The Dutch Armed Forces Nationaal Militair Museum

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The Dutch Armed Forces National Museum, known locally as the  Nationaal Militair Museum is located at the former Soesterberg airbase, approximately 50km southeast of Amsterdam. It combines the collections from the former Military Aviation Museum located at the same site with the Army Museum in Delft and the result has to be one of the best national military collections that I have visited.

The exhibits of the museum are organized thematically and although the museum represents all four services, the emphasis is on the land and air forces. The top floor tells the story of the armed forces through a combination of physical objects and interactive displays, which are broken down into sections leading the visitor through the story of the armed forces, the soldiers, conflicts, the relationship with civil society and the future.

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Interactive display at the Nationaal Militair Museum which allows visitors to identify the insignia and qualifications worn by members of the Dutch Armed Forces. Photos: Julian Tennant

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Commemorative Batik cloth of the two parachute companies belonging to the Korps Special Troops of the KNIL on display in the museum. They played an important role in the 2nd Police Action against Indonesian separatists in 1948/9. The 1st Para company consisted of Europeans (Dutch and Dutch East Indies soldiers), and the 2nd company of locally recruited Ambonese soldiers.

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Dutch Special Forces Afghanistan display. The chest-rig shown in the photo on the right was worn by Commando Captain Björn Peterse during operations in 2005. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Dutch Special Forces vehicle mounted patrol in Afghanistan. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Dutch SF patrol vehicle Afghanistan

Mercedes-Benz 250GD soft top (11kN). This Mercedes was used in between 2004-2006 by Dutch Special Forces of the Korps Commandotroepen in Afghanistan. It was originally an ordinary military Mercedes soft top, but has been adapted to the demands of the commandos. In order to be able to carry out extended patrols, the loading capacity was increased from 750 Kilo (7,5kN) to 1,100 Kilo (11kN). The vehicle is armed with a .50 machine gun on the ring gun, whilst the commander / co-driver operates a MAG machine gun. In addition the vehicles sometimes carried a 60mm mortar plus AT4 or LAW anti-tank weapons and radio systems that permitted communications between the crew, other vehicles and additional assets. Photograph: The Nationaal Militair Museum

 

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Dutch Police Dienst Speciale Interventies (D.S.I.) sniper display. Formed in 2006, is the Dutch elite police anti-terrorist force that combines the SWAT units of the police and marines. It has a unit of specialized water operators (Unit Interventie Mariniers), an assault/intervention unit, comprised of a mix of police and military personnel (Unit Interventie) and police marksmen unit (Unit Expertise & Operationele Ondersteuning). The snipers of the Unit Expertise & Operationele Ondersteuning are armed with Heckler & Koch PSG1 and Mauser SR93 sniper rifles. Photos: Julian Tennant

 

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A Brigade Speciale Beveiligingsopdrachten (BSB) assaulter of the Koninklijke Marechaussee (KMar) Gendarmerie. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

The lower level, known as the Arsenaal, concentrates on weapons and the equipment used, from uniforms and field gear through to tanks, artillery and aircraft. The mix between objects and interaction is just right and there are lots… and I mean lots, of things to keep kids or, otherwise bored, spouses entertained. In the middle of the Arsenaal is Xplore which is filled with games activities including an F16 flight simulator, sniping and driving a tank.

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Displays in the Arsenaal section of the museum cover 3000 years of weapons and equipment. Here, part of the medieval display. Photo: Julian Tennant

Cutaway model of a Steyr Mannlicher Rifle, Model 1892. Photo: Julian Tennant

Cutaway model of a Steyr Mannlicher Rifle, Model 1892. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

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Dogtag of Corporal Boortman excavated from the battlefield at Waterloo. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

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Infantryman’s uniform from the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, 1900. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Experimental insect-sized UAV camera device on display at the Nationaal Militair Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

I visited the Nationaal Militair Museum towards the end of a month-long trip dragging the missus through the battlefields of Normandy, the Western Front and Arnhem. I figured that if I was lucky, I’d have a few hours to explore the museum by myself, but when she saw some of the displays decided to hang around and we ended up spending the best part of the day exploring the exhibits. Unfortunately, I did not take as many photos as I should have and snapped most on my old cell-phone, so the images really do not do the museum justice. This museum should definitely be on your itinerary if you are visiting the Netherlands and is easy to reach if you have a car, but is also quite accessible by public transport from Amsterdam and worth a day trip to fully experience what it offers.

The Nationaal Militair Museum
Verlengde Paltzerweg 1
3768 MX Soest
The Netherlands

Phone: +31  85 003 6000
Email: info@nmm.nl
Website: https://www.nmm.nl/en/

Open: Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00 excluding Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Koningsdag (27 April) 

Entry Fees:
Adults: €15,00
Children aged 4 – 12: €7,50
Children under 4: Free
Museumkaart: Free

For Dutch citizens, if you have a Defensiepas (Ministry of Defence card), Veteranenpas (Veteran’s Card) or an ICOM card or if you are a Friend of the Museum or member of Vereniging Rembrandt, you can collect a ticket from the cash desk upon presentation of your card. This gives you free access to the museum.

If you are relying on public transport, you can plan your trip online using the Dutch National Travel Planner at 9292.nl

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Operation Market Garden: The Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’

For visitors exploring the battlefields related to Operation Market Garden, the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ in Oosterbeek serves as a rallying point and provides a focus for much of the activity surrounding the annual anniversary commemorations of the battle for Arnhem. The museum is housed in what was formally the Hotel Hartenstein, which served as the Headquarters for Major General Roy Urquhart, commander of the 1st Airborne Division during this famous battle in September 1944.

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Airborne dispatch rider re-enactor and his BSA M20 motorcycle at the commemoration event held on the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ grounds each September.  Photo: Julian Tennant

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German sign restricting access to Arnhem after the battle. It translates as “It is forbidden to enter Arnhem on pain of death” Photo: Julian Tennant

Operation Market Garden was launched in an attempt to capture a number of bridgeheads that would allow the Allies to bypass the Siegfried line and cross the Rhine, entering the German industrial base of the Ruhr pocket. Allied Airborne troops were dropped in the Netherlands to secure key towns and bridges along the axis of advance. The British 1st Airborne Division was tasked with seizing the most distant bridges at Arnhem and hold them for two to three days whilst awaiting the arrival of the British XXX Corps who were advancing up the corridor created by the Airborne operation.

Although Initially taken surprise by the landing of the 1st Airborne Division at Wolfheze and north of Heelsum the German forces quickly moved to regain the initiative. Allied intelligence had not accounted for the presence of the 9th SS Panzer Division in the area around Arnhem. This combined with poor communications and the distance of the landing zones from their objectives undermined British attempts to seize the bridges. Only the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment under the command of Lt-Col John Frost managed to reach the northern side of Arnhem bridge, which they held for four days.

The bulk of the British forces became trapped in Oosterbeek, fighting a brutal defensive action until the 25th of September when their situation became untenable and a retreat, code-named Operation Berlin began in an attempt to evacuate the remaining airborne troops to the South side of the Rhine. British engineers assisted in evacuating 2200 men across the river but on the morning of the 26th September, the operation was halted leaving 300 troops behind. In the nine days of Market Garden, combined Allied losses amounted to more than 17.000. The British 1st Airborne Division was almost completely destroyed and of the 10,000 men committed to the operation, casualties numbered 7,578 dead, wounded or missing.

Hartenstein, which was built as a villa in 1865 before becoming a hotel in 1942 was commandeered as the 1st Airborne Division’s headquarters during Operation Market Garden and badly damaged during the fighting. It was subsequently restored and once again used as a hotel before being purchased as the site for the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ which was officially opened by Major General Roy Urquhart in 1978.

In 2008 it was temporarily closed for an extensive renovation and expansion program which included a basement displaying the ‘Airborne Experience’, a series of dioramas which takes the visitor through the battle from the perspective of a British soldier. After being briefed on the mission you enter an Airspeed AS.51 Horsa Glider replica being battered by flak before exiting into the dimly lit streets of Arnhem as the battle rages around you. You then wander through a juxtaposition of life-size dioramas combined with period visual footage and an audio soundscape, approaching Arnhem bridge before retreating back to the perimeter around the Hotel Hartenstein and finally the Rhine River.

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British 6 pounder anti-tank gun on display as part of the ‘Airborne Experience’ at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein. Photo: Julian Tennant

In addition to the ‘Airborne Experience’, the museum also features dioramas representing how the Hotel Hartenstein was used during the operation. One shows the medical post that was situated in the basement and the other shows the headquarters of Roy Urquhart. It also features several other exhibits and displays reflecting the experience of the battle from Dutch and German perspectives as well as a large collection of medals that have been donated to the museum by deceased veterans. The current displays reflect the current trend in exhibition design and many of the items that I saw at the museum during my first visit in 1991 are unfortunately no longer on display. This includes some of the uniforms and insignia that I was particularly interested in examining once again. In this respect, the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ is quite different to the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45, which maintains an old-style approach to exhibit presentation and should also definitely be on your itinerary. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum also exhibits temporary displays related to the conflict and the grounds surrounding the building feature artillery pieces, a Sherman tank and memorials commemorating the battle.

Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. Operation Market Garden Arnhem

An old photo that I took when visiting the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ in 1991. Uniforms and insignia of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade. Unfortunately this display has been removed to make way for the current exhibits. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Airborne Museum Hartenstein

A piece of wallpaper from the house at 34 Pietersbergsweg in Oosterbeek which was used by Tony Crane and Fred Hocking from the  21st Independent Parachute Company to keep track of how many Germans they had taken out. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Airborne Museum also has an annex, Airborne at the Bridge, on the banks of the Rhine, opposite the John Frost Bridge. This annex tells the story of the battle fought by John Frost’s 2nd Parachute Battalion at the bridge from three perspectives, British Lieutenant John Grayburn, German Hauptsturmführer Viktor Eberhard Gräbner and Dutch Captain Jacob Groenewoud. Unlike the Airborne Museum Hartenstein, entry to Airborne at the Bridge is free and if you don’t have a MuseumKaart (see below), you can buy a discounted ticket to the Airborne Museum Hartenstein when visiting.

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The Airborne Museum Hartenstein annex ‘Airborne at the Bridge’

Arnhem Airborne beer

Airborne Beer! This is a special brew first made for the 55th anniversary in 1999 and produced annually ever since. It is sold at the museum shop and other locations around Arnhem. Airborne Beer is brewed in Bolsward at De Friese Bierbrouwerij Us Heit, a small family-company, which produces eight different specialty beers. Proceeds from the beer sales go to “The Lest We Forget Foundation” which supports British and Polish Arnhem 1944 veterans and their relatives. Photo: Julian Tennant

Airborne Museum Hartenstein                                                                                                        Utrechtseweg 232
6862 AZ Oosterbeek
Telephone: 026 333 77 10
Email: info@airbornemuseum.nl

https://www.airbornemuseum.nl/

Opening hours
Open daily from 10:00 – 17:00
Closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

2019 Ticket Prices for up to 20 people                                                                                            Adults                                           € 11                                                                                                      Student Card                                € 9                                                                                                      Teenagers aged 13 – 17              € 6.50                                                                                                  Children                                        €5                                                                                                        Veteran Card                                €6.50                                                                                                   MuseumKaart (Museum Card)      Free

Airborne at the Bridge                                                                                                                  Rijnkade 150
6811 HD Arnhem
T: 026 333 77 10
E: info@airbornemuseum.nl

https://www.airbornemuseum.nl/en/airborne-at-the-bridge

Opening hours
Open daily from 10:00 – 17:00                                                                                                           Closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

About the MuseumKaart option

The MuseumKaart is a Dutch annual pass scheme which gives the holder unlimited free entry into over 400 museums in the Netherlands. It  costs €54.95 (excluding  €4.95 administration fee) for adults and €32.45 for teenagers up to 18 years of age.

Previously buying a MuseumKaart was a great deal as it included a number of military-interest museums around the Netherlands, including the Airborne Museum, National Military Museum at Soesterberg, Oorlogsmuseum Overloon, Verzetsmuseum (Dutch Resistance Museum), Rijksmuseum, Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum), National Holocaust Museum and Anne Frank House in Amsterdam to name a handful. If you were travelling around the Netherlands and dropping into the museums it was a ‘must have’ but unfortunately since 2018 the full unlimited year-long entry is now limited to Dutch residents and (for the same price) tourists receive a card that expires after only 5 museum visits or 31 days.  However it can still be a worthwhile savings option depending on your plans.

The MuseumKaart website is in Dutch language only and online purchase is only to Dutch residents. However, you can buy the temporary (tijdelijk) MuseumKaart over-the-counter at some of the museums, including at the Airborne Museum Hartenstein.

Recommended Text

If you are looking for a great guide to refer to when visiting Arnhem and the battlefields associated with Operation Market Garden, I recommend you get a copy of Major & Mrs Holt’s Battlefield Guide to Operation Market- Garden. Third Edition (published 2013)  which is available as a hard copy book or e-book (Kindle or ePub) and also their map, Major & Mrs. Holt’s Battle Map of Market-Garden. I found these to be extremely useful, providing pieces of information about aspects of the battle that I was unaware of, allowing me to plan and make the most of my time spent in the area. Highly recommended.

digby carter

A scene from the classic 1977 war movie about the battle, ‘A Bridge Too Far’. This image is often incorrectly described as an actual war photograph. The photo depicts a British officer (in real life, Major Allison Digby Tatham-Warter DSO, officer commanding A Company of 2 Para) waving his umbrella a Germans on the bridge. Whilst the picture is a still photograph from the movie and not actually of the battle, I think it sums up the character of the British troops at Arnhem. As an aside ‘Digby’ as he was know, also disabled a German armoured car during the operation by poking his umbrella through an observational slit, blinding the driver.

Operation Market Garden: Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45

Some of the military vehicles on display at the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum. Photo: Julian Tennant

Military vehicles on display at the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Parachute Regiment beret. The caption indicated that this beret belonged to a dead British para and was found in Hartenstein, site of the British HQ. Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum. Photo: Julian Tennant

Like the Glider Collection Wolfheze, the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum (sometimes referred to in English language search engines as the Arnhem War Museum) is another private museum in the Arnhem area.

Owner Eef Peeters started collecting militaria as a boy, storing his collection at first in his home, followed by a shed and then finally, in 1994, moving the collection to its current location, an old school, in Schaarsbergen. The collection does not focus specifically on Operation Market Garden but paints a much broader picture of what happened in Arnhem and the surrounding areas during the war years. This includes a number of objects relating to less popular subjects including collaboration and the Dutch Nazi Party, the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging in Nederland (NSB).

This is an old-style museum concentrating on artifacts, rather than interactive displays. It’s a fascinating and at times eclectic collection of items squeezed into the available space. A lot of the memorabilia is not captioned in English, so I had to rely on my rusty Afrikaans/Dutch skills to interpret some of the captions, but the staff were helpful and friendly. When one of the volunteer staff members found out that I was a collector, after I asked if there were any antique or shops around which may have militaria for sale, he invited me into the office to show me some of the original items that were available for sale to help fund the museum upkeep. But, whilst I was tempted by a couple of period Dutch National Socialist badges, I decided that I had better try to maintain focus on my airborne interest and left empty handed.

Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Arnhem War Museum 40-45.

Display featuring uniforms worn by soldiers of the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division, nicknamed “The Polar Bear Butchers” after their shoulder sleeve formation sign and a 6 lb anti-tank gun as used by the 1st Air Landing Anti-Tank Battery during the battle for Arnhem. Photo: Julian Tennant

If you have a car, Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum is about 10 minutes drive from central Arnhem or if you are using public transport can be reached in under half an hour via the #9 bus departing from near Arnhem Centraal train station.

Arnhems Oorlogsmuseum 40-45

Kemperbergerweg 780
6816 RX Arnhem

Telephone: +31 (0) 26 4420958

https://www.arnhemsoorlogsmuseum.com

Opening hours:

The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 until 17:00, however the ticket office closes at 16:30 hrs.

Admission prices:

Adults: € 9.00
Children up to 4 years old:  free
Children 5 to 12 years old:  € 7.00,-
Adults 65+: € 7.00

Note that there is no ATM at the museum, and they do not accept credit cards.

Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Arnhem War Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

A T34-85 and Flak gun at the front of the Arnhem Oorlogsmuseum 40-45. Photo: Julian Tennant

Operation Market Garden: The Glider Collection Wolfheze

Operation Market Garden. Glider Museum Wolfheze

Glider Collection Wolfheze. Horsa glider section. Photograph: Julian Tennant

The Glider Collection Wolfheze is a private collection relating to the British airborne assault on Arnhem in 1944. Operation Market Garden which occurred between the 17th and 26th of September 1944 is one of the best known allied airborne operations of World War Two. The goal of the operation was to push through the German lines from the Belgian city of Neerpelt to Arnhem in Holland, bypassing the German Siegfried Line and crossing their last natural obstacle, the Rhine river. This would allow them to sweep east into Germany, knock out the German industrial base in the Ruhr pocket and end the war before Christmas. But as history shows, things did not work out that way.

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Operation Market Garden. Map showing 1st Airborne Division’s planned landing zones on the 17th of September. The Glider Collection Wolfheze is situated roughly midway between LZ ‘S’ and LZ ‘L’ on the map. Map source: wikimedia.org

As part of the operation, the British 1st Airborne Division had to secure bridges over the Rhine at Arnhem and hold them until linking up with the XXX-Corps who were advancing from Neerpelt. On 17 September, pathfinders from the 21st Independent Parachute Company marked the drop zones and landing areas near the small Dutch village of Wolfheze, approximately 10km northwest of Arnhem in preparation for the arrival of the 350 gliders ferrying the 1st Airlanding Brigade under the command of Brigadier Philip Hicks.

The landings were largely unopposed as the Germans were initially thrown into confusion and the 1st Airlanding Brigade moved off from the landing zones whilst the 1st Parachute Brigade headed east towards the bridges. The fields around Wolfheze remained one of the primary entry points for the Allied airborne troops, receiving reinforcements from the 1st Airborne Division on the 18th and troops from the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade on the 19th.

Around the town of Wolfheze are several sites commemorating the operation including a Glider Memorial at Liberation Route Marker 25. The Liberation Route follows the course of the Allies during the liberation of Europe. The route starts in Normandy and continues via Nijmegen and Arnhem in the direction of Berlin.

The memorial is also located close to the entrance of “De Lindenhof” Camping & Chalet Park which is also home to the private collection of Paul Hendriks who has assembled a collection of artifacts related to the gliders used during Operation Market Garden. The Glider Collection Wolfheze contains several pieces salvaged from the landing zones around Arnhem as well as sections of a Horsa and a Hamilcar glider plus other bits and pieces related to the battle.

This is a private museum so it is not open for viewing every day however his website lists the official opening days for the year. Alternatively, you can contact Paul by telephone or email to arrange a viewing.

Operation Market Garden Glider Museum Wolfheze

Glider Collection Wolfheze. Section of a Hamilcar glider setup. 39 Hamilcar gliders were used primarily to transport the newly introduced 17-pounder Anti-tank guns and their prime movers into the landing zones at Arnhem, in order to provide a significantly improved capability against the increased armour of the newer German Tiger tanks Photograph: Julian Tennant

The Glider Collection Wolfheze

Camping & Chalet Park “De Lindenhof”

Wolfhezerweg 111-113

Wolfheze

The Netherlands

Telephone:  +31 (0)610143467

Email: silentwings@online.nl

For opening times refer to the website

http://glidermuseum.nl/

Finally…. and to get you in the mood, Richard Attenborough‘s epic war movie about Operation Market Garden, A Bridge Too Far.