Monuments de Chagrin

Over the years, numerous photographers were fascinated by the bunkers of the Atlantikwall. The big inspiration, I think, for all these photographers was the French cultural theorist, urbanist, and aesthetic philosopher Paul Virilio. His 1975 book Bunker Archéologie is a classic, and also the first to examine the concrete World War 2 structures in detail.

In his tradition many followed, including myself,  but really only since the 2000s and the introduction of digital photography and the internet. Virilio’s publication became known under a wider audience then only art historians, architects and a single philosopher. Black and white photography is usually the choice to portray the bunkers, giving them this repeated image of ruin architecture. ‘Built as a reminder of the Nazi-Reich’, sometimes even wrongly understood as if the bunkers were actually built, only for propagandic value, which actually shows the impact of that very same Nazi propaganda. Obviously the images of an ‘impregnable wall’ from the Wochenschau films still resonate to this day and fit the image. Even better in this perspective of course, is that the Atlantikwall, ‘only’ lasted several hours before it was ‘penetrated’ in Normandy on D-Day, 6 June 1944. It’s the proof that it was ‘built for nothing’ and was only a ‘ 
megalomaniac personal project’ of Hitler himself.

Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archéologie, original 1975 edition (left) and 1994 edition.

Solely military

To ruin the party, it was ofcourse not a personal project, nor was it a propagandic one. Of course, Hitler thought he was a mastermind on fortifications, because of his made up experiences in the Great War’s front lines, and the bunkers served Goebbels’ propaganda ministry well. But above all, the Atlantikwall, better translated as Atlantic Rampart (Rolf, 2014), was a military project, solely built to keep the British from opening up a second front against the Germans. The latter were vastly preoccupied with trying to conquer the Sovjet Union and only had a garrison of 300.000 soldiers to defend the vast western European coast. Already in 1943 the Germans were expecting an allied invasion, and frantically built thousands of bunkers, despite lack of materials and workers. Although northern France, especially the coast line between Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer in the south, was closest to the British isles and heavily fortified, Normandy was seen as the most vurnerable place. The German command in the west thought it was highly likely the attack would be there.

Jean-Claude Gautrand's 1977 Forteresses du Dérisoire.

Jean-Claude Gautrand’s 1977 Forteresses du Dérisoire.

Single bunker battles

The weak defences of Normandy basically funneled the allies towards this area of France. And so it happened. The whole tactical idea of the Rampant, that of a strong first defence line slowing down the attack, with mobile troops coming to the rescue in threatened areas, failed in Normandy, because of the mostly mediocre quality of troops in the bunkers, and slow decision making about the mobile troops and armour. However, the Atlantikwall kept the allies busy in the months to come. The Free French around the Gironde estuary, the Americans in Saint-Malo, the Canadians in the French Channel ports and in the battle of the Scheldt. In september of 1944 the largest airborne operation in history, operation Market-Garden, was partly executed in Arnhem and Nijmegen to circumvent the already ‘ancient’ 1930s bunkers of the Westwall, the defence line along the western border of Germany. The operation at Arnhem failed, and the Americans would feel the toll in the tough terrain of the Eifel, where battles for single bunkers were fought.

Stephan van Fleteren’s 2004 Atlantic Wall.

Fysical reminders

So why am I writing this? Maybe to add another view to the Atlantikwall myths which generally exist and which are made bigger by yet another photographer or artist repeating the same and easy mantra, depicting the bunkers in dramatic, hard contrast, black and white. I would say, dig into the subject more, try to get a broader view, read more books than Paul Virilio’s. These bunkers were actually occupied by people. Mostly regular German soldiers, from a small village deep in Germany, who never got much further than a small radius around their home town. The war is only a fraction of a bunker’s ‘life’, and this percentage gets smaller every year. Their history doesn’t stop in 1945. They’ve shaped landscapes, influenced the youth of many during vacations, and they’re one of the few fysical reminders of World War 2.

Propaganda poster in Dutch: Atlantikwal, 1943 is geen 1918. (Collection: NIOD)

Propaganda poster in Dutch: Atlantikwal, 1943 is geen 1918. (Collection: NIOD)

Mathieu Douzenel

I was triggered because of a the announcement of an exhibition by Mathieu Douzenel, a French photographer working in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Normandy region. He’s an observer of the land, and how we as people interact with it. Judging his pictures he’s also interested in decay, which Nord-Pas-de-Calais has plenty of. There’s a lot of grey here, especially in fall and winter. “Monuments de chagrin” is his series about the Atlantikwall bunkers. His exhibition opened in the Théatre Le Passage in Fécamp last week and can be visited until 18 December 2020.

Regelbau 501 in Bray-Dunes. Part of the photographic series 'Monuments de Chagrin' by Mathieu Douzenel.

Regelbau 501 in Bray-Dunes. Part of the photographic series ‘Monuments de Chagrin’ by Mathieu Douzenel.

Posted on September 28, 2020 at 10:04 pm by Arthur van Beveren · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Art · Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Demolition of Saint-Nazaire bunker on its way

In Saint-Nazaire the bunker of the Marine Flak Abteilung 820 still resists the demolition hammer. It will be destroyed in the end, but it’s stronger than expected.

It is huge too. 1500 m2, with walls 2 meters thick. The demolition started in june 2016 and should finish before 1 September, when then school next to it opens again. But at the moment only half of the bunker is gone.

The city of Saint-Nazaire has a reputation of bunker demolition. They even had plans to get rid of another Marine Flak Abteilung headquarters, the unique Fl 250 bunker at St-Marc. Fortunately for now, this plan is on hold.

As a headquarters near the coast it commanded six light anti-aircraft batteries around the Festung Saint-Nazaire. They gave the 17 heavy anti-aircraft batteries cover against low flying fighters. Saint-Nazaire had this huge amount of anti-aircraft guns because of the presence of the U-Boot base in the city center.

More photo via http://bunkersite.com/locations/france/nazaire/cp-nazaire.php

1946 IGN aerial view of the bunker still in the open.

1946 IGN aerial view of the bunker still in the open.

The huge bunker from the air. (Photo: Alain Chazette)

The huge bunker from the air. (Photo: Alain Chazette)

Posted on August 25, 2016 at 12:15 pm by Arthur van Beveren · Permalink · One Comment
In: Demolition/Disappearing, France, News · Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Danish TV2 Nord produces TV-series about the Atlantikwall

Twenty interviews with people from Germany, USA, UK, Australia and Denmark. Nine 30 minute episodes. Danish TV2 Nord put huge effort in their series “Bunkerne”.

I’ve never seen anything like it. There has never been so much media attention for bunkers than this series. Beautiful aerial shots and archives material are connected by expert, eye witness and veteran interviews. All nine episodes have their own subject, from building the bunkers, to Russian forced labourers and a special on the Festung Hanstholm. Some of the people we see are Museumscenter Hanstholm director Jens Andersen, bunker expert and author of several books on the subject Bent Anthonisen and Gerhard Saalfeld, a German veteran.

Unfortunately the series is mostly in Danish but the interviews with foreign people are both in English and German.

See all episodes here.

Posted on April 8, 2016 at 4:32 pm by Arthur van Beveren · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Denmark, News, Television · Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Star Wars in the Atlantikwall

One of the casemates type 667 at Widerstandsnest 227 was converted to a Star Wars vehicle. A nice form of graffiti spraying. They made a nice video of the creating process.

Posted on December 21, 2015 at 3:13 pm by Arthur van Beveren · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: France, News · Tagged with: , , , , ,

A new category: the seven wonders …

We start the series of the seven wonders of the Atlanticwall with our choice of the finest batteries.

1. Berck de la Fource
, for its clean and unspoiled bunkers.

2. Batterie Reichenberg
, complete and well preserved.

3. Batterie Todt
, of course for Turm IV.

4. Batterie Holzendorf
, for the fine location and the rare M 150.

5. Batterie Inglevert
as a fine example of an inlandbattery.

6. Batterie Ørlandet
for the fabulous turret.

7. Sperrbatterie Løkken
for its completeness.

The finest
The finest of them all.

Posted on April 6, 2015 at 10:55 pm by Lenco · Permalink · One Comment
In: Seven wonders

Westwall moving in colour

This private film shows the Westwall in colour, starting with a rare 40P8 Sechsschartenturm during the construction of a bunker, large earth excavations, a shot of another bunker for Sechsschartenturm and officers around a table.

Posted on November 4, 2014 at 12:43 am by Arthur van Beveren · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Photography · Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

Gun bunkers demolished at Locqueltas

Sad news from Lorient, France, this week. At least two gun bunkers type M 170 of battery Locqueltas, near Larmor Plage, are being demolished. A casino will be built on the spot.

Photos via http://atlantikwall.superforum.fr/t15717-c-est-la-fin-de-locqueltas

Partly demolished M 170 casemate of Batterie Locqueltas near Larmor Plage. (Photo: Olsen)

Partly demolished M 170 casemate of Batterie Locqueltas near Larmor Plage. (Photo: Olsen)

Posted on October 28, 2014 at 8:41 am by Arthur van Beveren · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Demolition/Disappearing, France, News · Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Batterie Longues-sur-Mer and Pointe-du-Hoc on 1944 video

PhotosNormandie shows high resolution photos of the US Signal Corps and more from 1944 on Flickr. They also have a Youtube channel with raw film material from the same period. There’re a lot of well known images and film images but to see all the raw material is amazing, plus it’s very interesting study material. You can help the project by commenting on both the photos and videos with useful information on the exact location, machinery and armament and the right units.

PhotosNormandie is a collaborative project for social indexing.
The purpose of PhotosNormandie is to make archival images of the Allied invasion of Normandy more easily discoverable by more users and to attempt to correct and supplement their existing metadata.
PhotosNormandie got an Honorable Mention in Best use of crowdsourcing for descriptioncategory of Best Archives on the Web Awards for 2010 (see also here).

We have uploaded 78000 photos since 2007 about the Battle of Normandy (D-Day June 6 to end August 1944).

All photos are available in high resolution and with IPTC/IIM fields embedded.
Photos source is Archives Normandie 1939-1945 web site (in French).
This was a project led by Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie (Regional Council of Basse-Normandie) in 2004, for the D-Day 60th anniversary.

PhotosNormandie on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/photosnormandie/

PhotosNormandie on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCd-pnf-84goYFupXpld5bVw

Posted on September 10, 2014 at 2:50 pm by Arthur van Beveren · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: News, Photography · Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Recovery of M19 parts on Guernsey

The guys of Festung Guernsey continue to work on different projects on the Channel Island of Guernsey. One of the exciting ones is the recovery of remains of the automatic mortar M19 at Stützpunkt Großfels. In the future, the M19 bunker there will be turned into a museum.

Recovery of M19 parts at Stützpunkt Großfels. (Photo: Festung Guernsey)

Recovery of M19 parts at Stützpunkt Großfels. (Photo: Festung Guernsey)

 

Posted on May 26, 2014 at 11:47 am by Arthur van Beveren · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Channel Islands, News · Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

Regelbau, the photo series

Until the end of March and during July, August and September I’m presenting my photo series ‘Regelbau’ in Kunstfort Vijfhuizen, the Netherlands.

It’s a study on the German standardized bunker from World War Two and its current state both as an historical object and a part of present nature. A fascination for modernist materials such as concrete and steel and how time transforms these buildings into modern time ruins. But also, a fascination for the idea of building permanent fortifications and in what form and size. In less than three years tens of thousands of concrete structures were erected along the European coasts and deep inland.

Løkken, 2013

Løkken, 2013

For the last fifteen years I’ve travelled the European continent to document these defenses. It brought me to remote places, and it helped me grasping the geography of war too.

637, Wissant, 2013

637, Wissant, 2013

The German bunkers show how practical solutions lead to modernist monuments. I also try to open a discussion on their history and whether we should preserve them for future generations.

L 409A, Vigsø, 2013

L 409A, Vigsø, 2013

When: Until the end of march 2014, and during July, August and September. Where: Kunstfort Vijfhuizen, close to Schiphol Airport, the Netherlands.

629, Ambleteuse, 2013

629, Ambleteuse, 2013

http://www.arthurvanbeveren.com/

http://www.kunstfort.nl/kunst/nu-te-zien/688-tt-restaurant-arthur-van-beveren-nu

Posted on March 21, 2014 at 5:30 pm by Arthur van Beveren · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Art, Photography · Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,