|Fortifications and defences sprung up
along the coast
The South West was a prime target
for invaders in the Second World War. Find out how it defended itself
and the rest of the country against enemy attack.
Early 1940 was Britain's darkest hour - the Germans
were preparing to launch a massive invasion. Nobody knew where the enemy
would strike first.
The South West coast was a prime target and little seemed
to stand in the Germans' way.
Inside Out investigates the defences and fortifications
that helped to keep the enemy forces at bay.
We shall never surrender
Everyone remembers Churchill
telling the nation, "we shall fight them on the beaches, we shall
fight in the streets, we shall never surrender."
What most people don't know is that Churchill was worried
that the nation didn't have enough defences to back up his rhetoric.
preparing for a bombing raid
Following his speech, there was the biggest military
building programme in British history. The mission was to make the country
an impregnable fortress.
Hundreds of defences, tank traps and gun batteries were
thrown up frantically in just a few months along the coast of Britain.
Over 18,000 concrete pill boxes were constructed, together
with hundreds of miles of defensive ditches, airfields, gun emplacements,
air-raid shelters, tank-traps, and bombing decoys.
The South West's coastline changed beyond recognition
in just a few months.
Small concrete forts known as pill boxes were some of the most popular
defences built along the coast.
They were usually the only piece of good cover in an
area vulnerable to attack.
Most pill boxes comprised a small room of about ten feet
square and six feet high with walls of thick rough concrete with a door,
over which a sheet was often draped.
were strung out in lines across the landscape to resist enemy invasion
They were basically a type of dug-out or bunker with
look-outs and small slits for machine guns.
Each box was linked to the next by defensive ditches
deep enough to stop a tank, or by natural features such as embankments,
rivers and canals.
After the war the coastal defences were left to decay and rot, and many
of them became overgrown.
Farmers were offered a demolition fee of £5 per pill box but demolition
was often more trouble than it was worth. As a result hundreds of pill
boxes remain in the South West countryside.
A bitter pill
Today's pill boxes are some of the most endangered buildings
are of great historic and archaeological interest
One of the most complete surviving lines of pill boxes
- dubbed 'the Hadrian's Wall of the 20th century' - runs across the south
western peninsula, from Seaton in Devon to Bridgewater in Somerset.
It boasts about 280 surviving pill boxes with machine
gun emplacements every few hundred yards.
But many of the South West's pill boxes have become home
to graffiti artists and vandals.
Now the battle is on to protect what is left of these
The conservation battle
English Heritage is evolving a policy for listing and
protecting these pill boxes, but very few have been given protection as
historic buildings so far.
German pilots' records is helping to locate old pill boxes
The emergency coastal battery at Brixham is now going to be a scheduled
It will be protected from being knocked down following
a survey by English Heritage.
Other sites aren't so lucky, and many are falling literally
into the sea.
The Defence of Britain project has been working to save the remaining
pill boxes from demolition.
Recording the South West's forgotten defences has been
a mammoth task but the group has been painstakingly documenting the old
Old photographs provide valuable clues for the Defence
of Britain volunteers trying to find where the overgrown defences once
We now know what the Germans knew about the South West's defences thanks
to an amazing recent find in a second hand book shop by Dorset publisher
mission over South West England
He has unearthed thousands of photographs taken by German
pilots in the run up and during the war.
The pictures show targets in the South West, and reveal
just how much the Germans knew about British defences.
As a result, one of the main finds has been the old Taunton pill boxes
which are barely discernible to passers-by.
Some enthusiasts believe that there should be better interpretation
of these defences, possibly even a monument or blue plaque.
With increased conservation, there is now a good chance
that some of Britain's most important surviving wartime defences will
continue to survive for years to come.