Chappel Viaduct Defences

Back Chappel Viaduct Defences

The site includes a stretch of the World War II defence or `stop line' known as The Eastern Command Line which was constructed in 1940 as part of a series of lines of defence to counter the threat of a cross-channel invasion by German forces from occupied France. The Eastern Command Line was the longest and most heavily fortified position in East Anglia. The viaduct represents a gap in the natural barrier afforded by the river and the man-made protection of the railway embankment. Consequently it was heavily fortified with pillboxes, gun emplacements and anti-tank barriers.

The site includes a stretch of the World War II defence or `stop line' known as The Eastern Command Line which was constructed in 1940 as part of a series of lines of defence to counter the threat of a cross-channel invasion by German forces from occupied France. The Eastern Command Line was the longest and most heavily fortified position in East Anglia and ran from Wivenhoe on the Essex coast to The Wash west of King's Lynn. Part of the defensive line runs to the north of the town of Colchester before following the River Colne westwards to Chappel Viaduct at which point it turns to run north along the railway enbankment leading to Bures. The viaduct represents a gap in the natural barrier afforded by the river and the man-made protection of the railway embankment. Consequently it was heavily fortified with pillboxes, gun emplacements and anti-tank barriers. The defences include examples of the four major types of pillbox built along the Eastern Command Line (nodal point, artillery, infantry and anti-aircraft) in addition to lines of anti-tank cubes and cylinders and two spigot mortar emplacements.
The monument is in seven separate areas of protection at and around Chappel viaduct and to the south of the adjacent River Colne. In the first area of protection approximately 150m west of the main defensive line, stands a nodal point pillbox of FW3/22 type located in a strategic position on the south west corner of the Chappel Bridge. The concrete pillbox is of hexagonal design with a maximum width of 4m; it has steel side supports and there are slit-type rifle loopholes either side of the entrance.
In the second area of protection adjacent to and partly underneath the viaduct is a pillbox of FW3/28 design. This was built to face and defend the road approach from the east and to provide cover for the area between the river and Colchester Road (which runs parallel to it on the north). Of concrete construction it is approximately 7 sq m with chamfered corners; it has a low L-shaped entrance on its west side with an anti-ricochet wall facing the opening. The walls have two machine-gun loopholes (in the western and southern walls), two rifle loopholes (in the north eastern and south eastern walls) and a large square gun firing aperture in the east facing wall. The mounting pedestal for the gun, which would have been a six pounder Hotchkiss type, is next to the firing aperture. Also within this area are two rows of anti-tank cubes, one extending to the north east from the pillbox up to Colchester Road, the other running parallel to the viaduct between the road to the north and the river to the south. The row parallel with the viaduct originally consisted of nine cubes, grouped in threes, each group blocking an archway; of these seven are still extant, six to the north and one to the south of the pillbox.
The row also includes three concrete anti-tank cylinders lying on the river bank (originally positioned on the river bed to make it impassable). The row converging on the pillbox from the north east has nine surviving cubes out of an original complement of twelve. All of the concrete cubes are 4-5 sq m; the cylinders are approximately 5m long by 1.5m in diameter.
Immediately north of Colchester Road in the third area of protection is an infantry pillbox and its associated anti-tank cubes. The infantry pillbox is a concrete hexagonal structure approximately 6.75m wide with small loopholes and a low entrance on its western side. From its elevated position the pillbox commanded an uninterrupted view along the road to the east and would have supported the artillery pillbox on the south side of the road. The infantry pillbox has associated anti-tank cubes, twelve in all, running for approximately 40m in a line parallel to the viaduct. The cubes are grouped in threes, arranged in chevrons, each group blocking one arch of the viaduct.
Approximately 50m north east of the northernmost anti-tank cube (within the fourth area of protection) is an anti-aircraft pillbox. This concrete pillbox is of hexagonal design, approximately 7m in diameter, with an entrance on the west side. It has a central anti-aircraft machine-gun well complete with mounting pedestal and steel fitting. It measures a maximum of 8.5m wide including its entrance.
Slightly later in date than the pillboxes and anti-tank cubes are two spigot mortar emplacements which lie (in the fifth and sixth areas of protection) to the south of the River Colne. These are located on either side of the viaduct, partly under its arches. Both spigot mortar pedestals are 1.10m in height by 1m in diameter. Spigot mortars were supplied to the Home Guard in 1942. The seventh area, also south of the River Colne, lies approximately 150m south east of the viaduct and contains a hexagonal pillbox. This is 6m in diameter with a low entrance in its south west face and small loopholes typical of the infantry type.
Documentary sources describe Wakes Colne as a `Defended Place Class C', ie. where the object of holding the defended place was to deny use of the roads to the enemy. The 8th Battalion of the Essex Home Guard manned the defences. A later source lists Chappel as a `Class B Defended Place' in the North Essex Sub District, defined as a major centre of road communications and provided with a garrison sufficient to hold its defences (specified as less than 1,000 men but more than two battle platoons of 80 men each).

View of pillbox

View of pillbox

View of anti- tank pillbox plus anti-tank blocks (some have been moved out of river after the war)

View of anti- tank pillbox plus anti-tank blocks (some have been moved out of river after the war)

Embrasure of anti-tank pillbox

Embrasure of anti-tank pillbox

Gun mounting within anti-tank pillbox

Gun mounting within anti-tank pillbox

Interior of pillbox

Interior of pillbox

Turn on JavaScript to display the map

Show slideshow