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The Naval History of Hellevoetsluis

October 22, 2011

Hellevoetsluis (population: 30,164 in 2009) is a small city and municipality on Voorne-Putten Island in the western Netherlands, in the province of South Holland. The municipality covers an area of 46.14 km² (17.81 mile²) of which 14.57 km² (5.63 mile²) is water and it includes the population centres Nieuw-Helvoet, and Nieuwenhoorn, both former municipalities.

Hellevoetsluis is located on the Haringvliet with the sea, beach and dunes close by, on the extreme southern edge of the Rijnmond and Europoort areas, close to the broad Zeeland landscape. The name translates as “lock at the foot of the Helle”. The Helle was a small local river which disappeared over time.

The history of Hellevoetsluis has always been connected with water. During the time of the United Provinces Hellevoetsluis was the naval port of the Admiralty of de Maze (Rotterdam) and could accommodate an entire fleet within a special land-enclosed fortress with harbour and dockyard facilities, accessible through a canal. Thanks to its strategic situation the town grew from the beginning of the 17th century to be the homeport for the Dutch war fleet. In later years the port was fortified more and more and Hellevoetsluis therefore became a unique combination of fortified town and naval port. The Admirals Maarten Tromp, Michiel de Ruyter and Piet Heyn had their home base here and in 1688 during the Glorious Revolution William III of Orange’s invasion fleet departed from the port.

Jan Blanken Dry Dock, the first dry dock in the Netherlands, dates from 1806, and it marked a revolutionary development in the history of shipbuilding and ship repair. The dry dock is still there and has become a major historical and industrial/archaeological monument. It also receives famous sailing vessels, like the Shtandart replica. In 1697 Czar Peter the Great started his Tour of Western Europe. He learned shipbuilding in Zaandam, and in January 1698 he sailed from Hellevoetsluis to England, to improve these skills. In 1717 Czar Peter the Great sailed to Hellevoetsluis with a friend from Rotterdam, to revisit the town.

 
The Kanaal door Voorne (Canal through Voorne) was built in 1830 from Hellevoetsluis to Nieuwesluis (near Heenvliet) and made Hellevoetsluis an outport of Rotterdam. It was a period when the town grew and flourished; the shipping industry provided prosperity.

In the first half of the 20th century, however, Hellevoetsluis went into decline. Ocean-going ships became too large to use the canal and the Nieuwe Waterweg was dug, making the Canal through Voorne redundant. The naval base was relocated to Den Helder in the 1930s, the Government shipyard was closed, and during World War II the Germans destroyed three quarters of all buildings in 1944. They also used the canal as a base for Biber submarines.

After World War II Hellevoetsluis grew considerably. As a New Town the population doubled in the 1970s. Today 43,000 inhabitants live in modern houses with abundant green areas nearby. It is home to many commuters working in Europoort or Rotterdam.

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