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World War II Eastern Command Line at Chappel Viaduct

A Scheduled Monument in Wakes Colne, Essex

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Latitude: 51.922 / 51°55'19"N

Longitude: 0.7568 / 0°45'24"E

OS Eastings: 589670.2988

OS Northings: 228423.6506

OS Grid: TL896284

Mapcode National: GBR RL8.D5W

Mapcode Global: VHKFQ.2YGG

Entry Name: World War II Eastern Command Line at Chappel Viaduct

Scheduled Date: 16 October 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020687

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32447

County: Essex

Civil Parish: Wakes Colne

Built-Up Area: Chappel

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Wakes Colne and Chappel

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The monument includes a stretch of the World War II defence or `stop line'
known as The Eastern Command Line which was constructed in 1940 as part of a
series of lines of defence to counter the threat of a cross-channel invasion
by German forces from occupied France. The Eastern Command Line was the
longest and most heavily fortified position in East Anglia and ran from
Wivenhoe on the Essex coast to The Wash west of King's Lynn. Part of the
defensive line runs to the north of the town of Colchester before following
the River Colne westwards to Chappel Viaduct at which point it turns to run
north along the railway enbankment leading to Bures. The viaduct represents a
gap in the natural barrier afforded by the river and the man-made protection
of the railway embankment. Consequently it was heavily fortified with
pillboxes, gun emplacements and anti-tank barriers. The defences include
examples of the four major types of pillbox built along the Eastern Command
Line (nodal point, artillery, infantry and anti-aircraft) in addition to lines
of anti-tank cubes and cylinders and two spigot mortar emplacements.

The monument is in seven separate areas of protection at and around Chappel
viaduct and to the south of the adjacent River Colne. In the first area of
protection approximately 150m west of the main defensive line, stands a nodal
point pillbox of FW3/22 type located in a strategic position on the south west
corner of the Chappel Bridge. The concrete pillbox is of hexagonal design with
a maximum width of 4m; it has steel side supports and there are slit-type
rifle loopholes either side of the entrance.

In the second area of protection adjacent to and partly underneath the viaduct
is a pillbox of FW3/28 design. This was built to face and defend the road
approach from the east and to provide cover for the area between the river and
Colchester Road (which runs parallel to it on the north). Of concrete
construction it is approximately 7 sq m with chamfered corners; it has a
low L-shaped entrance on its west side with an anti-ricochet wall facing the
opening. The walls have two machine-gun loopholes (in the western and southern
walls), two rifle loopholes (in the north eastern and south eastern walls) and
a large square gun firing aperture in the east facing wall. The mounting
pedestal for the gun, which would have been a six pounder Hotchkiss type, is
next to the firing aperture. Also within this area are two rows of anti-tank
cubes, one extending to the north east from the pillbox up to Colchester Road,
the other running parallel to the viaduct between the road to the north and
the river to the south. The row parallel with the viaduct originally consisted
of nine cubes, grouped in threes, each group blocking an archway; of these
seven are still extant, six to the north and one to the south of the pillbox.
The row also includes three concrete anti-tank cylinders lying on the river
bank (originally positioned on the river bed to make it impassable). The row
converging on the pillbox from the north east has nine surviving cubes out of
an original complement of twelve. All of the concrete cubes are 4-5 sq m;
the cylinders are approximately 5m long by 1.5m in diameter.

Immediately north of Colchester Road in the third area of protection is an
infantry pillbox and its associated anti-tank cubes. The infantry pillbox is a
concrete hexagonal structure approximately 6.75m wide with small loopholes and
a low entrance on its western side. From its elevated position the pillbox
commanded an uninterrupted view along the road to the east and would have
supported the artillery pillbox on the south side of the road. The infantry
pillbox has associated anti-tank cubes, twelve in all, running for
approximately 40m in a line parallel to the viaduct. The cubes are grouped in
threes, arranged in chevrons, each group blocking one arch of the viaduct.

Approximately 50m north east of the northernmost anti-tank cube (within the
fourth area of protection) is an anti-aircraft pillbox. This concrete pillbox
is of hexagonal design, approximately 7m in diameter, with an entrance on the
west side. It has a central anti-aircraft machine-gun well complete with
mounting pedestal and steel fitting. It measures a maximum of 8.5m wide
including its entrance.

Slightly later in date than the pillboxes and anti-tank cubes are two spigot
mortar emplacements which lie (in the fifth and sixth areas of protection) to
the south of the River Colne. These are located on either side of the viaduct,
partly under its arches. Both spigot mortar pedestals are 1.10m in height by
1m in diameter. Spigot mortars were supplied to the Home Guard in 1942. The
seventh area, also south of the River Colne, lies approximately 150m south
east of the viaduct and contains a hexagonal pillbox. This is 6m in diameter
with a low entrance in its south west face and small loopholes typical of the
infantry type.

Documentary sources describe Wakes Colne as a `Defended Place Class C', ie.
where the object of holding the defended place was to deny use of the roads
to the enemy. The 8th Battalion of the Essex Home Guard manned the defences. A
later source lists Chappel as a `Class B Defended Place' in the North Essex
Sub District, defined as a major centre of road communications and provided
with a garrison sufficient to hold its defences (specified as less than 1,000
men but more than two battle platoons of 80 men each).

All modern fencelines, telegraph poles and pavements are excluded from the
scheduling although the ground beneath these features, or into which these
features are set, is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

World War II Stop Line Defence was part of the first plan for the defence
of Britain in the event of German forces invading the country from
occupied France. The plan was devised in May 1940 by the Home Defence
Executive, set up under General Sir Edmund Ironside, Commander-in-Chief of
the Home Forces, specifically to deal with all matters of home defence.
The plan was seen as the only effective means of defending the country
against a cross-channel invasion after the Dunkirk evacuation, when the
British Army was ill-equipped to prevent it. A series of successive lines
of defence were constructed, starting on the coastline (concentrating on
the eastern and southern coasts) with subsequent lines inland, culminating
in multiple rings around London. These `Stop Lines' were intended to be
capable of halting, or at least delaying, a German advance until the few
heavy weapons at the disposal of the British troops could be deployed. The
lines were constructed to take advantage of natural barriers such as
rivers, woods and marshes. Where this was not possible, deep ditches were
dug, up to 7m across, to continue the anti-tank defence. At road and rail
crossings, concrete and steel barriers replaced the ditch. Where the line
passed through a built-up area, houses could be incorporated as a
ready-made obstacle. Along the length of the lines, pillboxes and gun
positions were constructed, spaced out at regular intervals. The pillboxes
were of different kinds: infantry, artillery and anti-aircraft, together
providing an integrated defence against both ground and air attack.
Although little of the hundreds of miles of anti-tank ditches have
survived, there are stretches where well-preserved concrete defences still
stand, well preserved. These can be seen along the Eastern Command Line,
the GHQ Line and the outer defensive rings around London. Of particular
importance are the stretches of `Stop Line' where all the component parts
of its defensive capabilities survive: anti-tank obstacles, artillery,
infantry and anti-aircraft pillboxes and gun positions (including spigot
mortar emplacements added at a later date). In the event, the
effectiveness of the `Stop Lines' was never tested, and they were soon
replaced by an alternative strategy of defended focal points; they do,
however, survive as testimony to the largest engineering task ever
undertaken by the Home Forces.

The defence line at Chappel Viaduct represents the survival in a single
grouping of the whole spectrum of defensive structures deployed along the
`stop lines' of World War II.

Examples of all four major pillbox types deployed along the `stop lines' are
represented and there is also excellent survival of the complementary defence
mechanisms of anti-tank cubes and anti-tank cylinders, as well as two spigot
mortar gun emplacements. Of the individual elements of the defence line,
several represent exceptional survivals: the FW3/28 artillery pillbox is the
last of its type to survive on the Eastern Command Line.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Dobinson, C S, Twentieth Century Fortifications in England: Anti-invasion defences of WWII, (1996), 71-2
Colour prints, Nash, F, MPP Film 28, (1997)
Colour prints, Tyler, S, MPP Film 28, (1997)
Colour prints, Tyler, S, MPP Film 28, (1997)
Colour prints, Tyler, S, MPP Film 28, (1997)
Defence of Britain Project, Osborne, M, Defence of Britain project: Site record, (1996)
Defence of Britain Project, Osborne, M, Defence of Britain project: Site record, (1996)
Details from field visit 04/05/1996, Osborne, M, Defence of Britain Project: Site Record, (1996)
Details from field visit 04/05/1996, Osborne, M, Defence of Britain Project: Site Record, (1996)
In ECHR, Nash, F, Eastern Command Line Photos, (1997)
Nash, F, Colour photos in Essex SMR, (1997)
Nash, F, Colour photos in Essex SMR, (1997)
Nash, F, Colour photos in Essex SMR, (1997)
Nash, F, Colour prints in Essex SMR, (1997)
Nash, F, World War II Defences in Essex, 1998, Interim report: June 1998
Nash, F, World War Two Defences in Essex, 1998, Interim Report: June 1998
Nash, F, World War Two Defences in Essex, 1998, Interim Report: June 1998
Nash, F, World War Two Defences in Essex, 1998, Interim Report: June 1998
RAF, (1946)

Source: Historic England

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