Within the Pas-de-Calais division of northern France, near the commune of Helfaut and Wizernes, lies a big Nazi bunker constructed through the Second World Conflict. Essentially the most outstanding function of this bunker advanced is an immense concrete dome, from which the advanced derives its identify—La Coupole, or “The Dome” in English. La Couple, codenamed “Bauvohaben 21”, was constructed to function a launch base for V-2 rockets directed towards London and southern England, and is the earliest recognized precursor to fashionable underground missile silos nonetheless in existence.
The Helfaut-Wizernes Dome. Photograph: CRM / Shutterstock.com
The V-2 was a revolutionary weapon. It was the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile powered by a liquid-propellant rocket engine. The rocket was developed as retaliation for the Allied bombings towards German cities, though the V-2 program had begun in 1936, properly earlier than the struggle began. Standing 14 meters tall, the 12.5-ton rocket was fueled primarily by liquid oxygen and ethanol. Germany estimated that it will want massive variety of V-2 rockets and correspondingly, huge portions of gasoline, if it hoped to drive Britain out of the struggle. This meant that Germany needed to ramp up manufacturing of liquid oxygen, and if attainable, construct new manufacturing websites near the missile launching websites to scale back lack of propellant by evaporation.
The launch websites additionally wanted to be near the English Channel in northern France and Belgium, or within the coasts of the North Sea or in western Netherlands, as a result of the V-2 missiles have been of brief vary. The German Military wished to make use of cell firing batteries, versus mounted launching websites, as a result of they have been much less susceptible to assaults. However Hitler, who was fond of big, grandiose buildings, ordered the development of an enormous bunker—a monolith-like construction now generally known as the Blockhaus d’Éperlecques—within the Forest of Éperlecques close to Watten, north of Saint-Omer. However a bunker the scale of Blockhaus d’Éperlecques was laborious to cover. Quickly Allied reconnaissance noticed it, and on August 1943, bombers wrecked the development website earlier than it might be accomplished.
Blockhaus d’Éperlecques in Watten. Photograph: Zairon/Wikimedia Commons
The lack of Blockhaus d’Éperlecques compelled the German Military to search for an alternate location for a launch website. They military had already taken possession of an previous quarry south-west of Saint-Omer and a few 12 kilometers south of the destroyed bunker. The quarry was being remodeled right into a missile storage depot the place V-2s can be housed in tunnels bored into the chalk hillside earlier than being transported for launching. Hitler ordered this previous quarry to be transformed into an unlimited bomb-proof underground advanced with tunnels to accommodate workshops, storerooms, barracks, a hospital, and even a liquid oxygen manufacturing plant. The advanced was to be topped by a big concrete dome, 5 meters thick and a few 70 meters throughout, to guard it from Allied bombing.
Development of the advanced started in August 1943. An elaborate system of camouflage was put in on the hill high to hide the dome. Nonetheless, from images taken by reconnaissance plane, the Allied may inform that one thing was afoot, and determined that it was higher to bomb now and ask later. The location was consistently bombed all through its development interval. To beat the challenges of finishing up work underneath a rain of bombs, the dome was constructed flat upon the bottom, and the soil beneath was excavated in order that staff may proceed to work under protected underneath the dome. Moreover, the dome was surrounded by a bomb-proof skirt of strengthened concrete 2 meters thick.
Map displaying the placement of Bauvohaben 21, or the Helfaut-Wizernes Dome, and its major goal London.
Franz Xaver Dorsch, the chief engineer who designed the advanced and oversaw its development, deliberate a sophisticated system of railway community tunnels that might deliver missiles and provides into the guts of advanced and transport them into storage galleries dug out into the chalk hill. When the time got here, the rockets can be moved to an enormous octagonal rocket-preparation chamber instantly underneath the dome. This chamber was by no means accomplished however would have been 40 meters in diameter and as much as 33 meters excessive. Rockets assembled on this chamber may exit by two tall passageways in vertical place and be transported by rail to 2 launchpads from the place the missiles can be fired.
Wizernes website: reconstruction of Octagon. Photograph: Sanders, T.R.B./Wikimedia Commons
Reconstructed possible plan of the principle workings on the Wizernes website. Photograph: Sanders, T.R.B./Wikimedia Commons
The Allied discovered concerning the website’s true nature in March 1944, and renewed bombing with vigor. When typical bombing didn’t trigger a lot harm, the RAF started utilizing ground-penetrating Tallboy bombs, which utterly wrecked the exterior development works and buried the doorway to the tunnels with rocks and soil from the cliff face. The dome itself was surprisingly undamaged, and it nonetheless stands at the moment. Nonetheless, the harm to the tunnels made it unimaginable to proceed engaged on the location. Ultimately, Hitler realized his folly and deserted plans for launching V-2s from bunkers. Shortly after, the Allied landed in Normandy and the realm was liberated in September.
In 1997, the previous bunker was transformed right into a World Conflict 2 museum, specializing in the story of the V-weapons, life in occupied France, and the conquest of house after the struggle. The museum homes numerous authentic artifacts together with a V-1 and a V-2.
Satellite tv for pc picture of the realm with the dome indicated by the arrow. Photograph: Google Maps
An underground passage of the Bauvohaben 21. Photograph: Vassil/Wikimedia Commons
The Helfaut-Wizernes Dome. Photograph: Zairon/Wikimedia Commons