New Zealand Embassy The Hague, The Netherlands
New Zealand's role in World War II
While New Zealand ground troops were not involved on Dutch soil during WW2 the link between the two countries is significant and remains highly relevant even today, so long after the end of that war. New Zealand’s involvement with the Netherlands was from the air, from the thousands of young New Zealanders who flew with the British air force and in separately-designated New Zealand squadrons in attacks into occupied Europe and Germany. Many of these airmen flew over Dutch territory and 256 New Zealand airmen killed in World War II lie buried in the Netherlands, in 85 different cemeteries. The largest numbers are found at Bergen-op-Zoom, Jonkerbos, Amsterdam New Eastern, Amersfoort, and Rotterdam.
In addition to deceased airmen able to be recovered at the site of aircraft crashes, and in accordance with long time policy, military personnel killed in aircraft crashes have been left in the remains of their crashed aircraft, where the recovery of remains is neither required nor viable. Crash sites for war aircraft are treated as war graves in their own right and remain highly respected across the Netherlands. Given the volume of air traffic across the Netherlands and the intensity of German attacks on these aircraft, many thousands of aircraft still remain buried across the Netherlands, in the Ijsselmeer (previously Zuider Zee) and in the waters immediately off the Dutch coast.
From time to time the land on which these crashed aircraft lie buried is needed for activities that require the crashed planes (and particularly any bomb they may still be carrying) to be excavated. Reasons for change of land use vary from expansion of villages and towns to the development of new roads. On such occasions the local municipality and Dutch government meet the considerable costs of excavation of WW2 crash sites. Special care is devoted to ensuring that the remains of those buried on these crashed aircraft are treated with the highest respect, being identified and honoured. Allied aircrew, including from New Zealand are accorded reburials with full military honours.
During the War the New Zealanders served in a number of RAF squadrons, largely in bomber units. Number 75 Squadron, which comprised New Zealanders as well as British and other allied airmen, participated in bombing raids over Germany and other areas of occupied Europe. In addition to flying over the Netherlands, New Zealand airmen were also engaged in activities directly related to the Netherlands. In 1940, New Zealand-manned aircraft attacked roads and bridges around Maastricht and the airfield at Waalhaven, near Rotterdam, in an attempt to slow the German advance. Dutch troops were briefly able to recapture the airfield before being overcome by German forces again. New Zealand crew were later responsible for destroying the telephone communications system of the German bomber group near Eindhoven and for attacking the Philips valve and radio factory which was supplying one third of Germany’s radio components. New Zealanders participated in both night and day raids, attacking shipping in the North Sea, Schiphol airfield, and in mine laying. They assisted in rendering Rotterdam useless to the enemy as a port.
In one audacious plan in May 1943, NZ bombers were involved in attacks on Amsterdam, focussing on the power station. The intention of the raid was to disrupt power supplies to the rail system at a time when the German occupation authorities were intent on removing former Dutch military personnel to prison camps in Germany. Regrettably the raid was unsuccessful with all the 12 Ventura bombers being shot down with many deaths among the New Zealand and other allied airmen. Among those shot down and captured was Group Captain Trent who ended his war as one of the few to survive the infamous “Great Escape" prison camp. Gp Captain Trent was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the Amsterdam raid.
In the latter stages of the war, New Zealand airmen flew in Operation Market Garden and also helped clear pockets of German resistance, particularly around Tilburg. New Zealanders also participated in Operation Manna in April 1945, dropping desperately needed food supplies to the Dutch people. No. 75 (NZ) Squadron flew 126 sorties as part of this operation, mainly in The Hague and Delft areas.
One of the most significant features of Dutch/New Zealand cooperation today relating to wartime exploits is the continuing level of commitment by Dutch communities and individuals to ensure the sacrifice of New Zealand and other allied airmen remains known and honoured. For an example of the commitment of one Dutch community and particularly the determination of the daughter of a Dutchman whose involvement with the crash of a New Zealand aircraft in southern Netherlands had a profound and lasting impact you are encouraged to look at Lancaster Monument