The Netherlands / Audiospot
Den Helder suffered badly during the Second World War. When the Canadian liberators arrived in Den Helder on 8 May 1945, the city had only 9000 inhabitants left, a quarter of the population from before the war. The location on the North Sea coast, the naval port, the shipyard and the military airfield were all of great strategic importance to the German occupier, and therefore also to the Allies, from the very beginning of the Second World War. No other place in the Netherlands was bombed as often as Den Helder during the Second World War.
The Germans feared an invasion from the sea, and in 1942 they decided to create the Atlantic Wall, a coastal defence line that ran from Norway to Spain. Parts of the city of Den Helder were demolished to make the construction of the wall possible.
Den Helder became the base of operations for the Kriegsmarine and was under constant fire during the war. The bombs dropped by the Allies, intended for the military airfield and the port, were not always accurate and ended up spread throughout Den Helder. The long term damage was immense. No other place in the Netherlands was bombed as often during the Second World War.
In 1943, the Atlantic Wall was strengthened. Mandatory civil evacuations followed, and a large wave of refugees got underway.
The residents sought refuge in nearby places such as Anna Paulowna, Julianadorp and Breezand. The war changed in June 1944; D-Day was the turning point for the Western Allied front, but the liberation of the Netherlands was difficult. The Dutch famine followed in the Northern Netherlands, and it wasn't until 8 May 1945 that the Canadians liberated Den Helder.
After their surrender on ships, the thousands of German soldiers returned to Germany. After the liberation, the coastline was still riddled with bunkers, mines, ammunition and barbed wire. The city had to be rebuilt from the ground up. A huge operation because Den Helder was completely uninhabitable, the city was isolated and suffered a serious food shortage. Still, the people of Den Helder managed to build a new city in a relatively short time. The vibrancy of the pre-war port city, however, remained a thing of the past.