The Netherlands / Story

The breach in the dam




The Netherlands is known as a country of water. The Dutch have been fighting against and trying to control the water for centuries. In WWII, the water was used by the occupying forces as a weapon against the Dutch and their liberators.

The River Waal usually flows calmly through the Ooijpolder landscape, but when the water level rises and high water threatens, the calm river becomes a dangerous torrent. After the bridges of Nijmegen were captured by the Allies during Operation Market Garden and the city was liberated, the occupying forces wanted to prevent the Allies from penetrating further into the north and east of the Netherlands, at all costs. One of the ways they tried to prevent this was to blow up sections of the dikes of the Nederrijn and the Waal, which resulted in large parts of the Betuwe and Ooijpolder being flooded. One of the dikes they blew a hole through was the Erlecomsedam. Though it is not clear when the dike was breached, some sources claim that it happened shortly before Christmas 1944, and others say it was a month later. What is certain is that, in addition to this dike, the Kapitteldijk near the Thornsche Molen windmill and at least one of the floodgates of the Querdamm were deliberately blown up.

Inundating the land had two advantages for the occupying forces: firstly, the water formed an obstacle, slowing down the Allied advance, and secondly, it narrowed the front line. However, not everything worked out as the occupying forces planned. When the dikes were breached, the water level in the river was too low to cause any real damage. Only later, in early February 1945, did the water level start to rise. This caused the desired flooding, but now it happened in such a violent and uncontrolled way that the water caused problems on the German side as well.

For the Allies, water was a delaying factor during Operation Veritable, and in the Rhine crossing as well. Most civilians in the Ooijpolder region had already been evacuated when the polder was flooded and they did not return until the spring of 1945. Though the water had drained away by then, on their return they found that the water had caused extensive damage.

Erlecomsedam, Erlecom