View Full Version : Archived: Taunton Stopline – Axminster ATI cont. & Weycroft – Apr/Aug 2011

07-11-2011, 06:00 PM

Source: ADS

The anti-invasion defences around Axminster formed part of the Taunton Stop Line, which ran from Seaton on the Devon coast to Highbridge on the Bristol Channel. The Stop Line followed the natural barriers of the River Axe and the River Parrett, as well as artificial linear features such as railway lines and canals. The purpose of the Taunton Stop Line was to protect the central part of southern England from a German advance from the west, should they have landed on the Cornish, Devon or Somerset coasts.

The Stop Line comprised a wide variety of defensive features including numerous pill boxes; anti-tank obstacles; barricades and ditches; barbed wire entanglements; artillery gun emplacements; machine gun emplacements; fortified buildings; moveable anti-tank road and rail blockades; and mined roads and bridges

The defences at Axminster formed an ‘anti-tank island’ around the town. The intention of these ‘islands’ was, as the name implies, to create a tank proof stronghold that would enable the town to be defended from all sides and allow flanking fire to be directed on the enemy should the Stop Line have been breached.

The survey for the Taunton Stop Line was carried out by 516th Corps Field Survey Company Royal Engineers. Work on the southern area, which included Axminster, began in July 1940 and was undertaken by the 551st Army Troops Company Royal Engineers. The Stop Line was initially manned by units of the Field Army and was the responsibility of 48th Division of VIII Corps. Supervision and reinforcement of all garrisons stationed in the anti-tank islands was undertaken by the 8th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry. Logistical support for the Field Army was provided by the Axminster Company of the Seaton Battalion, Devon Home Guard. However, when the Field Army was later withdrawn the Home Guard were given responsibility for maintaining and manning the defences.

The primary defences of the Axminster Anti-Tank Island were based on the river Axe and the main railway embankment that ran down the centre of the Axe valley. These pre-existing features were fortified by adding anti-tank obstacles, twenty-one pill boxes and a Vickers machine gun emplacement around the perimeter of the town. In order to prevent an attack from the east anti-tank ditches was dug across fields to the north, south and east of the town. Some sections of the eastern defensive line were also protected by lines of anti-tank obstacles. The railway lines also had concrete rail blocks constructed to allow steel barricades to be inserted across the tracks to prevent tanks from driving along them. Anti-tank roadblocks of various descriptions are recorded on five of the nine roads or tracks that lead into the town. However, it is likely that all such routes were fortified in some way.

A variety of different roadblocks were used around the perimeter of Axminster, these comprised moveable anti-tank horizontal rails on the western approaches to the town and moveable anti-tank vertical rail barricades on the northernmost approach to the town. In addition, the western river crossings and roads to the north-east of the town were to be mined in the event of an attack.

The defences in this report are from the north west corner of the Axminster ATI in Devon and also the TSL north of Axminster at Weycroft Mill. The headings contain the original 1940 serial numbers for each PB along with its type and GPS fixed location. DOB numbers are also given for reference where available.


The perimeter of the ATI forms a complete enclosure and incorporates the Taunton stopline on its western side. This meant construction of additional pillboxes, roadblocks etc was required to the east. This work was subsequently completed during 1941 although work could have started as early as Dec 1940.

These are the defences I’ve plotted so far from the original engineers plans. There may be others to be included later and obviously not all sites are extant.

On the original engineers map the existing TSL defences are shown in green with the additions for the ATI in red. The pillboxes shown coloured in are the ones built at the time of marking up the maps. There are other pillboxes shown on the full map as ‘projected but not built’ and these show the triangle marker as an outline only. The date on this particular section of map is 10th Jan 1941.

Still, you can’t judge the defensive strategy for any area just from 2D maps. You have to get out in the field and look at the geography etc in the flesh.

I’ve been to this area several times since April and the photos are from two of these visits.

Axminster ATI NW corner

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/Axminster ATI/GEmapshotNWcorner-2.jpg

The DOB database has S 40 listed as removed which is probably correct. S 39 is also removed.

S 38 – Pillbox, type 26 – S0001304 - 50°47'20.49"N, 2°59'42.51"W

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 38/DSCF1161.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 38/DSCF1159.jpg

T 120 – Pillbox, type 24, elevated – S0001232 - 50°47'20.14"N, 2°59'41.94"W

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/T 120/DSCF1146.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/T 120/DSCF1150.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/T 120/DSCF1148.jpg

T RL B 24 – Railway Gates and AT cubes – previously undiscovered and recorded on DOB subsequent to this report - 50°47'20.73"N, 2°59'42.61"W

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/T RL B 24/DSCF1156.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/T RL B 24/DSCF1163.jpg

Sometime between Sept 1940 and Jan 1941, a new design of roadblock was established. The TSL Road and Rail blocks (actually referred to as Railway Gates) were of the horizontal RSJ type easily identified by the large slotted concrete blocks at either side. There is a theory that railway gates on dual track lines had a third central block, which makes sense, but I don’t know for sure. Maybe someone else does?

The new block is referred to as the ‘Salisbury’ type. Given that the ATI roadblocks I’ve visited around Axminster are ‘Hairpin’ or vertical rail arrays, It’s a fair assumption that ‘Salisbury’ type was either the original or official name for this type of block. There may also have been several configurations of hairpins, vertical rails, mines etc specific to location. I’ve certainly seen more than one type of array.

One of the reasons why finding this type of block is rare now is that they’re often buried below successive layers of new road surface. They are often to be found however on minor roads and tracks or lanes.

T RD B 28 – Road block – S0001346 - 50°47'20.32"N, 2°59'40.90"W

From the DOB - Description: 05/08/1996 20 concrete anti-tank obstacle insertion sockets in road surface - area 8ft wide by 31ft in length.

Today, only one is visible although it does have it’s cover.

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/T RD 28/DSCF1154.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/T RD 28/100_1603.jpg

continued in next post............................

07-11-2011, 06:03 PM

Situated just north of Axminster is the Village of Weycroft. The Mill is listed as a defended building on the DOB database. The TSL is in evidence to the west and east of it.

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/Axminster ATI/Weycroftoverview.jpg

Starting from the west;

S 34 – Pillbox, type 24 – S0001220 - 50°47'40.22"N, 2°59'16.39"W almost directly below the bridge demolition on the bank of the river

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 34/100_1581.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 34/100_1578.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 34/100_1579.jpg

S 35 – Pillbox, type 22 – S0016298 - 50°47'37.77"N, 2°59'15.65"W

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 35/100_1573.jpg

S 37 – Pillbox, type 26 - S0001349 - 50°47'32.84"N, 2°59'28.02"W

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 37/100_1577.jpg

Excerpt from ‘The Taunton Stopline General Report January 1941’

(1) The road and rail blocks are divided into three catergories designated in the attached list by the prefix of the letters A, B, and C in front of serial no.

Serials ‘A’ - Those along the line of the obstacle but on minor roads or tracks which could be closed at an early stage after an invasion without unduly interrupting communications across the obstacle.

Serials ‘B’ – Those along the line of the obstacle but on minor roads which cannot be closed till the attack is threatening. These will include all railway stop gates, which are shown on separate list attached.

Serials ‘C’ – Those in rear of the obstacle which must not be closed till the enemy is definitely attacking, and making progress against the defences.

(2) The work of completing a block will consist of fixing rails, arranging the tetrehedra in correct position and also fixing and placing of anti tank mines.

(3) (a) Serials ‘A’ will be completed by the three British Auxiliary Military Pioneer Companies (Locations: Chard, Axminster, Taunton) under the orders of the officer commanding No. 6 Group Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps at Coombe St. Nicholas, telephone Chard 2120. These will take approx. 3 hours to complete provided transport has been made available. The officer commanding is authorized to requisition necessary transport on code word ‘Cromwell’ as a minimum 2 buses per Company (total 6) will be required.

The code word ‘Screws’ will be passed to officer commanding No. 6 Group Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps to start closing of Serial ‘A’ road blocks. On completion of ‘A’ serial, officer commanding No. 6 Group Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps will arrange for 2 unarmed Auxiliary Military Pioneers under an NCO to be left at each serial ‘A’ block till taken over by incoming garrison. Remainders of the Companies should then move to the serial ‘B’ blocks and man the positions with armed paries and be ready to complete blocks on receipt of the code word ‘Bolts’. Should the incoming garrison arrive before orders are received to complete these blocks, 2 Auxiliary Military Pioneers trained at laying tank mines will be left with the garrison and remainder withdrawn under orders of No. 6 Group Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps.

(b) As the main roads through the line at Durston, Ilminster and Chard blocks serial no. B7, B32, B43 are going to be kept available for units moving back through the line from the west, and in consequence blocks may have to be removed to allow for this, a party of 5 A.M.P. will permanently remain at these blocks to assist garrison in removing them if and when required, this applies particularly to the handling of anti tank mines.

(4) Officer commanding Auxiliary Military Pioneer Group will also arrange to have sufficient trained Auxiliary Military Pioneers left at ‘C’
serial blocks for placing anti tank mines.

(5) There are a certain number of weak points in the anti tank obstacle which will be strengthened by anti tank mines. These will also be placed in position by the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Companies on code word ‘Screws’ under arrangement of officer commanding Auxiliary Military Pioneer Group. Sentries must also be left at these points till garrison arrives.

As you can see, the planning, procedures and logistics were worked out in detail and this is just a small excerpt from these documents (top secret at the time of course).

So the next time you see a lump of concrete at the side of a road, bear in mind that it was once a great deal more than just that.

S RL 27a – Railway Gates/ block – S0016430 - 50°47'33.62"N, 2°59'27.62"W

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S RL 27a/100_1574.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S RL 27a/100_1576.jpg

Large gathering of AT cubes opposite the mill viewed from near to S 34

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/Axminster ATI/100_1582.jpg

And to the east;

S 33 – Pillbox, type 22 – S0016346 - 50°47'40.70"N, 2°59'1.00"W

The anti-ricochet wall was a tight fit to the entrance and generally looked too big for the box. It also knows what it’s number is.

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 33/DSCF1224.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 33/DSCF1186.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 33/DSCF1182.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 33/DSCF1178.jpg

S 30 – Pillbox, type 24 – S0001227 - 50°47'46.90"N, 2°58'53.40"W

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 30/DSCF1221.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 30/DSCF1219.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 30/DSCF1218.jpg

S 29 – Pillbox, type 24 – S0001228 - 50°47'47.82"N, 2°58'44.74"W

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 29/DSCF1187.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/S 29/DSCF1194.jpg

SV 6 – Vickers MMG – S0016302 - 50°47'47.50"N, 2°58'40.40"W

The approach to the Vickers boxes is formidable

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/SV 6/DSCF1212.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/SV 6/DSCF1199.jpg

View from the main embrasure

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/SV 6/DSCF1197.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/SV 6/DSCF1198.jpg

destroyed gun table

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/SV 6/DSCF1201.jpg

SV 5 - Vickers MMG – S0001234 - 50°47'48.24"N, 2°58'38.67"W

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/SV 5/DSCF1207.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/SV 5/DSCF1210.jpg

http://i857.photobucket.com/albums/ab132/Munch099/Taunton Stop line/SV 5/DSCF1209.jpg

Throughout the TSL key rail and road bridges were marked and prepared for demolition. These were either final or deferred demolitions depending on the status of any invasion. Alert response time was anywhere between 1 and 4 hours, the latter where members of the Home Guard were involved. All of the logistics planning is also committed to paper in the original documentation. There’s a staggering amount of information in this data set, far too much to post here.

Thanks for reading this, hope you enjoyed.