Hitler's Bunkers in Northern France
This article will take you to some of the biggest bunkers in France. These bunkers can be found in The Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. This French region is (like the name mentions) the most northern region in France. It is well known for its Channel tunnel and the ferry connections to Great-Britain but that’s about all. You also won’t find many tourists over here; they go to more popular vacation regions like the Provence and the Mediterranean in the South. For those who are interested in World War II however, this region has a lot to offer. Because the Germans thought that the D-Day landing would take place near Calais (where the Channel has its smallest part) and not in Normandy, the whole region is filled with bunkers and gun positions that were part of the Atlantikwall defense line. We’ll take a closer look at those defenses, and what’s left of them today.
atlantikwall pillbox (Photo by pillboxs)
When the Germans had conquered France, they started building cross-Channel guns on the French coast. These were long range coastal artillery pieces which were intended to bombard enemy ships in the Channel and also English coastal towns and military installations. Four 38cm Siegfried guns were placed near the little village of Haringzelle. These enormous guns weighted 111 tonnes (109 ST), were 18m (724 in) long and could fire every 30 seconds a 800kg (1800 lb) shell. The same type of gun was also used on the Bismarck-class battleships.
Normally these guns were placed in open concrete gun positions, relying on their armor for defense. But Hitler thought that was not enough protection for these massive guns since they were so close to the enemy. He ordered reinforced concrete casemates 3.5m (11 ft) thick and 10m (33ft) high built over and around the mounts. These casemates were built in a little forest patch and also camouflaged.
Batterie Todt casemate n°4 (Photo by pillboxs)
Today, all four giant casemates are still standing with their guns removed. One of them (casemate n°1) is turned into a museum, to show how people lived within these bunkers. The museum asks an entry fee of 6€. The other bunkers can be visited for free.
Batterie Todt casemate n°4 (Photo by andypol)
Although the four guns of battery Todt provided an enormous amount of firepower, the Germans brought in another toy. A K5 railway gun was positioned a few miles away from the Battery Todt. This gun was also used to bombard the English coast, and proved successful at this task. The railway gun is now moved next to casemate nÂ°1 and can be visited.
Krupp K5 railway gun (Photo by Wassen)
Cap Gris-Nez radar installation
A few kilometers north of the battery Todt and 1km south of Cap Gris-Nez, you can find some strange concrete structures. Three concrete pillars flanked by two casemates. These are the remains of a German radar installation. A giant antenna of 10m high and 30m long (100- by 33-foot) was mounted on these pillars. This Mammut-type radar could detect ship movements in the Channel, and was used to warn the Kriegsmarine defenses about them.
Radar base (Photo by batterietodt)
At cap Gris-Nez itself, Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring stood watching across the Channel to Great-Britain after their armies had conquered France in 1940.
Le Blockhaus is one of the biggest bunkers the Germans constructed in France. It would serve as a V2 rocket launching facility, but was never completed because the Germans started using mobile launching facilities to avoid bombing.
Le Blockhaus (Photo by alertomalibu)
Located in the forest of Eperlecques, construction started in March 1943. The south section of the building was constructed by initially constructing a 5 meter (16ft) thick concrete plane weighing about 37.000 tons, which was incrementally raised 22m (72ft) high by hydraulic jacks and then supported by walls to become the roof. This principle was used to protect the workers during the allied bombing raids.
Blockhaus interior (Photo by luciano_m)
Despite the bombings, the south part of the gigantic bunker still stands and can be visited for 9€. The north part was partially destroyed. You can still see the holes that the bombs made in the bunker. A German V1-lauch rail and a small submarine can also be seen at the site.
Close to Wizernes we find another giant bunker: La Coupole (The Dome in English). It was a V2 rocket assembly and launch site. Work on this structure started at the end of 1943 because other V2 construction sites like Le Blockhaus had been damaged by heavy bombing.
A reinforced concrete dome 71m (232ft) in diameter and 5m (16ft) thick was built over a limestone quarry. The dome weighs an estimated 55.000 tons. After this bomb-proof shelter was finished, the construction facility was excavated beneath. A 35 m (117ft) diameter by 21m (68ft) high room was excavated to house the rocket production facility. After final assembly and fueling of the rockets, they were moved outside to the launch facility trough two tunnels which were protected by 1,5m (5ft) steel doors. Because of heavy bombing, construction was halted after nine months, with the dome and most of the tunnels ready.
La Coupole (Photo by Arno Akkermans)
Today La Coupole is a museum about France during the war, Germany’s secret weapons and the Cold War. It took several weeks of drilling into the reinforced dome to create an entry for the visitors. The entry fee is 8,5€.