Digest>Archives> September 2005

Lighthouses During Wars

By Egbert Koch


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Scheveningen Lighthouse during World War II. From ...

There is often only basic information available about the use of lighthouses during wartime, especially during World War I and World War II. In most cases, there is only little information telling us that a lighthouse was used as a lookout tower. This part of lighthouse history needs to be researched more thoroughly.

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Scheveningen Lighthouse in the Netherlands as it ...
Photo by: Egbert Koch

This is especially urgent where WWII is concerned, as there are not many people remaining around the world who can remember what happened to lighthouses during the years from 1939 to 1945. The same is also true for the Korean War in the early 1950s. Perhaps, there are some American veterans who still recall something about lighthouses during that conflict.

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A postcard of Scheveningen Lighthouse in the ...

The following is taken from information from a former German Navy soldier, who recently reported about his experiences as a keeper at a Dutch lighthouse.

Scheveningen Lighthouse, Netherlands, during World War II

The lighthouse was occupied by German Navy soldiers from 1943 until 1945. It was an outpost of the Navy Intelligence Service based at Utrecht. The lighthouses at Hoek van Holland and Maasluis were also part of this service. All lighthouses were numbered during the war but so far, it is unknown what numbers were assigned to these lighthouses.

Scheveningen Lighthouse was manned

by eight Navy soldiers. Three of them

were permanent staff while the other five soldiers were recruited from Navy Special Forces (combat swimmers and submarine personnel). When these five soldiers were

in action, the permanent staff had to take over their duties. The lighthouse was manned around the clock. The lighthouse was used

as a signal station, weather station and intercepting station.

The light was extinguished. It was only lit when convoys from Rotterdam to Hamburg passed the lighthouse. In that case, a special lens was used rather than the original lens. Aircraft of the Allied Forces approaching the coast were immediately reported to the Navy Intelligence Service.

Very often, sea battles between the German Navy and Allied Navies could be observed from the lighthouse. The observations were reported to Utrecht. As the soldiers’ knowledge of the English language was not very good, the intercepted radio messages reported to Utrecht, very often, were inaccurate.

The lighthouses along the Dutch and Belgian coasts were not attacked by Allied Air Force bombers. Maybe this was because the pilots needed the lighthouses as daymarks. But the nearby rocket launch installation for the V2 was often attacked by bombers of the Allied Air Forces, even though the technology of German rockets was in its very first stage. Out of four rockets launched, at least one did not fire correctly and exploded near the lighthouse, leaving a crater some 50 meters in diameter.

For safety reasons, the tower received camouflage paint and the station was fenced with barbed wire. The station was further protected by land mines. The soldiers on the lighthouse had four hours on duty followed by four hours of free time. They kept guard on the gallery. They were not allowed to leave the gallery while on guard, even if they had to go to the water closet. There was no water closet on the tower, so they used a can and threw it over the gallery’s rail. Fortunately, the mines never exploded.

During bad weather, it was not “fun” to be on duty at the gallery. The keepers returned inside the lantern and played cards. To deceive the officer on guard, they connected one of their boots, which had iron nails on the sole, to a string and pulled it rhythmically. By this rhythmic “click, click,” the officer on guard was deceived.

This story appeared in the September 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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