The GHQ Line

The GHQ (General Headquarters Line) was constructed in the wake of the of disaster of Dunkirk. As the Army had abandoned most of its equipment in France, it was decided that every effort was required in order to help repel the expected German invasion. Areas such as the coast line had already been heavily protected since the outbreak of war, but the GHQ Line formed the largest defensive construction seen in England during the war. Over 50 defensive lines were built across the country and largely they sought to augment existing geographical features, such as rivers, canals and railway lines. In many respects, the GHQ line was seen as the last line of defence in the event of an invasion, intended to protect both London and the industrial Midlands. While it is always difficult to offer a subjective view of the efficiency of a militarily untested set of fortifications based on only partial remaining sections, in the case of the GHQ Line, when compared to either the Maginot or Westwall, it appears it would at best have offered only a delay to any concerted assault.

In May1940, General Ironside was given charge of overseeing the construction of the defensive lines. Designs for the fixed defences fell to the Directorate of Fortifications and Works (FW3) which was set up especially to oversee the project. By June 1940, six basic designs had been approved for hardened defensive positions (pillboxes) to provide cover for small arms, and two additional designs were authorised for two- and six-pounder QF AT respectively. The Infantry works were designated as Types 22 through to 27 and the heavier type designated as a Type 28. From these basic designs a number of adaptations were made to best suit the required local application.

A similar exercise had been carried out in WW1 and although on a much smaller scale than that undertaken in 1940, where applicable, these pre-existing works were incorporated into the scheme. The FW3 designs were intended to be constructed quickly and by individuals with limited skill. During the course of the construction, wood for formwork became so limited that bricks were substituted; the bricks were left in place, giving the impression that the entire construct was built from this material. In total approximately 28,000 pillboxes were constructed, of which around 6,500 remain today.

In addition to the fixed defences, other measures were also taken; anything which could be of use in assisting the invader was either removed or designated to be destroyed in the event of an actual attack. This included the removal of road signs and bridges being prepared with demolition charges. Petrol pumps were removed from areas around the coast and in high-risk areas, large sections of the population were evacuated in order to prepare the potential field of battle and reduce possible casualties. In reality, based on what we now know of the German level of planning, the removal of the road signs would have caused little more than a minor irritation; moreover, they were quickly replaced due to causing more difficulties to the British population!

Anti-tank defences were deployed by means of a series of purpose-built ditches and traps along with a series of concrete blocks, designed to deny the German tanks the ability to break out and advance. Again, when compared to the measures employed on both the Maginot and Westwall, these were more of a token effort, as they would have been relatively easy to destroy in advance of the attacking tanks.

In addition to all of the above, a number of fake defences were also set up which ranged from uniformed dummies through to fake pill boxes complete with lengths of pipe to simulate the defenders' guns.


To read about the  Blacker Bombard, please click here.

To discover more about anti-tank defences, please click here.

To read more about the different types of constructions used, please click here.

To discover more about the defence plans for London, please click here.

To read about Paul Huband of the Field Security Corps attached to the HQ of 1st Armoured Division, click here.

To view and read about a Sub Out Station, click here.


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