Western Command Stop Line
In 1940 following the retreat from Dunkirk, there was a real threat of invasion by German forces and plans were put in place for fighting within Britain itself. Stop lines were devised, along which defences would be set up to stop the advance of the enemy. These defences generally ran along pre-existing barriers to tanks such as rivers, canals, railway embankments and cuttings, thick woods and other natural obstacles. Where possible, land was allowed to flood, making the ground too soft to support even tracked vehicles.
Four of these stop lines ran through Shropshire :-
- River Severn
- River Teme
- Shrewsbury & Newport Canal
- Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal.
In May 1940, defences were quickly constructed along the stop lines by the Royal Engineers or civilian contractors. These consisted of pillboxes, tank traps, bridge obstructions, etc. The main worry was stopping German tanks, that had so successfully won the battles in Europe. Roads offered the enemy fast routes to their objectives and consequently they were blocked at strategic points. Removable roadblock devices were favoured that could be manhandled into position as required. Railway bridges were also defended as these could be used by tanks to cross rivers. Several types of anti-tank barrier were thus constructed :-
Massive reinforced concrete blocks were made and placed by the side of roads ready to be moved to block it. These had iron rings cast into the top so the blocks could be lifted into position by a crane. The blocks generally came in two sizes, either 5ft or 3½ft high. In a few places, anti-tank walls were constructed by placing the blocks side by side.
Large cylinders were made from sections of concrete sewer pipe 3-4ft in diameter filled with concrete. These were generally 4-5ft high and frequently had a domed top. The advantage of this design was that they could be rolled into position by manpower alone.
These were pyramid shaped concrete blocks, generally about 2ft high and 3ft square at the base. They were specifically designed to counter tanks. The idea was that, in attempting to pass over them, the tanks would climb up and expose vulnerable parts of the vehicle to anti-tank guns or slip down and jam the tracks between the points.
These were concrete tetrahedral shapes based on the ancient method of defeating cavalry. The design meant that whichever way they fell one point would always be facing upwards. They were, however, complicated to make and thus rare.
A pair of massive concrete buttresses was permanently installed on either side of a road and these had slots into which horizontal railway lines or RSJs (rolled steel joists) could be fitted. The barrier could thus be put up or removed within a matter of minutes.
This consisted of railway lines or RSJs bent or welded at around a 60° angle. These fitted into prepared sockets, about 6 inches square, that were made in the road and closed by covers when not in use to allow traffic to pass normally.
This was a variation on the caltrop but made of welded steel rails or RSJs.
Shallow concrete lined pits were made in the road, big enough to take an anti-tank mine. When not in use, the sockets were filled with a wooden plug allowing traffic to pass normally.
Particularly important bridges, etc were given strong all round defence so they could carry on resisting even if outflanked.
Bridges and other key points were prepared for demolition at short notice by digging out chambers filled with explosives. A Depth Charge Crater was a site in a road prepared with buried explosives that could be detonated to instantly form a deep crater as an anti-tank obstacle. The Canadian Pipe Mine (also known as the McNaughton Tube) was a horizontally laid pipe packed with explosives that could instantly ruin a road. Prepared demolitions had the advantage of being undetectable from the air.
Crossing points such as bridges, tunnels and other weak spots were called nodes or points of resistance. These were fortified with removable road blocks, barbed wire entanglements and land mines. These passive defences were overlooked by trench works, gun and mortar emplacement and pillboxes. In places, entire villages were fortified using barriers of scaffolding, sandbagged positions and loopholes in existing buildings. Nodes were designated A, B or C depending upon how long they were expected to hold out. Home Guard troops were largely responsible for the defence of nodal points and other centres of resistance such as towns and defended villages. Category A nodal points and anti-tank islands usually had a garrison of regular troops.
Acton Reynald (SJ52922272)
Site of rows of concrete cylinders lining either side of Acton Reynald School drive, at the junction with the A49 Shrewsbury to Whitchurch road. These would have been rolled onto the main road if needed.
Site of 3 concrete bases for hairpins, located on the west side of Bettoncoppice Bridge over the Shropshire Union canal. The bridge is today only crossed by an agricultural track.
Site of 3 concrete bases for hairpins, on the west side of bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal to the east of The Lees farm.
Apley Forge (SO70749834)
Type 22 concrete and brick pillbox covering a small bridge over the River Severn from the east bank.
Ashford Carbonel (SO520711)
A number of defences were installed on the bridge over the River Teme, which was defended by the 7th Battalion of the Home Guard. There was a solidly built blockhouse covering the bridge but no trace of this remains. The bridge itself was blocked with anti-tank obstacles. There was a pillbox covering the bridge but no trace of it remains. It was probably on the river bank covering the approaches.
Pillbox that covered the approach to the old Atcham Bridge (now a footbridge). It was sited on the west bank but has now been demolished.
Pillbox on the north bank of the River Severn west of Atcham Bridge. It has now been demolished.
Pillbox on the north bank of the River Severn north of Atcham Bridge. It has now been demolished.
Bettonwood Bridge (SJ66993738)
Site of 3 concrete bases for hairpins. They are located at Bettonwood Bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal on the west side of bridge which is now only crossed by a track.
Site of a road block at Pound Street, comprised of hairpins and concrete cylinders.
Site of a spigot mortar base by the side of the River Severn overlooking bridge over river. There were also hairpins and concrete cylinders and one of the latter was reported as lying in the river.
Site of large number of concrete cylinders that acted as a tank-trap on the bridge to Bowling Club Island.
Concrete sewer pipes and other devices were sited as anti-tank obstacles to the east of the River Severn by Bridgnorth Bridge.
Site of spigot mortar covering the bridge over the River Onny. Sited on the west side of the river near its confluence with the River Teme, on the edge of a patch of woodland. Believed to have been buried at end of 1944 by 'Garrison Engineers', although War Office correspondence refers to 'dismantling'.
Type 24 concrete pillbox located on the bank of the Shropshire Union Canal at Goldstone Wharf, facing a canal bridge.
Site of 14 concrete anti-tank cylinders located between the Shropshire Union Canal and the Wharf Public House car park in Goldstone.
Chirk Defended Locality (SJ292373)
Home Guard sections to be placed as follows :-
A) Old Post Office
B) Lower Chirk Bank – Northover (3 men)
C) Canal side – Northover (3 men)
D) Reinforced cottage – LMG
E) On bridge – 4 rifles * 36 grenades
F) Lower Chirk Bank – spigot mortar & 5 men
G) Canal side – Browning heavy machine gun & 3 belts
Aqueduct – 2 discharger cups for rifle grenades & 1 LMG
I) Penylan Wood – rifle grenades
I) Railway – spigot mortar
I) Wood Oaklands side – rifles & LMG
There were also hairpins on Chirk Bridge.
Church Stretton Defended Locality (SO453938)
Home Guard to be placed as follows :-
South - valley wired and well sited trenches constructed at Brockhurst Castle (SO448926). Gun positions chosen to deny enemy use of roads.
West - mobile troops occupy high points to prevent sniping and outflanking of outer defences.
East - defence line established with well sited trenches.
North - defence line reconnoitred and static defence line provided.
A 19th Century toll house, by the former railway line and overlooking Coalport Bridge, was modified by the insertion of a new inner skin of brick and concrete fill. The existing widows were modified to become loopholes and were camouflaged with black and white paint to look like windows.
Cressage (SJ 59390444)
Type 22 hexagonal brick pillbox sited south of Cressage Bridge over the River Severn. It is built on a concrete plinth with concrete lintels, corrugated iron and concrete roof. Single loopholes in all walls except the one containing the doorway, which is flanked by slits on each side. The sides are about 10ft long and there is a T-shaped blast wall in the interior, the cross of the T forming a baffle against the west facing entrance. The entrance faces away from the river and bridge, which it was designed to control. It still retains traces of wartime green camouflage paint.
Concrete and brick Type 22 pillbox sited north of Cressage Bridge over the River Severn.
Site of concrete sockets for girders and hairpins in the surface of Cressage Bridge over the River Severn.
Square concrete pillbox built into the shoulder of the river bank to cover Cressage Bridge from the north at Brick Kiln Rough.
Pillbox that was sited 350 yards north-north-west of Cressage Bridge. It has now been demolished.
Hexagonal pillbox with a loophole in each of the three sides which face the road. The entrance is in one of the sides facing away from the road. It controlled the bridge over Strine Brook to the south of Bridge Farm.
Site of a spigot mortar emplacement located on rising ground off Victoria Street to the south-west of the town centre covering the A485 Oswestry to Ellesmere Road. Sited alongside the Co-op warehouse on the corner of the alleyway.
Site of a spigot mortar emplacement located behind the wall in the garden of the old Police Station (now the site of the Town Hall). The emplacement covered the area to the south-east.
Ellesmere Defended Locality (SJ403348)
Defences were centred around the castle, church, vicarage and mere. RSJs and mine pits were constructed as roadblocks as follows :-
SJ39743469 Scotland Street
SJ39853482 Trimbley Street and Victoria Street
SJ39933492 Willow St
SJ39953474 Wharf Rd
SJ40033480 High Street
SJ40043491 Cross Street
SJ40103472 Birch Street.
SJ40123495 Talbot Road
SJ40223472 St John’s Hill
SJ40263488 Church Street
SJ40303478 Church Hill
Site of 2 concrete bases for hairpins, on the road at Halleman’s Bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal.
Site of a number of concrete anti-tank cylinders next to railway bridge.
Ironbridge Allan Williams Turret (SJ661037)
Turret on the railway embankment covering the crossing of the River Severn at Ironbridge power station. The dome of the turret is in a fair condition but the base is badly corroded.
Site of 9 concrete anti-tank cylinders by the verge at the road junction.
Longdon on Tern (SJ61801544)
Heaxagonal pillbox north-east of Mill House. It was made of concrete with the entrance on the south side away from the road. It was sited on a terrace overlooking the valley of the River Tern to the west and north. It has now been completely demolished with no trace.
Site of a spigot mortar and a house converted into a blockhouse on the east side of Dinham Bridge over the River Teme.
The site of steel cables used to close Ludford Bridge over the River Teme. There were also concrete cylinders in a side street to be used as anti-tank obstacles, flame throwers and machine gun emplacements. One of these was sited in an Allan Williams turret in a field beyond the gasworks at SO51607422. Ludford Bridge was later in the war raised by sleepers to accommodate RAF Queen Mary trailers (designed for the carriage and recovery of aircraft).
Site of flame thrower buried in position to cover Temeside, a major route through the town. In 1940 this was the A49 main road which has now been bypassed. Temeside is a short stretch of road running from Ludford Bridge along the side of the River Teme to where the B4361 swings up towards the town. This device was removed after the war
Market Drayton (SJ66473427)
Site of 3 bases for hairpins on the north side of the railway bridge on Longslow Road. Outline shows through tarmac.
Market Drayton (SJ68383456)
This is a rare example of a Type 24 pillbox constructed to a two-storey height, incorporating a concrete plinth. It has plain grey concrete walls and a concrete roof. Five of the walls have single loopholes and a wider wall, facing west, has loopholes placed either side of a central doorway. Inside there is a concrete T-shaped anti-ricochet wall and two timber battens attached to the outer wall. It was designed for a garrison of 8 men and monitored movements along both the Newcastle Road and Shropshire Union Canal.
Market Drayton (SJ67913522)
Site of 3 concrete bases for hairpins on road surface at Victoria Bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal, on the west side of the canal.
Montford Bridge (SJ43191534)
Concrete anti-tank cylinders were positioned at Montford Bridge, although there is no trace now. The bridge was defended by 2nd Battalion of the Home Guard and 2 spigot mortars were allocated for defence of the north end of bridge, one on either side.
Two sets of 3 concrete bases for hairpins on either side of the summit of a track leading to a bridge over the River Severn at Apley Forge. The metal lids of these obstacles are still in place.
Site of 15 anti-tank cylinders by a bridge over the River Rea near Catherton with the remains of four cubes nearby lying on the river bed and sawn off bases of angle iron joists embedded in the cubes. The cubes were presumably erected to block the shallow section of river.
Site of a road block device which functioned by tipping railway trucks filled with stone on to road from the railway bridge above. It was located at the site of the demolished railway bridge on the A488 road west of Pontesbury village.
Site of concrete and steel spigot mortar emplacement at number 18, The Mount, Shrewsbury. One of several covering the approaches to Shrewsbury anti-tank island. It was constructed in 1941 and destroyed around 1980.
Concrete, earth and steel spigot mortar emplacement in Shrewsbury Cemetery. Constructed during 1941 and is currently in a good condition. Created as a part of Shrewsbury anti-tank island. The base has two small breeze block spur walls protruding from either side. In front of base and blocks is an earth mound piled as high as the breeze block walls.
Row of 5 concrete anti-tank obstacle sockets across the surface of the road on the Shrewsbury town end of Welsh Bridge. Constructed in the period 1940-1941 and destroyed between 1948-1980.
Concrete and steel spigot mortar position in car park of The Shrewsbury Hotel, covering the Welsh Bridge across the River Severn (combined with two pounder anti-tank gun and light machine gun). It was constructed after 1941 and destroyed before 1997. Manned by 1st Battalion Home Guard.
Site of a concrete and steel spigot mortar position at Belle Vue railway bridge (A49). Constructed during 1941 and removed before 1997.
Spigot mortar position on Ellesmere Road (A528) at Greenfields, Shrewsbury. Steel spigot still in situ on concrete plinth covered in ivy. It was constructed during 1941 and was in a good condition in 1997.
One loophole, approximately one brick in size, in a wall on the corner of Brook Street and Hereford Road. It had chamfered bricks to assist in traversing a gun to cover the southern approaches along the A49 road by the railway bridge. It was constructed during the period 1940-1941 and was still there in 1997, although now blocked up. There was also at least one spigot mortar in the area and possible road blocks across the railway bridge.
Octagonal Type 22 pillbox at Harlescott on site of World War I aircraft storage site that was a REME depot in Second World War. Overlooked railway line and land to the west and south-west. Now destroyed but shape can be traced in surrounding concrete of loading bay.
Site of a concrete base with 2 holes for hedgehog on the east side of New Brighton Bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal.
Site of 3 concrete rectangular bases with two sockets each for hedgehogs, located on the east side of Hazeldine’s Bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal. One hole is still in good condition, measuring 6” x 5”.
The Mere (SJ405350)
The Mere at Ellesmere was obstructed in 1940 against seaplane landings.
Trefonen Defended Locality (SJ260266)
Home Guard to be placed as follows :-
A) Trenches and a road block at the crossroads
B) Strongpoint on The Cross
C) Steel hawser anchored at one end to the big tree in the grounds of the Efel Inn and looped over a stone post on the opposite side of the road.
D) Slit trench just over the cemetery wall behind the war memorial.
Tyrley Castle Bridge (SJ68573368)
Site of 2 concrete slabs on bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal with two holes for hairpins.
Base of a Type 22 pillbox by the River Tern to the west of Duncote Farm. By River Tern and railway bridge across river.
Type 22 pillbox by banks of River Tern, facing towards the railway line to the south and the nearby bridge over the river at Duncote Farm.
Upton Forge (SJ559113)
Brick and concrete Type 22 pillbox with a small entrance and step at the rear. Sited next to bridge over River Tern at Upton Forge, south-east of Upton Magna. There are 3 Turnbull mounting pins still remaining in the loopholes.
Site of a concrete block standing about 4ft high and presumably part of a now removed assembly of anti-tank devices. It is located in grounds of the police station at the crossroads between the A49 and Station Road in Whitchurch.