Vintage ‘pillbox’ tells a tale of shoreline defences

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HISTORIC RELIC: The Second World War pill box that recently surfaced on the beach following sea erosion, in Visakhapatnam.
HISTORIC RELIC: The Second World War pill box that recently surfaced on the beach following sea erosion, in Visakhapatnam.

Nivedita Ganguly

VISAKHAPATNAM: The sea is threatening to chew away the beautiful beaches of Visakhapatnam through erosion. While in the past month the sea gouged out a 75-metre section of the Ramakrishna Beach, taking three lampposts into the water, it also uncovered chapters of history that lay hidden beneath the sands for decades. A Second World-War vintage pillbox has now surfaced after the sand cover was washed away.

Pillboxes, or bunkers, are squat concrete fortifications used as a network of defence by the British and were strung out in lines across the coast to resist invasions. These were built as a part of preparations during the Second World War.

Most of them were built in 1940-1941 against a possible German invasion. Over the years, many of them were destroyed: the structures tumbled into the sea or sunk into the sands .

Research workers and scientists have indicated the presence of three more such pillboxes on the Vizag beach that got covered up during the beach build-up.

“The four pillboxes were last seen along the Vizag coast during the period between 1956 and 1959,” Prof. R.V. Rama Rao, member of Technical Advisory Group, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), said. The pillboxes were about eight feet above the beach level. They had deep foundations, and did not get pushed ashore, he said. These pillboxes were the only cover in a vulnerable area.

They were basically a type of dug-out or bunker with look-outs and small slits for machine guns. Each box was linked to the next by means of defensive ditches deep enough to stop a tank, or by natural features such as embankments, rivers and canals. Despite the passage of time, many of the pillboxes remain as permanent monuments and silent reminders of the dark days of the 1940s.

How many such pillboxes remain hidden along the Indian coast is unknown. A survey conducted in the U.K. between 1995 and 2002 estmated the existence of some 28,000 pillboxes and other field fortifications that were constructed in the U.K. Of these, about 6,500 survive.

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