World War: General Dike

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Some weeks ago the Nazi High Command sent, as a handsome present to The Netherlands High Command, 1,500 copies of the official military map of Germany, showing every creek and hillock, every canal and road and bridge. Couple of days later the Nazi High Command hinted delicately to The Netherlands High Command that it would be jolly if this compliment were returned in kind. The Dutch ignored the suggestion. The problem of defending their little country against a German juggernaut is bad enough without showing the drivers precisely where to go.

Last week, with Nazi troops and airplanes still massing just across the frontier, with the Nazi press barraging The Netherlands for not fighting harder against Great Britain's sea blockade, and with a possible Nazi threat about airplanes hanging over Queen Wilhelmina's head (see p. 17), The Netherlands High Command stepped on the starter of its defense engines, set them idling alertly though still strictly in neutral.

All military furloughs were canceled. State of siege was extended to all towns and villages in the defense areas. All lighthouses and lightships except one were blacked out. Banks whipped their gold over to Amsterdam. Buses were requisitioned, trains held in readiness to evacuate civilians. Army reservists were called to duty. Some on such short notice that they reported for pillbox and blockhouse duty still in wooden shoes.

Tension was increased when at the border town of Venlo (see map), a Dutch car drew up just short of the line. Two men got out, one a member of the Dutch secret service. From the German side of the border came a car carrying six men in plain clothes, evidently Gestapo. They jumped out shooting. The Dutch sleuth fell. The Nazis dragged him and his comrade across the border into Germany, also kidnapping two other men who had sat talking in a nearby tavern.

Two days later a detachment of Nazi soldiers came to the same border station and removed all the furniture from that part of the German customs house which stands on Dutch soil.

Despite reassurances from The Hague and from Brussels, where King Leopold conferred long & often with his ministers and generals after returning from his sudden visit to Queen Wilhelmina, nervousness and foreboding continued through the weekend. Despite repeated German denials, all intelligence reports agreed that Adolf Hitler was planning to move somewhere, soon and suddenly, in the West. Logic for his striking through The Netherlands was compelling. With the Belgian border fortified against him almost as strongly as the French, the Dutch dike was his weakest target. His objective would not necessarily be the turning of the Allied flank but acquisition of bases for planes and submarines much closer to Great Britain than his present bases, for intensified warfare upon British shipping and the supply line of the British Expeditionary Force in France. With some 200 miles cut from their round trips to English Channel naval bases and industrial centres, Nazi bombers could be given fighter escorts, and fuel would be conserved. Should Britain go to The Netherlands' aid, her aid to France would be weakened by just so much.

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