Concrete in 2nd World War: 3 great examples

Did you know that in 1938, concrete production in Germany reached  a record high at 16 million tonnes? For what reason?

In  anticipation of the imminent conflict, Germany (like all the other countries involved in World War II) had to make up for needs such as the construction of advanced bases, defensive lines, bunkers and military structures. For the cement industry, the outbreak of World War II brought increasing shortages of fuel and raw materials. During the war, forced labor was employed in the cement industry too in order to satisfy the demand.

Obviously, some results of this great increase in production can still be observed throughout Europe. In this article we will discover some structures closely related to the Second World War.

Base Sous-Marine BETASOM, Bordeaux (France)

Under the German occupation during the Second World War, the Atlantic ports of France became strategic enclaves for the defence of continental Europe against a possible Allied attack from England. The port of Bordeaux held one of five submarine bases constructed in a record time, run by a mixed team of military men and civil engineers, who played a key role in the construction of large-scale infrastructures for the Third Reich. This gigantic bunker, able to stand up to air raids, is colossal in size: 245 meters long, 162 meters wide, and 20 meters high. It consists of 11 independent bays linked by an interior road and is located on the water’s edge, on one of the docks of the Garonne River, about 100 km from the Bay of Biscay, which can be reached via the Gironde estuary.

The structure ceased to be functional in 1944, when the French free forces took control of it. There were no more submarines as the last ones had left the base a few days before. However, the submarine base was never really abandoned and today it is still used for conferences, artistic installations and in general as a cultural center, preserving also its function of memorial.

Credits: @Jean Pierre Roche

Salaspils Memorial Ensamble, Riga (Latvia)

During Second World War not only military structures were built. Unfortunately, everyone knows too well the story of the many concentration camps throughout Europe under the Nazi regime. Salaspils in one of those places.

The Salaspils concentration camp, built by the Nazis, was located a few kilometres outside the Latvian capital, Riga. Officially, it was only a detention camp for Latvians, but Jews who had been deported directly from Germany and the occupied countries were also sent there, and it functioned an extermination camp where nearly 3,000 people died. In 1967 it became a memorial – one of the first and the largest of its kind in Europe. The allegorical monument consists of a long wall of exposed concrete and seven monumental sculptures, also made of concrete, representing: the Mother, the Unbroken, the Infamous, Protest, Red Front and Solidarity. To access the enclosure where the sculptures are located, which is also a cemetery, you cross the narrow space left open under the wall: it is slightly suspended in the air, supported only at its ends.

Credits: @Alexander Nilssen

Le Havre reconstruction, France

Le Havre is a French city located in the Normandy region. Normandy is a common name when speaking of World War II; it is the place where the offensive against Berlin began. It was the beginning of the end of a conflict which destroyed so much of Europe.

The city of Le Havre, capital of the French region of Normandy and a strategic port on the English Channel, was subject to heavy bombing during the Second World War. This compounded significant damage that had occurred during the First World War, from which the city had not yet fully recovered. As a result, when it came time for reconstruction, the “tabula rasa” approach – building a new city from the ground up – was seen as the only viable option. The reconstruction was carried out under the direction of Auguste Perret, a pioneer in the use of concrete in France, who by that time had reached a very advanced age.

Of particular interest are the reconstructions of Église Saint Joseph and Hotel de Ville, Porte Océane and Rue de Paris.

Credits: @Gil Pivert

The Second World War was a tremendous episode in Europe’s history and these buildings are remnants of that difficult past. To preserve these concrete structures means to preserve our memory and our heritage. These “concrete memories” will help us to remember the horrors of war, and keep us from repeating that violent past that brought only destruction. They are a constant reminder of how important European Union is in retaining a bond of peace.

If you’re eager to discover other concrete masterpieces built during the Second World War, visit the website the  100ofthe20th and tell us what do you think about it!

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