The story of the Eperlecques blockhouse in World War II is an extraordinary one. Planned in 1942, and begun in 1943, Eperlecques was designed as a liquid oxygen factory and an assembly and launch facility for Hitler’s V2 rockets aimed at London.
Visiting the site
The Eperlecques Blockhouse in north France north west of Saint Omer looks pretty ordinary: there’s a car park and in front of you a small wooden building where you get your tickets with a wooded hill rising behind it. There’s the sound of birdsong and the scent of the trees.
The first time I visited it was off season at the beginning of March, getting cold and with dusk closing in and I was completely alone. It was an eerie experience, walking along the paths and stopping at different points where a loudspeaker system tells you the story in your own language.
There are good signs everywhere explaining the different aspects and the various weapons. But I advise taking a guided tour which I did the second time and which explained so much about the bunker’s history.
The Story of Eperlecques
Built with slave labour under appalling conditions, the Eperlecques blockhouse went up fast and in relative secrecy but the deforestation of the forest and its proximity to La Coupole set alarm bells ringing in London. Reconnaissance flights followed and in August 1943 the RAF launched a huge bombing raid, destroying part of it.
In November 1943 the Germans started work again on the south part of the bunker which was to be used just to produce the liquid oxygen needed as fuel. The engineer devised a system of pouring concrete into shells then lifting the shells one by one, with the bunker protected from bombing.
It was effective against the Allied bombing raids – 25 of them between 1943 and August 1944. Finally it took a Tallboy bomb smashing through the roof to create enormous damage and the Germans finally abandoned the site. The Canadian 3rd Infantry division captured Eperlecques in September 1944.
Start the Visit
You start by stepping into a railway carriage, one of the kind used to transport slave labour from concentration camps to work here. The guide shuts the door and it’s horribly claustrophobic even with just a few people.
Through the forest
The path you take is littered with old weapons that look recently abandoned though in reality they are cannons, bombs, vehicles and old weapons collected by the owners.
I hadn’t expected the shock when I climbed the path and emerged at the top. The bunker looks like something straight out of a James Bond film. It’s an enormous, ugly and menacing concrete structure though it’s only a third of its intended size.
V2 rockets were to be assembled here, then fueled with liquid oxygen tanks.
You walk around it then enter the damp vast echoing building through a 2-metre thick door; at 17.5 metres high it was big enough for a railway carriage. It’s damp and deeply depressing even on a warm day. What it must have felt like for the labourers is unimaginable.
Inside a film and a description of how the V2 rockets were moved shows you the mechanics.
Finally you come to a model of the Tallboy which destroyed the bunker. It hangs suspended over water endlessly reflect a hellish vision.
Outside the Bunker
Walk out of the blockhouse, with a huge sense of relief, and you’re faced with a replica of a V1 launch pad with a V1 at the end.
Between June 1944 and March 1945, 22,384 V1 flying bombs were launched mainly towards England, though there was also a campaign against Liege, Antwerp and Paris.
Le Blockhaus d’Eperlecques
Rue des Sarts
Tel: +33 (0)3 21 88 44 22
Open March Wed-Sun 2.15-5pm; Apr, May, Jun-Sept 10am-6pm; July, Aug 10a,-7pm; Oct 10am-5pm
Closed Tuesday morning; Nov-Feb
AdmissionAdult: €10; child 8-14 €6.50; family (2 adults + up to 5 children) €30
How to get there
It’s near Watten and one hour by car from Calais, and 75 minutes by car from Lille.
Part of World War II History
For an expert’s view of the site, its weapons and history, check out the MechTraveller Eperlecques Review.
For an expert’s view of La Coupole and its technical aspects, check out MechTraveller La Coupole Review.