IJmuiden — History


IJmuiden (Dutch pronunciation: [ˌɛi̯ˈmœy̆də(n)], approx. ei mouden) is a port city in the Dutch province of North Holland and is the main town in the municipality of Velsen. It is located at the mouth of the North Sea Canal to Amsterdam, and lies approximately 17 kilometres (11 mi) north of Haarlem.

The internal capitalization in the city’s spelling is due to the fact that IJ is a digraph in Dutch, and is therefore sometimes considered to be a ligature, rendering it a single letter.


In the Roman era, this Velsen district was already inhabited, and archaeological finds at the impoldered lake of Wijkermeer[1] indicate there was a North Sea port of some regional importance built here.[2] Present day IJmuiden includes four harbors: the vissershaven (Ship’s code IJM), a fishing dock (visafslag), the haringhaven, the IJmondhaven and the Seaport Marina IJmuiden, a harbour for pleasure craft. IJmuiden became the largest fishing port of the Netherlands after the island of Urk became closed in by the Afsluitdijk. The town suffered heavy damage and demolition during World War II, because of its maritime importance.

Mouth of the IJ

Before the present IJmuiden was built, the area was known as Breesaap; it was a desolate plain where only a handful of farmers strived to make a living.

Plans to connect Amsterdam with a canal to the North Sea, with its mouth in this area, had been drawn up already since 1626, but were only set into motion in the 19th century, when in 1851 the whole area was sold to the entrepreneurs Bik and Arnold. The first spade hit the ground on 8 April 1865.

IJmuiden is the newest city in North Holland, and only came into existence on November 1, 1876, when the North Sea Canal was officially opened by William III of the Netherlands, connecting the Amsterdam harbors to the open sea. He dubbed the town «IJmuiden» after passing the locks from the North Sea into the canal. After his ship, the paddle steamer ‘Stad Breda’ built by the Stoomvaart Maatschappij Zeeland, passed, the first ship from Amsterdam, the ‘SS Rembrandt’ built by the Royal Netherlands Steamship Company (KNSM), passed the other way.[3] The workers who dug the canal later settled there; they found work after the canal was finished in the fishing industry, but many also suffered extreme poverty.

The IJmuiden name literally means “mouth of the IJ”, which is a hint to the importance the town has for the Amsterdam harbour. The name “IJmuiden” first appeared as IJ-muiden in lines written in 1848 by the professor and journalist (and, later, a liberal finance minister in the Van Lynden van Sandenburg Cabinet) Simon Vissering. The present IJmuiden form was eventually adopted in 1876, as the North Sea Canal was being completed in this section.

In 1890 it had about 1,500 inhabitants, but boomed when the Koninklijke Nederlandse Hoogovens steelworks settled in IJmuiden in 1918. At that time shipping was at a low, because during World War I minesweepers laid many mines off the coast of IJmuiden.[4] Also the canal mouth needed constant dredging due to the littoral drift in both directions on an open, sandy coast, due to winds blowing alternately from opposite quarters, sand accumulates in the sheltered angles outside the harbour between each converging breakwater and the shore.[5]

World War 2

Still taken from a US Army film, shot during the bombing of the German bunker Schnellbootbunker BY (SBB2), February 1945.[6]
After the German invasion of the Netherlands on May 10, 1940, the Dutch Royal family left the country from IJmuiden in the late evening of May 12, on board the British destroyer HMS Codrington. The quays at IJmuiden were crowded at that time with people desperate to be transported across the channel, sometimes at great expense. During the German occupation, the canal was out of operation and the Germans destroyed most of IJmuiden to create what they called Festung IJmuiden (Fortress IJmuiden), a heavily defended area in which the entire civilian population had been removed.

IJmuiden became the site of two separate fortified pens constructed by the German navy to house their Schnellboote (fast torpedo boats, known to the Allies as «E-boats»)[7] and Biber midget submarines.[8] The older structure, codename Schnellbootbunker AY (SBB1), was protected by a 10-foot (3.0 m) thick concrete roof.[7] The newer one, codename Schnellbootbunker BY (SBB2), had 10–12 feet (3.0–3.7 m) of concrete, with a further 2–4-foot (0.61–1.2 m) layer separated by an air–gap.[Note 1][8]

The E-boats laid up in the shelters during the day, safe from air–attack, and put to sea under cover of night to attack Allied shipping.[7] The pens were priority targets after D-Day as the torpedo boats they protected were a considerable threat to the supply lines serving Allied forces in western Europe and were subjected to repeated air attack. This included four attacks by No. 9 Squadron and No. 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, during which a total of 53 of the five–ton, Tallboy earthquake bombs were dropped.[9][10] There were also two attacks in 1945 by the American air force with rocket–powered Disney bombs, specialist weapons designed to penetrate fortified, concrete bunkers that could resist conventional bombs.

The story of IJmuiden during the war is told in the Bunker Museum IJmuiden (Dutch).

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