Buildings in Defence

Field Engineering Vol I 1933 states that strong, well built buildings may prove of great value to the defence. Buildings were almost certainly incorporated into the Defence Schemes of front line units in Suffolk. This would be especially the case for pillboxes built in towns; Major-General Majendie’s (55th Div) letter on Aug 5th 1940 regarding pillboxes stated that where pillboxes were sited in towns “arrangements must be made at once for the occupation of rooms in adjoining houses from which fire can be brought to bear to protect the rear and flanks, or from which Molotov bottles and grenades can be thrown”. The War Diary for 55th Div notes houses being strengthend and loopholed in Corton and Debenham.

The War Diary of 200 Field Company RE (7th Nov 1940) makes reference to Alde House (Aldeburgh) being camouflaged with MT nets. Also a second 'gun pit' was to be constructed on the first floor above the brick stairwell. The Diary describes the construction of the pit to begin at 1 ft above the floor of the pit and finish at 4 ft 9" above the floor. It was to consist of 9" of shingle held between corrugated sheets, the sheets held together by wire ties.

A Bofar was apparently mounted on the roof of the coastal battery observation post (the old windmill).

Some interesting details on the methods of preparing buildings for defence in Lowestoft are given in the 126 Brigade’s War Diary (42nd Division). The buildings were only to be prepared for defence on “Action Stations” although reconnaissance to determine the method to prepare them for defence was to be put in hand as soon as possible.

The following notes for putting buildings into a state of defence were given:

• During the preliminary enemy bombardment all troops should be splinter proof cellars or slit trenches.
• Arrangements were to be made for all round defence of the building.
• Weapons should be sited that they could fire from a little way back in rooms, firing through windows or loopholes made to resemble shell holes. This would ensure that the weapons would be in darkness. Loopholes to be camouflaged if necessary.
• Men should be protected by barricades made of sandbags or furniture such as chests of draws etc filled with rubble
• Rooms should be shored up to prevent collapse and braced in every direction.
• Inter-communications between rooms and houses should be made possible by knocking holes in walls if necessary.
• Plaster was to be removed from ceilings – preventing men from being smothered in it if the ceiling collapses.
• If on a ground floor loopholes should be at least 6’6” above ground to prevent the enemy from firing into the building.
• All doors to be barricaded but rapid means of exit also to be provided.
• All cellars should have a secondary exit.
• Alternative positions, either outdoors or another house, should be earmarked incase the building is set on fire.
• Fire fighting facilities must be on hand.
• All food and water supplies to be gas proof.

  Above: Top - firing from a little way back in the room as illustarted in a 1948 Manual on Fieldcraft
  Bottom three - firing from a little way back in a room as illustarted in the 1941 Supplement to Infantry Training.

Field Engineering Vol 1 1933 goes on to state that were walls are used for defence, arrangements should be made for inserting loopholes, rather than have troops fire over the wall. Good examples of a loop-holed walls can be found at Dower House, Sizewell and near Aldeburgh allotments.

  Above left: Loopholed wall, Aldeburgh allotments
  Right: Correct way of camouflaging a loopholed wall,
  Infantry Training Supplement 1941

References:
200 Field Coy RE papers, TNA
55th Div papers, TNA
Manual of Field Engineering Vol 1 1933, HMSO
126 Brigade papers, TNA
Infantry Training, 1937 Supplement No 1: Tactical Notes for Platoon Commanders, The War Office, 1941
Infantry Training Vol 1: Infanrty Platoon Weapons, Pamphlet No 2, Fieldcraft (All Arms), The war Office, 1948
 
 
 

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