The Rotterdam region was bombed more than three hundred times by allied planes during World War Two. Those bombs killed some 900 citizens in the city alone, more than had been killed during the German bombardment of the city centre in 1940. That was the startling conclusion reached by Lennart van Oudheusden and Jac. J. Baart in their 2018 book Target Rotterdam. The absolute low point was the erroneous bombing of Rotterdam-West on 31 March 1943 by American planes. It is known as the Forgotten Bombardment and cost 400 lives.
Frequent air raids were carried out on port facilities, shipyards and factories during the war. After all, they had become part of the Germany war industry. The target on 31 March was the Wilton machine factory on Oostkousdijk, where the German War Navy had established a repair facility. But owing to cloudy weather, vague instructions and navigation errors by the inexperienced crew, the bombs fell on all sorts of sites in Rotterdam-West: Keilehaven, Lekhaven, Heijplaat and Wilton-Fijenoord. Because of the fierce wind, the last 100 bombs even missed the port entirely and landed to the north-east of them. At about one thirty in the afternoon, parts of the Tussendijken district turned into an inferno, causing considerable damage. Besides the many dead and injured, some 2,661 homes, 190 shops and 89 business premises were destroyed and almost 13,000 people left homeless. The German-controlled press denounced the ‘Anglo-American terrorist attacks’.
On numerous occasions we have had the misfortune to see mounds of burning rubble in Rotterdam’s neighbourhoods, where the treacherous murderers on the other side of the Channel have dropped their deadly cargo, and time and again we have witnessed the harrowing distress among ordinary defenceless citizens who have lost their most precious belongings. Yet what we have now experienced in this city, so sorely tested so often, surpasses all that has gone before. House after house, street after street in the afflicted neighbourhood has turned into a smouldering heap of rubble, where the hopes of countless families lie buried, where so many people, elderly, women and children going about their daily affairs, have had their lives taken in such a shockingly criminal manner. This “brave” attack by our British ‘defenders’ lasted no more than a few minutes, yet this brief period was enough, as far as we can now ascertain, to destroy six hundred to one thousand homes, more than five hundred of which were razed to the ground.
Het Nationale Dagblad 2 april 1943
The district was of course rebuilt after the war according to a reconstruction plan that was less rigorous than the Basisplan drawn up for the city centre. The existing street pattern was largely respected, with Mathenesserweg and Schiedamseweg retained as broad thoroughfares. The pattern of perimeter blocks was rebuilt to the north of Mathenesserweg and to the south of Schiedamseweg. The tip between Mathenesserlaan and Schiedamseweg acquired a more modern and open layout. A number of perimeter blocks by city architect J.J.P. Oud that had been destroyed were replaced by tall blocks of flats overlooking a public garden. It was not until 1983 that a neighbourhood park was completed. Grote Visserijplein was created as a central open space and has functioned as a market square since the 1960s. The community centre wasn’t built until the 1980s.
The urban plan dictated a more open arrangement of sites. The blocks of gallery-access flats built on Gijsinglaan do not align with the pre-war pattern of perimeter blocks and more closely resemble housing blocks in outer districts like Overschie. One block on Schiedamseweg contained a service courtyard, and a type of service street ran along the rear of the low-rise retail development at the end of Schiedamseweg.
Tussendijken was not the worst part of Rotterdam, and it included blocks with shared gardens built by Oud in 1920. However, you will search the whole area in vain for a reasonable piece of public greenery, and that is why the design for the reconstruction places priority on a large park. Although small in scale and limited in its general layout by the surrounding development, and by the pattern of existing roads, that could not be altered, the reconstruction plan for Tussendijken does incorporate contemporary urban design ideas.
Rein Blijstra in Het Vrĳe Volk 7 januari 1952
The sharp angle where Schiedamseweg and Mathenesserweg converge was developed with a number of disparate structures: experimental blocks of maisonettes, a school complex and the Regina Pacis monastery. The plan also included a number of modest religious buildings: a Catholic Church by Harry Nefkens on Mathenesserdijk (demolished in 1994), a Reformed Church on the corner of Schiedamseweg and Schippersstraat by Chr. de Heer (demolished in 2001), an Apostolic Church by M.E. Hartman on Korfmakersstraat and a so-called Article 31 Reformed Church by C. Hoekveen on Kuipersstraat. A modern police station, adorned with typical 1950s artworks by Ian Pieters and Cees Timmer, was built at the tip of Schiedamseweg in 1958. There were also plans to build a bathhouse here, where dockworkers could wash after work.
The ground shook
and in the basement we knew:
These are our friends. They let
the bombs drop like ripe apples
until we saw dirty white clouds
climbing upwards and a strong wind
blew the smell of fire towards us
Only then did I realize
what survival is
and that alone.
Ans Leenheer, 1978
Commemorating the bombardment of May 1940 has always been overshadowed by celebrating the reconstruction of Rotterdam. Indeed, no attention whatsoever was paid to the bombardment of Rotterdam-West. That is why it came to be known as the ‘forgotten bombardment’. The 35th anniversary of the bombing in 1978 was the first time it was commemorated, with an exhibition in the community centre. A special edition of the periodical WAR by the Workgroup for Workers’ Literature Rotterdam was also issued. On 31 March 1993, Prime Minister Lubbers unveiled a monument in memory of this forgotten bombardment. Artist Mathieu Ficheroux memorialized the fateful event with a weathered steel cast of the date, its figures scattered around the gardens of Park 1943 as though hit by a bomb.
The reconstruction of Rotterdam-West has never received much attention either, certainly in comparison to the way Rotterdam has promoted its rebuilt centre. And analogous to the forgotten bombardment, one could speak of a forgotten reconstruction. This is partly because the post-war blocks align seamlessly with the surviving blocks, some of which were no more than a decade or two old. For example, the only surviving half of a perimeter block by J.J.P. Oud from 1923 was completed by architect Johan van Bokkum in an almost identical manner. The last blocks along Mathenesserlaan by architect Krijgsman look like they date from before the war. Most of the architecture is not particularly remarkable.
Over time the new housing developments found themselves in the same negative spiral as the older urban renewal districts in Rotterdam-West, where large concentrations of underprivileged Rotterdammers live in social housing complexes and cheap rental housing operated by the private sector. Slowly but surely, however, this district now seems to be on the rise, thanks in part to successful residential schemes like Le Médi and others along Hudsonstraat. New highlights such as the Roof Park along Vierhavensstraat, the renovated Lee Towers at Marconiplein and the general development of the M4H area have given the district a boost, putting it back on the map at last.
Read more about Veerkrachtig Bospolder Tussendijken.