Waalhaven Rotterdam – A Forgotten Airfield

Posted by at 09:55

Up until the Second World War, another airport was in use in Holland, besides Schiphol. Waalhaven Rotterdam had been one of KLM’s bases from the very beginning. And as well as being a destination in the domestic network, flights to London and Paris also flew from here. The station building at Waalhaven was officially opened on 18 March 1922. But KLM used the former military base already for its flights.

Neither Schiphol nor this Rotterdam airfield were exactly easy to get to in the early years. At Schiphol, the route to the airfield was along a dirt track from the dike. Anyone familiar with the Netherlands and its soggy polders, will easily be able to imagine how muddy it could get. To get to Waalhaven, passengers first had to be collected from the Coolsingel passenger office in the centre of Rotterdam and taken to the south side of the Waalhaven docks. They then had to take a small ferry across to the other side of the river and walk a little before finally reaching the charming station building.

Wooden station building

This building was made entirely of wood. It was not only a station building, but also a hotel, cafe and restaurant. And there was good reason to house a restaurant here; the airfield attracted a lot of day trippers and the terrace was frequently full, especially in good weather.

Pleasure flight

Besides enjoying a drink or a bite to eat, visitors were able to go on a pleasure flight. In 1922 alone, more than 50,000 people visited the airfield, 2,500 of whom took a pleasure flight. Turnover amounted to almost 10,000 guilders, of which only 3,300 guilders went to KLM. The rest ended up in the Rotterdam City Council coffers.

Terras en Statiosngebouw Waalhaven

Cradle of KLM Technical Department

The remote location was, therefore, no obstacle for visitors on a day out. The airfield at Waalhaven also became the cradle of the KLM Technical Department, which became based there in 1922. At that time the facilities were better at Waalhaven than at Schiphol. Yet, eventually, Schiphol came to play an ever greater role in aircraft maintenance and by 1935 KLM’s maintenance work had become concentrated around Schiphol. Only minor technical work continued to be carried out at Waalhaven.

Inaccessible location

Despite great efforts to turn Waalhaven into a fully operational airfield, activity there gradually tailed off. One major disadvantage it had was its fairly inaccessible location on the left bank of the River Maas.

Vertrekkende pax vanaf Waalhaven

World War II

At the end of the 1930s, plans were made to develop a new Rotterdam airport to the north of the city in the Zestienhoven polder, which would take over from Waalhaven. But when mobilisation came at the outbreak of World War II, the airfield came to be used solely for military purposes and most of its contents were moved to Schiphol. Waalhaven’s role as a civil aviation airport was, however, already at an end by then.

Aerial bombing raids

At the start of the Second World War, the airfield was razed to the ground by aerial bombing raids, along with much of the city and docks. It was never rebuilt and after the war KLM’s operation became concentrated around Schiphol and Waalhaven was redeveloped as an industrial area.

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9 Responses to Waalhaven Rotterdam – A Forgotten Airfield

  1. anja van veen

    They rebuilt the building on airport den haag/ Rotterdam,very nice to visit..

    • Frido Ogier

      Dankjewel Anja! Dat wist ik niet. Heb het even opgezocht en het is inderdaad een kopie van het oude stationsgebouw met minstens zo’n interessant uitzicht. Het leuk.

      Groeten,

      Frido

  2. Tineke

    Een oom van mij (in 2007 op 94 jarige leeftijd overleden) vertelde dat hij tijdens de bombardementen op Waalhaven in de oorlog daar werkte. Hij is daar maar met moeite levend kunnen wegkomen.
    Met jouw beschrijving en de foto kan ik mij nu een beter beeld vormen van hoe het was daar…: leuk !

    • Frido Ogier

      Beste Tineke, dank voor je reactie. Wel een dramatisch verhaal, maar gelukkig heeft jouw oom het er levend vanaf gebracht. Heb wel wat beeld gezien van wat er na de bombardementen van over is gebleven en dat was niet veel meer.

      Groeten, Frido

  3. André Rodenburg

    Volgens mij komt vliegveld Waalhaven ook voor in de roman Karakter door Bordewijk.

  4. Eva Ligthart

    Hi Frido, mooi blog! Imiddels is er een heus eerbetoon aan dit restaurant herrezen met prachtig zicht op de start- en landingsbaan van Rotterdam The Hague Airport. De vliegtuigen komen tijdens de koffie, lunch of het diner zó aan je neus voorbij: een aanrader :-) http://www.brasseriewaalhaven.nl/

  5. Henry W. Kluck

    Hello Frido,
    My name is Henry Kluck ( KLM 1955-1993) and I am currently the president of the KLM USA Alumni Association, which has a membership of 265, all ex KLM USA. The association has a quarterly newsletter called ” BlueBird News”. We are constantly looking for interesting articles regarding KLM’s history and I just came across the BLOG and your article about Waalhaven. Most interesting !! My question is whether we can publish a copy in the next edition of the BlueBird and, for that matter, any new material that will be posted? It would help us greatly in keeping the
    “Blue Blood” flowing !!
    I would very much appreciate an answer from you and thank you in advance for it.
    With best regards
    Henry W. Kluck

  6. Marion Thut-Abenthum

    The other day I came across the DC10 Rollout picture of July 1970. I was there for Swissair. The KLM Hostess was Martje van Gent. Do you have any idea how I can find her?

    • Frido Ogier

      Maybe you can send an e-mail to the Vereniging Oud Cabinepersoneel KLM. Please google to find out which e-mail adress hou have to use.

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