Dutch Water Line

Fortress town Gorinchem

Location: 51°49'48.41"N    4°58'31.00"O

Car parking lots are situated within, or just outside the town walls.
Parking on the streets is expensive, but parking on the arranged car parking lots and in parking garages is cheap and on Sundays it is for free.
Just follow the P-signs.

This is the layout of Gorinchem in 1649, with the earthen ramparts as they became ready in 1600, with 11 Bastions and 4 town gates.

In this shape Gorinchem became the cornerstone of the old Dutch Water Line, which was first tried out in 1672. 

Later it became also an important fortress town in the New Dutch Waterline, that was made and improved between 1815 and 1890.

It was the largest fortress town in the Dutch Waterline.

 

The new earthen ramparts were made a lot wider around the medieval town.
The black continuous line indicates the trace of the medieval town walls.

This was not just done, to have spare room for future extension of the houses. The purpose was to include room for gardens, to grow vegetables and fruit. And to keep cattle and pigs, for meat during a siege.
This would extend the time that the fortress town held out during a siege.

For reference the Bastion numbers are indicated, going anti clockwise.

Just before the work on the New Dutch Water Defense Line was started Gorinchem was besieged, by the Prussians, in the winter of 1813-1814.

The allied armies of Europe were driving the French under Napoleon back.

Napoleon appointed Gorinchem to be the fortress, were the French would make a last stand. This to hold up the Prussians, to enable the remaining army to flee back to France.

As an example: on this picture you see the French besieging Willemstad in 1793. The siege by the Prussians on Gorinchem would look the same.

At the left, you can see "bombs" flying trough the air, with their fuses burning.
At the right under corner, you see a stock pile of "bombs".

The Prussians surrounded the town for 3 months and "bombed" it.

Then the French commander, general Rampon decided, that he had held the Prussians busy, long enough and gave Gorinchem over to them.

On this picture, you see the damage to a mill on Bastion 6, when the Prussian artillery hit a local gun powder storage.

At the right of the picture, you can see, how the guns were placed on the ramparts.
The gun in the foreground has a field carriage. The two in the back ground have a pivoting fortress carriage, with recoil sledge.

This picture is made of a gravure on copper sheet.

Here and now on Bastion 8, can be seen these 24 pound caliber guns on a pivoting fortress carriage, with recoil sledge. Sadly, the parapet has not been restored. The effective range of these guns is about 2km.

During the Prussian siege, the French defenders used these guns to hinder the Prussians making their gun batteries at the other side of the river.

In a later stage of the siege, they used these guns, shooting at troop movements on the other side and shooting at Dutch gun boats sailing up and down the river.

They even did shoot at Prussians in Woudrichem, destroying many houses there, at a range of just beyond 2km.

Now I like to explain something on the so called "bombing" of Gorinchem.

The airplane was not invented for long, so this bombing meant, that the Prussians were shooting at the town, with explosive shells, like the example on the picture.

The Prussians were shooting with massive steel balls from their canons and with explosive gun powder shells from their Howitzers and Mortars.

After bombarding 2 weeks, about 70% of the houses of Gorinchem were destroyed or severely damaged, including the church and hospital.
This siege gave already an indication, that a fortress town was not a feasible concept any more.

This, is how the old town looks today.

At the left side, one and a half Bastion is shaved-off, when the shipping canal was made between 1887 and 1893.

The remaining earthen ramparts are in original shape and pose a good example of the old Dutch fortification system.

In comparison with the layout of 1649, you can see that on the right, there is some extension of the fortification.

It is on the east side of the town.

It was made around 1672. This is that area on a topographic map.

In the moat were 3 defense islands made, so called "Ravelijnen".
Much later, when Gorinchem lost the official fortress status, the dike was extended straight over the lower Ravelijn onto the Ramparts.

Also, so called "Envaloppen" were made. These consists out of a zigzag shape path, running along the outer shore of the moat, with a so called "Glacis" in front of it.

A Glacis is the part of the terrain in front, that is made from the field side to the moat borders. It is slightly sloping upwards, to the path along the moat, were it becomes about 2 meters high.

So the Glacis covers the path and the path is equipped with a fire step.

A man with a Musket rifle could step up, making his head and shoulders coming above the Glacis, so he could fire his musket and have a perfectly free field of fire.

In front of the Glacis was another small moat (on this map it is more or less disappeared).

So all of this was a pre-defense system, to keep the enemy at a distance, as long as possible.

The Ravelijnen are not so recognizable at the moment, one is covered with heavy bushing.

The other is partly used by a gardening club having a lot of small vegetable gardens and garden sheds on it.

But they still have more or less the profile, as shown on this picture, with lower ramparts, than the main wall.

On these Ravelijnen, Musketeers were shooting at the enemy and also small canon were set up here.

The men rowed in small boats to and from the Ravelijnen. 

This is the most northern Ravelijn.

As you can see, no wall profile is visible, it is covered with thorny bushes and has become a birds paradise.

Napoleon himself visited Gorinchem a few times, since the main traveling route to the south was going via the ferry at Gorinchem, over the large river Merwede, via Breda and Brussels, or Antwerp to Paris.

As he stayed overnight, he liked to ride on his horse over the town walls.

On the 5th of October 1811, he gave some instructions, for improvements on Gorinchem's defenses.

One of them was this "Poterne", to be made, to enable fast deployment or retreat of troops in the pre-defenses.

So Napoleon was aware of the importance of pre-defenses.

Here you see, how a Bastioned main wall, with Ravelijnen and Envalopen in front, according the old Dutch system, works.

These fortifications, going all around the fortress town, are forming a closed cross fire front. With multiple layers of overlapping fields of fire.
And also flanking fire, covering all faces of the Bastions and Ravellijnen.

Geschut = gun (canon, howitzer or mortar).
Musket, geweer = rifle (black gunpowder matchlock or
                           flintlock rifles)

To have an idea, what (beginning 17th century) was deemed to be an effective shooting range for Muskets and small canon, used for flanking fire.

I have measured the distance between the flank of Bastion 10 to the point (called "Saillant") of Bastion 11.

This distance is exactly 200m, which is certainly quite a distance, for black powder weapons from that time.

Standing on the starting point of the red line on Bastion 10, looking in the arrow direction to Bastion 11.

For shooting with a black powder Musket, at moving targets in front of Bastion 11, this is quite far away.

So, I am concluding, that they mainly used their flanking canons, to give flanking fire.

On the left is, of course, the main wall (called Courtine) connecting the Bastions.

Here we are looking back from Bastion 11 to Bastion 10.

Now with the Courtine on the right.

Halfway this Courtine, on the inside is a local gunpowder storage building.

This is that local gunpowder storage building. It contained the cartridge sacks with gunpowder, for the guns, positioned in this area of the ramparts.

To the end of WW2, mostly the grenade was separate from the propellant charge (for very big guns; it still is).

For the smooth bore front loaded black powder guns, used till the last quarter of the 19th century, the procedure was; to first put in the cartridge sack, then stamp it firmly and then put in the iron ball, or explosive shell and fire the gun.

The cartridge sacks were distributed to the local storage buildings, by wheelbarrow, from the so called Laboratory.

This is the Laboratory in Bastion 9, built in 1864.

In here, the gunpowder was taken out of wooden barrels, weighed and then they filled the cartridge sacks with the correct amount of gun powder.

The gunpowder barrels were transported from the Main Gunpowder Storage Building, to the Laboratory, by means of by wheelbarrow.

This is the Main Gunpowder Storage Building (built in 1838) in Bastion 11.

Because of the risk of explosion, it was separated this distance (400m) from the Laboratory in Bastion 9.

This meant a lot of running with wheelbarrows, between the Main Storage, the Laboratory, the Local Storages and finally to the Guns.

It seems, that this decommissioned coastal defense gun of "24 cm IJzer" (iron gun, with a caliber of 24 cm) was also positioned on the ramparts of Gorinchem, for some time.

This for the purpose of instruction of the fortress artillery, being trained in Gorinchem.

Further gun info:
Range 3000m.
Firing rate: 1 shot per 4 minutes.
Rifling: 5 slots

A restored version of this gun is placed on the ramparts of fortress town Hellevoetsluis, see:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SF1g8Si5jI


The 24 cm IJzer was purchased in 1870 It was a first generation rifled gun, with just 5 rifling slots.

Earlier, round canon balls, were at some distance moving from side to side, through the air, caused by the air resistance. So any precise shooting was not possible.

In the second half of the 19th century, this problem was solved by the invention of the rifled barrel.

Slots were cut into the inside of the barrel, in a light spiraling pattern.

The canon ball was changed into a cone shape, with stubs on the sides, which fitted the rifling slots in the gun barrel.

This gave the bullet a twist and it left the barrel turning around its axis.
This gave a gyroscopic effect, causing the bullet, to fly straight.

The grenade was born. Later the stubs were replaced by a soft metal ring, that grabs into much finer rifling.
Here are soldiers of the 20th field artillery regiment exercising on the ramparts of Gorinchem, in 1912.

Looking at the water tower in the back- ground, they have positioned their guns behind the parapet, at the left face of Bastion 9.

The gun is a so called "8 staal".
This means a canon made of steel, with a caliber 8 cm.

Purchased at Krupp Germany in 1880. The actual caliber was 84 mm and the maximum range was 5000m.

The Dutch army still used these old guns, against the Germans in WW2.

And even with some success on the 10th of May 1940, during the battle of Mill in the Peel-Raam position in the south-east of the Netherlands!

 

In 1922 the fortress artillery was discontinued and reorganized to be field artillery.

Here in 1935, soldiers of the field artillery are exercising with modified fortress guns, on the ramparts of Gorinchem.

The modifications exists out of the attachment of a broad iron hoop around the wheels. This to avoid, these heavy guns sinking in the mud, when transported in the field.

The guns are positioned behind the right face parapet of Bastion 9.

The mill in the background is corn mill De Hoop, on Bastion 8.

The guns are the so called "12 lang staal". Which means a steel canon, with a caliber of 12 cm, the long model.

Purchased at Krupp Germany in 1878. The actual caliber was 125 mm and the maximum range was 7500m.

The Dutch army still used these old guns, against the Germans in WW2.

They appeared to have been the most active and successful artillery pieces against the German attack in May 1940.

However, luckily Gorinchem was not involved in the May 1940 fighting. Because then a lot of beautiful historic objects could have been destroyed. 

After fortress Vuren was built (1844), about 4km to the east, Gorinchem was in second line and functioned as a garrison and storage town for the south part of the New Dutch Waterline defense system.

In the background is the south side of Bastion 8. At the right side, the facade of one of two gunpowder storage buildings can be seen.

In 1815 the river dike was extended straight over the first Ravelijn and up over the main wall (in the foreground on this picture). Before that, the river water could move up till the Linge dike to the north.
See the picture below.

Here you see the magnificent fortress triangle at the river Merwede.

At the left is Gorinchem and at the south side of the river (in the middle), is the small fortress town Woudrichem, with at the right the fortified medieval castle Loevestein.

All present today in more or less original condition to status 1600.

The three fortresses were all part of the New Dutch Waterline defense system.
Of which the area's to be inundated were much more extensive, as were the natural un-diked flooding areas, as these are indicated here (in blue).

In 1844 fortress Vuren was built, at north side of the river opposite Loevestein. Not yet shown on this map.

This picture shows the development of the Bastion.
  1. The first use of Bastions, in front of the main wall, as it was introduced by the Italians.
  2. The improved Italian system, with 2 levels of flanking guns.
  3. The Old Dutch System, with Bastion flanks set in a straight corner to the main wall.
  4. The Improved Dutch System, with the Bastion flanks set in a straight corner, to the face of the neighboring Bastion, instead of against the main wall.
  5. Later the famous French fortress designer, Vauban, improved the Bastion, with protected flanks.
  6. Vauban's greatest opponent, the Dutch Menno van Coehoorn, improved the Bastion even more, with more space for flanking guns and better protection by a wider and higher Bastion head. This was called the New Dutch System.
As you can see on the layout and the topographic map, Gorinchems ramparts are built according the Old Dutch System.

However, as you can see here on this Kite-picture, of Bastion 8, at the left side, there is not a 90 degree angle to the main wall. This due to the Courtine making a 90 degree corner at the far left. This positions the Bastion 8 differently against Bastion 7. This requires Bastion 8 to have this angle.

Behind the mill, is a second rampart, making a second level, to position guns.

Bastion 8 had to defend the river, a town gate and the dike.
It needed more fire power for this task.

Bastion 8 has not only two levels of gun positions, but also two large cartridge sack storage buildings, built in the throat of the Bastion.

It seems to be anticipated, that this Bastion would do the most of the shooting.

All these buildings are made of very thick brick masonry walls.
Protected by a thick layer (2 to 6m) of ground covering at the enemy side, they were so called "bomb free".

This means that they could withstand the kind of gun powder bombs, which are explained in the beginning of this page.

This is the inside.

Clearly can be seen the thickness of the facade wall.

This wall was the weakest wall and turned away from the expected enemy shooting directions.

The thickness of this wall is to protect the inside from blast waves and large shell pieces of enemy bombs, falling behind the building.

Also the doors and window shutters are shell proof.
This is achieved by making them of 3 cross wise assembled layers of wooden boards. With a Total thickness of 6 cm.

All door and window hinges in the gun powder rooms are made of copper/bronze, to avoid any sparks.
This is in Bastion 8 (at the right a piece of the mill can be seen).

Men of the fortress artillery, are exercising, how to raise and lower a gun to a carriage, in the year 1892.

They are exercising with an old gun.
If you look from the left to the right, you can discover 4 pieces of more modern guns, positioned behind the parapet.

Looking at the carriage of the left one, this can be recognized, as a "12 lang staal".

At that time, the "12 lang staal" and "15 lang staal" were the most modern artillery pieces in the Dutch army.

This is a picture, taken from the windmill on Bastion 8, beginning 20th century.

Actually, it is a postcard, on which by accident a piece of the military ground with weapons can be seen.

Four small guns can be discovered, on a slender and high carriage, with a long spindle, to adjust the elevation.

It looks very much to be this one, from 1888.

A bronze canon of 8 cm caliber, short barrel, range 3600m.

It is mounted high, on a simple carriage, by means of an iron A bracket.

The height is required for the use behind parapets on fortress ramparts.

At the left on this picture, the main wall (called "Courtine") is making a 90 degree corner.

Here the houses are close to the wall and actually the ramparts are for a short piece converted into a paved high level street, with canon cut outs (called "Embrassures") in a brick masonry parapet.

In the middle is the only town gate building remaining, the Dalempoort.

This is a close-up of this Dalempoort, built in 1597 and thus survived the 80 years of war against Spain, two wars with the French and two Prussian sieges.

In winter, the river water rises against the town walls. Then wooden boards, fitting in a double row of slots in the side walls, are put up.

The space in-between is filled up with a mixture of clay and cow droppings.
A mixture, that has proven over centuries, to be watertight. 

This is a gravure, made while standing on the balustrade of the corn mill, looking at the Dalempoort.

As can be seen, the ramparts were kept under strict profile, without any bushes or trees.

The industrial machine of the 16th up to the 19th century, was the windmill.

These were placed at high points at the edge of a town, so in case of a fortress town, this high points were the ramparts.

This is the east flank of Bastion 6.

At the south and east side of the town, the earthen ramparts have a brick masonry face. This straight piece of brickwork is about 4 meters high. This gives some more difficulty to an enemy, storming the fortress town.

But this is not the main function. The purpose is, to shield the earthen ramparts from erosion, by the high river waters, running along these ramparts in winter time.

The shooting holes in the brick parapet on this part were made, after 1894, when the Waterpoort was demolished.

The nice building behind the wall, is the old Toll House.

This is a picture, of the old town gate building at the river side, called the "Waterpoort".

In that time, there were no bridges over the very big rivers.
At Gorinchem there was a big ferry and all the traffic between Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris, had to pass the Waterpoort, to get to this ferry.

The Waterpoort, had become to much of an obstacle for the increasing busy traffic.

Also the military purpose of a town gate building was obsolete, it was a nice target for enemy artillery.

So finally in 1894 it was demolished.
The inner facade was built up again at the national museum in Amsterdam.

Where the town gates were demolished, a cut-out in the ramparts remains. The sides are made straight with thick brick masonry walls.

In these walls were rows with slots.
In these slots fit wooden beams, that were put in with high water.

This because the ramparts have a second function as a dike, to protect the town against high water in the winter time.

Nowadays, there is an hydraulic operated water barrier in front, that rises up, out of the street.

Left, the shooting holes are closed with armored steel plates of 1cm thick, fitted with loop holes for rifle.

When a fortress town is along a river, as is the case with Gorinchem, there is an extra challenge:

The river dikes should connect to the towns earthen (dike like) ramparts, to avoid uncontrolled flooding of the surrounding land.

When doing so, it would give an enemy easy access.

The solution was to make a pointy and steep stone clad kind of dike as connection piece. This was fitted with extra obstacles, such as this pointy fence. It is called a "Beer" (Bear).

The road on the dike was then led down and around the moat, to the draw bridges at the town gate.

On the inside of Bastion 6 are these quite luxury artillery sheds, built in 1838.

Here the artillery engineers could work on the guns and carriages.

This is the north side of the old Toll House in Bastion 6.

It was built in 1598, during the new built of the town ramparts.

At first, it was used, to enforce toll onto the ships passing Gorinchem.

Later it was used as troop barracks.
The Dutch word for troop barracks is "Kazerne".

So since that time, the people in Gorinchem call it "Tolkazerne".

As you might have noticed, we are walking clockwise over the town walls (ramparts) for some time now. Explaining the fortress town related items, that we encounter.

Between Bastion 6 and 5, this main Arsenal building can be seen, built in 1755.

And in the Courtine, between these Bastions, is this bomb free local gunpowder cartridge sacks storage building.

In the background the "Tolkazerne".

These are the main troop barracks around the exercise square in the west part of the town.

Left is the Citadelkazerne built in 1901, at the right is the Willemskazerne built in 1826 and in the middle the canteen building, built in 1917

Gorinchem was decommissioned as a military garrison place in 1967 and all of this was demolished in 1969.
Sadly; including the nice commanders house at the left bottom corner, that was also built in 1917.

This canon, put on top of a hill, is also 24 pound caliber.

It is on a special carriage, probably for canon used as a houwitzer.

These canon could also shoot explosive shells, essentially being a hollow canon ball, filled with gun powder, as such being a smaller version of the mortar bomb.

During the Prussian siege, the inhabitants of Gorinchem called this kind of explosive shell "houwitzer".

As mentioned earlier, in the late 19th century, Bastion 3 and half of Bastion 4 was shaved off by the newly dug shipping channel from Amsterdam to Gorinchem.

To compensate for this large breach in the defenses, a so called "Capponière" was built in the remaining half of Bastion 4.

A Capponière is a fortress term, retrieved from the French language.

It stands for a Casemate, built into the main wall of a fortress.

This Capponière is a bomb free Casemate, with one curved facade. Which is fitted with shooting holes for rifle and machine guns.

The purpose was to cover the bridges over the new canal.
And give flanking fire along the main rampart to Bastion 2.

For this purpose, the Capponière was equipped with 4 Gardner M90 machine guns.

This is a part of the interior of the Capponière.

Below the large shooting holes you see the wall mounts for the Gardner machine gun.

In the ceiling are large chimneys to extract the gun smoke.

At the left are ammunition storage niches spared into the wall, that had sliding doors in front. The rail of which, now supports the photographs.

 

This picture shows, how the Gardner machine gun was mounted onto these wall mounts.

With hand wheels the azimuth direction and elevation of the machine gun could be set.

The vertical magazine had a slotted groove in which the edge of the cartridge could just be slid inn.

So the cartridges just lay on top of each other and were fed by gravity to the machine gun.

This is a nice replica.

It had two barrels, to delay overheating and also water could be poured into the barrel casing.

The Gardner gun was invented in America by William Gardner in 1874 and improved in 1877.

It was, as all early machine guns, at that time, hand cranked.

The maximum firing rate was about 400 rounds a minute and it proved to be the most practical, reliable and cheap machine gun at that time.

All the characteristics, of which mainly the last, that the Dutch so appreciate.

A nice animation, how it works can be found here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPnIIM4Il9U

 

The Arkelpoort, which was demolished in 1857.

With a long brick masonry bridge in front, as well as two drawbridges.

The very wide moat was the main defense, against storming the fortress.

These are two gun hills "Katten" in Bastion 2.
This is a traverse hill in-between two gun positions.

Sadly, they are not kept under correct profile, but in real life, they are better recognizable as on a picture.

Two bronze 8cm caliber guns were positioned here. 

On this fragment of a drawing made by the military First Engineer at the beginning of the 20th century, this battery is indicated.

As can be seen on this drawing, it covered the approach road from the north to the Arkelpoort gap.

Such a purpose made gap in the main wall is called "Coupure".

 

Here we have another "Beer", it is also called "Stenen Beer" (Stone Bear).

The obstacles here are made of brick masonry with a hard natural stone top.

This kind of obstacle is called "Monnik" (Monk).

On the front stone is the year, that it was last time renewed.

The masonry work was lastly repaired in 2004.

This Beer connects the dike of the Linge river to the ramparts at the north side of the town.

These are 18 pound caliber guns on a field carriage on display on Bastion 1.

This form of heavy carriage was in use from the beginning of the 17th century up to the second part of the 19th century.

After WW1, it was clear, that modern artillery made it impossible to have large concentrations of troops, ammunition and weapons at single points, such as fortresses.

In defensive positions and lines, troops were to be scattered in trenches.
But still needed protection against the field artillery and the new air weapon.

For this purpose, the Dutch army made a set of written instructions (called VIS).

It was a set of practical instructions and drawings of how to make trenches, machine gun nests and small steel re-enforced concrete Shelters and Casemates.

They designed a few standard types.

The first one of these so called VIS- Casemates, built in the Netherlands,  was built in 1930 in Gorinchem  in the left face of Bastion 11, to cover the Linge dike.

This VIS-Casemate has a hallway with two small rooms, similar as this layout, but it might be different on some details.

Room 4 was a waiting room and 5 the fighting room, equipped with one shooting hole.

These casemates were standard armed with a heavy machine gun, but some were armed with a small canon.

The VIS-Casemate in Gorinchem was armed with a canon.

The VIS-Casemate in Gorinchem has been closed off a long time ago.

Last time I was in there, I was a teenager, about 40 years ago.
I remember playing with a few friends in and around this Casemate.
And sitting on these benches, looking through the shooting hole, at the dike.

So this is a picture from an other VIS-Casemate, but it looks the same.
The fighting room is also for a canon.

However, I remember the shutters and sliders being different and much more rugged.

Here you see the original armored plates, with shutter.

The soldiers are exercising during the mobilizing in 1939, with the water cooled Schwartzlose machine gun.

The fighting rooms for the heavy machine gun have a small concrete table in the middle, to support the back leg of the tri-pod.

On this tripod leg is also a very small seat for the gunner.

The gasmasks are connected to a tube in the wall to the outside, because, after some shooting, the fighting room would be filled with gun smoke.

The canon mounted in the VIS-casemate in Gorinchem, was an old canon on a Casemate floor mount, stripped out of one of the fortresses around Amsterdam.

This picture shows such a canon as mounted in the Amsterdam fortresses.

The gun has a caliber of 6 cm and applied in a VIS-casemate, it was supposed to be used in an anti tank role.

Back in Bastion 11, this is the last military building made in Gorinchem. It is an instruction building made in 1950.

In 1958, a secret, radio monitoring and intercept station was housed in this building. This station was part of the 105 radio recognizance Battalion, in 1955 stationed in the Citadelkazerne in Gorinchem. They had also radio shacks on the upper floor of the Willemskazerne. This army radio unit changed name in 1957 to 905 radio recognizance Company, in 1959 to 894 radio recognizance Company and in 1962 to 890 Radio Company.
In 1965 the 898 radio Battalion was founded, with 2 radio Companies, the existing 890 and the new 105 mobile.
They left in 1967, being the end of the military role of Gorinchem.

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Last revised on 02-04-2016