HARDINXVELD-GIESSENDAM – Eleven people died in a bombing raid on Boven-Hardinxveld today. Among the victims are five young children. The bombs come from German bombers, who had gotten into a firefight with English fighter planes at the Merwede.

The night before, the residents of Boven-Hardinxveld had toasted to the new year full of good courage. If the Allies were to repel the Ardennes offensive, then in 1945 the north of the Netherlands will finally be liberated, such is the hope. But the Hardinxvelders are already dramatically awakened from their dream on New Year's Day.

The havoc is enormous at the intersection of the Buldersteeg and the Rivierdijk. Thirteen houses on either side of the alley are in ruins. Some have been knocked off their foundation by the blow and tilted, like the house of the Netten family. “What a ruin”, sighs Gerrit Romijn who tries to save what can be saved.

Search for survivors

Everywhere desperate villagers are looking for victims among the debris. Marcus de Kok is one of them. He was working at the Merwede shipyard when very low German planes flew over and dropped bombs. He saw that the projectiles fell near the Buldersteeg. “Hey!, Marcus, that's where you live?”, asked a colleague.

His house appears to have had a direct hit. His wife Geertruida, two daughters, Lenie (5) and Truusje (2) and son Jopie (4 months) are dead. Son Mak survives as if by a miracle. The toddler had crawled under the kitchen table and that was his rescue.

Jan Stam says that he immediately came to see when he saw that bombs fell on the house of his sister Teuntje de Haas, right next to the De Kok family. He was immediately let through at the deposition. “So that was not good”, did he know.

Jan immediately saw several victims. His brother-in-law Gijs turned out to be behind the house. “I could tell by his beautiful black hair that it was him. god damn, that was something.” He eventually finds his sister crushed to death in the ground under a stove.

Drawing of the Buldersteeg. The houses shaded in red have been hit by the bombs. Drawing: Dirk Blokland

tarts

With that, the suffering is not yet over for the De Haas family. Son Teus (6) did not survive the bombing either and for the life of his son Bram (8) is feared. Jan: “They were supposed to come to my mother's birthday today”, says Jan shaking his head. “He had made cakes for the children.” But the family had only just started their journey when the bombing began. “They ran back home, so to their death.”

From the Netten family, only Eeltje has, sister Jozina, her father and her brother-in-law survived. Eeltje has only been married to Leen for three months. who dies, just like sister Willy and her mother. Eeltje is with heavy head- and leg injury taken to hospital. Her brother-in-law comes off with a shard in his arm. Brother Jan was not at home during the bombing.

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"They're flying off the roof"

The drama in Boven-Hardinxveld has everything to do with a large-scale German air offensive, operatie base plate, targeting Allied airports. The aim is to stop the advance of English and American troops in the Ardennes in one fell swoop. One of the German squadrons flew north to south over the river village that morning.

Rinus Vaarwater has seen it all happen. He says he's around 09.00 stood on the Rivierdijk for hours when he heard heavy motorcycles approaching. He soon saw the German bombers. “They came across very low. I thought: "They're flying off the roof."

Romijn adds: “There were also English in the air and the anti-aircraft guns were firing all the time. I've been in the basement, because on the roof all you could hear was a ticking tick.” But it didn't stop with a hail of bullets. Shortly after, bombs also fell. "It seemed 10 mei 1940 well", says Romijn.

“The German planes must have been too heavily loaded for that dogfight with the English and dumped the cargo without looking where it ended up.,” suspects Fairway. Others say that the German operation was kept so secret that their own anti-aircraft guns were unaware and that the Germans fired on their own Messerschmitts..

However it may be, it was not a targeted bombardment that plunged Boven-Hardinxveld into mourning. “A terrible day”, concludes Gerrit Romijn. A neighbor shudders: “Teuntje de Haas once said: "If something happens to us", I hope we're all gone. And now it has come true.”

wedding hall

The municipality of Boven-Hardinxveld makes the wedding room available to give birth to the victims. A group funeral is also being prepared.

It is expected that it can take weeks before the rubble is cleared and the village can start rebuilding the corner of the Buldersteeg with the Rivierdijk..


Hoe ging het verder?

The bodies of the victims have been laid out in state for three days in the wedding hall of the town hall. The funeral is over 4 januari.

The De Haas family is buried from home. Jan Stam: “We are in Gijs de Haas's house. My sister and Gijs's coffin stood on a trestle and little Theus stood in his coffin on top of his mother's. Brammetje had not yet died of his injuries. And what do you think? Another dogfight. The house was packed with my family and family van Gijs. Paniek! Everyone wanted to go outside and then we fell through the wooden floor and those boxes rolled through the house. Surely that's… That's an experience…”

The coffins of the De Haas family were then taken by the death prayer to the cemetery at the Kromme Gat where the funeral of the other victims was already taking place.. According to witnesses there are at least a thousand people in the cemetery and the dike. Then an allied bomber flies over, which harassed the shipyard De Holland diagonally opposite the cemetery (nu Damen Shipyard). Panic again. People flee through the ditch into the pilot whale behind the cemetery. Nobody gets hurt, not even on the yard that is out of operation. Major destruction has been done on De Holland.

Jan Stam and his father are left with a handful of people in the cemetery after the bombing. The pastor is nowhere to be found to complete the roughly interrupted funeral. The death-prayer then proposes that he close the ceremony, says Stam.

Bram de Haas also dies a day after the funeral.

Operation Bodenplatte turns out to be a fiasco. The Germans lose many planes and pilots because of it and it is the last major air operation of the Lufwaffe. The formation Messerschmitts flying above Hardinxveld is the JG27 (Jagdgeschwader 27). But there is also a British offensive that day. The 317th Spitfire squadron drops bombs on both sides of the ferry between Werkendam and Boven-Hardinxveld. In his report, squadron leader Marian Chelmecki . mentions: ‘No results were seen.’ (Base plate, p. 29)

No photos of the bombing have survived. But in a British aerial photo of 22 januari 1945 is the damage clearly visible? (Aerial photo Wageningen University 14 februari 1945, collection number 0006-01, sortienummer 4/1760, photo number 3005).

In February 1945 the municipality of Boven-Hardinxveld expropriated the ground and the rubble and plans have been developed to widen the sidewalk and rearrange the site. Instead of the ruined 13 houses would eventually return after the war no more than four properties.

After the war, the Buldersteeg (a corruption of Bildersteeg) renamed Wilhelminalaan.

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Gerrit Romijn's diary entries state: “April 1945. In all the noise of time Leen van de Linden was born. So he never knew his father.” Mother Eeltje remembers that she was not exactly in a party mood when our country was liberated a month later. “When the war was over and the music passed by, I walked through the house with that child and the little one did nothing but scream. And I cry. While I was mopping the floor, a woman passed by and said: Now is not the time to work, it's time to party now.' And tears ran from my eyes. Because the war was over, but what did I have? A child who was screaming.”

Eeltje tells in 2013 in a documentary by Gert Romijn (the son of Gerrit Romijn): New Years Day is still hard for me. And would there ever have been people at the commemoration of the dead who have thought about the household that I have lost? Would there be another one at Hardinxveld who is very concerned about what happened then?”

Sources:

  • DVD Bombs on the Buldersteeg (2013) by Gert Romijn. Quotes from the interviews are used with permission from the creator.
  • Piet Swets, Bombardment and reconstruction Buldersteeg, Newsletter Historical Society Hardinxveld-Giessendam 33 (2), autumn 2011, p. 11-13
  • John Manrho in Ron Pütz, Base plate. The Luftwaffe’s last hope. The attack on Allied Airfields New Year’s day 1945 (2004)
  • T.M. Blok, Preliminary Investigation Conventional Explosives Haven Boven-Hardinxveld, Saricon (2016), 

About operation Bodemplatte:

Author: Aries van Meeteren