The story of The Hague during World War II is a tumultuous one. From V2 rockets installed in the Haagse Bos to the accidental bombing by the British forces, The Hague was marked by the war.
To better understand the city during the war, we must explore one of the darkest periods of Europe.
May 10, 1940, the invasion begins
The German invasion of the Netherlands started relatively early in the war. The Netherlands was neutral officially but was also expecting a German attack.
The Dutch plan was to fall back on their “water” defences in the west of the country at the Fort Holland.
The Germans planned to overwhelm the Hague through an aerial attack and secure the airstrips and the city itself.
Part of the plan was also to capture the royal family, located in the city.
Early in the morning, German planes flew over The Hague. The idea was to deceive the Dutch into thinking they were attacking the UK but the planes alarmed the Dutch.
The German forces captured airfields in and around The Hague but failed to capture the city and the royal family.
After a Dutch counter-offensive the same day, the Germans troops retreated and lost their initial progress.
The successful counter-offensive of the Dutch forces in The Hague didn’t last long. On May 14, in the aftermath of the Rotterdam Blitz, The Netherlands capitulated.
This marked the start of a harsh German occupation. They deported the Jewish community of The Hague (the second largest in the country) and almost completely exterminated them in Auschwitz and other Nazi camps. Roma residents of the city also met their demise in extermination camps.
By 1943, the Dutch had begun to construct the Atlantic Wall near The Hague. The Atlantic Wall provided coastal defences that Nazi Germany made to prevent an Allied invasion from the seas. It didn’t work.
The construction involved many demolitions around the city’s coastal areas, displacing tens of thousands of residents.
The Atlantic Wall had a great impact on the city. Its legacy is still visible today, whether it’s the bunkers by the coast or the dramatically changed areas following demolitions.
The V2 rockets of the Haagse Bos
By 1944, it was becoming increasingly clear that Nazi Germany was losing. The German forces pushed hard during the last stage of the war in a desperate attempt to turn the tides. It was only a matter of time until Allied victory.
One of the projects to push back was the infamous V2 rockets. This expensive rocket was the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile.
Its development was long and expensive, but starting in September 1944, around 3,000 V2 rockets were launched by the German Army. They targeted London and, later on, Antwerp and Liege in Belgium.
In The Hague, mobile launch units were placed in the Haagse Bos and the Duindigt racecourse. The forest, extending on a long and wide strip, presented the perfect spot to launch rockets, given its dense foliage.
In November 1944, German forces launched 82 rockets from the Haagse Bos towards London.
Due to time constraints, the rocket had technical issues, like all rushed projects. Its guiding system was quite rudimentary, and it wasn’t guaranteed that they would hit their targets.
The Germans launching the rockets could only cross their fingers and hope they successfully passed the North Sea and hit London.
READ MORE | Photo report: the Netherlands at war, 1940-1945
While a formidable weapon, the V2 rockets were less successful in helping the Nazis hold off Allied invasions.
With Allied bombings, the Red Army marching through Eastern Europe, and the D-day landings on the Western Front, the Axis were on the verge of losing the war.
The accidental British bombing of Bezuidenhout
On March 3, 1945, the British Royal Air Force commenced a mission to bomb the V2 installations in the Haagse Bos. This was around a month before the end of the war in Europe.
The pilots got incorrect coordinates and flew in foggy weather. They ended up accidentally bombing the nearby residential neighbourhood of Bezuidenhout.
The bombings destroyed most of the neighbourhood, killing 511 people. When they realised their error, the Royal Air Force dropped flyers apologising for the mistake. Trouw, the Dutch resistance newspaper at the time, wrote the following about the bombings:
“The horrors of the war are increasing. We have seen the fires in The Hague after the terrible bombings due to the V2-launching sites. We have seen the column of smoke, drifting to the south and the ordeal of the war has descended upon us in its extended impact. We heard the screaming bombs falling on (the) Bezuidenhout, and the missiles which brought death and misery fell only a hundred metres from us. At the same time we saw the launching and the roaring, flaming V2, holding our breath to see if the launch was successful, if not falling back on the homes of innocent people.
It is horrible to see the monsters take off in the middle of the night between the houses, lighting up the skies. One can imagine the terrors that came upon us now that The Hague is a frontline town, bombed continuously for more than ten days. Buildings, burning and smouldering furiously, a town choking from smoke, women and children fleeing, men hauling furniture which they tried to rescue from the chaos. What misery, what distress.”
The war in Europe ended not long after that, on May 8, 1945. The Dutch quickly reconstructed what they lost in the war, notably in Rotterdam.
The areas affected in The Hague were also reconstructed, following a construction boom in the 1950s and 1960s.
The war might be long over, yet the scars remain. If you ever find yourself in Bezuidenhout, you’ll find different signs telling the stories of the bombing, and you can go on a little walking tour to find all of them.
Have you learned anything new about the war in the Netherlands? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Feature Image: The Hague Municipal Archives/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2020 and was fully updated in May 2022 for your reading pleasure.