Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Up the Loire by Pedalo. Part One: The Côte d'Amour

(Clicking on the pictures generally increases their bigness)

Dispatched by Sir Joseph Blaine to investigate and put a stop to "something fishy" that the French were up to somewhere in the Loire valley (could he be any more vague?), Plynkes and Sickly prepared to be put ashore.

A map of the proposed route.

Sickly, standing on the quarterdeck of HMS Facetious, 32, sailing under false colours to drop us off at the mouth of the river.

Captain Tom bids a fond farewell.

Plynkes remonstrates in fine Captain Haddock fashion with some paparazzi types who came dangerously close to blowing our cover. We were posing as a pair of itinerant Breton cocklers looking for more secure employment. Our fame is spreading too fast. Because of this soon we shall be useless (or is that more useless?) as intelligence agents.

Sickly gazes back out to sea as we make our landfall.

Well they certainly know the correct flag to put out to make a foreign chap feel at home around here.

The fearsome coastal defences of Batz-sur-Mer, where we landed. That carriage looks like it would collapse if anyone ever tried to fire the massive gun.

The German Artillery-Control Blockhouse at Batz-sur-Mer, part of the St. Nazaire pocket, which remained in German hands until the spring of 1945. Notice the attempt to disguise the bunker as a seaside cottage by the painting of fake windows and shutters (it originally had a fake sloping roof on top, too).

An attempt rather undermined by having the words "Le Grand BLOCKHAUS" written on the side in massive letters, and a dirty great "88" parked in the front yard.

Sickly photographing a sign.

In we go, to check things out.

Come on, Sickers, don't lag behind!

The view from inside. Oh dear, the Americans are closer than we thought, Hauptmann!

Deep in the bunker, the local Nazis don't seem too bothered about the approaching Yanks.

They still have faith in the old man, obviously.

I wonder which Königsberg that came from?

What appears to be an MP40 with a wooden stock. Interesting, never seen one of those before. But then again, I don't know anything about guns.

This is worrying. We found this photo in the bunker. It depicts Plynkes and Sickly on a mission to Nazi-occupied Ukraine during the Second World War. We were sent to obtain some caviar for Prince Philip by the Admiralty. In the picture we are disguised as Cossacks allied to the Germans. Amazing how easy it is to hoodwink the Nazis with a fake beard and a silly hat.

I wonder why they had our picture in the bunker? Could it be they had rumbled us all along?

A German sailor, still laughing at the beard in the previous picture.

Ah, liberation! Finally. That chap at the front busy looting the bunker is one of those Fusilier Marins (you can tell because it says so on his hat). It is said that if you touch the little red pom-poms on their hats it brings good luck. Well, I tried that once in Rennes, and take it from me: It doesn't.

Cool. A Broomie. I wanted it as a souvenir, but the fellow with the pom-pom beat me to it.


Inside the bunker was an interesting film show about the St. Nazaire Pocket. As taking it wasn't a particular priority for the allies, they just left the Boche to stew and manned the front with second line troops. Many of the local Resistance types and other civilians were given the most brief training, put into uniforms and told to hold the front.

Seems some of their vehicles were captured German ones. There was a great picture in the film of a Tiger tank with French markings, manned by some Free French bods, all posing on it and looking as proud as punch of their machine. Wouldn't that be a great trick to play on one of those power gamers who always wants to be the Nazis, and always wants Panthers or Tigers?

Run a "St. Nazaire Pocket" game and tell him he can be the Jerries. Give him two old Renault tanks and no petrol, and then see the look on his face when the French player deploys his Tiger on the table. Priceless.

Anyway, enough of that. On to St. Nazaire (Cue Theme from Das Boot (Techno Version)).

Grim old place, and an unlikely tourist attraction. But they've turned it into one. There's a great little cafe inside there somewhere, and it has a waitress with very nice 1950s-style pointy boobs.

"Enemy submarines are to be called U-boats. The term "submarine" is to be reserved for Allied underwater vessals. U-boats are those dastardly villains who sink our ships, while submarines are those gallant and noble craft which sink theirs."

Winston S. Churchill.

Tell me what were their names?
Tell me what were their names?
Did you have a friend
On the good Reuben James?

Woodie Guthrie

Onwards, ever onwards,
Though the heavens pour with piss
Send us back to Dullsville
Cause it can't be worse than this.

From Das Boot by Lothar-Günther Buchheim

In one of the pens we found a French 1950s sub, the Espadon (Swordfish). Fearing that us perfidious British spies might steal their fifty-year-old technology, the French Navy forbad us from taking pictures of it. But I took one anyway.

While not permitting photographs to be taken of this delicate subject matter, they don't seem too worried about foreign spies buying postcards depicting it. So I bought some, to show you what it was like inside:

It seems that the Espadon's claim to fame is that it was the first submarine to dive beneath the ice at the North Pole. Though why anyone in their right mind would want to do that is beyond my reasoning.

The town side of the pen complex, not far from the afore-mentioned cafe.

Hurrah! Tintin and Archibald Haddock. Always good to see those chaps. More of them later.

Though there are museums gallore around the dock area (Espadon, Airbus, the modern shipyards, etc.) there seems to be nothing covering the war. No mention of U-boats or the raid. But we couldn't pass on without mentioning it.

As far as I can tell, this is the opening to the large dock, through which Campletown sailed in her hour of glory.

The Old Mole, which if memory serves, caused the commandos a heck of a lot of grief in 1942, as it was bristling with weapons. Well, here's to those lads...

But we must press on up the river...

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