Before the Second World War, the Germans were developing weapons far ahead of the accepted technology of the day. Hitler decided he would divert valuable resources to developing weapons of unprecedented destructive power which would, he felt, swing the progress of the war in Germany's favour and which would, at the same time, exact revenge on the Allies.
His scientists, including the renowned Werner Von Braun who was later to feature at the forefront of the space race, developed two weapons in particular which became known to the world as the V1 and V2 rockets, the V standing for Vergeltungswaffe or vengeance weapon. The V1 has gone down in history as the Doodlebug, the V2, or more correctly the A4 rocket simply as the V2. These weapons rained down on mainland Britain, in particular London and Kent and the South-east of England, and wreaked havoc and considerable destruction of lives and property. However, their destructive capability was far outweighed by their pyschological impact, particularly the Doddlebug, whose monotonous drone and subsequent cutting out of its motor brought fear and panic to entire populations. Many measures were instigated to combat this menace culminating in Operation Crossbow, made famous by the feature film of the same name. Although there were numerous sites developed to build and fire these weapons, and indeed the V2 could be, and largely was, fired from mobile trailers, two enormous installations were built by the Nazis to act as the main manufacturing and firing points of these devastating weapons.
The first was an enormous concrete bunker, situated deep in the forest of Eperlecques. This bunker was to act as a major production line for V2 rockets, and also for the liquid oxygen propellant fuel. This place was built with slave labour from concentration camp "Dora" and was heavily bombed by the allies before it could come into production.
The remains are the largest construction of its kind left in Europe and testament to the meglomania of the regime it represented.
The second V-weapon site is at a place called Wizernes, and gained its name from the huge convex concrete cap at the top of the mountain on which it was constructed, La Coupole. La Coupole represented the high-point of Nazi design and ingenuity and now houses a splendid museum and film show devoted to the Space race. There are many examples of prototype missiles and models of the installations used to build and launch them. To balance the high-tech displays there is also a sobering film about life under the Nazis in the Pas de Calais region which became a Zone Rouge or red zone for the entirety of the war. There is ample for the visitor to see here and a tour would last on average about 2-3 hours, including a wonderful multi-lingual guided tour by "smart" headset.
The third V-weapon site is at Mimoyeques. These weapons were a series of long gun barrels set in the ground at an angle and designed to propel a conventional shell by a series of rocket thrusts. It was boasted that this weapon could reach beyond London. It could be said it was the forerunner of the Iraqi "Supergun" of the 1980s.
Entrance tunnel at Mimoyeques
Starting at Calais, proceeding to Eperleques and the huge bunker. The grounds of this wonderful site contain many examples of period military guns and vehicles, including an original railway cattle truck of the type used to transport Jews to the East ( and co-incidentally, slave labour to the site ). There is a well-preserved original V-1 launch ramp, and a self-guided tour of the site has points of interest where one can sit and listen to a commentary and description with sound effects, describing the events which took place during its construction. There is a small but comfortable cafeteria on site for lunch.
Our next stop is la Coupole, previously described.
After La Coupole there is an option to visit Mimoyeques before we move back to the coast and down the coastline until we arrive at one of the best preserved examples of Hitler's fated Atlantic Wall, the huge gun casemate of the "Batterie Todt" . This was but one of a number of such installations built to command the channel approaches and to defend Hitler's "Festung Europa" or Fortress Europe. Here is another marvellous museum containing many tableaux and dioramas describing life here at the time, and a large collection of militaria and weaponry including, in the grounds, only the 2nd example still in existence of the famous K5 Railway gun, examples of which were used to shell Dover. This gun, of which there were originally literally dozens, was the pinnacle of railway gun design stretching back to the days of the Great War and the legendary "Paris Gun" or "Big Bertha".
This tour could be linked to a day exploring the retreat to Dunkirk, with an overnight stay in either St.Omer, Arras or even Ypres. To continue the "Life under the Nazis" theme you could visit the site of the former Gestapo headquarters at the Citadel in Arras where there is a moving memorial to hundreds of Resistance workers who were executed in the old ditches of the Vauban fortress.
Prices are per person and start from:
One day £399 ( please call to discuss )
Two days £679
Three days £849
Residential tours assume two persons sharing - a £30 single room supplement will apply. This is a charge made by the hotel and is beyond my control. Please contact me on: email@example.com, call 01842 862014, or write to: Past Endeavours, 18, Pashford Close, Lakenheath, Suffolk IP27 9ED