8 Things You Need to Know About the 1940 Rotterdam Terror Bombing

Rotterdam's city centre after the bombing. The heavily damaged (now restored) St. Lawrence church stands out as the only remaining building reminiscent of Rotterdam's medieval architecture.

The Battle of Rotterdam began May 10th, 1940, and ended with the bombings on Rotterdam May 14th, 1940. German forces saw the Netherlands as an opportune place to build an Air Force base, as well as station soldiers.

May 10th, the invasion of the Netherlands, including Rotterdam, began. The country had looked to stay neutral in the war, as they had done in World War I. This was due in part to their military, which lacked the necessary vehicles, aircraft, and troops to fight in the large war.

A painting of Rotterdam in 1895, before the Blitz destroyed the historic city centre.
A painting of Rotterdam in 1895, before the Blitz destroyed the historic city centre.

As a large port city in South Holland, Rotterdam was an ideal place for Adolf Hitler to occupy. Not only did it offer a close proximity to Great Britain, but it also had access to waterways. Hitler intended to capture the Netherlands in just one day. While he failed to meet that goal, German forces took over the country May 15th, one day after the Bombings on Rotterdam, which decimated the city.

Rotterdam lacked robust defense systems that you would find in other cities and bases, but it did have more troops and artillery on hand for the battle. None of that would matter, when on May 14th, the Luftwaffe bombed the city. Rotterdam went from being a bustling port city to a wasteland, in just one day. Here are eight ‘Things You Need to Know About the Terror Bombings on Rotterdam’.

1 Not That Deadly

The idea of a city being wiped from the landscape, sounds like the perfect storm for a large death toll. However, Rotterdam didn’t have a large death toll. At first, the Dutch government announced a death toll of around 30,000 civilians. This was later found to be incorrect. While the exact number of those killed is still contested, it is believed that around 1,000 people were killed during the bombings. On the other hand, it did leave many citizens  homeless. Around 85,000 people lost their homes in the bombings.

Rotterdam's burning city centre after the bombing. Photo Credit.
Rotterdam’s burning city center after the bombing. Photo Credit.

2. It Was on The Verge of Not Happening

The morning of the 14th, the Dutch received and ultimatum from the Germans. Surrender, or Rotterdam would be destroyed. The Dutch were considering it, but requested a German officer to sign the notice with name and rank. At some point in this long sequence of communication, German bombers were ordered to destroy the city. As the final notice containing the German officer’s signature, with name and rank, was sent, a group of 27  bombers arrived to the city out of the south. Red flares were drawn by the Germans to protect from friendly fire. It was too late for the city, and the first three bombers  dropped their bombs. The remaining 24 turned westward as they saw the red smoke.

The second group of bombers (60 bombers in this group) then arrived from the north. This group couldn’t see the red smoke at all, and unleashed a fury of 100 and 500-pound bombs all over the city. The attack lasted 15 minutes.

Rotterdam Blaak railway station and Laurenskerk. Photo Credit.
Rotterdam Blaak railway station and Laurenskerk. Photo Credit.

3 Total Destruction

About 1 square mile of the city was completely destroyed. In total, over 25,000 buildings were leveled. Below is the breakdown of the type of buildings destroyed

  •  24,978 homes
  • 2,320 businesses
  • 24 churches
  • 62 schools
  • 775 warehouses

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