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© 1999-2014, René G.A. Ros
Last modified: 7/11/2014

The Defence Line - Construction

Spies

A German 'artist' came in 1897, armed with binoculars, notepad and pen, to have a look at the Defence Line.
He, reserve-officer Dr. Richard Cleve, saw only a few innocent looking hills in the landscape and quiet roads. But the Defence Line impressed a German intelligence report.

Before the forts could be built, the subsoil at the locations required work; the excavation of bog and clay, the formation of a sand heap and the prolonged compression of the soil.
Between 1886 and 1894 the sand heaps were made and the architects drew-up plans and models of the forts. At the same time it was decided to make an engineers' dike through the Haarlemmermeer polder. This dike would divide the polder into wet Southern and dry northern parts. It was one of the few places where a dike was especially constructed for the inundation - in other places existing dikes were used. The sand heaps were converted into defendable earthworks between 1894 and 1897. Simultaneously, the installations for inundating and infrastructure were built and completed in 1896. The name of this plan was called "Het Kleine Plan" ("The Small Plan").

There was growing resistance to the building of forts, as a mobile and fast army would be cheaper and more effective than a static line with expensive forts. Nonetheless, the building continued, so that between 1897 and 1905 fourteen forts were equipped with bombproof shelters.

The Defence Line took shape in other ways. The works of The Small Plan, were expanded and several central depots were built. A supply of clay and sand was needed in ground depots for the reparation of the gaps made by both inundations and bursting of the dikes by enemy fire. In 1916, the Defence Line got the Military Airfield Schiphol. Several vital military industries moved inside the Defence Line, for example the "Artillerie-Inrichtingen" munitions and weapon factory, which moved from Delft to Zaandam.

When the First World War started, the construction of two forts was halted and two others never evolved into anything other than defendable earthworks. A few other forts were either never built (Fort near the Fuikvaart) or never completely modernised (Fort near Abcoude). In the end, the building of the forts lasted 33 years and 40 million guilders were spent, four times more than initially estimated. In today's terms it would have cost € 470 million.

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Defence Line of Amsterdam. A city wall of water.
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