Henri Winkelman

Last updated
Henri Winkelman
Henri Winkelman.jpg
Birth nameHenri Gerard Winkelman
Born(1876-08-17)17 August 1876
Maastricht, Netherlands
Died27 December 1952(1952-12-27) (aged 76)
Soesterberg, Netherlands
Allegiance Flag of the Netherlands.svg Netherlands
Service/branch Royal Netherlands Army
Royal Netherlands East Indies Army
Years of service1892–1934
Rank Nl-landmacht-generaal.svg General
Commands held Commander-in-chief of the Armed forces of the Netherlands
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Military William Order
(Knight 4th Class)
Order of the Netherlands Lion
(Knight Grand Cross)
Mobilization War Cross
Spouse(s)Arendina Jacomina Coert
(m. 1902–1952; his death)

Henri Gerard Winkelman (17 August 1876 – 27 December 1952) was a Dutch military officer who served as Commander-in-chief of the Armed forces of the Netherlands during the German invasion of the Netherlands.

Netherlands Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe

The Netherlands is a country located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve separate provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba—it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian.

Commander-in-chief supreme commanding authority of a military

A commander-in-chief, sometimes also called supreme commander, is the person that exercises supreme command and control over an armed forces or a military branch. As a technical term, it refers to military competencies that reside in a country's executive leadership – a head of state or a head of government.

Armed forces of the Netherlands combined military forces of the Netherlands

The Armed forces of the Netherlands consist of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.



Winkelman was born in Maastricht as the son of Julius Hendrik Winkelman and Charlotte Henriëtte Braams. After he completed his secondary education he attended the Royal Military Academy (KMA) in Breda. His goal was to become an officer in the KNIL, the Dutch colonial army for the Dutch East Indies. During his training he adjusted his goal and became an infantry officer. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1896. He married Arendin Jacomina Coert in 1902 who would give birth to two sons and two daughters. Having completed his military education, he began to climb up the ranks of the Dutch army. In 1913 he was promoted to Captain, in 1923 he became a Major and in 1931 he was given the rank of Major General and became the commander of the Dutch 4th division. In 1934 he became a Lieutenant General, but left the military shortly thereafter. Winkelman had been running for the position of Chief of Staff of the Dutch Army, but had lost out to General Reijnders. Winkelman then decided to retire and was granted an honorary discharge. As a retired officer, he remained active in a number of ways, mostly by giving advice.

Maastricht City and municipality in Limburg, Netherlands

Maastricht is a city and a municipality in the southeast of the Netherlands. It is the capital and largest city of the province of Limburg. Maastricht is located on both sides of the Meuse, at the point where the Jeker joins it. It is adjacent to the border with Belgium.

Koninklijke Militaire Academie school

The Royal Military Academy is the service academy for the Dutch Army, the Dutch Air Force, and the Royal Marechaussee. Located in Breda, the Netherlands, the KMA has trained future officers since 1828.

Breda City and municipality in North Brabant, Netherlands

Breda is a city and municipality in the southern part of the Netherlands, located in the province of North Brabant. The name derived from brede Aa and refers to the confluence of the rivers Mark and Aa.

The Dutch mobilised their armed forces on 28 August 1939, four days before Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland. Chief of Staff, General Reijnders, was appointed as Supreme Commander of the Dutch forces, but it was clear from the outset that his personal and professional relationship with Defence secretary, Adriaan Dijxhoorn, left a lot to be desired, ultimately leading to Reijnders' (honorary) discharge on 5 February 1940. After a brief meeting of the Dutch cabinet General Winkelman was summoned to The Hague (the seat of the Dutch government) and was offered to become the new Dutch commander. He accepted the job the following day.

Adriaan Dijxhoorn Dutch politician

Adriaan Quirinus Hendrik Dijxhoorn was a Dutch soldier who served as Minister of Defence during the Battle of the Netherlands. Following the outbreak of the Second World War he was appointed Minister of Defence in August 1939 as part of the second De Geer Cabinet. Dijxhoorn clashed with the Supreme Commander of the Dutch Army, General Izaak H. Reijnders, over strategy, leading to Reijnders' resignation and replacement with General Henri Winkelman. Together with Queen Wilhelmina and the rest of the cabinet he left for London and continued as Minister of Defence in the Dutch government-in-exile until his resignation in June 1941.

The Hague City and municipality in South Holland, Netherlands

The Hague is a city on the western coast of the Netherlands and the capital of the province of South Holland. It is also the seat of government of the Netherlands.


Winkelman was well aware of his army's limitations. He had 280,000 men at his disposal; not enough to defend the entire country. The Dutch army possessed no tanks. There was a lack of field artillery and anti-aircraft guns. Winkelman was convinced that the Dutch army was incapable of a modern, "mobile" defence. Instead, he decided to keep things simple: the Dutch would only defend "Fortress Holland" (the Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland and Utrecht provinces, roughly the area now referred to as the Randstad), using traditional, static defence lines and fortified fixed positions. Winkelman did not have the illusion that the Dutch could push Hitler's armies back into Germany. Instead, the Dutch forces should simply slow the Germans down, win time and keep Fortress Holland in Dutch hands long enough to enable the Allies to join them.

Randstad Megalopolis in Netherlands

The Randstad is a megalopolis in the central-western Netherlands consisting primarily of the four largest Dutch cities and their surrounding areas. Among other things, it contains the Port of Rotterdam, and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. With a population of 8.2 million people it is one of the largest metropolitan regions in Europe, comparable in population size to the Milan metropolitan area or the San Francisco Bay Area, and covers an area of approximately 8,287 km2 (3,200 sq mi). With a population density of 1,500/km2 it also is one of the most important and densely populated economic areas in northwestern Europe. It encompasses both the Amsterdam metropolitan area and Rotterdam–The Hague metropolitan area.

In practice, the three northern provinces (Drenthe, Groningen and Friesland) would remain largely undefended. State-of-the-art fortifications at the east end of the Afsluitdijk (the long dike connecting the Friesland and Noord-Holland provinces) were expected to stop the German invasion and prevent the Germans from threatening Fortress Holland from the north. In the east of the country, the first line of resistance ran along the IJssel and Maas rivers. The main Dutch defence line, however, was in the very heart of the country and called the Grebbe Line, to be defended by the entire 2nd and 4th Army Corps. The Grebbe Line was to be defended until the bitter end, as the eastern front of Fortress Holland (the New Dutch Water Line, once the pride of the Dutch defence system) was deemed obsolete and too close to major cities such as Utrecht and Amsterdam.

Hollandse IJssel river in the Netherlands

The Hollandse IJssel is a branch of the Rhine delta that flows westward from Nieuwegein on river Lek through IJsselstein, Gouda and Capelle aan den IJssel to Krimpen aan den IJssel, where it ends in the Nieuwe Maas. Another branch called Enge IJssel flows southwest from Nieuwegein. The name IJssel is thought to derive from the Germanic i sala, meaning "dark water". Originally, the Hollandse IJssel forked off from river Lek at Nieuwegein, but the connection was cut off with the Hollandse IJssel nowadays only draining the surrounding pastures.

General Henri Winkelman after signing the Dutch capitulation on 15 May 1940. Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1969-097-17, Kapitulation der Niederlande.jpg
General Henri Winkelman after signing the Dutch capitulation on 15 May 1940.

The inevitable German invasion started on 10 May 1940 at 3:55 a.m. local time. Hitler's bold plan to drop paratroopers around The Hague, push into the city and capture the Dutch government, the Royal Family and the Supreme Army Command to force the Netherlands to its knees within 24 hours, ended in failure. In the east, the Germans crossed the Dutch borders with relative ease, but were halted near the main Dutch defences: the Grebbe Line and the Afsluitdijk fortifications. After one day of war, General Winkelman was relatively satisfied about the way his troops had reacted to the first German push. The only area where the situation was already critical was in the south: paratroopers had secured the Moerdijk bridges, south of Rotterdam and Dordrecht. Meanwhile, strong German infantry (supported by the 9th Panzer Division) had smashed through the so-called Peel-Raam Stelling and now marched rapidly through the southern province of Noord-Brabant, threatening to establish contact with the bridge head at Moerdijk and to enter Fortress Holland from the south, effectively isolating the Netherlands from Belgium and France. An attempt, supported by French units, to re-conquer the Moerdijk bridges failed on 11 May. Attempts to win lost ground back in the Grebbe Line were also unsuccessful.

On 13 May, after the departure of Queen Wilhelmina to London, and with most ministers in Hoek van Holland ready to depart, minister Max Steenberghe, on his own initiative, but in name of the queen and cabinet, granted the powers of government within the European part of the Netherlands to Winkelman, and requested that the permanent secretaries follow his directions. This was later informally confirmed by the cabinet and afterwards by the queen.

Wilhelmina of the Netherlands Queen of the Netherlands 1898 - 1948

Wilhelmina was Queen of the Netherlands from 1890 until her abdication in 1948.

Max Steenberghe Dutch politician

Maximilien Paul Léon "Max" Steenberghe was a Dutch politician of the defunct Roman Catholic State Party (RKSP), later formed to the Catholic People's Party (KVP) now merged into the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA).

The Grebbe Line fell in the evening of 13 May after a ferocious battle of three days. Meanwhile, the 9th Panzer Division had reached the Moerdijk bridges, breaching "Fortress Holland" and reaching Rotterdam, occupying the south bank of the river Meuse. The situation had now become strategically hopeless, but the north river bank was still in Dutch hands. Dutch machine guns made it impossible for the Germans to cross the Meuse bridges as Dutch marines put up fierce resistance in the streets of Rotterdam, much to the annoyance of Adolf Hitler, who expected to have occupied the Netherlands by now. On 14 May, he ordered that Dutch resistance be crushed at once. The bombing of Rotterdam followed and with, the Germans threatening to give major Dutch city Utrecht the same treatment, General Winkelman was forced to surrender in the evening of 14 May. The capitulation was made official the next day in the village of Rijsoord.


After he had signed the Dutch surrender, General Winkelman refused to officially declare that he would not resist the German forces in the Netherlands in any way. He was therefore interned on 2 July 1940 and remained a prisoner of war for the remainder of the occupation. He was honorably discharged from the Dutch army after the war on 1 October 1945 and given the Military William Order, the oldest and highest military decoration in the Netherlands. His statue can still be seen in front of the elementary school in Rijsoord, where he signed the capitulation on 15 May 1940. An army base in Nunspeet was named after him. The name was transferred to another base (at Harskamp) as of 15 May 2007, after the former closed down. General Henri Winkelman died peacefully at his home on 27 December 1952.

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    Military offices
    Preceded by
    Izaak Reijnders
    Commander-in-chief of the Armed forces of the Netherlands
    Title next held by
    Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld