MIMOYECQUES FORTRESS, CALAIS, FRANCE
The fortress of Mimoyecques is an underground fortress, built by the Nazis to house V3 canons aimed at London, which if completed would have been able to fire 600 rounds a minute. Fortunately it never was, and was heavily bombed by the Allies before it could unleash what would have been utter devastation on the capital.
The bunker was built between 1943-1944 by German engineers and a workforce of prisoners. A network of tunnels dug out of the hills, there are five diagonal shafts which all point towards London and which would have been used to fire the V3 rockets. The site was bombed heavily by the Allies, who had thought it was a base for V2 rockets, and they decimated it with Tallboy bombs in July 1944, trapping much of the prisoner workforce inside the tunnels. The Canadians took it over in September 1944 and most of the site was subsequently destroyed.
What is left of the bunker is easy to find, a small turn off the main road but one which is clearly signposted, and there is plenty of free parking available. There doesn't initially seem to be much there, just a tunnel entrance in a hillside and a small reception building where you can buy tickets.
The walk towards the tunnel is remarkable; the cold air creeps up on you the closer you get, a really palpable sensation of bitter chill emanating out on what was the hottest day of the year when we visited. It felt like a sense of raw menace reaching out.
As we went deeper and deeper as it got darker and darker, with pale electric lights guiding the way. The rock walls are dark and damp, there are huge landslides with tumbles of rock, concrete and assorted debris still in the rubble.
You follow the arrows through the tunnels, stopping to read the detailed interpretation boards at various locations, all of which have English translations. The water slowly drips down the walls, many of which have what looked like bullet holes and explosion damage on the walls. It is dismal and foreboding, and very cold. Some areas have been fenced off, and we couldn’t help peering through the railings into the darkness and wondering what was down there.
The bunker is actually closed for many months of the year, as a rare species of bat lives there and needs protection during their breeding season. In one area we saw three bats hanging from the ceiling, and kept imagining that we could hear the rustle of more in the gloom beyond us.
The creepy factor alone makes the bunker enjoyable, even for children. The site hasn’t been tampered with much beyond making it safe; it felt raw and immediate, and the power of the Nazi regime echoed in the walls of that massive underground bunker.
Walking back out into the golden sunshine was a warm and welcome relief. We spent some time in the reception area, where there is a small display about the local wildlife, eating ice cream and reading more about the bats and other species that have made the bunker and its environs their home. Unfortunately it isn't possible to explore the land above the tunnel entrance.
VISITING MIMOYECQUES FORTRESS 2022
Open 20th April - 16th October: 10am - 6pm
Staff speak English and all interpretation boards and audio guides are available in English.
There is free parking on site except for buses.
The site is wheelchair and pushchair accessible.