A part of history
England’s leader Winston Churchill famously said when inspecting British coastal defenses in 1940. A German landing loomed over Western Europe’s last stronghold against Hitler. But Britain’s victory in the battle for control of the skies and mounting problems in the German campaign against the Soviet Union soon turned the tables. To spare soldiers for the eastern campaign, warding off an invasion from the West became a strategic priority for Germany’s war planners. This required fortifying Europe’s western shores, culminating in 1942 in the massive Atlantikwall project.
The ‘Wall’ envisioned 15.000 fortifications (over 10.000 were actually built) stretching along the Norwegian coast and from the Dutch Wadden Island Schiermonnikoog to Biarritz in Southern France. On the almost 5000 kilometers of shores, which became forbidden zones, a deadly forest was erected of barbed wire, steel anti-tank poles, anti-paratrooper spikes and mines. They form the most elaborate coastal defense in history.
At strategic positions ‘fortresses’ were erected: clusters of bunkers, command posts and artillery, sometimes linked by narrow underground tunnels. Fortresses were designed to be able to hold out against an enemy siege for months without help. All civilian houses and infrastructure that stood in the way were cleared, and garrisons were under explicit orders to fight to the last man.
One of these sites was IJmuiden.
The cluster of bunkers that are today climbed by boulderers formed only a small, if vital, part of Fortress IJmuiden. Together, they formed Coastal Battery Heerenduin. The most impressive of Heerenduin’s bunkers, now dubbed Amsterdoomed, was the battery’s command post. Over 2300 metric meters of concrete were used to build it, and it housed communications and distance measuring equipment. Only the top two rooms are accessible, the much larger lower level is now buried by sand. The other four large bunkers, with their imposing roofs, are all of the same design. Their 2 meter-thick walls and roof shielded large 17-centimeter guns with a 20 kilometer reach. Other fortifications at this site were ammunition storages, barracks and light artillery pivots.
The bunkers of IJmuiden are special not just because they make excellent bouldering objects with great views. Most Atlantikwall bunkers have been razed, closed to the public or are overgrown. Others are in poor shape or badly soiled. But many hundreds still exist, in Holland primarily in Hoek van Holland, an important fortress that protected the vital port of Rotterdam and in Den Haag, where over 3000 houses were demolished to make way for Festung Scheveningen. The remaining bunkers there, in Den Helder, Hoek van Holland, in Zeeland and in other locations, remain, to our best knowledge, to be climbed.
Equipment Casio Exilim FH-20