8 Things You Need to Know About the 1940 Rotterdam Terror Bombing

 
 
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4 Only a Handful of Buildings Survived

Only a couple of buildings survived the bombings. The most well known of these buildings is the Witte Huis, which was built in 1898 as the first high-rise building in Europe. The building did suffer some damage, and today, you can see bullet holes around the buildings exterior.

 

The Witte Huis in 1900.
The Witte Huis in 1900.

 

Sint-Laurenskerk is a well-known church that survived the blast as well. The church was built in the 15th and 16th centuries and managed to survive the Rotterdam bombings. The building was heavily damaged but went on to be restored in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Rotterdam's city centre after the bombing. The heavily damaged (now restored) St. Lawrence church stands out as the only remaining building reminiscent of Rotterdam's medieval architecture.
Rotterdam’s city centre after the bombing. The heavily damaged (now restored) St. Lawrence church (Sint-Laurenskerk) stands out as the only remaining building reminiscent of Rotterdam’s medieval architecture.

5 Rotterdam Was Set Ablaze

People gather on the land of Hoboken while Rotterdam burns
People gather on the land of Hoboken while Rotterdam burns.

Many of the buildings that were struck by bombs caught fire. These fires would go on to become uncontrollable, worsening in the coming days as winds shifted. Over the course of a week, the fires began to join and create one large unified fire. It’s been said that at nightfall, on the first night after the bombings, the sky was red from all the fires.

6 Quick Surrender

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It didn’t take long for the Dutch to surrender. Shortly after the bombings, a Dutch colonel met with a German Sergeant on a bridge, to discuss a surrender. At that time, the Dutch surrendered the city to Germany. The Germans then took control of the city as the fires raged on. News of the surrender didn’t make it to all Dutch troops within the city in a timely manner. Due to this, there were several small-fire fights which led to several more deaths.

7 Major Bombing-Policy Change for the British

Prior to the Rotterdam bombings, the Royal Air Force was to only bomb military zones and infrastructure of importance, including railways, ports etc. They were to not (or at least try not) to bomb civilian-heavy areas. The British acknowledged that the bombing of Rotterdam was a deliberate attack on not just a military zone, but also a civilian zone. So, the day after the bombings, May 15th, the policy was changed. The first orders for the Royal Air Force was to attack targets in the Ruhr that could have killed civilians as well as military personnel. This included oil plants, as well as other industrial plants that could be fueling the German war effort.

8.The Rebuilding Process Was Slow

Rotterdam, 3 years after the bombing
Rotterdam, 3 years after the bombing.

After the bombing and subsequent fire, the decision was made to raze everything but a handful of buildings within the city center. Plans were presented to city officials within one month to rebuild the city; these plans were based on the city’s prior layout and structure. Prior to the bombings, the city had struggled with overcrowding issues, as well as small, poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

So when the plans were drawn up, the idea was to resolve many of the city’s prior issues. The rebuilding of the city lasted until the 1970’s; during this period of time, the area remained windy (due to the openness). In the 1980’s city officials pushed for development of apartment buildings as well as skyscrapers to develop a skyline. Today, the city has a handful of skyscrapers that are spread out across the city.

De Verwoeste Stad, (The Destroyed City), sculpture in Rotterdam by Ossip Zadkine. Photo Credit.
De Verwoeste Stad, (The Destroyed City), sculpture in Rotterdam by Ossip Zadkine. Photo Credit.

Although it took almost four decades for the city to fully get back on its feet, many believe Rotterdam is better than ever. Though the city has moved on from this dark time, it doesn’t shy away from its past. Across the city, you can find memories of the bombings, such as red lights with a fire logo on them, which are located on streets, sidewalks etc. These make up an outline of where the fires raged from the bombings. Today, Rotterdam is not only one of the largest cities in the Netherlands, but it also has one of the largest ports in the world.