The Netherlands / Fortification

Assener Stellung: impressive but useless




Tens of thousands helped dig the Assener Stellung in the last year of the war to stop the Allied tanks, but the arduous, mostly forced work ultimately served no purpose.

All was well arranged by the occupying forces: along Beilerstraat near the Zuider Cemetery, there was a bunker with a gravel pit right next to one of the tank trenches dug around the city. The main southern approach road to the city presented a difficult obstacle to the Allied army. and the gaping hole in the road could be easily defended. 

But when it came down to that on 12 April 1945, the Canadians sent a bulldozer tank ahead to close the gaping hole. This happened without much disruption. At the beginning of Beilerstraat some machine-gun fire was still coming from the enemy, but the dreaded attacks from the adjacent Asserbos did not materialise. The bunker near the Eleveld ladies' café was unmanned and the explosive charge under the gravel did not go off. 

The construction of the tank trenches had caused a great deal of human suffering. Prisoners of war, including many Russians, had to join in the digging works and Dutch men were also forced to dig metres through the Asser soil in an attempt to stop the Canadian tanks.  The Port Natal psychiatric sanatorium just down the road on Beilerstraat - its entrance is still marked by the entrance gate - housed several hundreds of forced labourers. CDA politician Willem Aantjes was later on identified as one of their guards. 

The scars of that canal system can still be seen as reminders of futile resistance.