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The Atlantic Wall

sea-wall-remainsThis story has been translated from a Dutch website. Acknowledgments to Oneindig Noord-Holland.

A long line of bunkers, guns and minefields. Large and small concrete defences alternating. On the coast everywhere there are still remains of the Atlantic Wall to be found. This five thousand kilometer-long defence line ran from Norway via Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium to join the border with Spain, and was constructed by the Germans during World War II. The construction had a significant impact on the North Sea Coast landscape.

map-of-europe

wall-1Tank Barrier near Overveen

It was built at built at breakneck speed

Two years after the start of World War II the Germans began construction of the defence line. After a quick conquest of the continent they realized that the jump to England was not feasible. British troops with North American troops began to prepare for an invasion of the occupied continent and the Allied air raids became increasingly fierce. Nearly eight million workers were compulsorily put to work in August 1942. Under the watchful eye of 100,000 German overseers and engineers the line was built at breakneck speed. Within two years more than ten thousand bunkers along the coasts. The Atlantic Wall was never finished at all.

After June 6, 1944 the Allies landings at Normandy stalled all construction.

wall-2Schnellboot Bunker of the German Navy, IJmuiden.

Festung IJmuiden, a grim war zone

One of the largest and most important part of the Atlantic Wall was “Festung IJmuiden”. The mouth of the North Sea Canal was of great strategic importance to the Germans and IJmuiden was very suitable as a port for the German navy. The channel gave access to the industry of IJmuiden, Zaandam and Amsterdam, and the locks were there to regulate the water in a large part of North Holland. Around IJmuiden, the Germans built a tank barrier of steep dunes, tank walls and tank ditches. Inside were dozens of coastal batteries and anti-aircraft batteries, tank obstacles and bunkers. Fort Island in the middle of the North Sea Canal was extra heavily reinforced. For all those war works many homes were razed to the ground in Old IJmuiden in the ports and at IJmuiden North. The peaceful IJmuiden was turned into a grim war zone.

wall-3The water tower in Zandvoort explodes, 1943.

Minefields and barbed wire in the dunes

The construction of the Atlantic Wall had major implications for the Kennemerland coast. The construction of the bunkers mixed up the dunes and destroyed the vegetation. The dunes were laid as minefields and there were miles of barbed wire. Tens of thousands of residents in the coastal region were forced to leave their homes. Sometimes soldiers were housed in these abandoned houses, but mostly they were demolished for the construction of fortifications or because they were in the firing line. Incidentally, for some Dutch it served well. Local demolition and construction contracts were bountiful, thanks to the construction of the Atlantic Wall.

Not only at IJmuiden, but other coastal towns were also severely affected. Zandvoort was demolished to two hundred metres from the coast. Hotels, guest houses, summer houses and boulevards disappeared. Thousands of residents lost their homes there. The remaining sand for heaters were not allowed on the beach. The dunes were off limits. The North Holland coast was a dangerous area during the war, especially since the Atlantic Wall was often targeted by Allied air raids.

wall-4Evacuation of residents in Haarlem Noord and Santpoort, 1944

wall-5The beach of Zandvoort, in July 1945.

Atlantic Wall now Museums and Vacation Rentals
After the end of World War II, Netherlands could start on debris removal. What has become of the Atlantic Wall? Many bunkers were demolished in IJmuiden. They made room for the expansion of the port and Hoogovens or for building of new homes. Zandvoort developers saw their chance. Once the defences were cleared, they built high rise condominiums on the bare beaten coast.

Remaining at various places along the coast Kennemerland are remnants of the Atlantic Wall. Often bricked up or hidden under the sand. Some buildings were given a new function. A few propositions turned into a museum, such as the Bunker Museum IJmuiden. The Fort Island offers historic guided tours. The island can also be hired for parties and conferences. A particularly reuse of the Atlantic Wall can be found in the Zandvoort dunes. Since the war, dozens of residential bunkers were transformed into idyllic cottages.

wall-6German artillery bunker on Fort Island IJmuiden.

Related stories:

Evacuees at the Rijksstraatweg in Haarlem in September 1944, the fortunes of the Atlantic, Festung IJmuiden: part of the Atlantic Wall, Fort near Veldhuis: museum maintains ties with military past in position, Bunker Museum IJmuiden, Fort Island IJmuiden coast fort was first on mainland , World War II Bunker Atlantic, Drake Dental Hurdle at Egmond aan den Hoef, Antitank Wall in Bergen, World War II, Landfront Festung IJmuiden and the Atlantic’

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