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© 1999-2023, René G.A. Ros
Last modified: 5/12/2021

The Defence Line - Prologue

Boundary post

The Kingdom of the Netherlands and its borders: the Dutch-Belgium border, boundary post 4 near Vaals. The year on the post is 1843, 30 years since the Kingdom was founded and 3 years since the separation of Belgium.
(Picture: René Ros, 1998)

In 1874, the Netherlands was thinly populated by 3-4 million inhabitants (16 million in 2001) and just past the French time (1795 to 1813) and Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 to 1821). The fresh IJsselmeer (Lake IJssel) was still an inland salt sea (the enclosing dike was finished in 1932), there were no aeroplanes (the Wright brothers flew in 1903), trains used coal (the last steam train disappeared in 1958 here) and the Internet had to wait for more than a century.

Already in the 15th century there was a wall around the city of Amsterdam, of which some remains can still be found. Later, when the city was enlarged, another wall was built, with 26 strongholds. Many of these old strongholds are visible on the map as small waves in the Singel canal.
In 1672 the Prince of Orange made inundations and defence works around Amsterdam, and because of these, Louis the 14th thought the position was impossible to attack. Around 1869 the Line of Amsterdam, the predecessor of the Defence Line of Amsterdam, existed as four old forts and numerous partially sunken earthworks. Only a few earthworks remain from this old line because the earthworks sank in bog, or simply disappeared when new dikes and canals were built. These strongholds were situated close to Amsterdam and were built around 1787, 1799, 1805 and some years later. Initial plans mentioned the reuse of all existing locations and improving them for the new Defence Line. It was decided later, however to build a new ring of forts further away from Amsterdam.

The army and the government wanted Amsterdam to use as a "national keep", the last area of the nation which could be defended for a long time. Besides that, a water defence line was relatively cheap, as it needed fewer men to defend a large area and the Dutch landscape lent itself perfectly to this type of defence.
After the separation of Belgium, the small Netherlands country wanted to stay neutral in any European conflict. Its defences were built to that end.
The French-Pruisian war from 1870 - 1871 and the use of modern, powerful artillery caused great concern about the weak Dutch defence. This concern led to the Vestingwet (Fortress Law) of 1874, in which it was decided that a Stelling van Amsterdam (Defence Line of Amsterdam) would be built. Germany was considered the main threat because of the size of its army (which was strong even in peacetime) and its proximity to the Dutch border. The Netherlands wasn't part of any war plans of the other World Powers of France or England...
It was only in 1896 that a law was passed to cover setting the inundations and to deal with financial compensation for damages to private property.

There were several proposals, with differing variations of distance from the city, link-up with the Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie (New Dutch Waterline), number and type of forts and so on. The plans also included the involvement of the coastal defence and the Dutch Royal Navy. The victualling and autonomy of the Defence Line was a problem that existed from the start.

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Defence Line of Amsterdam. A city wall of water.
UNESCO Werelderfgoed sinds 1996
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'Introduction to the Defence Line of Amsterdam' is a interactive ebook about the Defence Line of Amsterdam.