My family and I were in France for a 4-day break, we drove along the beautiful coastal D940 route from the port of Calais after arriving early that morning on the Eurotunnel, our plan was to explore the coast, it’s villages and history. On route, we found many fascinating and scenic locations including Cap Gris Nez which literally translated is “Cape Grey Nose “and is the closest point across the channel from France to England, at a mere 34km (21 miles.) Having an early start to the day and plenty of time on our hands we decided to park up and go for a wander up to Cap Gris Nez which is in the Pas-de-Calais region on the Opal Coast. It was time to go for a stroll and take in the views, our legs needed a stretch after the journey and it was good to get some sea air.
The coastal paths offer breathtaking views, are very well maintained, and the parking is free, the views would have been even more spectacular had the weather behaved itself, but as we stood at a viewpoint bracing against the wind and enjoying the beauty of the landscape a heavy shower of rain blew inland and soaked us thoroughly before we returned to the car park, but being British we’re used to that on a regular basis. On a clear day, looking across to the English coast, the white cliffs of Dover can be seen clearly as we experienced during our second and much sunnier visit to the area on my birthday.
Sampling a little of the coastal route on the first day of our holiday led to further research into the locations we’d driven by or stopped to visit quite briefly, we became more curious about the history, and so we decided to return to the Cap Gris Nez area on my birthday to visit the nearby Todt Battery Museum and to discover the more in-depth history of the German built “Battery Todt” which is South of Cap Gris Nez at Audinghen. The original name Battery Siegfried was used up until the death of Fritz Todt on the 8th of February 1942 in a mysterious plane crash at the Wolfsschanze (“Wolfs Lair”) airfield near Rastenburg in East Prussia, (now Kętrzyn, Poland) the plane crashed just after takeoff with no survivors. Fritz Todt was the appointed inspector general for German roadways in 1933 by Hitler and in 1938 Todt was to become “Director of the Head Office for Engineering in the National Directorate of the NSDAP.” In the same year Fritz Todt founded Organization Todt which was an engineering group in the Third Reich of Nazi Germany, notorious for using Forced labour and was responsible for the construction of the Atlantic Wall and overseeing all concentration camps. Battery Todt was opened on the 10th of Feb 1942 just two days after Todt’s death.
The battery was an important part of the Atlantic Wall, had four 380mm (15inch) Krupp guns with a range of 55.7km (34.6 miles) and was located strategically near the closest point along the channel making its gun fire capable of reaching the English coast. Each Krupp gun was held within a heavily reinforced bunker. The battery was defended by nine 75mm guns and searchlights. The battery would have been fully camouflaged with the use of imitation trees, bushes and netting to blend into the countryside when viewed from the air.
The Todt Battery is now a museum and it has so much to offer, we learnt so much during our visit. Inside the battery there are examples of German and allied forces clothing, munitions and detailed local history. A tour of the bunker and the size of the shells used here gave me shivers, I felt an atmosphere, a stillness if you will. I didn’t take any photographs inside the museum due to signs prohibiting it, but should you have the chance to visit the Todt battery museum you will enjoy your visit even more for not having spoilers. The other 3 bunkers are in differing states, one is used as a bat cave and the others are half hidden beneath undergrowth and are in partial dereliction. If this bunker had not been restored a part of history would have been lost forever, the 380mm Krupp guns were cut up for scrap shortly after WWII and the electric generator was taken to Boulogne harbour where is was used for years before being abandoned, it has now been restored and returned to its original position inside the bunker.
Outside the museum is a German Krupp K5 railway gun, one of only two of its kind known to still exist, the other is currently in the USA. There were originally 25 of these rail-mounted navy artillery guns manufactured in Essen by Krupp steel in 1941, 5 of these guns would have been moved by rail between Calais and Boulogne during WWII. One of these rail-mounted guns could fire at a rate of 8 – 15 rounds per hour with a 280mm caliber and a range of 62km. To get some scale, the rail-mounted Krupp K5 weighs roughly 218 tons and is 35 metres (115ft) in length. It’s hard to show the true size of this gun through photographs alone.
The Todt battery was finally taken in September 1944. The R.A.F launched 532 bombers on Cap Gris Nez on the 26th, 302 on the 28th with a total of 855 tons of bombs. On the 29th Sept, there was heavy artillery fire at 6.35am followed by a successful attack by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division as part of “Operation Undergo.”
I have taken away from this visit a wealth of gratitude to those who fought for our freedom during the war. The Todt museum is restored and kept in good order which in turn will enable further generations of visitors to stay in touch with history so we can act against tyranny and oppression in the future, I highly recommend a visit if you are in the area. Since it was my birthday I also came away with a souvenir mug which states, “Make Coffee, Not War,” which I totally agree with and I’m drinking coffee from this mug as I type.