Each week in this column, we focus on an IJmuiden topic based on a photo and in response to current events, a special event, an event or just one of the beautiful scenes that IJmuiden offers. In this episode attention to the fort near IJmuiden.
By Erik Baalbergen
Last Sunday, during the monthly public Sunday, I paid another visit to Fort Island. It is always an experience to visit this Alcatraz in IJmuiden with its almost magical armored fortress from the nineteenth century with the IJmuiden tour boat Queen Emma!
Line of defense
The fort was built in the eighties of the nineteenth century at the mouth of the North Sea Canal as part of Amsterdam’s line of defense. This 135-kilometer-long line of defense was built between 1880 and 1914 and consists of forts, batteries, dikes and locks in a ring around our capital. In the event of an attack on our country, the king (s), government and army may withdraw within the ring.
The land around the line of defense is then flooded. The water is too deep for soldiers on horseback and too low for warships, so the enemy will never be able to reach Amsterdam. An ingenious idea, but useless with the arrival of airplanes from a few years before the First World War. During the two world wars, the forts were made defensive, but there was never any real battle.
The fortress at IJmuiden
The fortresses in Amsterdam’s line of defense are almost all located in a circle around Amsterdam. The fort at IJmuiden is an exception to this and is located a few kilometers west of this circle. This is due to the North Sea Channel. Even during the construction of the North Sea Canal (1865-1876), senior military personnel were concerned about security in Amsterdam. Enemy ships can sail directly from the sea to our capital. It was decided to build a fortress on the north bank of the mouth of the North Sea Canal. The construction takes place in the years 1881-1888. The fort will be equipped with cast iron armor and heavy cannons. In August 1888 the fort was taken into use.
Shooting training with the big guns must also be held. For example, the residents of IJmuiden are warned in advance and advised to open the windows during a target exercise in July 1895. Raw steamer Simson drags a target back and forth in front of IJmuiden’s piers. After a few grandiose misses, it’s done. Unfortunately, it is not the target but Samson who gets hit. Fortunately, the crew is unharmed, but the tugboat is damaged. Simson immediately interrupts the tow and sets course for the harbor. The military authorities are presented with the bill …
With the construction of the Noorderbuitenkanaal to Noordersluis, which opened in 1930, the fort will be located on an island at the mouth of the canal. Between 1927 and 1938 the fort is unmanned and is guarded only by a guardian. In 1938, the fort was manned again as part of the mobilization. During World War II, Fort Island formed an important stronghold in the Atlantic Wall, and the Germans built bunkers on the island. The fort itself is used as a crew room. After the liberation, the fortress is deserted.
Fort Island remains military terrain. To prevent unwanted visits to Fort Island, the Department of Defense is appointing a guard. The first is Gerlof van der Zee, who lives on the island with his family until 1954. He is succeeded by Jan Zoeteman. He lived on the island with his family until 1964.
From that year on, the eastern part of the island will be excavated to increase the maneuvering space for the ore and coal vessels off Hoogovens. Here many German bunkers are cleared. During the subsequent extension of the Noorderbuitenkanaal, a strip 80 meters wide will be taken from the northern part of the island.
The neglected fortress remains. The island, in fact only a fraction of the original Fort Island, remains off limits. Nevertheless, many residents of IJmuide, who swim from the semaphor and “take tidal currents into account”, visit the island and the fort.
Open the fortress
In 1993, Amsterdam’s line of defense gained status as a provincial monument. In 1994, IMTIN starts training activities on Fort Island. IMTIN and Velsen Municipality are starting a joint project to make the fort more accessible to a wider public. This led to a multi-year clean-up and restoration of the fort from 1996 in collaboration with almost 300 members of the community service. Since 1996, Amsterdam’s line of defense, with the armored fort IJmuiden as a part, has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Since 2008, PBN Sport & Adventure has run Forteiland, including courses and company events.
A few days a year we have the opportunity to explore the island and the fort with a guide from ‘Friends of the Moor’ or on your own during the public days. These take place on the first Sundays of the months around the summer. See https://kustfort.nl for more information.
The island has long been a source of rumors and eerie experiences. Is there really a ghost dog or the ghost of a canal digger roaming the island? Are there invisible fortress guards whispering stories behind the backs of visitors? Have pleasure ladies left an invisible cry for help in the tendon room? Is the island connected to the semaphor via an underground passage? I will definitely return to this!
View of the armored fortress on the sea side, with the five embrasures. Photo: Erik Baalbergen