Pillboxes: England’s Unused Defenses Against Hitler

Pillboxes: England’s Unused Defenses Against Hitler

This pillbox is one of a set of four built to protect the munitions stored in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham. Photo courtesy user Paul via flickr
This pillbox is one of a set of four built to protect the munitions stored at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham. Photo courtesy user Paul via flickr

We talk about castles a fair amount here on Black Gate, which is hardly surprising. But the Middle Ages weren’t the only or even the most productive period for building fortifications. At the start of World War Two, countries all over Europe feverishly built defenses against possible invasion.

The United Kingdom was one of the leaders in this movement. Convinced that a German invasion was imminent, the government ordered the construction of a vast network of pillboxes. Many of these defended the beaches and ports. Others were set along important canals and roads. In all, more than 18,000 pillboxes were constructed during the war.

Many pillboxes were concrete faced with brick, as can be seen with this example near Waverley Abbey, Farnham, England. Photo courtesy Steve Parker via flickr.
Many pillboxes were concrete faced with brick, as can be seen with this example near Waverley Abbey, Farnham, England. Photo courtesy Steve Parker via flickr.

Many still survive. Some have been converted into tool sheds, others are filled with empty beer cans and used condoms, while others simply sit neglected in the British countryside. They’re a common sight when out hiking.

The Pillbox Study Group helps document and protect this part of the nation’s past. They have a regular magazine, as well as a Flickr page and discussion forum. They’ve identified seven main designs and noted numerous local variants and one-off experiments. All basic designs had a few things in common, such as a protected entryway, good field of fire, thick enough walls to be at least bullet and shrapnel proof. Heavier pillboxes were shell proof. All of them were fairly small and were not meant to be lived in.

Pillbox interior captured with a fish-eye lens. Photo courtesy user Disco Dan via flickr.
Pillbox interior at St. Nicholas-at-Wade, Kent, England, captured with a fish-eye lens. Photo courtesy user Disco Dan via flickr.

Left abandoned for many years, pillboxes are now gaining the attention of local councils, archaeologists, and enthusiasts. More and more are becoming listed as monuments or are undergoing documentation and preservation. While they were built to be sturdy, they still need care in order to be saved for future generations.

Circular pillbox set atop an old Pictish fort overlooking the Bay of Firth near Finstwon, Orkney, Scotland. Photo by Sean McLachlan.
Circular pillbox set atop an old Pictish fort overlooking the Bay of Firth near Finstown, Orkney, Scotland. Photo by Sean McLachlan.

 

View from pillbox out into the Bay of Firth. a good field of fire! Photo by Sean McLachlan.
View from pillbox out into the Bay of Firth. A good field of fire! Photo by Sean McLachlan.

Sean McLachlan is a freelance travel and history writer. He is the author of the historical fantasy novel A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri, and the post-apocalyptic thriller Radio Hope. His historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence, was published by Black Gate. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
1 Comment
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

[…] Pillboxes: England’s Unused Defenses Against Hitler […]

1
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x