1. Jun, 2022

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WEDNESDAY 1-06-22

Well we had a quiet and cheap night on the aire in Pornic. Once scrubbed up and dumped we made our way to the local supermarket for a baguette and to top the tank up with diesel. We're not letting the tank get too low, preferring small top ups, just in case we run short and end up at the mercy of a highly priced forecourt.

Today we headed a short distance to Saint Nazaire where I wanted to see the Fortified U-boat pens built by the Germans in WWII. We found it difficult to find somewhere to park, and eventually ended up on the docks, right next to the U-boat base, and all for free.

So a bit about Saint Nazaire:

At the beginning of the 19th century, the port only consisted of one simple harbour. As the town was so far inland, its main economy was not based on commercial fishing but on its strategic location as the lowest possible navigation point for large ships and on supplying pilots for navigation further up the Loire. In 1800, the parish of Saint-Nazaire had 3,216 inhabitants.

In 1802, a road was built to develop the port, which extended by 1835 to a breakwater with a navigational lighthouse at its end. The development included new basins for ships to unload to barges that carried goods further up the river. This development moved the town into the area of the city which is now called the district of "Little Morocco". This development made the town the base for the passenger steamships of the Nantes–Saint-Nazaire line, as well as making the town the alternative port for ships which could not access Nantes.

In 1856, the first wet dock was dug in "Halluard City", making it possible for ships to moor and turn. This led to the construction of the town's first railway connection. In 1857, the Chemin de Fer de Paris à Orléans (railroad company of Orléans) connected Saint-Nazaire to Nantes. In 1862, the first Transatlantic telegraph lines were installed from France to South America, coming ashore at Saint-Nazaire. 1862 also saw the construction of major shipbuilding facilities, including those of Chantier Scott, which launched the first French metal-hulled ships. In 1868, Saint-Nazaire became a sub-prefecture of the town of Savenay. A second dock basin was created at Penhoët in 1881, to allow the handling of larger ships, but a lock gate built to access it cut the town in two, thus creating Old Saint-Nazaire and an artificial island called "Little Morocco".

The town is at the south of the second-largest swamp in France, called "la Brière". Given its location, Saint-Nazaire has a long tradition of fishing and shipbuilding. The Chantiers de l’Atlantique, one of the largest shipyards in the world, constructed notable ocean liners such as SS Normandie, SS France, RMS Queen Mary 2 and the cruise ship MS Symphony of the Seas, the largest passenger ship in the world as of 2018.

During World War I, the city became an important disembarkation port of Allied troops, particularly in the latter stages for the United States Army. When they entered the war in 1917, they developed the town and port infrastructure, by adding additional drinking water storage ponds for the town's water treatment plants, and a refrigeration terminal to the docks for shipment and storage of meat and dairy products to supply their troops.

THE SAINT-NAZAIRE SUBMARINE BASE

Prior to the invasion of France, the site was the docks and buildings of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (typically known overseas as the French Line), a shipping company famed for its luxury ocean liners.

After the Battle of France, the Germans instigated Organisation Todt (Oberbauleitung Süd), a civil and military engineering organisation to construct a series of large-scale engineering projects in Germany and occupied territories to assist the war effort.

The harbour at Saint-Nazaire was identified for the construction of a large submarine base to service and re-arm U-Boats (Unterseeboots), in their campaign to sink allied shipping and naval vessels during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Construction began in February 1941 involving 4600 workers who built 14 docks using 480,000 cubic meters of concrete. The base was intended to be invulnerable to allied bombing and was shielded with an 8-metre-thick roof comprising of granite and reinforced concrete capable of resisting even the ‘Tall Boy’ and ‘Grand Slam’ bombs.

The base was also equipped with 62 workshops, 97 magazines, 150 offices, 92 dormitories for submarine crews, 20 pumps, 4 kitchens, 2 bakeries, two electrical plants, one restaurant and a hospital.

On 30 June 1941, Vizeadmiral Karl Dönitz formally opened the U-boat pen, with U-203 (a Type VIIC submarine) being the first boat to occupy one of the pens.

In 1942, an adjacent dry dock near the pens was targeted in Operation Chariot, an amphibious attack in which British commandos rammed an explosive-filled destroyer into the dock to force large German vessels to resort to running the gauntlet through the Home Fleet of the Royal Navy via the English Channel or the North Sea.

The Saint-Nazaire Submarine Base withstood 50 separate bombing raids, resulting in allied bombing targeting the surrounding town and facilities in an attempt to disrupt operations, only finally surrendering on the 10th May 1945 near the very end of WW2.

We wandered straight over to try and get some tickets only to find we'd just been pipped to the post by the shut-up-shop-for-a-lie-down period. So back 'home' we went, for our own lunch and a bit of relaxation.

At 14:00 we were back over there only to find they were selling tickets for guided tours, none of which were happening today. We could look around the complex for free, and the young lady explained how we reached the roof of the complex. Basically we crossed the road, walked down the side of the large Carrefour supermarket, then doubled back walking up a steep steel ramp which crossed the road and deposited us on the roof of the base. That was a bit annoying. If we'd known that we could have just cracked on with it two hours earlier.

Having been on the roof we popped for a look around inside. Most of the pens are now covered over with strong decking and used as offices etc. It's a shame the French couldn't have made life-size models of a few U-boats and placed them in the pens to give a better understanding of how they functioned.

Never mind, the box was ticked. We then enquired at the Tourist Information Office in the same building as to whether or not we could park in the port overnight. Sadly we couldn't as the town provided camping-car aires. She told us where they were, though we already knew. The problem was that everywhere was full when we arrived late this morning.

We thought we'd go for a walk and then see about moving the vehicle a bit later on, but as we passed the aire there was a spare space and  so we nipped back collected the vehicle, paid the barrier entrance fee and parked up (N47.279017 W2.203562). We've paid just over six Euros for twenty-four hours parking and so we're now going to have a walk around town and the beach area tomorrow morning before it gets too hot. We'll then move on in the afternoon.

Today has been another hot day. We have been experiencing temperatures in the low twenties for the past few days, but today it's up at twenty-six, which is a bit too hot to be dragging ourselves around in. Still, it's better than rain, which I think is forecast in a couple of days.