The WW2 landscape archaeology of Suffolk – Britain’s unknown fortifications.

On September 12th an audience of just under 30 villagers were treated to a lively, amusing and very informative talk by Rob Liddiard, Professor of History at UEA, and hosted by the Hoxne Heritage Group.

He spoke of the vulnerable coast of East Anglia and how fortification of the coastline was established in 1940, extended in 1941, adapted in 1942, maintained in 1943 and, in part, dismantled in 1944.

40,000 men defended our coastline. The archaeological landscape of the iconic pillboxes and tank traps on the coast and near river junctions are now firmly part of our heritage.

Ironside’s strategy was to employ a coastal crust of defences to hold up the enemy and then, having been held up, to prevent further invasion by a series of stop lines with a network of nodal points at road, rail (e.g. pillbox at Diss station) and river junctions to act as bottlenecks. This would be followed by a pitched battle.

Beach and inland obstacles included rolls of barbed wire, metal dragons’ teeth (e.g. at Dunwich), anti-tank traps (e.g. Walberswick), beach scaffolding, road blocks and anti-tank ditches to prevent enemy aircraft landing as well as stopping tanks. Pillboxes were found associated with a trench network and barbed wire rolls, but these have now disappeared. On the Suffolk coast there are also remains of artillery observation posts. There were also minefields laid in Ixworth.

We heard how beaches were shut off in Suffolk, resulting in wiping out the holiday economy and having an impact on fishing. However, gaps in coastal beach closure allowing for some fishing activity and use of the inshore lifeboat characterised the wartime landscape. The threat of invasion underpinned the need for this strategy and in 1941 a ‘Kangaroo exercise’ took place to test the effectiveness of the Home Guard.

A resistance of auxiliaries was set up prior to invasion. They stayed underground with the plan to attack from the rear if the enemy landed. Wire would be used to decapitate invaders. Suspected Nazi sympathisers were known and orders were given to kill them immediately if invasion occurred.

The talk was thoroughly enjoyable with amusing references to Dad’s Army and some wonderful photos of innovative ways that pillboxes were camouflaged.

MS

 

 

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