Posted: 30 July 2010 14:24

Trawling through the National Archives last year I came across some plans for building dummy pillboxes, and, knowing that such devices were used in small numbers in East Sussex, I decided to build a 3D model of one.

Dummy Pillboxes

A dummy pillbox was simply a false structure placed in the landscape to deceive the enemy into thinking that the defences were stronger than they actually were.

My model is seen here, complete with guy ropes that probably wouldn't fool you up close, but would be more convincing at a distance and on aerial photographs.

The reason for the ropes is that these dummies were only a light wooden structure, employing two different methods of construction.

The plans show how Type 22 and Type 24 pillboxes can be replicated at full scale for deception purposes; I have stuck to using just the Type 22 pillbox in the model for simplicity.

Dummy Pillboxes


This image shows the general internal arrangement; a wooden framework is built for each wall, with the uprights extending beneath in order to be dug into the ground.

The different construction methods depended on the availability of materials; the 'skin' of the dummy could be either thin plasterboard or canvas sheeting with a cement wash to provide a convincing concrete look.

The image below shows the plasterboard method which employed a set of bracing struts to support the weight of the 'roof'.

The plans don't seem to indicate the need for guy ropes using this method.

Dummy Pillboxes

Dummy Pillboxes

The canvas method employed a set of cross wires supported by a board atop a central post to stop the roof from sagging. It appears that the canvas could just be suspended on wire netting stretched between the uprights, as an alternative to the full wooden framework.

Once the dummy had been erected the finishing touches could be applied in the form of a row of sandbags around the base to help anchor the structure in place.

Turf could be placed on the roof, but the dummy's camouflage was deliberately supposed to be shoddy in order to make it look as though it had just been badly concealed, hence the Germans being deceived instead of seeing something obviously intended to attract their attention by standing out.

Some careless tracks and contractor's "mess" in the area around the dummy completed the deception.

But were the Germans taken in by any of the six known dummy pillboxes erected in East Sussex? As yet, I don't know; the German Befestigungskarten that I have were compiled using Luftwaffe aerial photographs taken up to 1 September 1940. All six dummies were constructed in October 1940 and so until I can locate some slightly later German intelligence material, I won't know whether the dummies actually fulfilled their purpose.

So why were only six dummies built in East Sussex? There may well have been more - only six are documented, but there is another reason. Orders issued in 1940 stated that defence works were to be constructed even if the manpower to occupy them was not available. This lead to many pillboxes being left unmanned and so could be used as dummies to draw enemy attention away from the occupied positions. A 1941 defence scheme states:

Pillboxes...which are NOT correctly sited will be retained as dummies, entrances being bricked up or wired up so as to deny enemy access.

The increasing shift of emphasis from hardened defence works to earthworks meant that fewer pillboxes were going to be occupied anyway. The dummies themselves were probably subject to damage or destruction in high winds and stormy weather.

An interesting use of two of the dummies in East Sussex was their employment as booby traps; the documents state that four mines had been placed in the entrance of each, but whether German troops would have obligingly ventured into to an obviously false structure is another matter.

The use of this dummy technique had already been used to create aircraft to stand on dummy airfields, and would also be employed to create dummy vehicles, to good effect. The dummy pillbox appears to have been only rarely deployed, probably because there were too many unmanned real pillboxes to need artificial ones. Nevertheless, the dummy pillbox is still an interesting aspect of the anti-invasion defences.

Postscript

Five years after I posted this piece, I actually built one of these dummies from the plans!

- Pete

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Befestigungskarte

Fortifications map compiled by German Intelligence from aerial photographs during 1940-41 in preparation for Operation Sealion. Defence works were plotted using a system of red symbols.


Defence scheme

A military plan of defence for a specified area. Defence Schemes were issued at numerous levels. Defence Schemes were later known as Plans to Defeat Invasion on the orders of General Montgomery.


Pillbox

Generic term for a hardened field defensive structure usually constructed from concrete and/or masonry. Pillboxes were built in numerous types and variants depending on location and role.


Type 22 pillbox

A small hexagonal pillbox for six men not commonly seen in East Sussex, though a few still survive along the Royal Military Canal stop line.


Type 24 pillbox

A six-sided (but not a regular hexagon) pillbox. The Type 24 is the most frequently seen pillbox in East Sussex, mostly along stop lines. It can be found in thin wall (30cm) or thick wall (1m) variants.



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Hibbs, Peter Pillboxes for Dummies (2017) Available at: http://pillbox.org.uk/blog/216662/ Accessed: 30 May 2017

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