Reporter: Anne Grimshaw
Jonathan Belsey spoke to a full house at the January meeting with the slide-talk chillingly titled Suffolk 1940: would Sudbury have survived a German invasion?
He set the scene with what was happening in Europe during 1940: Dunkirk, fall of the Low Countries and France, the Battle of Britain, the start of the blitz on London and the real possibility of a German invasion. Men and materiel were in short supply. The coast from Land’s End to Newcastle was to be heavily defended. Inland there were to be roughly parallel ‘stop lines’: physical barriers and armed defences ranging from massive gun emplacements to pillboxes to concrete and steel roadblocks. Each ‘line’ was intended to be a further delay to invading German troops expected to approach London from the east and north-east. Sudbury was on the Eastern Command Line which followed the natural obstacle of the River Stour.
On the river’s western bank pillboxes were thrown up almost overnight (some even facing the wrong way!), concrete bases set into the ground ready to receive spigot mortars, bridges at Bures, Ballingdon and Brundon were wired with explosives ready to be blown at a moment’s notice, just as they had been in the First World War.
Operation Sealion, the German plan for the invasion of Britain was poised to launch – until the Battle of Britain deprived the Luftwaffe of domination of the air. But there were other factors too revealed in the 1970s when military experts, both German and British, set Operation Sealion in motion – in a ‘modelling’ exercise.
The outcome? A unanimous agreement that it would have been a disaster – for the Germans.
The stop lines with their thousands of pillboxes, tank traps, machine guns, spigot mortars, Home Guard and ‘Secret Army’ men harrying the enemy would have bought valuable time while destroyers of the Royal Navy raced to obliterate the invading forces.
But, thank goodness, they were never needed. The bridges remained intact, concrete roadblocks now protect the bank of the River Stour or act as plant holders on village greens, the gun emplacement at Ballingdon is an outsize ‘garden feature’, the pillboxes on the water meadows are home to bats and swallows and sit amid a sea of buttercups… and long may they remain so.