30 December 2012

Most West of the Western front

A last Winter Sales post, #6. A visit to a former German artillery post of WWI and WWII in the dunes of Oostende this August.

After mainly failing to echo much of medieval carpentry through the visit of 'medieval' castles.  I visit one of the most western positions of the western front.  The place is still interesting thanks to the use of concrete and brick shelters and a display of their inhabitants and ustensils. Where all the original woodwork,  barracks and wooden trenches are long gone.

Now first about the name: Oostende most West of the Western front, should it not be something like Westende?  Technically it was Westende most of the time as seen from the German side , but as it is about an artillery position, nearby Oostende is close enough to cover the distance.
Oostende is mainly known for a fierce three year siege from 1601 to 1604.  Here a map of Oostende in 1777, showing that the town was still very frontier by then. The town will keep its fortifications until 1865 and rapidly expand beyond them after that.  The only military position left is one of the pentagonal forts, from a 1811 update, set in the dunes East of the harbor channel.

At the beginning of the WWI the German advance was stopped some ten kilometers more West.  The channel to the harbour of Oostende was then off center and indicated by two leading lights a few kilometers West of the harbor, attracting by this German artillerist like a magnet when setting up one of the 6" defensive battery.  The neighboring battery Tirpitz was a 11" battery.  The Royal Navy responding with up to 18" Monitors.

Part of the visit shows the concrete bedding for the four 15 cm (6") guns, (my google guess is SK L/40 quick-firing guns in MPL type casemates),  the ammunition stores - two of them under each platform and a shelter for the artillerists and the supporting marines. The wooden barracks are of course all gone.  The electric railway in front is still there.
The first picture show the guns after their destruction by the retreating Germans in October 1918,  the guns having lost their top armor trough the explosion.

The Royal Navy did two raids on Oostende in an attempt to block the harbor channel, each time with two old cruisers filled with concrete.  They were lured to a sandbank the first time. On the second attempt lost their way in the fog, one remaining cruiser entered the harbor under heavy enemy fire but sank finally against the East pier (pictured at low tide)

After the war S.M. le Roi build an exotic (Swiss?) beach house, and a second wooden Norwegian house in the dunes (gone, no pictures found). From around 1930 up to 1983 the domain was occupied by his son Charles, keeping many military structures intact.

During WWII the position was taken again by the Germans who burned down the overly visible beach house. So nope nothing to see, only the foundations are visible.

This time the battery is made of four pieces of field artillery of 12 cm ( 4"3/4).  Over time the wooden bedding for the guns was replaced by a concrete bedding. Upon looking at the bedding I could see that a wooden rim between the gun and the walls is absent.  Also a picture from 1943 on a visit of the desert fox, the one holding a golden stick. A minor wood success is the artillerist quarters

After his visit the battery got its guns replaced with new 10cm (4") submarine guns in covered shelters. The older ones moving to France.

There are also two observation bunkers equipped with telemeters

Some last pictures.  A picture of covered brick trenches made with a patchwork of quality bricks.  The escape hatches are now transformed in windows.  A total of 600m of trenches is still available.  The cramped sleeping bunkers,  the daytime wooden barracks are all gone. And another munition store, which made me think of a Festool systainer line up.

Last in the visit a house with a, for me, unusual rafter design.  But the outside is even more special,  the absence of windows, thick walls and covered entrance shows it is a military building camouflaged as a house.