Den Helder and its harbor have a turbulent history. A city and port that have stood the test of time, from storm tides to economic crises, from medieval wars to world wars and from fossil fuels to the current energy transition.
The history of Den Helder starts about 500 years ago. Around 1500 people built the first houses in a place that is now just north of Oud Den Helder in the sea. This hamlet was called "Die Helder buyrt". These people lived from fishing in the Noordzee and the Zuiderzee. The Zuiderzee is now called the IJsselmeer.
Less than 70 years later, there was no trace of this place. The houses were completely flooded by the sea. In the year 1570 a violent storm broke out which caused a great storm surge. The whole area was flooded by the sea. This storm flood is called the All Saints Flood because it happened on November 1, the day that the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the celebration of all saints.
The same storm surge also washed away the nearby village of Huisduinen. Huisduinen is much older than Den Helder. The first farms were built there around 745. That is already 1275 years ago. The people then lived mainly from arable farming and livestock farming. At the time it was like Die Helder Buyrt on an island of sand. After the disaster of 1570, the villages were rebuilt in new dry places. The new Helder Buyrt came to lie at the place that we now call Oud Den Helder. This is the place from where Den Helder has grown.
The plan to make a harbor in “Het Nieuwe Diep” dates back to the year 1650. More than a hundred years later, in 1779, Regent Willem V had the possibility to investigate the construction of a new harbour. He sees a great alternative in the channel “Het Nieuwe Diep” compared to the shelter of Texel, where until then large ships transfer their goods for transport to Amsterdam.
However, the Zuiderzee cities of Medemblik, Enkhuizen, Hoorn, and the mighty Amsterdam, did not like this from a competitor point of view in a struggling economy. They join forces in order to repel Den Helder as a new port location. Yet in 1781 the decision was made to make “Het Nieuwe Diep” suitable for sea-going vessels. The Port of Den Helder is deepened into a modern tidal port. The construction of a wharf is started, so that ships can also be maintained.
At the end of the eighteenth century - with the arrival of the French in 1795 - the development of the port gained momentum. The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte recognizes the strategic location of Den Helder, which accelerates the defense and expansion of the port. A belt of forts arises around the harbor, making this “Gibraltar of the North” an impregnable fortress.
A heavily fortified naval base with yards and docks is being constructed. After the French left the Netherlands in 1814, King Willem I continued and completed the project. The shipyard complex was transferred to the Royal Netherlands Naval Power in 1822 (officially the Royal Dutch Navy since 1905). The naval yards located throughout the country are merged into one large government shipyard: Willemsoord. Den Helder has become a naval city!
The developments then proceed at a rapid pace. The Noordhollands Kanaal was completed in 1824. The inland shipping connection reinforces the economic climate of Den Helder, which is changing from a rustic fishing village into a bustling trading town. The opening of the North Sea Canal in 1876 temporarily throws Den Helder back in time, but the city soon succeeds in redeveloping itself into the most important naval port in the Netherlands and the most modern naval dockyard in Europe. Den Helder grows into the second harbor city of North Holland.
After the Second World War, a new harbor complex for the Royal Dutch Navy was built east of “the Nieuwediep”. The new naval port is opened in 1954, construction is completed four years later. The Submarines and its devision are moving from Rotterdam to Den Helder. The port houses: frigates, submarines, mine hunters, amphibious transport vessels, suppliers, tugs, research, landing and diving support vessels.
Nowadays Den Helder is not only an important defense port, but also a prominent offshore port. Since 1965 - when an enormous amount of gas is tapped into the North Sea - the offshore industry is developing rapidly. The Royal Netherlands Navy, business and port company NV Port of Den Helder are working together in modern times to further develop the port economy.