by Dr Rob Liddiard, University of East Anglia
Flooding the Marshes
In addition to the flooding of the marshes, the beach was covered with obstacles. Barbed wire, mines, lines of anti-tank blocks, anti-tank scaffolding and ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ – steel spikes set in concrete and intended to rip the bottom out of German landing barges – all formed part of the defences. The drainage channel running parallel to the beach was also widened to form a watery anti-tank ditch.
As the highest point in the landscape and with a building already offering the potential for camouflage, the hillock was an obvious site for a strongpoint. The ruins of a medieval chapel acted as a shell for a rectangular concrete pillbox that was built within the structure and provided with numerous firing points for infantrymen.
The placing of the pillbox here was to guard a minor entry point from the beach and a track that led inland. The men in the pillbox were not left to defend the area on their own, however, as heavy machine guns on Dunwich cliff to the north could sweep the whole beach with fire and field artillery guns placed behind the lines could shell the area in front of the pillbox.
Image (left): Minsmere beach c.1949 showing partially dismantled anti-tank scaffolding and ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ waiting to be removed. In the background, the defences and radar station on Dunwich Heath can be seen (Eric Hosking Trust). Image (right): WWII pillbox hidden in the walls of the medieval chapel ruins (right)
Standing in a flat landscape much of which was covered with water, the chapel site was an obvious target for German planes. During 1940 and 1941 this part of Suffolk was regularly attacked by low flying German aircraft and the pillbox was machine-gunned on 11th May 1941 as part of a longer strafing run by Messcherschmidt 109 aircraft and was reported in some detail by troops on the ground:
"At 2140 hrs 3 Me 109s approached WALBERSWICK from the North, two of them at 5,000 ft and one at approx. 250ft. This latter plan machine-gunned WALBERSWICK and then, further down the coast, a ruined chapel near SLUICE, TEA HOUSE, THORPENESS and ALDEBURGH were also subjected to machine-gun fire from this plane. No military casualties but one civilian at ALDEBURGH was injured”.
Creating a Habitat
Image: View of Minsmere marshes c.1949 showing the immediate post-war landscape and the tower of Dunwich Radar Station in the background.