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The Bunker of Éperlecques
Part of Nazi Germany
Foret d'Éperlecques, near Watten, Nord (France)
Eperleques2.jpg
Exterior of the bunker of Éperlecques
Le Blockhaus is located in France
Shown within France
Type bunker
Coordinates 50°49′43.24″N 2°11′1.22″E / 50.8286778°N 2.1836722°E / 50.8286778; 2.1836722
Built March - September 1943 (major work completed)[1]
Built by Organisation Todt
Construction
materials
120,000 cubic metres ferrous concrete
Height 28 m (~92 feet)
In use captured September 1944
Current
condition
heavily damaged[2]
Open to
the public
yes (protected by law)[3]
Battles/wars Operation Crossbow, Operation Aphrodite
Events captured September 4, 1944

The Bunker of Éperlecques (French: Le Blockhaus d'Éperlecques) was built by Nazi Germany under the code name Kraftwerk Nord West (KNW) (Powerplant Northwest)[4] to be a V-2 rocket launching bunker. The site was an Operation Crossbow bombing target and was never completed, and V-2s were instead launched from mobile batteries.

Construction

In December 1942, Albert Speer ordered Peenemünde officers and engineers (including Colonel Gerhard Stegmair,[5] Dr Ernst Steinhoff and Lieutenant-Colonel Georg Thom) to tour the Artois region in Northeast France and locate a Channel coast site for a V-2 rocket launch facility West of Watten,[6] in the forest of Éperlecques, near St Omer and Calais.[7] "Building Battalion 434" started construction in early March 1943[7] based on plans by Xavier Dorsch, Construction Director at the Armaments Ministry.[1][6][8]

A complex system of railway lines transported workers and concrete from Calais and St Omer. The bunker was designed to launch 36 rockets per day and produce the daily requirement of liquid oxygen (65 tonnes), which reduced evaporation losses during transport. Instead of a separate liquid oxygen plant planned for Stenay,[9] four[10] 4-storey high Heylandt compressors were intended to be installed to make the liquid oxygen and the rockets were to be assembled in the northern part of the site and moved on trollies to be launched in the southern part.

In early April 1943, an Allied agent had mentioned "enormous trenches" being excavated at Watten, and on May 17, 1943, Allied photographic interpreters reported unidentified activity at Watten.[9] At the end of May, the British Chiefs of Staff enjoined General Eisenhower to arrange attacks on the Mimoyecques, Siracourt, Watten, and Wizernes bunkers, which would soon be complete.[2][9]

On July 8, 1943, Hitler viewed a colour V-2 rocket film and scale models of the Watten bunker and mobile launching-troop vehicles. Instead of the "shoot-and-run" mobile launching Walter Dornberger advocated (and eventually used), Hitler reaffirmed that there should be more than one fixed bunker.[6] By September 1943, construction at Watten (as well as at Wizernes and the 'special' V-2 site at Sottevast) was on schedule, despite Allied bombings.[1] The south section of the building was constructed by initially constructing a 5 meter (~16 feet) thick concrete plane weighing 37,000 tons, which was incrementally raised by hydraulic jacks and then supported by walls to become the roof.

Mission change and capture

On July 3, 1944, the Oberkommando West gave permission to stop construction at the heavily damaged Watten and Wizernes sites.[2] Finally, on July 18, 1944, Hitler ruled that plans for launching V-2s from bunkers need no longer be pursued.[9] Nevertheless, a few days after July 18, 1944, Walter Dornberger's staff decided to continue minor construction at Watten (wryly code named Concrete Lump) "for deception purposes", and the liquid-oxygen generators and machinery were transferred to the Mittelwerk V-2 factory.[9]

On September 4, 1944, Canadian forces captured the Watten site, the most easterly of the fixed V-2 rocket launch sites,[1] and on September 10, the French atomic scientist Frédéric Joliot-Curie (accompanied by Duncan Sandys) inspected the Watten site.[1]

Éperlecques/Watten WWII bombings
Date Mission
August 27, 1943 VIII Bomber Command Mission 87: 187 B-17 Flying Fortresses bombed Watten at 1846-1941 hours.[11] Thought to be a V-1 flying bomb site,[12] crews were briefed on an 'aeronautical facilities' mission and low-level bomb the freshly-poured concrete beginning to harden[2][6] at the 'special target'/'large site'[13] at Watten.[5][9][14] Bombing caused the still-wet cement to solidify into a mess that was beyond description.[4]
August 30, 1943 VIII Air Support Command Mission 38: 36 B-26 Marauders bombed an ammunition dump at Foret d'Eperlecques near Saint-Omer at 1859 hours.[11]
September 7, 1943 VIII Bomber Command Mission 92: 58 B-17s bombed the V-weapon site at "Watton", [sic] France.[11]
February 2, 1944 Mission 205: 95 of 110 B-24 Liberators hit V-weapon construction sites at St Pol/Siracourt and Watten, France[15]
February 8, 1944 Mission 214: B-24s bombed the V-weapon sites at Siracourt and Watten, France
March 19, 1944 Mission 266: 1. 117 of 129 B-17s bombed Wizernes and Watten
March 26, 1944 The 351 BG/511 BS bombed the "V-weapon site".[1]
June 18, 1944 Mission 421: 58 B-17s bombed Watten.
June 19, 1944 One of the Tallboy bombs dropped by No. 617 Squadron RAF landed 50 yards (46 m) from the target.[16]
July 27, 1944 No. 617 Squadron RAF hit Watten through cloud,[17] one Tallboy hit but did not penetrate,[18] others dug up the nearby ground and tilted the machinery foundations, making the bunker useless.[6]
August 4, 1944 Mission 515: The first Operation Aphrodite mission is flown: B-17 42-30342 Taint A Bird[19] targeted Watten but impacted at Gravelines, probably due to flak damage.[20]
August 6, 1944 One Operation Aphrodite drone targeted at Watten turned inland shortly after launch and began to circle the industrial town of Ipswich. After several minutes, it crashed harmlessly at sea.[21] The remote control of another drone's Azon gear malfunctioned, and the mother controller was unable to steer the drone down to its target. It circled Watten and spiraled into a cow pasture and exploded, killing a herd of cows.[22]
B-17 31394:[20] experienced control problems and crashed into sea.
B-17 30212 Quarterback:[20] experienced control problems and crashed into sea

References

  1. ^ a b c d e Henshall, Phillip (1985). Hitler’s Rocket Sites. New York: St Martin's Press. pp. 57,64,81,93,94,111.  
  2. ^ a b c d Ordway, Frederick I, III; Sharpe, Mitchell R (1979). The Rocket Team. Apogee Books Space Series 36. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. pp. 118,121,218. ISBN 1894959000.  
  3. ^ "Remembrance itineraries". French Government. http://www.cheminsdememoire.gouv.fr. Retrieved 2008-09-06. "The remembrance itineraries are suggested routes for tourists looking to discover sites of international, national or local renown that will promote and encourage collective remembrance of the past."  
  4. ^ a b Huzel, Dieter K (1960). Peenemünde to Canaveral. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall. p. 93.  
  5. ^ a b Neufeld, Michael J (1995). The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemünde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era. New York: The Free Press. pp. 172,204.  
  6. ^ a b c d e Dornberger, Walter (1952 -- US translation V-2 Viking Press:New York, 1954). V2--Der Schuss ins Weltall. Esslingan: Bechtle Verlag. pp. 73,91,99,179.  
  7. ^ a b Klee, Ernst; Merk, Otto (1963, English translation 1965). The Birth of the Missile:The Secrets of Peenemünde. Hamburg: Gerhard Stalling Verlag. pp. 44,46.  
  8. ^ Ley, Willy (1951 (revised edition 1958)). Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel. New York: The Viking Press. p. 224.  
  9. ^ a b c d e f Irving, David (1964). The Mare's Nest. London: William Kimber and Co. pp. 28,43,53,68,133,220,246,275,300,309,310.  
  10. ^ "Kraftwerk Nordwest KNW - Mannschaftsbunker". V2Rocket.com. http://www.v2rocket.com/start/deployment/watten.html. Retrieved 2008-10-26.  
  11. ^ a b c "8th Air Force 1944 Chronicles". http://www.airwarweb.net/usaaf/8af_1944.php. Retrieved 2007-05-25.   1943: August, September 1944: February, March, June, July, August
  12. ^ Cooksley, Peter G (1979). Flying Bomb. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. pp. 51,185.  
  13. ^ Collier, Basil (1976) [1964]. The Battle of the V-Weapons, 1944-1945. Yorkshire: The Emfield Press. pp. 36,159. ISBN 0 7057 0070 4.  
  14. ^ Garliński, Józef (1978). Hitler's Last Weapons: The Underground War against the V1 and V2. New York: Times Books. p. 117.  
  15. ^ tbd. "44th Bomb Group Roll of Honor and Casualties" (pdf). http://www.44thbombgroup.com/44th%20ROH.pdf. Retrieved tbd.  
  16. ^ "Campaign Diary June 1944". Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary. UK Crown. http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/jun44.html. Retrieved 2009-04-03.  
  17. ^ "Campaign Diary July 1944". Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary. UK Crown. http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/jul44.html. Retrieved 2007-05-24.  
  18. ^ "World War II German hardened A4/V2 rocket launch sites". http://www.leicapages.com/france.html. Retrieved 2007-06-07.  
  19. ^ "Aphrodite-Missions, Aircraft and Crews". B-17 Flying Fortresses: Queen of the Skies. Jing Zhou. http://www.b17bomber.de/eng/einsaetze/aphrodite12.php. Retrieved 2008-06-03.  
  20. ^ a b c "1942 USAAF Serial Numbers (42-30032 to 42-39757)". Encyclopedia of American Aircraft. Joseph F. Baugher. http://home.att.net/~jbaugher/1942_2.html. Retrieved 2007-04-10.  
  21. ^ Nichol, John; Rennell, Tony (2006). Tail-End Charlies - The Last Battles of the Bomber War 1944-45. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 199–204. ISBN 0312349874. http://books.google.com/books?id=y9NTY0PaPc8C.  
  22. ^ "JFK's Brother Flew Drone". Orwell Today. http://www.orwelltoday.com/jfkbrother.shtml. Retrieved 2008-02-06.  
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