TBTD – The only Dutch Tank in WWII & The Dutch Defensive Strategy

In Throwback Thursday we’ll look back on some tank (historical) peculiarities. This week we’ll start with the Dutch Renault FT-17 and its fate throughout the war.
The Dutch might not be known for their extensive combat and resistance against the German invaders in May 1940. A little background insight will be given to show why the Dutch army was far from ready when Germany invaded.


The Dutch as a Nation have always valued good diplomatic relations with other countries since it benefits trade and economy. The Netherlands remained neutral in World War 1 therefore. Much pain and suffering was spared to the Dutch people as barely any lives were lost and no resources were spent in fighting the war; as practically the country was left alone. Countries like Belgium that were affected by the war paid the price. Many casualties, a lost generation, destroyed infrastructure and the countryside was forever changed. The Dutch believed in neutrality; it had shown its value.
However, the countries that did fight the First World War learned valuable military lessons. Mobility would change many aspects of battle. Tanks were able to withstand fire and were able to crawl through littered and deformed battlefields. The future was in mobility and swift combat maneuvers rather than entrenchements and shooting artillery barrages at each other. This is how the concept of the modern tank was born in the form of the Renault FT-17.
Pre-war Years
Pressure was rising in Europe as the European economies suffered badly from the stock exchange crash in 1929. Germany was hit especially hard and the right wing NSDAP gained a lot of popularity. We all know what happened. Germany secretly started investing in an army. Tanks were being built, a navy was started and formerly de-militarized zones were re-occupied by military troops (Rheinland).
Since Germany started to violate the Versailles Treaty, especially the Brits and French were on their toes and their armies were also restocked with modern equipment. Old and outdated equipment (like artillery from 1897) was sold off to countries like The Netherlands.
The Netherlands was suffering in a different economic way when other countries slowly started to find their way up again; as the government refused to let the currency exchange rates float freely and stuck to the “Gold Standard”, Dutch goods were extremely expensive for other countries to buy. The Dutch therefore had little money to spend and were going for “Neutrality” anyways in case of war. Therefore they bought old equipment, as in “that is all we’re going to need
However, the Dutch had also seen that countries started investing in armored regiments and did not want to fall behind. Their hypothesis was: “Is a Country like The Netherlands even suitable for tanks?”

Tank Trials – Renault FT-17

The Dutch Defense Ministry had bought a Renault FT-17 made for the European mainland for testing purposes. The “Device” was tested as can be seen from the following pictures.

Renault FT-17
“Last week in Houten an exercise was held with a device, that makes it possible for tanks to operate in the lower lands. You can see the device on the left”

Renault FT-17-2
“The device takes the ditch without a problem. It would have gotten stuck before. Let’s hope this invention should never be used in practice!”
 The testing, however, was an outright disaster.
Renault FT-17-3
The tank sunk in the marshes
 It had gotten stuck in the marshes and almost sunk. The defense ministry took this opportunity to write propaganda for neighboring countries to tell them that Tanks were absolutely useless in this country and it would make no sense to try and force your way into our country.
The Dutch army stuck to Landsverk armored cars from Sweden and DAF had a try for themselves and let the tank be. The engine was taken out and it was parked in a military base. The “Waterline Defense” was however born soon after.

The Waterline

Yep, the Dutch were safe, behind the water you can see on the map. With armed forces being mobile by using armored cars and riding bikes. Being as down to earth as it can possibly be…but also very ignorant.

The bicycle brigade in 1937

The concept of the waterline was to flood the country and protect the most important organs of the country: Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague and Amsterdam. Also, bringing any attack to a halt and defending the lines with fortresses and garrisons. This is how it looked:

All defenses were made to withstand any attack at up to 3 months. If attacked, allied reinforcements would probably have already made it by then. The orange squares are Strongholds and the red blips are fortresses (in practice they were mostly pillboxes)

The German Attack

The Germans invaded Holland on May 10, 1940. Starting with an armored train that easily rolled into our country. A plan was made to snatch the Queen from the West of the country by quickly paratrooping a regiment OVER the Waterline, completely bypassing it.
Even though the Dutch fought bravely, the defense only held a couple of days (not the promised 3 months). Furthermore the modern concept of paratroops was completely new to the inexperienced Dutch army. A commander is even believed to have said: “This form of war is unfair”. Luckily the Queen was quick to escape to England and held a motivational role throughout the war for the occupied Dutch people; ruling from England.
The Dutch concept failed completely as it was set for a fortress war rather than a highly mobile war. Yet, the Germans thought it took too long to break the Dutch resistance and still bombed Rotterdam (even though the Dutch had just formally signed their surrender papers). 2000 people perished in this bombing.
After a few years of Nazi occupation, the Dutch would eventually be formally freed on the 5th of May 1945 by the Allies.