8 Dec 2013

the Western front

Hey guys,

before I even start, that's another historical post. Sorry!
 

"The western front" I will be talking about has nothing to do with THE western front. Instead, it is an official designation of the so-called "Rupnik line" - line of fortifications that were built (or planned) along (at that time) Italian - Yugoslav and German - Yugoslav border.  In other words, it's Yugoslav Maginot, Siegfried, Metaxas, Mannerheim and many other -lines. Fortified lines were awesomely popular things to do and every worthy country had to have it. The whole idea was, they were sort of a permanent extra tough trench lines that western european countries hated. Everybody knew there was going to be another war, so the idea was to fortify as best as possible. Needless to say, most of them were kinda useless - Rupnik line included.

On the left, there is a map of present border (to give you the general idea) and locations of Italian and Yugoslav lines. You can see where Ljubljana is and 20-25 kilometers to the west, there are Vrhnika and Logatec. I used to live in both, now I live in a small village in between them. This is the area that I know, so, by checking the second map, you can see I will mostly talk about sector 1.  Sector 1 was built to prevent the possible attackers from reaching Ljubljana. Talking of sectors, sector 6 (northern sector) was started later, after anschluss in 1938. Speaking from Yugoslavian point of view, there were other defensive lines as well on the eastern borders. Yugoslavia didn't really border on too many friends, if you look at it that way.
(none of the maps is mine work)

As the village I live in is quite spread out, it is divided in lower and upper part - the lower part had 16 houses in 1934, when gendarmerie officers first started patrolling the area and gathering information related to security and how the locals acted. By 1936, the works started. It all started by building roads, as you could imagine and huts for the workers. Group of 15 huts was code named Logor 507 grupa. Logor seems to be serbian word for a "camp" - Slovenia was part of Kingdom of Yugoslavia at that time, the main language in the army was serbo-croatian. They've started building bunkers in 1937 and it was expected that works will be finished in 1946 or 1947. In 1938 they had to change locations of the bunkers (just few meters to the left/right/front/back), as they tried to deceive Italians, as they somehow got the plans and knew where each block was planned to stand - a big no no for a static defence line! Nothing interesting has happened while bunkers were being built, but apparently some people fell in love and there were occasional fights between yugoslav officers and the local population. In one of those, an officer was killed - bar fights were much more serious affair back then!

You won't see this on the photos, but, obviously, the trees around the bunkers were cut to provide a good field of fire. Bunkers were defended with barbed wire and minefields. A kind old lady, living few meters away from my house, remembers how one of the lower ranking CEOs stepped on one of those mines on his way to get milk at her farm. Those mines were mostly removed after the WW II, but in 2001, a dozer has driven on an old "anti transport" mine while working on a construction yard for a new industrial centre.

 There were many different variants of bunkers built, most known variant is large-ish machine gun bunker, armed with two heavy machine guns and one light machine gun, but they could have anti tank rifles and even smaller anti tank guns. Most numerous, however, were light machine gun bunkers for two soldiers. Most of them have three shooting slits in a small fighting compartment and a hallway leading to the position. Those hallways were broadened at certain section to make space for soldiers to sleep in.

Below are photos of the bunker that was on the ridge just above the village (same bunker on the first photo).

The big hole in the round tower you see would be covered by a steel plate with three shooting slits. Those slits were meant for light machine gun, more often than not czech M37 and M40. The bunkers from 6th sector (Austrian border) are nice example of how weak this shield was, as it could be (and was) penetrated by the 37mm anti-tank gun. The steel here was removed by villagers, as I've mentioned.

The black thing you see is a hydro insulation. Bunkers should by all common sense be covered by earth at least to those levels. Those never were. Some say they were left like that intentionally, to inspire fear in the Italians. Now, the area was undefended because Yugoslav army was withdrawing from the German push (on Austrian border, one of those bunkers kept on fighting for three days). But I've mentioned the bunkers were emptied days before invasion, so I guess it could be possible that they weren't dug in because they simply weren't finished. 

From this bunker, village is bellow on the right hand side:
 back of the bunker. Again, village (and Italy) on the left side now.
 And again:
 Here is a view of the side that overlooks the village, the bunkers below and "Italy" - so a side where Italians would and did come from. You can see the largish shooting slit. It was covered by a steel plate and had a heavy machine gun mounted, probably austro-hungarian schwarzlose.  The tower is facing in the forest towards north, where 3 other bunkers of that kind are hidden. Mind the black paint where bunkers should be covered by earth.

Here are photos of the fore mentioned bunkers Those are way better preserved, some even have original wood work in them!

Back shots:

 Side shot, this one is showing its rear to the bunker I described first.
 Damaged tower.
 An air hole. I don't see how this could be interesting to anyone, alas, there it is.

I think this is the roof of the tower, it certainly isn't the floor:
 Again, the tower and the side slit. Side slits were used by heavy machineguns, anti tank rifles and some even say light anti tank cannons.
 Thats a nice photo...if you don't mind the sorry state the bunker is in:
 Remaining wood work. Very stylish photo:

One of the bunkers with shot taken from the top:

 Some more wood work. I actually think this is from the sleeping quarter of one of those light bunkers:

 And another bunker:




 
 And the first one again. Enjoy the panorama! (Italy to the left again)

 This bunker (yes, that's the first one) is actually on the field where cows are kept now. I've actually seen them be in it in the summer heat. One of the holes seen on the left side of the door was a grenade shaft. If the defenders felt really mean, they could toss a grenade in it from the inside and it would roll out to do some serious bombing.

This is the view of the inside. Another grenade shaft and a slit to meet the unwelcome visitors. Yikes!


And another bunker. This one, as you can see, has line filled with concrete for some reason.
 And the entrance. This one is dug in a bit and actually looks a bit better.


Now, here are some shots of other "objects" as they were called. Some are a bit more elaborate, others are much simpler and others are ruined:

 There are many in middle of the village. One of those is this one...don't hold me for my word but I dare say a house stands on top of it now.

A staircase to a light machine gun bunker - 2 man machine gun bunker representing the front line. They had 3 firing slits each. An interesting curiosity - not all entrances have hinges, so it's safe to assume not all had doors! We've also noticed some bunkers were built with huge rocks, which makes it much less durable, but I suppose also cheaper. Apparently they were saving iron on those, as well - so they wouldn't be somewhere you'd want to wait for a bombardment to pass in!
 A ruined light machine gun bunker (there are remains of over 60 of those)
 A blockhouse, made after Czech model. This one lacks a steel turret, firing slits are built in and it's locked as it sits next to someone's private house. It used to be a disco back in the days (before I moved here).
 A close up on one of the firing slits.
 The locked doors and built in firing slits. I'm still hoping I can get a chance to go in one day.
 The side that is looking towards Logatec (ergo Italy again) - the pipe you see is a pipe of a small stove.

 Here a steel cupola was meant to be. It's believed it was never installed. The left side of the photo is pointed roughly to the west, for orientation.Not too far was another large bunker that has whole upper ("combat") floor demolished.
And yes, that's our dog photo bombing :D
 If you walk up to the end of the hill on top of previous photo, this is the view:
 For orientation. On the left side, there is Logatec and, yet again, the way Italians invaded from. Behind "us" is the bunker from the previous photo. And to the right, there are similar rolling hills with the bunkers I've been showing at the first post. Now that I'm thinking about it, I should really make a simple map or something. I wanted to map the bunkers as a research for my masters, but I have decided against it as I could never find all of the bunkers. Nothing stops me from using my abundant free time to start mapping them now I suppose...at least roughly, as I believe it really puts things into perspective. (EDIT: I have actually started mapping them just yesterday and I'm thinking about starting another blog to show off the project - got to keep my miniature blog for my miniatures!)

 Some more wood work from other bunkers:
 A farm (yes, an actual farm and not a bunker) in the village. IIRC Italian officer's mess hall was here when they came here.
Next couple of photos were named "observation post".

 This one is special. It's a big block, with two smaller blocks looking out of it for some reason. It looks like british mark IV from the WWI...except it's concrete and has no guns.

The one on the other side is breaking. To get the idea of the size, by memory this chunk is higher than 3 feet:
 
 An entrance to the tunnel. Photos are from last year and I wasn't the one taking thme, so I can't really say where this is leading to. I'd say a fore mentioned prism. I'm not even sure the photo after is of the same tunnel, but admire the stalactites!

 And another secret shaft with original support logs:
 



When Yugoslavia was invaded in april 1941, most of the bunkers in Sector 1 were empty. There was no heavy weapons installed yet and most of the soldiers were in the huts I've mentioned before. Apparently, Yugoslav army left the bunkers en masse on 4th of April 1941 at 1500 - 2 days before the invasion! They've burnt their huts and not a single bullet was fired from the fortified positions. Italians were bombarding bunkers in this sector from Hrušica - the location of ancient roman Ad Pirum fortress I was talking about earlier this year! Yugoslav artillery answered with counter battery fire and they were shooting at each other for about an evening. After retreat of the Yugoslav army, Italians came to the village. They were destroying the bunkers through the time of occupation, but interestingly, apparently they weren't stripping steel from the bunkers. They were in the village until 11.11.1941, when they retreated to Logatec - resistance was getting stronger so Italians massed their forces in towns and didn't bother defending smaller villages that were easy prey for the partisans. Eventually, they've organised voluntary militia from the locals, but that's a topic for another day!

Again, this are only the photos of the bunkers within the walking distance of my home. Not too far away, there was a ridge fortress planned (huge complex with more bunkers connected with underground tunnels). Only tunnels were built. On a hill really close to me (that is now closed as a military training ground), they had also great plans, that were reduced to less great plans, but still involved three cannons rising from the ground to shoot and then detract again...alas, nothing was built. Even further up north, there are better preserved bunkers and some are even turned into an open field museum. We tried to get the municipality to put some information signs around some of those bunkers, too, but nothing happened past the verbal admiration.  As my village is on the border of two municipalities (Vrhnika and Logatec), that's even more work. We came up with two circle paths, shorter is on the Vrhnika side only, about 1 hour long and contains the first bunkers I've been showing. The longer one could take up to 3+ hours, but there's really a lot to see if one is interested in such things.


Hope you found a post useful or at least entertaining and thanks for looking,
Mathyoo

14 comments:

  1. Fascinating. I have a strong interest in the architecture of war. I really enjoyed this post. It is nice to compare and contrast your local bunkers with the ones here in the UK. Thanks for the insight Mathyoo.

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    1. I'd love to see more of the bunkers in the UK, most of what I've seen were those sea forts :P. It's really a pitty that there isn't more interest in all those fortifications, almost every country built its own defensive line and most of them are forgotten.

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  2. Ah, history is all around us - if you only know where to look and what it is you're looking at! Thanks for this post, it was most interesting.

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    1. No problem mate, glad it was useful!

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  3. Great post, Im Irish and we have nothing like this here, I love to see pics of the old bunkers

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    1. Hah, thanks! Well, being on an island has its own benefits! I'll make sure to snap photos of anything more elaborate if I'll ever visit the rest of the line.

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  4. Hey dude, one hell of a post. I never knew about this great. Thanks.

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    1. Well, then it was a good choice, I'm glad you liked it! :)

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  5. Great post and an interesting read.

    Indeed history is all around us. There used to be a bunker at the top of the street when I lived at my mum and dads. Its no longer there now as its been demolished and some kind of water storage thing has been built on its site. It was located on a canal bridge. whether it was to defend the bridge or the canal I'm not sure of.

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    1. Cheers mate. Lots of bunkers here are missing, too. There is one in the middle of the village, that somehow nobody wants to destroy. And there is one in one other village, right in the centre :D

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    1. Thanks mate! And welcome to the blog!

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  7. I can remember when I was a young lad, playing at soldiers in a couple of old World War 2 bunkers near to where I lived. Sadly they got demolished and have been replaced by housing estates. A great post, Mathyoo.

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    1. We were doing the exact same thing! :P

      I even remember we were using climbing gear to drop the smallest of our group in one of the shafts for "exploration" :D

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