Dan Armstrong put me in contact with one of his colleagues, Joost Hageman. He wrote me the following note about abandoned buildings in general and about the Waterlinie-fortresses. It gives good historic information and some tips how to get inside in a subtle manner (using a crowbar and a tractor ... ).
Interesting story and must say that the phenomenon reminds me of illegal 'incursions' into a structure that once belonged to the "Waterlinie", near Leerdam. I was 15 or 16 back then.
The Waterlinie consisted of an elaborate series of fortresses built to protect the western part of the country from attacks from the East. The Waterlinie fortress as I came to know it, was built after Napoleon's troops had had left The Netherlands (1815). The ministry of war continued to work on it's improvement and maintenance up until May 10, 1940. In the Betuwe, where I come from, the fortifications used to belong to an outer defensive ring, protecting the south eastern part of the Randstad-area (Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht). This ring was referred to as the 'Betuwe linie'.
A Waterlinie was created by deliberately inundating [flooding] large area's
of polder land and guarding all strategic places where the water might or
could be crossed by land forces. Different kinds of structures like a whole
range of relatively small bunkers and large "tower fortresses"
were built to guard strategic locations like bridges, railroad structures
and important dikes. And, in order to control the inundating process, also
extensive waterworks. In some area's the land could be inundated in as little
as two hours time, but in practice setting up the entire Waterlinie would
In the tower fortresses, troops were deployed in such a way that attacking land forces could theoretically not penetrate the heart of Holland without encountering resistance.
Inundating land had been an very old but mostly successful military strategy
since the 1580's when it was first used to starve the Spaniards out of Den
Briel near Rotterdam.
However it failed almost a century later, when troops of French king Louis XIV could cross the inundated area's unhindered over the ice during the very harsh winter of 1672. That year, the end of the old Dutch Republics 'golden century', is still referred to as 'Het Rampjaar' (The disaster year).
Just when most tower fortesses where upgraded and finished, in the course of 1914-1918 (the period of the first World War in which the Netherlands remained neutral), they already had become obsolete, because military engineering genius had conceived the explosive grenade to which these structures were particularly vulnerable. The solution chosen: just after WW1, most of the tower structures were covered by soil to make them less vulnerable.
The Waterlinie concept eventually proved to be almost totally ineffective in May 1940, when the Nazi's invaded the country and the first wave of surprise attacks were performed by Aircraft destroying over 50% of the Dutch 76 army aircraft on the ground during the first day. And also, when general Kurt Student's highly trained paratroopers where dropped inside the waterlinie defences to secure bridges and roads, pending the arrival of other German forces. Within 5 days all resistance was broken when the heart of Rotterdam was bombed out by the Luftwaffe, and the threat was issued that Utrecht and Amsterdam would follow suit the next day.
The tower forts were never completely demolished. Some are still in use by the Dutch army. Fort Lunetten, near Utrecht is a nice example of a storage facility and it was equipped to be a regional command centre and hideout for NATO forces during the Cold War. Near Everdingen the EOD (these people remove mines and explosives) used to have their 'shack' in an old tower fortress. Other large facilities are now used as a museum, for storage, or were simply closed by making them inaccessible by locking them with heavy steel doors, and by closing any other openings with concrete or bricks.
With a couple of friends we broke into one of these closed facilities, an old tower fortress, using a heavy crowbar to force a part of a steel door aside. Then we had to use a tractor and an old steel ankor to rip the door open.
The inside of a tower fortress is round, and depending on its size it can have as many as 5 or 6 floors, some well below groundwater level. Most of the larger sized forts have huge central shafts leading all the way down; witnessing an era where the architects did not have to reckon with a threat from aircraft that might drop smartbombs in. The structures are made entirely from brick, like medieval castles and they also smell like that!
The fort we entered was much smaller and was built to protect a bridge and a railroad connection. The lowest floor (we guessed it was the lowest floor) was flooded with at least one metre of very cold water that was so black that it looked like ink. That was a shame, because the fort itself was built on either side of a railroad, and connected underground by low and narrow corridors on this floor level. We could shine trough the corridors with torch lights, but nobody in our company had the guts to get wet up to the waist and to make it to the other side.
All equipment had been removed out of the structure, but it was curious to see that, besides electric light in a later stage of its time in service, they had also been using oil lamps to light up the place. Subterrain there were somesort of windows between the rooms, where an oil lamp could be placed. Fumes from the lamps were lead out of the fort by means of a pipe mounted in the top frame of these windows. A large structure that is entirely made of brick has to have many round or vault-like forms to distribute all the gravitational forces. Together with the habit of numbering all sections inside the fort with numbers in the strange curly style that was 'a la mode' during the beginning of the century it was almost as good as a trip back into time.
'Our fort' is currently converted into a house! Some guy bought the entire terrain and guards it with dogs. Needless to say this person has an insanely large basement...
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© 1999 Joost Hageman - 13 February 1999