Today we visited Saint Nazaire. A working coastal town, maybe a city, it is certainly big enough. I like it. Everything is big. Huge industrial plant lines the docks, massive cranes are working everywhere, diggers, building sites, regeneration on an enormous scale.
During the Second World War, the Germans built a huge dry dock which held, restocked and repaired their submarines. With fifteen submarine pens it was a massive engineering project which took 140,000 cubic metres of concrete. The British were very keen to destroy these pens but the German submarines were protected by a 3.5 meter thick concrete roof which protected them from British bombs. Reinforcement of the roof would continue throughout the war, always counteracting the technical progress that the Allies make regarding bombardment.
Raid on St Nazaire
Unable to penetrate the concrete roof of the submarine pens the Allies turn to Saint Nazaire’s town centre. On the night of February 15th/16th 1942, Saint-Nazaire’s town centre is bombarded for the first time. During the year following the raid on St Nazaire life for its inhabitants quickly becomes unbearable and by 1st March all that is left of the town is a immense field of rubble, completely deserted, in the middle of which stands the massive silhouette of the submarine pens, intact.
We head for the docks. The submarine pens are still there. Immense. We are blown away by the size and the sheer mass of reinforced concrete. We freely wander through these submarine pens.
Escal’ Atlantic – Shipbuilding exhibition
We then stumble across Escal’Atlantic. There is a ticket office and nothing else. What is it? No idea. We buy tickets and climb a gangplank. We are suddenly in the Normandie. We are in a true reconstruction of the Normandie Cruise Liner, built in 1935. For the next two hours we traveled through time and discovered what life was like in 1935 on board Normandie.
We will return to Saint Nazaire.