Friday, April 11, 2014

AIKB trip

Pebble factory
Rochers at St-Guenolé
A pleasure as ever to give a tour for the AIKB today, this time in Pays Bigouden, the south-western tip of Brittany. We started at Tronoen with one of the earliest calvaires in the region, before a visit to the remains of the WWII factory where Germans ground down pebbles from the natural sea defences of the Baie d'Audierne to use in the building of their Atlantic Wall structures. We had a picnic lunch and stroll on the beach Porz Carn, opposite the pre-history museum's outdoor exhibits, before continuing to the Rochers de St-Guenolé, a noted danger spot on this flat coast subject to mighty waves at high tides. In 1870 the family of the Prefect of Finstère were washed away as they picnicked here. We weren't.
The lethal lower rocks all around the nearby Pointe de Penmarc'h featured in Chaucer's Franklin's Tale, and we finished up beside them at the magnificent Phare Eckmuhl, built at the end of the 19th century to mitigate the threats this treacherous coast poses to passing shipping. Lovely warm, sunny day to enjoy this unusual area, which features in the Coast chapter of my forthcoming book: Brittany, a cultural history.

5 comments:

Bergamote Calvez said...

Do you think that they ground the pebbles down to powder and if so why?
Or did they crush them into rough gravel so they could use them to make concrete?
In Jersey they used a a lot of sea gravel from the beach where there was suitable gravel close to the construction site.
Elsewhere they used stone from their extensive excavations.
A lot of the structures are dated, sometimes formally with dates cast into the concrete and sometimes with names and dates scratched into the wet concrete.
During the early years of the occupation, it seems that a lot of consruction did not occur. Then as the tide of war changed, extensive fortification took place. Then later in the war, very little happened, after June 1944 the island was cut off from France and shipments of cement, etc ceased.
Today some of the structures are part of an historical building as the Germans liked to conceal their fire control posts and batteries in old castles.
Some bunker and tunnel systems are now museums.
An extensive tunnel system was used for years for the production of mushrooms and two large bunker complexes are used by fishmongers.
The German constructions are monuments to the last great war that shaped Europe and the wider world in which we live in today.
A lot of technology like atomic energy, antibiotics, computers, radar, jet engines, television, etc were being developed in the 1930's.
Did the war change what may have happened anyway?

WM said...

Thanks for your interest. Production started at this plant near Tréguennec in 1943 (there was a Todt camp in the commune from 1942). The pebbles were brought from the beach by locomotive and dropped from a height into concrete hoppers which separated them for size. The small ones fell through and were used whole in building projects, whilst larger pebbles were crushed to be mixed for concrete.
The Atlantic Wall defences in Brittany were remarkably extensive, even if many remained unmanned much of the time, and an enterprise on this scale gives an idea of what was required for construction. After the war, a local business actually continued production - after all, places like Brest required urgent reconstruction work - despite the negative associations of the site, but it was soon apparent that the sea-defences were being seriously eroded and it all stopped.

Bergamote Calvez said...

Jersey had a range of German batteries.
The biggest were Lothringen and Molkte.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battery_Lothringen
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battery_Moltke
They were permanently manned with a crew of around 150 - 200 on site.
The AA and machine guns would have been manned round the clock,search lights from dusk to dawn, the main guns would have had crew on standby.
I guess that they could have been wound up and fired pretty quickly.
There were regular practices, a bit like fire drills.
A Feldwebel was sent round on a bicycle to tell everybody in the nearby houses to open their windows to stop them being blown in by the shockwave.
The children in the island found it quite exciting. The sirens would wind up and then all the guns would go off.
Brittany had a quite a few similar strong points but there are more in Normandy.

WM said...

Are you sure there are more in Normandy? The coastline there is much less than one quarter the length of Brittany's (which is nearly 2000kms) and well-furnished with batteries throughout.

Bergamote Calvez said...

Jersey probably has more fortifications per mile of coast than almost anywhere.
There are two major ones and a lot of minor ones for 45 miles of coast line.
Ten percent of all the concrete poured in the Atlantic Wall was poured in Jersey and hundreds of thousands of tons of rock were quarried out in tunnel systems.
Plus there was all the weaponry that did nothing much.
It was all a waste of effort as the Allies never intended to recapture the island.
The Germans should have put a couple of battalions in the islands and put the serious kit in Normandy.
They would still have lost the war but they could have made the Normandy landings a lot more expensive and difficult for the Allies.
The Cotentin Peninsula has a lot as well.
As you say there are a lot in Brittany but they are more spread out.
There is a giant blockhouse in Nantes near the elephant but it is not open to the public.
I love a good blockhouse and I am always looking out for them.
I found a new machine gun position in Jersey that I had never spotted before only a few weeks ago and I spotted a small emplacement for a light gun that was lurking in the bottom of a garden.
I think some of these were built on a contingency basis, if there had been an attempt to liberate the islands guns would have been rushed to the emplacements closest to the landing.