ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

GHQ British World War II Defensive Line

Updated on September 14, 2014

Britains Last Ditch Defence Against the Panzers

Few people today know how close to defeat Britain was just after Dunkirk. The British Army had abandoned most of its equipment in France, the RAF had been badly mauled by the Luftwaffe. Dunkirk had not yet been remodeled as a miracle, morale was very low, appeasers and those sympathetic to Hitler were still very strong. Plans were however made to stop Guderian and Rommel's Panzers on the Thames should they make a successful landing. The pillboxes and anti-tank obstacles and ditches were hardly built before they became obsolete and they were apparently only manned once after a false alarm.

Most of these indestructible pillboxes still remain though nature does its best to disguise them. See photos of those that remain, seemingly as witnesses to the futility of war, in some of the most beautiful and peaceful parts of the English countryside.

Pillbox at Sutton Courtenay GHQ Red Stop Line - Type 22 Bren Gun Only Pillbox with Embrasures and Inner Ricochet Wall

Massive Pillbox Base at Abingdon over former Canal Lock - Berk & Wilts Canal Lock Number 2 : Tithe Barn Lock

Massive Pillbox Base at Abingdon over former Canal Lock
Massive Pillbox Base at Abingdon over former Canal Lock

This massive concrete pillbox base is built over the already abandoned Tithe Barn Lock at Abingdon. A second exiting pillbox is just a few hundred meters away also built on the raised canal bank. Pillboxes were typically built in pairs so although there is no sign of the existence of the second pillbox it is likely that that the base was indeed built for a pillbox. It has been suggested that it was built just to cover the old lock but it is ridiculously thick and untypically raised above ground. The base is partially cover by decking. Abingdon lock on the abandoned Wilts & Berks Canal was close to the Thames junction and no longer exists. Drayton lock about 2 miles down the canal fortunately does exist and has been partially restored. So the question is raided are there remains of the old tithe barn lock below the pillbox base?.

Pillbox on Former Canal Bank at Ladygrove Abingdon Red Stop Line - Type 28A built to house the Hotchkiss 6 pounder anti-tank gun.

This Pillbox being on raised ground would have had a superb view of any approaching Panzers. The dried up canal was the Berks and Wilts Canal. From here on its way to Swindon and beyond the canal has raised banks, the most expensive to build and to maintain. In 1940 the canal had been unused for 40 years or more.

Dragons Teeth Anti-Tank Defence Beginning the Anti-Tank Ditch at Abingdon - The Dragons Teeth were used to defend the bank of the Ock

Obviously the ditch could not be dig right up to the river bank and generally where ditches were impracticable dragon's teeth pyramid shaped blocks or just square concrete blocks were used. Here at the River Ock a phalanx 5 lines each containing 6 "teeth" were used. There may be more but the nettles were thick! The Teeth don't go right up to the bank but may be the Ock has been recut

General Ironside's Line

GHQ Red Stop Line

The first line of defence was the coast and a ring of coastal fortifications, but these became useless the moment they were breached at any point.

The main General Headquarters Lines (GHQ), were linear defence lines designed to provide protection to London and important industrial

manufacturing areas in the Midlands and the North, and were a final defensive position.

The main defence lines were supplemented by further Command and Corps stop-lines.

The Eastern GHQ stop-line was designed to run from north of Edinburgh, inland and south along the east coast, around the east of London to meet the south coast near Eastbourne. Two further lines ran from this east-west to impede forces progress northwards. Stop-line Red followed the Thames from Reading and crossed the Cotswolds to Great Somerford in Wiltshire, and Stop-line Blue followed the Kennet and Avon Canal to Semington. These lines met Stop-line Green, which encircled Bristol. Further GHQ lines were constructed to protect Plymouth.

The pillboxes along the Stroudwater Canal and River Frome formed part of Stop-line Green.

The Red Stop Line which followed the Thames from Reading to Abingdon then cut across country to Newbridge to avoid the huge Thames loop north to Oxford, the stop line then continued West to Bristol. The Red Stop Line was intended to stop a thrust from the southern coast.

The pillboxes seem to be of two types those that would contain Bren guns and larger ones with canons.

Indestructible Anti Tank Concrete Blocks Gathered up by Farmers - Alongside the A34 on the footpath from Abingdon to Marcham

Only a menace to careless cyclists

Pill Box Number One Cow Lane Marcham, Red Stop Line

This Pillbox is disappearing under ivy, bracken, scrub trees and well defended by nettles, best come to see it in winter

Pillbox 2 Cow Lane Marcham, GHQ Red Stop Line

Unusually free from Vegetation this Pillbox is about a mile down Cow Lane Marcham with a fine view to Abingdon. This is the second of three pillboxes on Cowlane

Pillbox 3 Cow Lane Marcham, Red Stop Line

Defending Denham Place?

Massive Anti-Tank Blocks on Cow Lane Marcham, GHQ Red Stop Line

This area around "Marcham" as you might guess very marshy these blocks were meant to obstruct an ancient passage through the marshes. Absolutely massive also signs of a concrete base for them.

Marcham was very well defended perhaps because there was an important military office in Marcham (I guess I am not giving away military secrets away)

Pillbox Behind Marcham Church

Nearly missed this one as it's behind a High Oxford Stone wall. Walk through the churchyard follow the path between the two stone walls, bear right when you reach fields

Denham College

The Air Ministry requisitioned the house when the war began in 1939. Would this have been the centre of Defence?

Rare Gun Emplacement Frilford

Whether any Gun was ever installed is unknown. The concrete base an fixtures seem in good condition. Somebody told me this was built to hold an old Navy Gun

Type 28 Pillbox at Fyfield GHQ Red Stop Line - One of a Pair

These were designed to contain a massive gun. Pillboxes are often in pairs to cover each other and to sweep a wider area.

Twin Pillbox East of Fyfield, Oxfordshire, GHQ Red Stop Line - Can you see TWO Pillboxes in this Photo?

I walked right by the first!

Ironsides Line by Colin Alexander

In June 1940 under the direction of General Edmund Ironside, concentric rings of anti-tank defences and pillboxes were constructed in and around London. They comprised: The London Inner Keep, London Stop Line Inner (Line C), London Stop Line Central (Line B) and London Stop Line Outer (Line A). The Outer London Ring was the strongest and best developed of these, mainly because it could be constructed in open countryside.

Pillboxes Images of an unfought battle

Two Forlorn Pillboxes North of Fyfield in Open Country

Between Fyfield and Newbridge is just agricultural land

Aerial Photo of Two Pillboxes Between Newbridge and Fyfield

You get some idea of their loneliness

Pillbox Opposite Millets Farm , One of a Pair

The farmer has also maintained a short section of the Anti-Tank Ditch

Pillbox on Northern Bank of the Thames near Newbridge

This is near the Pillbox toppling into the Newbridge

Pillbox West of Sheepstead Rd Marcham

This is in line with pillboxes in cow lane. I found it using Google maps in satellite mode.

Pillbox Gradually Toppling into the Windrush at Newbridge

Pillbox Toppling into the Windrush at Newbridge GHQ Red Stop Line

This Pillbox is gradually toppling into the Windrush as this river gradually washes away the bank. There are warning signs saying do not enter pillbox, but I reckoned that even though I'm not skinny I contributed 0.0001% to the weight of the structure. One day however it will slide in and then become a job for a specialist demolition crew.

Possible Remains of anti-tank ditch at Abingdon GHQred stop line

On GoogleMaps and Multimap this ditch wends its way to Marcham. I surmise that even if it is a natural ditch that it was dug out wider as an anti-tank ditch. This is just guesswork please post a comment if you know anything.

Demolished Pillboxes and Defences

Although they must be difficult to demolish, many have been, especially when they were in the way of road widening

  1. Old Culham BridgeDuring World War II two concrete pill boxes were built on the bridge, each weighing 250 tons and carrying anti-tank guns and part of the parapet was removed to make way for a concrete platform. The bridge was subsequently restored and is classified as an ancient monument.
  2. Abingdon Thames-side Gun Emplacement

    This was just beyond Saxton Rd at the start of the anti-tank ditch to Marcham and beyond. At this time Saxton Rd was outside the town of Abingdon in countryside.

Unknown Concrete Building near A34 Marcham Junction

Very solid thick concrete walls, but no loopholes, what was its function?

General Ironside

Tiny Ironside so named because he was very tall!

William Ironside started his military career with the Boer War. He served in the First World War then led the ill-fated British expedition to Archangel Russia to support the anti-communist White Forces. Ironside was given the command of British forces in Persia in the 1920s the start of the troubles which still continue today. In May 1940, Ironside was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Home Forces. His plan for the defence of Britain basically entailed turning the country into a fortress. His first layer of defence was to create a 'Coastal Crust' around the south, south-east and eastern coastlines where invasion was most likely. If the Germans managed to penetrate this, Ironside ordered the building of 'stop lines' manned by the Home Guard. An illustrious career for a General who was liked and trusted by his men and who must have mobilised enormous resources to build a defence system described as more extensive than the Ligne Maginot in France

Concrete Bases of Pillbox One and Two Old Culham Bridge Abingdon

loose earth marks the Gun Slot of Pillbox one. The Pillboxes where demolished in 1945 as the bridge is a historic monument

Gun Slot Marking Pillbox One Old Culham Bridge

The Gun Slot still had the original wood shuttering (see photo) so I guess that no gun was ever mounted.

Pillbox had a Commanding View of Thames Approach, Culham Bridge Abingdon

Why were the gun steady slots never concreted in when the pillboxes were removed? Is it possible that the pillboxes just sat on the concrete bases, so when they were demolished it was not necessary to make good the concrete bases?

Site of Former Pillbox Number 2 Old Culham Bridge

Grass rectangle shows the steady slot for the Cannon, appears to face Abingdon

Pillboxes Old Culham Bridge

Of course had their been a battle it wouldn't of been the first. Their was an English Civil War skirmish here.In January 1645 a Royalist force tried to recapture the bridge and destroy it. The skirmish, known as the Battle of Culham Bridge, ended in a Parliamentarian victory and the Royalist commander Sir Henry Gage was killed.

Type 28 Pillbox at Appleford Railway Bridge

The bricks were used to cast the concrete. The pillbox curiously does not face the river

Second Pillbox at Appleford Railway Bridge

Also brick covered

Should Pillboxes be Protected and Preserved

What has protected them so far has been

a) they are often in remote spots in the countryside

b) They were set back in hedgerows to provide natural camouflage

c)They are solid concrete and not easy to destroy

After the war farmers were given a massive £5 per pillbox to demolish them, the farmers just kept the money as rent.

While there are so many there is no particular rush to preserve them they hardly seem endangered but that was always true for things that have disappeared

Semi-demolished Pillbox at Netherton

Was this destroyed in a D-Day exercise? (supposition only, what is true is that the pillbox was not in anybody's way.

Anti-Tank Ditch Excavated at Frilford

Unfortunately the photo doesn't give an impression of how deep and steep the anti-tank ditch is. Murray Maclean the local farmer had had a short section ditch of excavated near the two pillboxes on his land. He said that the pillboxes were situated at each change of direction of the ditch, the idea being that the pillboxes could fire on the tanks while they vulnerable as they tried to negotiate the ditch.

Massive Thick Walls of Pillbox at Sutton Courtenay/Culham

Pillbox High on Culham Heights Overlooking the Thames

Second Pillbox on Culham-cut Island, Culham Bridge in Background

Lost Pillbox on Burycroft Culham Village, GHQ Red Stop Line

I'd been informed of its location but this pillbox was almost impossible to locate using Google Maps Earth or Satellite however and even when I walked along the path I could just see an entrance of a pillbox otherwise covered by ivy and a brushwood. At the price of getting badly stung I managed to get this photo, it is a type 22 bren gun only pillbox with inner y-shaped anti ricochet wall.

Hopchkiss 6 Pounder Anti-Tank Gun

From WikiCommons by Bukvoed (Click on photo)
From WikiCommons by Bukvoed (Click on photo)

This is either the type of gun intended for use in the type 28A Pillboxes or is very similar, in any case gives you an idea.

New Barn Farm Long Wittenham Type 28A

At the end of a long farm lane. I think I've spotted its twin on Google Maps will have to go back though. The approach to the farm is blocked (or would have been) by four huge concrete blocks which can be seen covered in vegetation in the verges. These are about 100m from the pillbox. See their photo below

Four Concrete Road Blocks at New Barn Farm Long Wittenham

I was amazed to see these huge blocks nearly hidden by vegetation at the roadside. Obviously they were intended to be moved into the road but how?

Anti-Tank Dragon's Teeth Near Newbridge Oxfordshire

The positioning of these blocks indicates the end of the Anti-tank ditch which stretches from Abingdon. A length of the ditch seems to remain unless they used a natural waterway.

Pillbox Down River from Newbridge Oxfordshire, defends end of the Anti-Tank Ditch from Abingdon

Aerial Photo GHQ Line at Frilford 1944

Pillbox One at Radcot Bridge over the Thames

The pillbox is marked Private but I don't think that would have hindered Guderian!

This pillbox is on an island formed by branches of the Thames. The location is beautiful and appears to have camping.

There is a great pub the Swan Hotel and walks in every direction.

Pillbox Two at Radcot Bridge over the Thames

This pillbox also appears to used for storage

The "Funny" Pillbox at Faringdon Folly Hill

This pillbox is not part of the GHQ line and appears to have been a "home-made" one by presumably the Faringdon Home-Guard. The wall are concrete-lined bricks and are not anywhere as thick as those in the official GHQ line pillboxes

Pillbox Oxford Canal Stop Line at Thrupp - Type 26 pillbox Thrupp near Kidlington

This pillbox is situated to defend both the canal and the railway line.The pillboxes on the Oxford Stop Line seem more modest than those on the East - West Red Stop Line

Pill Box at Old Shifford

Pillbox Between Radcot and Kelmscott Type 22

This was surprisingly close to the two pillboxes at Radcot

Twin Pillbox Just Before Kelmscott, protects Thames S-Bend

This pillbox is directly opposite its twin which is expectedly on the Thames Bank. Its position seems quite odd but a military mind would probably explain that it was to increase the field of fire. It could easily have been camouflaged.

The pillbox closest to Kelmscott.

There seem to be more pillboxes per mile here than lower down the Thames. Is it because the Thames is narrower thus less defendable?

Military Archaeology Poll

Are you a fan of Military Archaeology Poll

See results

Pillbox in Thames-side Cottage Garden between Long Wittenham & Clifton Hampden

Pillbox in Thames-side Cottage Garden between Long Wittenham & Clifton Hampden
Pillbox in Thames-side Cottage Garden between Long Wittenham & Clifton Hampden

Only spotted this recently was it covered up before?

Concrete Road Blocks opposite Thames-side Cottage Pillbox between Long Wittenham & Clifton Hampden

Concrete Road Blocks opposite Thames-side Cottage Pillbox between Long Wittenham & Clifton Hampden
Concrete Road Blocks opposite Thames-side Cottage Pillbox between Long Wittenham & Clifton Hampden

These blocks are practically hidden by undergrowth, one remains clear and when I noticed it (it's the typical size of a Road block Stone) it is then that I noticed the pillbox on the opposite bank. I don't know what mechanisms were available to drag the blocks into position in the event of evasion, I mean they built to be practically unmovable.

Pillbox just upstream from Buscot, shows shell damage

Pillbox just upstream from Buscot, shows shell damage
Pillbox just upstream from Buscot, shows shell damage

This pillbox located in sharp loop appears to have been shelled, I would guess it was used a practice target later in the war, when the pillboxes had lost their function. Apart from the blow-up pillboxes at Netherton I have not seen any signs of decay and in general are in very good condition. Is this because of the quality of construction?

Pillbox at Lechlade view of St Lawrence Church in distance - Lechlade is considered the highest navigable point on the Thames

Pillbox at Lechlade view of  St Lawrence Church in distance
Pillbox at Lechlade view of St Lawrence Church in distance

GHQ and Pillbox Feedback

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hi there

      did you no about the two WW2 Block houses on the green in front of Gainsborough green shop Abingdon,they were blown up about 1964/5 just after my parents moved in to there house opposite the block houses.Thinking about the G.H.Q line they would have been allmost next to it.From Saxton road about opposite the Saxton Arms pub was 4 shop then a gap which led to the allotments

      which was where Gaisborough Green is built.My grandfather said there was a wooden bridge over the G.H.Q ditch to access the allotments.My Father said when he was a boy he got a lot of fish out of the ditch just as they were slowley

      filling it in, and put them in there bath, he said his mother went mad as back then then moved to Saxton Roas from Zion court West st Helens street,and the had a tin bath in front of the fire in the front room.So this was a Luxuary to have a bath in doors.

      Regards Andy.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great write up, we have lots of pillboxes in East Devon on the Seaton-Highbridge line.....

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Returning to this historical masterpiece with fresh angel dust...because I love it!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      For good and accurate information on this subject the leading website and organisation is called the Pillbox Study Group.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 5 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Just came back to bless this excellent lens.

    • trainstorm profile image

      trainstorm 6 years ago

      Scary

    • thesuccess2 profile image
      Author

      thesuccess2 6 years ago

      @TonyPayne: Poddys

      My feeling is that had the Germans managed to get that far their supply lines would have been stretched to the maximum, their tanks practically worn out etc, so the GHQ Line might just have been "a bridge too far" of course if they arrived in any strength they would hardly of noticed it!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 6 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Wow what an excellent lens. We must have passed the ones close to the A34 near Abingdon on Saturday as we drove from Southampton to Oxford and back. I know of a few on the coast in Cornwall and Dorset, and have photos of them. I wasn't aware there were so many inland too. The 6-pounders might have been effective against Panzer II/III, but had the Germans invaded and later in the war, we would have had no chance against the Panthers and Tiger 1E. You did a great job on this, it's very comprehensive, blessed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What an excellent historical document you have created here....I got chills!

    • rhonney profile image

      rhonney 6 years ago

      very long info...