Pillboxes - Britain's abandoned bunkers

Living History

Pillboxes - Britain's abandoned bunkers

There's plenty of military history to be found around Britain - often on your doorstep. Indeed, it is surprising how often, walking in the countryside or along the coast, you come across an abandoned concrete or brick structure of no current purpose or architectural merit. These are often pillboxes, reminders of the frightening days when the nation expected a Nazi invasion at any moment.

In 1940, with the Second World War underway, and Britain on the back foot, a network of defences was hastily built all over the British Isles to obstruct an anticipated German invasion. The most common of these defences were called “pillboxes”, squat concrete forts that were sited near to road junctions, canals and other strategic points. Thousands were built.

Pillboxes were often camouflaged in order to conceal their location, and to maximise the element of surprise that could be achieved by gunners who would occupy them. Sometimes they were part of a trench system, designed to form an interlocking line of defence with other pillboxes by providing covering fire to each other as defence in depth. Or perhaps placed individually to guard strategic structures such as bridges and jetties.

Pillboxes were designed to be hard to defeat and requiring artillery, grenades or anti-tank weaponry to overcome.

More than 28,000 such pillboxes were built. With the passage of time it is estimated that less than 6,000 of them now still survive. They remain monuments to the national resolve to defend the country against invasion during the early days of the War, when Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany.

Further reading

Links to external websites are not maintained by Bite Sized Britain. They are provided to give users access to additional information. Bite Sized Britain is not responsible for the content of these external websites.