Finally, when after more than four days neither The Hague nor Rotterdam had been captured, the Germans did a monstrous thing. They resorted to a merciless bombardment on a colossal scale of the open town of Rotterdam, where the Dutch had never dreamt of fighting, and where fighting had only taken place because the Germans had attacked the city. This bombardment was one of the worst crimes of military history. Two groups, each of 27 aeroplanes, systematically bombed the centre of the town with heavy high-explosive and incendiary bombs, leaving not a house intact, hardly a soul alive.
Thirty thousand of innocent victims, among whom were scarcely any soldiers, perished during the half-hour this loathsome raid lasted – old men, young men, women and innumerable children. Who, in the face of such facts, is there to speak of “Deutsche Ehre,” of “Deutsche Treue” ? There is every reason to put this question – it is by no means a mere rhetoric one.
At 10.30 a.m. of that fateful day, the Commander of the troops which had come to Rotterdam to resist the German attack on that otherwise undefended city received an ultimatum in writing to cease fire forthwith, failing which the severest measures would be taken against the town. A reply was demanded within two hours. The document was unsigned. Fearing that it might be a mystification, the Dutch Commander received orders from Headquarters to reply that a demand of this kind could only be examined if it were duly signed by a qualified officer.
This reply was handed to the Germans at 12.15 – a quarter of an hour before the expiration of the time stated in the unsigned document. More than an hour later, at 1.20 p.m., a fresh ultimatum arrived, this time duly signed. It gave another three hours delay.
At 1.22, the first squadron of German bombers approached the city. The Germans twice caused a red flare to be fired, which meant, according to the declarations they made later, that the bombardment was not then to take place. But if this meant anything at all, it did not prevent the bombardment from being executed at once with the utmost brutality.
It is not too much to say that, even if this was not bad faith but culpable negligence, culpable negligence of this magnitude reflects most seriously on the honour and trustworthiness of the German command. Errors of this scope, resulting in the wiping out of thirty thousand human beings most of whom were civilians, are unpardonable. An army like that of the Germans, priding itself on its sense of organisation, ought to feel deeply humiliated by such a ghastly event.
Note: This was first published in September 1940.