Part of Rotterdam city-centre in its modern glory, made possible by some 57 Nazi bombers and the unbreakable will of the Rotterdam people.


On May 10th 1940 the Nazis invaded Holland with the objective to crush the ill-prepared Dutch army within one day. The objective wasn’t met as the Nazis ran into stiff resistance in most parts of the flat country. Despite the use of shock tactics, deployment of airlandingtroops and gigantic numerical superiority the Germans didn’t meet any of their first day objectives.

To secure the important Rotterdam bridges, Hitler’s paratroopers were dropped in Feyenoord (football) stadium ‘De Kuip’ while waterplanes landed additional forces on the river Maas in the heart of the city. This Nazi airborne elite was checked by highly motivated Dutch Marines. Lightly armed with rifles from 1898, these (mostly farm) boys held on to the bridges for three days, beating off every German assault.

To break the Dutch resistance, the German field commanders asked Berlin for tactical air support. What they got were over 80 carpet bombing HE-111’s. May 14th, 13:30h: upon seeing the aircraft’s approach, the commander realized the mistake and tried to call off the attack. 24 aircraft complied, but the others missed his call or ignored the Befehl. They dropped their deadly cargo, destroying Rotterdam city-center and killing some 900 people, mostly civilians.

Later in the war, the Rotterdam bombing was dwarfed by allied visits to ie Hamburg (42.500 killed) and Dresden (25.000 killed), but in 1940 the world hadn’t seen much like it (only Guernica, Warsaw, both more victims than Rotterdam, but still small scale compared to what was yet to come … from the Allies), so the Rotterdam bombing had quite a psychological impact (especially combined with the fast Blitzkrieg tactics). The Nazis made maximal use of their momentum and threatened to destroy other cities as well to force the Dutch into surrender.

After the war, Rotterdam was rebuilt and not restored. The result is a beautiful modern city, mixing state of the art architecture with buildings that survived the Nazi firecrackers. Add the coolest watertaxi’s in the world, a bustling hipster nightlife and some of the best restaurants The Netherlands has to offer and you realize that Rotterdam is the place to visit. As an extra-free bonus you get the wicked sense of humor of the Rotterdam locals. Oh my! Yes, Rotterdam should be at the top of your todo list.

More on Rotterdam 1940.
More on Hamburg 1943.
More on Dresden 1945. 

Disclaimer: I don’t live in Rotterdam, but I often visit there. Mostly for the people and the atmosphere. On April 20th 2014, my relationship with Rotterdam reached epic levels as (my hometown team) PEC  Zwolle trashed ‘big spender’ Ajax to win the Dutch cup final. A pure David vs. Goliath spectacle of unequalled proportions.