Artillery fortification BOUDA

After a study of feasibility concerning the ability of defence and an analysis of all resources and possible alternatives it was decided due to the recommendation of the allied France to build up a gigantic system of fortifications along the German border and inside the country. At the same time it was decided to modernise all armed forces in Czechoslovakia correspondingly. The necessary special knowledge for the decided project of fortifications could be provided by French military specialists and their experiences gained during the completion and built-up of their own Maginot Line.  The fortifications should protect the most important centres of the economy and the administration and should guarantee the undisturbed mobilisation of the Czechoslovakian Armed Forces and their deployment to the defence positions. Due to the extreme length of the border and the strategically unfortunate shape of Czechoslovakia an uninterrupted line of heavy fortifications could not be financed.

As the most frequent element in the fortification system light installations of the construction type 36 (machine gun bunker with embrasures) and in particular the construction type 37 as the follow-up model were planned, the number of which should increase to the completion of the works in the beginning of the 50s (!) to 16.000. Only at the strategically most important places heavy fortifications were planned, which should be realised in the form of extremely resistant blocks (1.300 “great bunkers” were intended). The lightly fortified installations should serve as an impediment to the enemy’s advance and support the defence of mobile forces in delay actions. The construction of the light installations was simple as in their concept no logistic facilities for longer lasting combat actions were designed.

In opposite to the light concept the heavy fortifications should bring the enemy’s advance to a standstill for a longer time. One had considered a long-term occupation of the heavy installations. Sophisticated technical equipment and extended logistic facilities should enable them to resist for a couple of weeks.

Until the so-called “Sudeten Crisis” in September 1938 nearly 10.000 light and 229 heavy installations were completed. Five massive artillery fortifications had been constructionally finished, at five more fortifications constructions were in work, while five other fortifications were still in the phase of planning. Altogether one considered 15 fortifications, which should reinforce the line of heavy installations between the towns of OSTRAVA in the east and TRUTNOV on the edge of the Sudeten Mountains in the west.

Due to the new political constellation in Middle Europe the work at the Czechoslovakian system of fortifications was early stopped in October 1938. The Sudeten Crisis, increasing over a longer period and intentionally supported by Hitler, boiling up not least because of the massive political support on the occasion of the party convention of the NSDAP at Nuremberg, led to an escalation of the political tensions and to an open revolt in the western and eastern border areas, the Sudetenland. On September 23, 1938, a general mobilisation of the Czechoslovakian forces was ordered. After exactly 20 years of peace Europe stood again at the edge of a new war. On September 29, 1938, a four-power conference began at Munich, where Adolf Hitler, Edouard Daladier, Neville Chamberlain and Benito Mussolini decided the ethnical separation of the German and Czech people and determined the future borders of the new Czech state in absence of its representatives. This fact revealed in a drastic way the political debasement of the Czechoslovakian ally by the two guarantors of its independence, Great Britain and France. The decision was: within 10 days until the 10th of October 1938 the border areas where the German language was spoken in majority had to be ceded to the neighbouring Germany. By the cession of nearly 20.000 square kilometres to Germany and additional 12.000 square kilometres to Hungary and Poland the former Czechoslovakia had not lost only a great potential of her economy but also nearly all of her installations for the defence of the borders until the end of WW 2 in 1945.

The artillery fortification BOUDA is one of the five constructionally finished fortifications and the only one which is open to the public in its original shape. It consists of five blocks (bastions) built to the strongest level of construction (level IV). The ceilings and the outer walls in direction towards an expected attack are up to 3.5 meters thick and were intended to stand shelling up to calibre 42 cm and direct hits of all aerial bombs known at that time. These blocks are connected by a subterranean system of   tunnels and caverns, which then contained everything the garrison of 316 carefully selected and specially trained soldiers of the border guard needed to accomplish their combat tasks. Furthermore there should be a reinforcement unit of half an infantry company (87 men) in the fortification. It was intended to relieve the defenders at special enemy actions on the surface, e.g. airborne attacks or assault engineers. Altogether the fortification should have a war-time garrison of about 400 soldiers. Even totally pocketed one considered a possible resistance of the fortification for a couple of weeks. The construction of the fortification began on October 1, 1936, and with the help of up to 800 workers from the building contractor from Prague it was finished in the incredible time of less than 24 months. The costs for materials and wages were 28.5 million crowns, not including the additional costs for furnishings and military equipment. During the climax of the so-called “Sudeten Crisis” in September 1938, completion of the fortification took place at a feverish pace. Nevertheless important parts of the interior furnishings and the armament (gun turret with the two 100 mm howitzers) were still missing. But the infantry blocks were combat ready, and the provisional garrison of 119 soldiers of the 5/19th Border Regiment commanded by Major Jan Spale (Inf.) was prepared for the confrontation with the attacker.

Our tour begins at the entrance of block K – S 22a. It is placed at the slope of the mountain, averted from the imagined direction of a possible attack. It should serve as the main entrance for the soldiers and for the supply of the fortification. Its armament corresponds to its location. One did not think that this block of the fortification would participate directly in combat tasks. So the weapons of the entrance block served only for its close defence.  The right combat room was equipped with a heavy machine gun model 37, the left one with a light machine gun model 26. Two armoured steel cupolas, made of a special cast steel (walls 30 cm thick, weight 52 tons) were installed in the ceiling. They had four embrasures for a light machine gun, which provided all-round defence for each cupola. The fourth light machine gun was installed in the bend of the entrance and should block the access to the inside if the movable armoured door collapsed. Its crew could quickly reach the embrasure from the basement through a manhole with rungs and a ladder.

During the wartime the entrance block was heavily damaged. Its cupolas were torn out and together with the majority of similar construction parts used for the fortification projects of Germany. Still today one can find armoured elements (cupolas and embrasures) and obstacles of Czech production in the fortifications of the former east-German regions and mainly along the Atlantic Wall in the Normandy, Brittany, in Denmark and Norway. With the help of the unique cupola for an independent infantry block of the light level II (it is a little weaker, weighs only 21 tons, walls only 20 cm thick), standing on the left of the entrance block, one gets a good impression of the construction of such an armoured cupola.

In the years 1949 and 1950 the entrance block was renovated, as in the 50s the build-up of a large military facility in the fortification was considered. The damaged parts were expertly blown off (the borings for the charges are clearly recognisable) and then rebuilt with the original construction plans. For this reason you can still see today a separating join between the new and old concrete, and some other remains from this renovation (incomplete roughcast, rests of planking).

The actual entrance should be closed by a massive folding door made of bars and two thick-walled steel doors. The first door was designed as a trapdoor, retractable into the basement (7 cm thick, 5 cm of it a hardened armour plate). This 7,5-ton door could be closed within 15 seconds with the help of a counterweight even heavier. Around the corner there was another steel door, this one only 4 cm thick, the horizontal sliding wings of which with a weight of 4,6 tons could be closed within 30 seconds. The two doors were gastight and so formed a chamber (called SAS-room in technical jargon), which should be used for the decontamination of trucks in case of a gas attack. Behind the second door there is a reloading station where supply goods could be reloaded from the trucks onto the carriages of the narrow-gauge railway.

To the right of the truck entrance there is a pedestrian entrance with an embrasure for a rifle or a pistol. In this entrance you find the air-intake tube for the air-condition system of the entire fortification. Furthermore the entrance block contains two combat rooms, a small filter-room of its own, tree ammo dumps, two living rooms, two radio rooms, the command post for the commandant of the entrance block, toilet and lavatory, a store room, and an equipment- and tool storage.

Two massive reinforced concrete pillars are missed at the reloading station in the entrance block, which are presumably blown off during the war. You reach the galleries over a sloping ramp with 26 stairs.  There are gaps in the single stairs for the rails and the tow cables of the narrow-gauge railway. Special wedge-shaped carriages were constructed for the reloading works at the ramp. One of the two originally present carriages can be viewed on the left side of the gallery on the renovated rail. These special carriages were only used as an operational help for the transport of the actual wagons of the narrow-gauge railway in the gallery to avoid double reloading of the goods.

At the beginning of the main gallery you see at the right the access to the nearly 70 meters long drainage tunnel, which drew off water and sewage from the fortification into the valley beneath the entrance block. Visible damages of the cavern and the walls result from an incomplete construction in the years after the war. At this place one recognises a seemingly unlogical course of the rails of the narrow-gauge railway. The reason for this is to find in a particular constructional decision:  in this part are the entrances to the mine-chambers situated on both sides of the main gallery, which can be reached by narrow tunnels, each 10 meters long and running parallel to the main gallery. In front of these entrances should be a partition wall with a machine gun embrasure and an armoured, 3 cm thick steel door. In case it was necessary to give up the entrance block by tactical reasons the crew had the possibility to retreat behind this wall. If even this position could not be held anymore one would have ignited the two mine-chambers and filled up reliably the gallery, so that it became impassable for attackers. All the vitally necessary installations of the fortification were located behind anyway; though one had to give up the main filter system and the diesel engines because of cutting off the exhaust pipe. This then meant a switch-over to emergency- or hand operation for all installations and systems. In this case three emergency exits were available for the garrison.

Only a few meters further you find the sliding lock 1. It is a type modified during the war when the experts of the German army tested various door systems for the then being developed shelters and fortified installations including the launcher ramps and firing units of the still top secret so-called retaliatory weapons (missiles, rockets and long range guns) V1, V2 and V3. The sliding lock is a massive block of reinforced concrete, 1 meter thick, weighing 20 tons. By this construction the entrance of the main filter room beside the engine room was obstructed. Together with the partial renovation of the fortification in the 50s the original concept of the caverns was slightly changed. The filter room is not open to the public, because the floor has not been finished yet. Here the batteries of filters should be placed, which were able to clean the air sucked in through the personnel entrance after a gas alert. Constant little overpressure should be produced in the entire fortification, so that no contaminated air from the outside could reach the interior facilities. This technique of air-conditioning made it possible to supply differentiatedly the combat blocks and galleries, which in some places (billets) were even heated by warm air. Behind the filter room you find the sliding lock 2, which corresponds to sliding lock 1 except its symmetrical position in the gallery and its different undercarriage. When built in the original entrance to the engine room was obstructed, too.

On the right side of the main gallery you see a 25 meters long cavern. Here the radiator water, the fuel and the lubricants were stored. The cavern is linked with the similar 30 meters long engine room by two small passages. Conceived as a power plant three diesel engines with 80 kVA should provide an independent power supply for the fortification, which in peacetime was connected to the normal power supply from outside. In the engine room were two additional compressors (the slowly running diesel engines had to be started by compressed air of 60 atü) and a repair shop. Below the engine room was another chamber constructed as a sound absorber. The exhaust pipe should run through the galleries and lead into the entrance block. For the emergency lights another small engine with 8 kVA and kerosene lamps were available. This whole area should be installed and equipped in 1939, so that the garrison indeed had to use kerosene lamps and the power supply of the construction site as a makeshift. The mountain above is here more than 30 meters thick.

In course of the reconstruction of the fortification we have built up the engine room in the original fuel depot, because the original room is badly accessible due to the construction works in wartime.

66 meters from the ramp the main gallery changes into an extended transfer site, which is located in front of the main ammo dump M1. The 40 meters long cavern should serve as a depot for 6000 artillery shells calibre 10 cm. At the backwall you find a niche with a drinking water fountain. The cavern should be locked by two brick partition walls and a 10 mm thick steel door. The fountain water is led below the floor into the main well on the other side of the gallery. In it you can find the bases for the installation of three water pumps. From this centre the water supply for the entire fortification was guaranteed. Under the floor is the main water tank, in which the total amount of water was stored. One of the pumps should only deliver water to the fire fighting system, because all rooms in danger of explosion should be equipped with a sprinkler system. These rooms were the following: preparation chamber for the artillery ammunition – first room on the right in the ammo dump M1, preparation chamber for the infantry ammunition – third room at the same side, handgrenade depot – fourth room. A sprinkler system was also planned in the second cavern on the left side of the transfer site, where the machine gun ammunition was stored. The last room of the ammo dump M1 was the depot for flares. Because of the sensitiveness and riskiness of pyrotechnics special construction means were planned, e.g. the access was bent twice, a 10 mm thick pressure door made of steel and, of course, a sprinkler system.

During the mobilisation in September 1938 a part of the required ammunition was already present. Then more than 1 million rounds of machine gun ammo calibre 7,92 mm had been in the fortification.

As already said the fortification was partially renovated in the years 1949 and 1950. Besides the repair works at the entrance blocks and in the room situated in the front parts of the galleries one began to knock new caverns in the rock as storage rooms. With eleven caverns altogether the fortification should become a large subterranean depot. Though the work at the first two tunnels had been started it was never finished. These two tunnels, knocked in the massive rock, are on the left and right of the main gallery. These subterranean construction sites are used in the winter as a dormitory for some dozens of bats, which like to hibernate here.

Opposite the second incomplete tunnel (about 30 meters long) you find a small room, the so-called lower cable chamber. On the floor you see a steel socket an in the ceiling the mouth of a steel tube. This tube leads vertically upstairs more than 45 meters through the mountain and ends in a special installation. This so-called upper cable chamber contains in its ceiling another steel socket. Between the two sockets a steel cable was stretched, which served as a supporter for the telephone cables. From the upper cable chamber the wires continued running further 3 meters deep under the surface. The second cable chamber is a few meters further on the right side. At this place the mountain is almost 50 meters thick. The third cable connection ran from the village of TECHONIN (there you can find still today the old peace-time barracks of the garrison) directly into the entrance block. These multiple telephone cables should guarantee a safe and reliable connection of the fortification with other military units even during heavy fighting and destruction by artillery shelling and aerial bombs.

Small niches, which are located in regular distances on the left side of the gallery, served as passing places when the narrow-gauge railway drove by. The consoles, fixed under the ceiling on the right, served as mountings for the power cables, telephone wires, water pipes, and in some sections for the tubes of the air-condition as well.

225 meters behind the ammo dump M1 we stand now at a junction of galleries. Here the mountain above is nearly 60 meters thick, because we are right under the peak of the mountain BOUDA. Straight on, i.e. in direction to the blocks K – S 22, 21 and 23, and to the back in direction to the entrance block as well the mountain lowers. At the end of this 180 m long gallery there is the access to the elevator shaft and the stairwell to the infantry block K – S 24. A small transfer station was considered here for reloading the machine gun ammunition for this block from the narrow-gauge railway onto little carriages with rubber wheels. The gallery turning left leads to the entrances of the barracks and the dispensary.

The dispensary is in the back part of the first hall of the barracks. Here a small room was planned for contaminated clothes, for toilets and a shower, a sick-room with three bunk-beds, a dressing station and a pharmacy. The single rooms can only be identified by traces on the ceiling or on the floor. The partition walls were broken down in the 50s and 60s by the population of the neighbouring villages, because the extraordinary quality of the materials was very attractive then.

The infantry block K – S 24 is also open for the public. Its stairwell shaft has a height of 31 meters and has 167 stairs. It is the longest shaft of the fortification. In the centre of the shaft a lift for materials with a load capacity of 400 kg was planned. The infantry block K-S24 (crew: 26 soldiers) was heavily armed. The main weapons were two heavy twin machine guns in embrasure mounted in concrete and two light machine guns model 26 in auxiliary embrasures. An additional twin machine gun was mounted in an armoured cupola. Two armoured domes were equipped with a light machine gun. Because of the difficult terrain tank assaults were not considered and so the infantry blocks did not possess anti-tank weapons as usual. The block has a normal entrance, which is a rarity for such a fortification. The entrance could be used by sentries for patrols. In the infantry block one has two ammo dumps, a filter room, two living rooms, a storage, the operation centre, a communication room, and a lavatory with a toilet.

During the war the German army tried to blow off the block with a massive charge put on one of the outside walls. In spite of the enormous explosion the block was not destroyed but only shifted aside for about 50 cm. This led to a heavy damage of the stairwell, so that its use was only possible again after an appropriate renovation.

In its back part the first hall is separated from the dispensary by a brick wall. In the middle section you had the lavatory with showers and 10 toilets. In the front section were storage rooms (daily rations of food, coal, clothing), the kitchen, and on the other side of the gallery the boiler room. In the area of the barracks there were three tubes for the air-condition, namely the two separate system of air input and (warm air) heating and the air output. In three other halls were the billets for the enlisted men, NCOs, officers, and the stand-by crew. The number of beds was less than the authorised garrison. One part of the garrison was in billets on the surface, another one was on duty at different places of the fortification. So always two men had to share one bed. Each of the three halls had two lavatories.

In the last hall (fifth) were the billet for the officers, office rooms, and the operation centre with a communication room. In the rear part were social facilities for the officers.

In 1938 the commanding officer of the fortification was an experienced veteran from WW1, Major Jan Spale (Inf.), who was supported by Lieutenant Kamenik and Lieutenant Jandl. Lieutenant Stach was ordered to be the artillery observer.

The main gallery goes on to the combat blocks. After 40 meters you reach a railway switch with a repair rail. Here was a storage for transported goods and a repair shop for the narrow-gauge railway. Only a short time ago this area was still dilapidated, but in the meantime it has been widely repaired, so that the rails are in their original condition along the whole length of the gallery. A 200 meter long straight section of the main gallery follows after that.

The construction of the basement represents a standardised solution for the Czechoslovakian artillery fortifications, in which the mortar turret (not present here) had only two halls. In the operation centre of the gun turret were an office and the billet of the commandant, a fire control centre, a radio room, and a communication centre. In the two other halls was a little less than half of the entire ammo supply for the gun turret. In this case 2.600 shells of calibre 100 mm were stored in each hall. Already before the operation centre the artillery gallery should be locked by two gastight doors, which formed an airlock. It was considered that during a combat action the block should have an independent ventilation, so that the poisonous exhausts and smokes were pressed outside by the positive pressure produced in the artillery block itself and so could not creep into the other galleries of the fortification. The elevator shaft with the stairwell leads to the mezzanine of the artillery block. The load capacity of the elevator was 2.500 kg at a speed of 1 meter in 3 seconds. On the right you find the engine room, which was linked to the elevator shaft by an opening for the hauling cables. On the left you find the rectifier room (all the propelling systems in the turret were equipped with direct current motors). The stairwell consists of 99 stairs.

The circular shaft (depth 11 metres, diameter 8 metres) should house the retractable gun turret. In the year of the crisis 1938 the first two turrets of this sophisticated weapon system were in the state of completion at the SKODA factories in Pilsen. All in all, the turret had the unbelievable net weight of 420 tons. 120 tons apportioned to the vertically movable parts, 120 tons to the ring-like counterweight on guiding rollers close to the bottom of the shaft, and 180 tons to the rest of parts, mainly to the so-called steel jacket case, which should be placed onto the upper free ring of the concrete shaft. The outer parts of the turret were made of highly compressed armour steel, which could resist the impact of the heaviest shells and aerial bombs. The turret (360 degree rotation per minute, 70 centimetres lift in 7 seconds) was armed with a twin 100 mm howitzer, range 11.950 meters). It was considered the most effective weapon of the fortification, which should dominate the valley of KRALIKY and support the two neighbouring fortifications of ADAM and HURKA. One of the main targets was the strategically important train station of Mittelwalde (today in Poland: Miedzylesie). In 1938 the turret could not be built in any more, so that the fortification would not have been able to fulfil its destined combat mission if it had been really activated.

The facilities in the top floor of the block served for the preparation of the artillery ammunition and mainly as stand-by ammo storage M 3, where about 800 shells calibre 100 mm should be deposited. Right under it were the rooms for the stand-by crew, social facilities, filter installations, the billet of the commandant and storage rooms.

The main gallery ends about 1 000 meters behind the entrance block. To ensure the required depth of the galleries in the solid rock (16 meters) the rest of the tunnels had to be sunk another 14 meters. For this reason a compensation shaft with 74 stairs was built. Above this place you find a narrow shaft (17 meters high), in which the emergency exit of the fortification is built in. Normally it was filled and blocked with some tons of gravel. In case of emergency the gravel would be released down the shaft with the help of a slide. So the locked up garrison had a chance to escape from the fortification by climbing up. The function of this rather adventurous installations is displayed on a board on the wall. In the past the compensation shaft was one of the most dangerous parts of the fortification. When it was not properly secured in former times some amateur explorers died here.

To reach the blocks K – S 21 and 23 you have to walk down (depending on the type of tour) the 74 stairs in the compensation shaft and walk on in the infantry gallery. The infantry block K – S 23 (still inaccessible) with its crew of 19 soldiers had only weapons under armour. A heavy twin machine gun was mounted in a cupola a light machine gun for close defence was in a dome. The third dome was the main observation point of the artillery fortification BOUDA and as well an important source of information for the whole fortification artillery of this fortified line around the valley of KRALIKY.

During a full tour you can visit the infantry block K – S 21. This block was equipped with 6 heavy machine guns model 37 in twin mountings, two of them in embrasures in the combat room, the third weapon in a cupola. Furthermore there were two light machine guns model 26, one of them in an auxiliary embrasure, the other one in a dome. The crew consisted of 21 soldiers. The block is fitted with an emergency exit, protected by a rifle embrasure, which leads into the so-called “diamond trench” (protection gap) beneath the embrasures. In the block you also find two ammo dumps, a filter room, billets for NCOs and enlisted men, a handgrenade storage, a storage room, the operation centre, a communication room, and a lavatory with toilet.

After the cession of the Czechoslovakian border areas to Germany the fortifications were made accessible to the public in order to show the German population what victory was gained by diplomatic means. Even Adolf Hitler, who boasted himself about this dubious success on his way to the following war, visited this region already in the autumn of 1938. It is rather interesting that the Czechoslovakian fortifications were the only fortification systems in Europe Hitler visited repeatedly.

Already in October 1938 the German army began to reveal and explore the technical and tactical secrets of the taken fortifications. The military did so by exercising at, on and with them, by shelling tests, by testing the effects of weapons and ammunition on different concrete parts and armoured components. As the Czechoslovakian fortifications were based upon fundamental experiences of the Maginot-Line, the so gained results and findings could be successfully used one year later in the war against Poland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and then against Greece as well.

During the last weeks of WW2 the Czechoslovakian fortifications proved their robustness convincingly again against the Red Army in the Ostrau area, though their combat strength was strongly reduced by the former actions of the German army mentioned before. In the spring of 1945 the German army decided to reactivate once again this line against the advancing Soviets. One should consider that the Czechoslovakian fortification system was developed on the level of a weapon technique of the second half of the 30s. By the long war the development of weapons had accelerated enormously. As well the quality of Soviet attack abilities had increased correspondingly. Numerically the Soviet army dramatically outnumbered the German army anyway. In spite of this advantageous initial situation the Soviet frontal attacks against the German lines of defence integrated into the old Czechoslovakian fortifications west of Mährisch Ostrau broke down again and again. No greater progress could be reached with two attack waves (March 10 and 24, 1945). Though the first Soviet tanks reached the southern banks of the river Opava already on April 17, 1945, the line of heavy bunkers was first definitely broken through on April 27, 1945. The Soviet plan for a successful breakthrough at this part of the front had been scheduled for one week!

As well the western allies were confronted on the invasion beaches in the Normandy and at other areas of the Atlantic Wall with the so-called “regular construction”, which were armed with weapons from the Czechoslovakian fortifications (mainly the casemate anti-tank gun model 36 and machine guns). The beaches were blocked by tank obstacles directly removed from the Czechoslovakian fortification line.

To round off this description we have taken unannotedly two unrelated paragraphs from a core literature of the German army, the “Denkschrift über die tschecho-slowakische Landesbefestigung” (OKH Berlin, 1941):

“Thanks to the superiority of the German foreign policy the Czechoslovakian fortifications were not given a chance to prove themselves in war. Nevertheless the operational and organisational principles for these fortifications and the tactical and technical implementation as well are so many-sided, instructive and stimulating that an intensive treatment is recommendable.”

“If the Führer had given Czechoslovakia some more time, a line of fortifications would have been erected, the overcoming of which would have caused the attacker serious problems.”

The course of the war west of Mährisch Ostrau in the spring 1945 as shortly mentioned above should be regarded from that point of view, too.

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