The Gort Line

Discussion in '1940' started by Drew5233, Dec 13, 2009.

  1. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Anyone got any information on the 'Gort' Line?

    Partically interested in maps, locations and units that were using them.

  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Have you seen map in Sebag's Dunkirk book?
  3. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Na, got a email from Amazon two days ago saying that the HB version I ordered about 6 weeks ago is no longer available...I need to order a copy from Ebay.
  4. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

  5. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Lots of interesting stuff still to discover there I think Drew but it would ideally mean being able to differentiate BEF construction from local stuff. They disguised lots of it too...

    IWM pillbox
  6. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Hope this helps.
  7. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive


    Ref disguises I was reading an account tonight from the 2nd Bn Norfolk Regt. on the line(Which is what prompted this thread) and they were hollowing trees out to use as fire positions as the ground level offered no field of fire.

    There was a mention of 400 pillboxes and blockhouses over a 40 mile stretch.
  8. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Cheers Owen...I bet that would make a nice walk/cycle route.
  9. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    i've also a photo of 2 Wilts making a pillbox in one of my books.
    It's also in The Wardrobes online archive.

    2nd Bn, Wiltshire Regiment - A black and white photograph of a Battalion position. In December 1939, the Battalion took up positions along the River Lys, near Armentieres. In addition to normal training, the Battalion provided working parties to help the Royal Engineers build 'pill boxes' along the defence line known as the 'Gort Line'. Useful experience was gained in siting defences, construction work and wiring. Shown here are 2nd Battalion soldiers at work on a pill box in a disused chocolate factory

    The Wardrobe - The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum
  10. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    That looks like a 'right' pillbox !

    Ah I can see it now..I was thinking 'Fort' would have been a better description.
  11. Paul Reed

    Paul Reed Ubique

    Wonder if any of the Gort Line defences are still there?
  12. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Thats what I was thinking Pau. The book I'm reading only mentions it over a short paragraph aswell as mentioning 400 pillboxes and blockhouses over 40 miles -Thats 10 a mile by my maths (quite a lot I thought), it also mentions that hardly any of them were used during the fighting.

    I suspect the Lys Canal line would be the first option to travel along for ease of finding the exact location of the line.
  13. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Worth checking Div RE war diaries?
  14. idler

    idler GeneralList

    The 4th Div history recalls how they took over their section of the Franco-Belgian border from French forces to find that although a detailed defence plan had been drawn up, it had not been implemented. The willingness of the BEF to get stuck into preparing the field fortifications is attested in the article below. No doubt some will decry it as another example of our 'last war' training :rolleyes:

    I've snipped the following from a Google cached page as the current Wiki article on the 'Pillbox Affair' is much reduced and I don't know how long the cached version will exist:

    Pillbox affair
    Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - Cite This Source

    The Pillbox affair was a British military/political crisis in November and December 1939 concerning the building of pillbox defences in France prior to the German invasion. It led to the dismissal of the British War Minister, Leslie Hore-Belisha.

    In October 1939, during the Phoney War, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) under Lord Gort as commander-in-chief moved to their position in north eastern France, where they found inadequate defences. The concrete pill-boxes needed alteration to accept British guns, and there was no defence in depth. Hore-Belisha arranged to recruit experienced British civilian contractors to carry out the changes, and to build new pill-boxes. Gort welcomed this and assisted by studying new pill-box designs, while Hore-Belisha took a keen interest in progress. Hore-Belisha received undeserved suspicion from Field Marshal Ironside, General Pownall and others, who thought the pill-box building publicity was further evidence of Hore-Belisha’s self advertising tendencies.

    In November Hore-Belisha visited the British front, asking to see the men rather than the defences, and also had discussions with Lord Gort's chief engineer Pakenham-Walsh, although he saw little of the defences. Unfortunately, he decided that pill-boxes were not being built fast enough and too many designs were being considered. On his way home through Paris he understood General Gamelin to say that the French were building pill-boxes in three days, although it was explained that was after all materials were at a prepared site. In all, the building of a French pill-box required three weeks.
    After returning to London, Hore-Belisha wrote to Gort:
    "The impression that is deepest in my mind is of the great knowledge which you show of every detail. Your interest in the task and in the men is most inspiring. I do not suppose we have ever had a commander who kept in such close touch with men and things. You will emerge from this business having done a good job of work for the country and as a national figure.
    I am seeing the engineers tomorrow. I really think the pillboxes should spring up everywhere. The Dominions representatives and Anthony Eden commented on their absence. I thought you would like to know this. Gamelin told me in Paris that they could make them in three days apiece. He also said they were lining and flooring their trenches with cement and that you could have cement works in the area. He hoped you would send down some officers to study their methods.

    Although meant as a friendly letter, the implication that the French were doing better caused annoyance at Gort’s headquarters, because the British were building with far greater enthusiasm than their neighbours on the right and left. This is confirmed by the fact that Gamelin subsequently made a request for British troops to act as a labour force in the French sector. The Dominion Ministers, Crerar from Canada, Richard Casey from Australia and, from South Africa, Deneys Reitz, passed on their untrained superficial impressions to the Secretary of State for the Dominions, Anthony Eden, and these reached Hore-Belisha. They appeared to confirm of his own doubts.
    Hore-Belisha consulted Pakenham-Walsh and the Controller of Engineering Services at the War Office, Lieutenant-General D. S. Collins, but was not happy with their explanations. On 24 November he informed the War Cabinet of his disquiet, only after the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Ironside, had left the room. Unaware that the new French defences on the left of the British sector had in fact been built by the BEF, he made the blunder of comparing them favourably with what he had seen on the British front. Returning to the War Office from No. 10, he summoned a meeting of the Army Council and asked Pakenham-Walsh to be present. After stating that the Prime Minister had expressed grave concern, he instructed Pakenham-Walsh, a member of Gort’s own staff, to return to France and inform the commander-in-chief that the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, on hearing the report of the Dominion Ministers, of Eden and of himself wished him to know that the War Cabinet were deeply perturbed by the reported weakness of the British sector. He saw Pakenham-Walsh again the following day and repeated the message.
    Gort was furious because he believed the accusations to be unjustified, but still more so because of the tone of the message and the method of its delivery by a member of his own staff. Ironside set out for France to determine the facts of the case and, after talking to GHQ, and the Corps and divisional commanders, he returned convinced that Hore-Belisha’s accusations were wrong. Universal indignation was aroused in the BEF, and all were united in finding an outlet for their anger and boredom by resisting the accusations of the Secretary of State.
    Gort’s feelings were strengthened by personal dislike and his conviction that Hore-Belisha was unsuited to his office. Pownall found occasion to explain the facts of the case as he and others had witnessed them to the King’s private secretary, Sir Alexander Hardinge, to Sir P J Grigg, to Sir Horace Wilson, and to Lord Hankey. Pownall left them in no doubt of the damage this affair, and in particular the implied slur on Gort’s competence, had caused throughout the entire BEF.
    After the truth of the situation had been reported to the King, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet that the BEF were constructing pill-boxes as well and as fast as possible, Hore-Belisha decided to let the matter drop. He wrote to Gort on 3 December, blamed Pakenham-Walsh for misquoting him in the offending message and concluded:
    "We shall have some hard times to go through and we can afford to put the pill-boxes in perspective. The incident is closed.

    Gort learned from the War Office that Hore-Belisha had subsequently amended the minutes of the Army Council to record a statement by himself to the effect that he wished to cast no slur on the commander-in-chief, although none of those present remembered this. Finally, Sir P J Grigg confirmed that there was nothing in the Cabinet Conclusions, nor in the Confidential Annex to them, to justify the impression Hore-Belisha had given that his message was sent on instructions from the Prime Minister or the War Cabinet.
    The King had received a report from Ironside, and was angered by what he heard and distressed by the offence evidently given to his army in the field. The King visited Gort’s headquarters on 4 December and remained in France a week. The King was shown the defences as well as the men, and he returned to Buckingham Palace with full personal confirmation of the angry discontent seething in the BEF. He spoke to Chamberlain who decided he, too, must visit the British front.
    On 12 December Hardinge wrote to Gort saying that he had asked both Kingsley Wood and Anthony Eden about the event. Kingsley Wood, he wrote:
    "was emphatic that the War Cabinet, with the apparent exception of H B, has entire confidence in you, and that the form in which the message reached you was a complete misrepresentation of the attitude of the War Cabinet. His language about his colleague was quite violent, and he was much distressed to think that you should feel you were not receiving support from home. I saw Anthony Eden in the evening, and he was equally distressed, not only for himself but for the Dominion Ministers. They had repeated time after time that, in drawing attention to the obvious contrast between our line and the Maginot Line, they implied no sort of criticism of you and your Staff, for whom they expressed nothing but admiration. They were only trying to be helpful in suggesting that we at home might be giving you greater assistance in the making of your concrete defences . . . The Maginot Line had made a deep impression upon the Dominion Ministers.

    On 15 December the Prime Minister arrived at Gort’s headquarters. Gort took this opportunity of giving the Prime Minister a list of the principal deficiencies in equipment and he followed this up with a memorandum to the War Office about the alarming shortage of tanks. It was clear to Chamberlain that even the confidence formerly seen as existing between the officers of the BEF and their Secretary of State had dissolved. On returning home he wrote pointedly to Gort:
    "I was particularly impressed by the great progress that has been made, in so short a time, and despite many difficulties, with the construction of defences.

    In reply, Chamberlain received a letter from Gort, which paid full tribute to Hore-Belisha’s qualities and "to the many and varied reforms he has brought about in the Army". Nevertheless, Chamberlain decided to speak frankly to Hore-Belisha, but found him neither contrite nor indeed aware that he had caused so much offence at home and abroad. Chamberlain was sorry, because he liked Hore-Belisha, valued his drive and shared Gort’s genuine admiration for what he had achieved for the army, but decided that Hore-Belisha must leave the War Office. During the next ministerial reshuffle Hore-Belisha was considered for the increasingly important post of Minister of Information. The Foreign Secretary, though by no means anti-semitic, objected that to put a Jew in such a Ministry would be an unwarranted bonus to Dr Goebbels. This was agreed to be indisputable, and Hore-Belisha was allotted the Board of Trade instead. Hore-Belisha refused the post and passed out of public life.
  15. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Just had a quick skim along the canal on google earth, seen about tenish possible pillboxes between Menin and Armentieres. Two large ones either side of Comines. The one to the east looks massive - a large square concrete structure. It does look rather modern though but military nonetheless. The one to the west looks older in a field and appears to have several tunnel like entry points.

    A lot of the canal line appears to have been extensively developed.
  16. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Worth checking Div RE war diaries?

    I'm on the case for 2 Div. and I'm certain that I've seen pictures of surviving British-built fortifications. I'm trying to remember where :unsure:
  17. idler

    idler GeneralList

    It's there: just had a quick shufti in the Halluin corner (4 Div area) and there seem to be plenty of remains a field or so back from the border. I've plotted a few near certainties and possibles on the attached kmz.

    Attached Files:

  18. Paul Reed

    Paul Reed Ubique

    The only problem with this area is that it also contains concrete structures from WW1 (German) and French ones from the 30s.
  19. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    2 Wilts WD mentions pillbox construction a few times in early 1940, in area of Linselles & one at Roncq.
  20. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I can't make out if this is part of the Gort Line. The major city (bottom centre) is Lille. The maps are in the January section of the diary. Unfortunately I can't upload images via the forum so you can see close ups. There is no key either to the red dots and red circles. Any thoughts?


    I took some close ups of sections of the map.

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