CBC Digital Archives

1945: Hope for starving Dutch as end of war draws near

Day by day, the news got better as the Second World War wound down in Europe. Sixty years ago, CBC Radio brought home reports of retreating Germans, freed prisoners of war, captured spies and surrender in Italy. But with the end of hostilities came dark news of hellish concentration camps, starving civilians and a rocky future for U.S.-Soviet relations. CBC Archives counts down the days to victory in Europe.

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Food is finally on the way for 3.5 million Dutch citizens on the brink of starvation. Nazis and Allied leaders have come to an agreement to feed them, opening the skies for Allied food drops and setting up safe corridors for distribution trucks to carry food to the hungry. CBC reporter Peter Stursberg, an eyewitness to the negotiations, relates the details after military censors lift a news blackout. 
• Sweden and Switzerland, both neutral countries during the war, supplied some food aid to Holland in early 1945. The Dutch and Swedish royal families had close ties, so it was to Sweden that the Dutch government first turned for help. The food from Sweden was delivered by boat and barge.
• The International Red Cross, based in Switzerland, was moved to help with food supplies after receiving disturbing messages from occupied Holland.

• Some rationed food was available, but the portions were so small that people turned to the black market, to farmers or to more desperate sources -- such as eating tulip bulbs -- to supplement their diets.
• By April 1945 about 20,000 Dutch people had died of starvation. Young children and the elderly were most susceptible.
• The situation was worst in western Holland, where much of the population was concentrated in cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

• Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the Austrian-born Nazi governor of German-occupied Holland, raised the possibility of calling a truce to open Holland to Allied food deliveries in early April 1945.
• Discussions between Nazis and Allied leaders took place over the next three weeks. On April 23 the Allied Supreme Commander, Dwight Eisenhower, was appointed to sign a truce with Seyss-Inquart.

• Three days later Seyss-Inquart and the German military commander in Holland identified four potential drop points for food deliveries.
• More detailed negotiations began on April 28, 1945. The next day the Allies made a trial drop, using 242 Royal Air Force Lancaster bombers to deliver 535 tons of food in the four drop zones.
• Because the food was dropped in burlap sacks without parachutes, the pilots flew exceptionally low to keep the food intact.

• One pilot later recalled flying so low that people on the balcony of a windmill were waving down at him.
• When the drops were made, the Nazis posted anti-aircraft guns to ensure the Allies weren't going to send in paratroopers. They also took samples from the drops to check for concealed weapons or tools of sabotage.
• At a second meeting on April 30 -- the one described in this clip -- the two sides agreed on ten zones where food drops would begin on May 2.

• About 11,000 tons of food were dropped in Holland over 10 days from April 29 to May 8. The RAF, which nicknamed the effort "Operation Manna," made 3,100 drops. On May 1 the American air force joined the program, making 2,200 drops in what it called "Operation Chowhound."
• In the Old Testament of the Bible, "manna" is the name of food that dropped from the skies. It fed the Israelites, who were wandering through the desert for 40 years after the Exodus.

• Helping feed the Dutch was an emotional experience for the pilots involved. Years later RAF pilot Jim Murphy recalled flying over and seeing the civilians' gratitude spelled out on a bedsheet: "God bless you RAF." "My eyes had been teary throughout this mission but that message made the tears flow," said Murphy. "When we got back to our squad all seven guys in our crew were red-eyed."

Also on April 30:
1974: Ralph Steinhauer becomes Canada's first native Lieutenant Governor when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau names him to the vice-regal post in Alberta.
1987: Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Canada's premiers reach an agreement that would bring Quebec into the constitutional fold. Named after the government retreat near Ottawa where the deal is struck, the Meech Lake accord would have recognized Quebec as a "distinct society." To become law, it would have to be ratified by Parliament and all provincial legislatures by June 23rd, 1990. But the accord dies when Manitoba and Newfoundland fail to approve it.
Medium: Radio
Program: War Dispatches
Broadcast Date: April 30, 1945
Reporter: Peter Stursberg
Duration: 4:37
Photo: National Archives of Canada / PA-154126

Last updated: September 2, 2014

Page consulted on September 2, 2014

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