well-equipped standing army, which was thought to retard normal economic and social developments, and resulted in consecutive cutbacks in military expenditures; and (3) an increasing anti-militarism fueled by conscription and which, after 1900, came to be represented by various labor and social organizations.

The military power of the " United Provinces" dated its rise from the middle of the 15th century, when, after a long and sanguinary struggle, they succeeded in emancipating themselves from the yoke of Spain ; and in the following century it received considerable development in consequence of the wars they had to maintain against Louis XIV.

Exactly a hundred years after Philip II had tried to invade England with the Invincible Armada, in order to conquer it for Roman Catholicism, William III Prince of Orange, with a Dutch army, invaded England and reconquered it for Protestantism. James II. fled, and William III., being the grandson of Charles I, received the English crown. The success of the Prince of Orange in his expedition to England defeated the plans of James II and Louis XIV. By the lucky accident that the Prince of Orange, as a descendant of the Stuart family, was eligible for the English crown, the Netherlands were saved from a war which might have caused their destruction. William III. remained Btadtholder of the Netherlands, and as England and the Netherlands were ruled by the same Prince, the Dutch were sure of England's support. The position of the Netherlands seemed absolutely secure.

William III died childless in 1702, through falling with his horse, which had stepped into a mole-hole. William's sudden death left the stadtholderate vacant. The oligarchy did not wish to have a stadtholder. But by abolishing the supreme national authority in 1702, the Netherlands signed their death-warrant. In 1702 the Army had in their pay upwards of 100,000 men, exclusive of 30,000 in the service of the Dutch East India Company.

The old Dutch Republic of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had grown too rich in the eighteenth century. Millions for tribute, but not a cent for defense had become the watchword of the self-contented rentiers, whose grandfathers had amassed fortunes and who were not willing to spend a penny of their comfortable dividends upon either an army or a navy. Whenever they needed soldiers they hired a few regiments of Germans or Scotchmen. The reward for this policy of indifference and cowardice came in the year 1795.

At the beginning of the wars of the French Revolution the army had fallen to 36,000 men. In less than a week the entire Dutch Republic of mighty memory fell into the hands of the French revolutionary hordes. In 1795 Holland was conquered by the French under Pichegru, and in the course of the changes which ensued the army was entirely reorganised, and under French direction bore its share in the great wars of the empire.

In 1814 Holland was relieved of the yoke of France, and in the following year, her armies, under the gallant Prince of Orange, fought side by side with the British at Waterloo. The Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed, under the leadership of the old House of Orange. Every man capable of bearing arms was drafted into the national defenses, and much of the ultimate success of the battle of Waterloo was due to the Dutch forces at Quatre Bras, who engaged the superior advance guard of Marshal Ney until the Duke of Wellington had put his army into battle array. From the year 1815 on, every boy of nineteen in the Kingdom was obliged to prepare for military service.

The separation from Belgium in 1830-31 put an end to the Orange policy of creating a powerful Netherland State from Lorraine to the North Sea which could hold its own with either France or Prussia, and since that period Holland has gradually sunk, and seemingly without discontent, into the position of a third-rate Power. This had taken place without any apparent loss of the old love of independence, but it was necessarily accompanied by a diminution not only of the military spirit, but of military efficiency and readiness. The spectacle of immense armies of millions of men in the neighboring States seemed to have produced a sense of helplessness among the people of the Netherlands, and to have led them to believe that resistance, were it needful, would be futile.

By around 1890 the military forces of the Netherlands consisted of a home or regular army, a colonial army, and a militia. The regular army was in theory raised by conscription, five years being the term of service, but substitutes were allowed, and a great part of the force under arms were volunteers, the conscripts being drilled for ten months only, and then sent home on furlough, subject to six weeks annual training. The colonial army was raised entirely by voluntary enlistment. The infantry of the regular army consisted of 8 regiments of the line, each of 4 active and 1 depot battalion, a regiment of guards, composed of 2 battalions of chasseurs and 2 of grenadiers, and a battalion of instruction. A battalion consists of 5 companies, of t peace strength of about 100 men, and a war strength cf 200. The cavalry consists of 4 regiments of husaars, eack regiment having 6 squadrons, viz., 4 field, 1 reserve, and 1 depot. The strength of a squadron in time of peace was about 100 men, in time of war about 200. The artillery consisted of 5 regiments, viz., 1 field, 3 garrison, and 1 of horse artillery. The field artillery regiment ha 14 active batteries of 6 guns each, and 1 depot company; the horse artillery has 4 active batteries and 1 depot; the garrison regiments have each 14 companies, of which was for torpedoes and 1 instructional. The engineers consisted of a scientific staff, and 1 battalion of sappers and miners.

The regulations applying to the army were based on the law of 1861, which was modified in one important particular by an Act of 1898. The army was to be raised partly by conscription and partly by voluntary enlistment. The annual contingent by conscription was fixed at 11,000 men. Every man became liable to conscription at the age of nineteen, but as the right of purchasing exemption continued in force until the Act of 1898 referred to, all well-to-do persons so minded escaped from the obligation of military service. At the same time its conditions were made as light as possible. Nominally the conscripts had to serve for five years, but in reality they remained one year with the colours, and afterwards were called out for only six weeks' training during each of the four subsequent years. The regular army thus obtained mustered on a peace footing 26,000 men and 2000 officers, and on a war footing 68,000 officers and men and 108 guns, excluding fortress artillery. Considering the interests entrusted to its charge, the Dutch army of 1900 must be pronounced the weakest of any State possessing colonies - a position of no inconsiderable importance from the historical and political point of view.

It will be said, no doubt, that Holland possessed other land forces besides her regular army, and this was true, but they were by the admission of the Dutch themselves, ill organised and not up to the level of their duties. There was the Schutterij, or National Volunteer force-perhaps Militia would be a more correct term, because the law creating it was based on compulsion. The law organising the Schutterij was passed in April, 1827, by which all males were required to serve in it between the ages of twenty-five and thirty, and from thirty to thirty-five in the Schutterij reserve. An active division was formed out of unmarried men and widowers without children. This division would be mobilised immediately on the outbreak of war, and would take its place alongside the regular army. It probably numbers five thousand men out of the total of 45,000 active Schutterij. The reserve Schutterij did not exceed 40,000, but behind all these was what was termed indifferently the Landsturm or the levie en masse. There was only one defect in this arrangement, which was that by far the larger portion of the population had never had any military training except that given to the Schutterij, which was practically none at all.

When a householder neglected to pay his taxes, one or more militiamen were quartered on him, and he was obliged to supply his guests not merely with good food and lodging, but also with abundant supplies of tobacco and gin. Apart from such incidents, which one may not doubt from the nature of the penalty were exceedingly rare, the Schutterij seemed to have had rather a dull and monotonous time of it.

There was one fact about the Dutch army that deserved mention. It was extremely well behaved, and the men give their officers very little trouble. The discipline was lighter than in most armies. There was an unusually kindly feeling between officers and men for a Continental force, and at the same time the public and the military were on excellent terms with each other. This was, no doubt, due to the very short period served with the colors, and to the fact that the last four years, with the exception of six weeks annually in a camp or fortress, were passed in civil life at home.

When the Great War broke out, Holland found itself unprepared and startled.It had developed a firm belief in international agreements and had not considered European tension too seriously. Nevertheless, measures were taken to protect its borders: the 200,000men whom the country could bring under arms were immediately mobilized and supplemented by the Landstorm, until about 450,000 men were in the field. For four yearsthe armed forces stood guard over the country.

In theory and on paper, the defence of Holland was based on the assumption that in the event of invasion the country surrounding Amsterdam to as far as Utrecht on one side and Leyden on the other would be flooded. There were many who doubt whether the resolution to sanction the enormous attendant damage would be displayed. It was said by some that the national spirit did not beat so high as when the youthful William resorted to that measure in 1672 to baffle the French monarch.

The Kingdom of Belgium was not prepared for war and it was invaded and overrun by a hostile army in August 1914. The Netherlands, although smaller in number of inhabitants, had the entire arm - bearing force of its male population at the frontier 48 hours before any of the other nations of Europe mobilized. As a result, the neutrality of the country was respected. Strategic reasons, however, for an invasion of the country were present ever since the month of October of the year 1914, when the Germans captured Antwerp. A cursory glance at the map will show that the Germans thereby acquired the most important naval base in their warfare upon England. Yet they could not use it as long as Holland closed the mouth of the Scheldt with mines and gunboats and land fortifications.

Meanwhile the regular army had retired behind the system of fortresses and inundations, which were all together designated as the "Waterline." The "Waterline" consisted of two parts. The first line of defense ran from the Zuyder Zee due south to the lower parts of the rivers Meuse and Rhine. It cut off the provinces of north and south Holland and half of the province of Utrecht. It creates a large artificial lake, from 6 to 10 miles wide, which covers all roads, canals, bridges, railroad tracks, and fences. At irregular intervals there were more than 40 little islands armed with heavy guns. They cover all the roads which in normal time cross this territory, and they know the exact range of every foot of ground (or rather mud) in the water-line.

Behind this first line of defense stretched the second one, which was also the most important. It consisted of another group of inundations and some forty-eight fortifications, and formed a broad circle of defense for the town of Amsterdam. Here the strength of the country has been concentrated, and ever since the beginning of the present war every lock and every dike has been guarded. Within six hours this territory- would be ready to resist an invasion. Within twelve hours thousands of acres of the most fertile grazing grounds would be covered with four feet of salt water. After a day and a night neither man nor machine could cross the artificial sea surrounding the heart of the country. The much dreaded shells of the heavy siege guns would cause a big splash, but would do no damage.

During the interwar Dutch armys strengths diminished due to years of budget cuts in the twenties and early thirties. In 1936 the order to the Field Army to man the defensive positions on the Grebbelinie were a watershed. Despite this defensive measure, the Dutch General Staff did not make the decision to change the assault-based mindset of its doctrines. A reason for this can be that although the doctrine was not useful for the first weeks of a major conflict, in which the Field Army was ordered to stay put in its trenches, the doctrines were very well applicable in the event of a big assault which should have been conducted after a few weeks.

Nevertheless, matters change when the doctrines do not fit in with the nature and capabilities of the army. Using reports of various exercises and maneuvers in the thirties, this research shows that the level of the Dutch army was worryingly low. Therefore, the high-level doctrines were not useful for the interwar Dutch army. The measures in the mid-1930s to improve the army were not sufficient to solve the problems in the short term.

A neutralist policy adequately met the security needs of the Netherlands through the Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century, even sparing them the horrors of the First World War. Neglecting its security matters in favor of the neutralist policy proved to be costly, and in World War II the Dutch capitulated to the Germans after only four days of fighting. On May 10, 1940, at three o'clock in the morning, German troopsstarted to cross the border. German planes bombed Dutch airfields and dropped parachutetroops near strategic locations a few days later. Queen Wilhelmina and the royal family went to England on a British destroyer. By Tuesday, May 14, the military situation became manifestlyhopeless. Rotterdam was heavily bombed. The center of the city, including one-eighth of itstotal area was destroyed. Approximately 900 persons were killed and 78,500 were madehomeless. Rotterdam, along with Warsaw and Coventry, became a wartime symbol of Nazi ruthlessness. On the following morning the capitulation was signed.

After the war, the Dutch vowed never again to suffer as they had under the Germanoccupation of 1940-1945. Dutch political leaders recognized the need to join in a collectivesecurity arrangement and accordingly, became members of NATO.

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