Sunday, 23 May 2010

More Pillboxes

In June 1940, with the Germans expected to invade, the department for Fortifications and Works (FW3) was established by the War Office with the express purpose of designing a range of pillboxes and implementing a series of defensive stoplines across Britain. The objective was to break England into a series of small fields surrounded by a hedge of anti-tank obstacles which was defensively strong using the terrain available. The idea was that should an enemy force break into an enclosure the pillboxes would hold that force so that our armoured units and troops could attack and destroy the enemy. The pill boxes were designed so that they could defend from either direction (i.e. front and back). The stoplines were continuous anti-tank obstacles reinforced with pillboxes and other prepared defensive positions.

The GHQ Line ran through Essex from Canvey Island to Great Chesterford before heading north to Yorkshire. Obviously most pillboxes were faced eastward, although some were placed facing west in case of a rear attack.

The FW3 pillboxes were basically flat pack constructions which were adapted for local needs leading to variants around the country but the predominant styles were:

Type 22 - a regular hexagonal with embrasures for rifles or light machine guns in five sides and an entrance in the sixth.The walls were approximately six feet long and were, generally, built to the bullet proof width of 12 inches although tank proof variants of 40 inches depth occur. They have an internal Y or T shaped anti-ricochet wall which also supported the roof. This is, apparently, the most common extant pillbox type although on my part of the GHQ Line the 24 seems prevalent.

Type 23 - a rectangle with one half roofed and the other open with embrasures for rifles or light machine guns in the three available walls of the roofed half. The open section was used for anti aircraft units such as a mounted Bren or Lewis gun. They were about eight foot wide by sixteen feet long and usually built to bullet proof standard.

Type 24 - an irregular hexagonal, with the back wall the longest (normally about fourteen foot)with an entrance and embrasures on each side of the doorway. The other five walls are approximately seven to eight feet long and each have an embrasure for rifles or light machine guns. They had an internal Y shaped anti-ricochet wall which also supported the roof. Generally built to bullet proof standard. This and the Type 28 seem to be most prevalent in Essex.

Type 25 - an eight foot diameter circular design built to bullet proof standard with three embrasures. The 25 is very rare - I think I've turned into an anorak because I'd love to see one of these, although arguably I already am one since I pillbox spot (although in my defence it's good exercise for the dogs)!

Type 26 - a ten foot square with a doorway in one wall and embrasures in the other three, and sometimes a fourth in the entrance wall, built to bullet proof standard.

Type 27 - the most varied of the FW3 designs, it may be an octagonal or hexagonal in plan with walls between 9 ft 9 in and 11 ft 6 in. The outer walls being 36 inches thick and have embrasures suitable for rifles or light machine guns on each facet. Its defining characteristic is a central well open to the sky that could be used as a light anti-aircraft position.

Type 28 -  almost square in design with chamfered forward corners and typically twenty by nineteen feet walls which were built to shell proof spec - normally about 42 inches. The large forward facing embrasure housed either a 2 pounder anti-tank gun or a Hotchkiss 6 pounder. The two side walls normally have smaller embrasures for rifles or light machine guns and the rear wall has a large doorway for allowing the gun to be sited.

Type 28A - is a larger, and more commonly found, variant which includes an infantry chamber  with a front facing embrasure for rifles or light machine guns which resolved the Type 28's vulnerability to a head on infantry attack.

Type 28A Twin - a further variant with two gun embrasures on adjacent walls and two infantry chambers giving variable fields of fire to the position.

Vickers machine gun emplacement - a fourteen foot square with chamfered forward corners built to shellproof spec, normally the entrance has a freestanding blast wall. The front wall has a large embrasure and the side walls have embrasures for rifles or light machine guns. There were no internal blast walls but rather a concrete table for mounting the Vickers. Normally positioned in pairs and often dug in for extra protection.

The section of the GHQ line near me starts in south east Great Dunmow and runs north west through Little and Great Easton, Tilty, Broxted, Chickney, Widdington, Debden and Newport. At Newport the line turns more northerly, running through Wendens Ambo and Audley End before ending in Littlebury (from Littlebury it continues to Great Chesterford and thence, as said, to Yorkshire).

Type 24 Variant camouflaged by a barn at Tilty

Type 28A Tilty, Essex

Type 28A Tilty, Essex

Type 24 Variant, Tilty, Essex

 Type 28A Great Chesterford, Essex

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