The route from Agincourt to Eperlecques took us through the town of Saint-Omer but it didn’t look especially thrilling and it didn’t grab our attention so we carried on to the World-War-Two Museum. A lot of the old German bunkers in this part of France have been converted to this purpose but I doubt if any of them are as big or as gloomy as this one.
While the French, after six hundred years or so don’t mind having statues of English archers alongside the roadsides at Agincourt the memory of the Second-World-War is much too recent to have Nazi Storm Troopers lining the road here and there was no such military reception as we approached the entrance to the museum.
The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques was a giant bunker built by Nazi Germany between March 1943 and July 1944 and was originally intended to be a launching facility for the V2 ballistic missile. It was designed to accommodate over one hundred missiles at a time and to launch up to thirty-six a day all destined to land and explode on London and the South-East of England. The facility was designed to incorporate a liquid oxygen factory and a bomb-proof train station to allow missiles and supplies to be delivered from production facilities in Germany. It was constructed using the labour of thousands of prisoners of war and forcibly conscripted workers used as slave labourers who worked in twelve hour shifts of up to four thousand men with the work continuing around the clock, seven days a week, under giant floodlights during the night.
With all these men being moved in, laying new railway track, deliveries of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of concrete and those night time floodlights obviously made this project hard to keep secret and the French Resistance and the allies discovered it almost straight away.
The German engineers were pretty good with concrete and they designed the place to be built in layers of reinforced cement built in a herringbone style which made it almost indestructible and impenetrable by regular bombs.
But the allies had two very good ideas.
First of all the concrete expert Sir Alfred McAlpine (who went on to create the post war construction firm) advised that a good time to bomb the bunker was just after the concrete was laid so that it would then set into any rearranged form after the effect of the bombing. So that is what they did and the bomb-proof railway terminus was turned into a mass of twisted metal and deformed cement and was immediately rendered completely useless.
The second good idea was the invention of the earthquake bomb that whilst it couldn’t penetrate the structure could make it unusable. The idea was to drop a large, heavy bomb with a hard armoured tip at supersonic speed so that it penetrated the ground, an effect comparable to a ten-ton bullet being fired straight down. It was then set to explode underground, ideally to the side of, or underneath a hardened target; the resulting shock wave would produce the equivalent of a miniature earthquake, destroying any nearby structures such as dams, railways, viaducts, or bunkers.
Naturally an unstable environment was not very good for storing liquid oxygen which by its nature was highly volatile so the Germans were obliged to abandon the concept of the bunker for missile launches and they went on to develop the alternative method of mobile launch batteries which were less vulnerable to detection and attack.
There weren’t very many visitors today so we paid our entrance fee and then walked along a path through a wooded hillside stopping at every turn to view the exhibits on show and to read the information boards and eventually after a short while we found ourselves at the bunker, twenty-two metres high and the biggest built in northern France and the really good thing is that visitors can go inside and wander around the liquid oxygen plant, the intended launch control and the missile bunker all of which is pretty much intact and then to the underground railway station which isn’t and shows just how effective the bombing advice of McAlpine was.
It is a rather interesting place to visit but also rather sad considering how many men died during the construction, the use for which it was intended and the fact that all the effort involved in building it was ultimately completely pointless and so we walked back to the car park past the guns and the tanks and the full size model of a V2 rocket and then made our way back to Le Wast and the Chateau.
After two days we had had enough of military history so over another exceptionally fine meal we agreed that tomorrow due to a very promising weather forecast that we would return to the coast and the seaside.