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World War 2 bunker, pristine condition, barely used
February 22, 2013 4:49 AM   Subscribe

In July 1939, French authorities started building a 120m² bomb shelter under the Gare de l’Est (East Railway Station) in Paris so that traffic controllers could keep on working if the station was attacked. However, it was not completed in time and the Germans used it instead. The bunker, which includes a pedal generator, is still there, in near perfect condition. Other images and video (in French). Bonus underground Parisian bunker: this Cold-war era bunker under the Ministry of Transportation (equipped with tandem pedal generators) will become a datacenter early 2014.
posted by elgilito (28 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Daisy Daisy, hide in the bunker, do
I'm half crazy with the stress of World War Two
We've lost most of the carriage in that last intense barrage
But you'll look sweet upon the seat of a generator built for two....

(Thank you! I'll be here all week!)

Additionally, fantastic post! I love theses sorts of hidden urban structures! Of course, reading French would help, but c'est la vie....

Additionally, additionally, is it just me, or do the photos look disturbingly like backgrounds for a video game? Like a WWII-French-Silent-Hill variant?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:04 AM on February 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


My best translation for the caption from the tandem link,
A bunch of tandem bicycles connected to fans in the pipes, allow one to force air through the bunker filters and thus refresh the air in the shelter. Theoretically, with 300 people in the bunker, these bikes alone would not be enough; thus they are a backup system for the electric generator just in case.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:13 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was crazy awesome.

Reminded me of a WWII-era first-person shooter.
posted by kuanes at 5:21 AM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Additionally, additionally, is it just me, or do the photos look disturbingly like backgrounds for a video game? Like a WWII-French-Silent-Hill variant?

Absolutely they do. the light perhaps.
posted by mattoxic at 5:22 AM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I initially read that as, "The bunker, which includes a portal generator..."

You now have my undivided attention, sir and/or ma'am.
posted by surazal at 5:39 AM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The tandem pedal devices are apparently for air circulation, not electricity.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:58 AM on February 22, 2013


However, it was not completed in time and the Germans used it instead.

Completed in time for what? It was never needed. On August 21, 1040 Paris was declared and open city and "spared military operations".

There would be a lot more pristine leftovers from France's brief participation in WW2, had the Germans not used most of it to invade Russia. I was surprised to learn from Antony Beevor's book that France in 1940 had more motorized divisions than Germany and without the capture in fine condition of all of those tanks, trucks, and motorized artillery pieces, Germany would not have been able to launch operation Barbarossa. It was the failure to destroy war material like this that added insult to France's rapid capitulation. The failure was in large part intentional. The French did not only not fight, a large part of the population and military leadership collaborated with the Nazis and this is what led to Churchill's decision to sink the French fleet.
posted by three blind mice at 6:10 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The tandem pedal devices are apparently for air circulation, not electricity.

Kinda both, actually – the French description says they were a backup for non-redundant electric generators that were supposed to push air through the ventilation system. The translation Blasdelb found is kinda clunky, but accurate.

The datacenter belongs to Iliad, btw, which is the corporate parent of France's ISP Free. They've always been pretty innovative.
posted by fraula at 6:21 AM on February 22, 2013


Kinda both, actually – the French description says they were a backup for non-redundant electric generators that were supposed to push air through the ventilation system.

The pictures show them driving something inside a vent pipe which makes me think the latter. I belive it was the fan turning function and not the electrical generating function they backed up.

From the caption: Plusieurs vélos tandem relié à des ventilateurs dans des canalisations, permettent de forcer l’air du bunker à passer par des filtres et ainsi renouveller l’air dans l’abri. or roughly several tandem bikes turn fans.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:29 AM on February 22, 2013


Ok, ok, Francophones! "but you'll look sweet upon the seat of an emergency fan-driving system (and possible backup generator) built for two!"

That will not make the Chorus happy....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:46 AM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


bunker

Shouldn't that be, like, "beaunquaire"?
posted by Segundus at 6:46 AM on February 22, 2013


There's another link with a picture of bikes, and it says those would do both: generate electricity and turn fans.

Also interesting is this picture of some electrical switching gear, where on the left you can read "ALT 115 V", meaning the equipment was running on 115 V instead of 230 V.

France could indeed have fought harder, and its military's failure to make infrastructure unusable (especially railroads) as it was retreating was a major factor in the defeat. They did damage the railroads, but the damage was not thorough enough and the Germans were able to repair it quickly.

The use of French and Belgian trucks in Barbarossa is a classic example of the huge risks the Nazis took. Since they didn't have the support infrastructure (spare parts, trained technicians) for these trucks, once they broke down, the Germans would have to abandon them. The trucks also didn't have very good all-terrain capabilities or the ability to run in the Russian winter.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:49 AM on February 22, 2013


The bunker was built in the tunnels and quarries that include the Paris Catacombs and is only part of a 180+ mile network carved out starting with the Romans. The network was largely ignored until the 1700s when large sink holes started to collapse neighbourhoods. Shortly after the Inspection Générale des Carrières was founded to monitor, map and shore up weak sections of the network to prevent further tragedies. Not that they are always wholly successful; a collapse in 1961 killed 21 people in the neighbourhood above.

Map that accompanies the above NG article.
posted by Mitheral at 6:54 AM on February 22, 2013


The French did not only not fight, a large part of the population and military leadership collaborated with the Nazis and this is what led to Churchill's decision to sink the French fleet.

Just to avoid the perpetuation of the surrender monkey meme keep in mind that the French continued fighting at Dunkirk while the British Expeditionary Force ran for it after telling the French they would stand with them. Dunkirk, celebrated in the UK as a moment where an entire nation came together, was actually a betrayal and should be a source of shame.
posted by srboisvert at 7:03 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, the French did fight hard. They lost 58,000 men in 40 days. The problem was that the Germans were fighting WW2 when everyone else was fighting WW1. Like the Maginot Line, the bunker is quite representative of that kind of military thinking.
posted by elgilito at 7:19 AM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The French did not only not fight

Canard.

France could indeed have fought harder

Not really. You could say they could have fought smarter, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

The French incurred over 360,000 casualties while fighting in 1940, while inflicting over 160,000 German casualties. By all accounts, French units that actually encountered the enemy dug in and fought valiantly at the tactical level, despite screwing the strategic poodle.

The German and (eventually) Italian forces brought about 200,000 more troops and nearly 3,000 more aircraft to the party. More importantly, they used those units in innovative and effective ways that the allies did not anticipate. The allies had almost 1,000 more tanks, but deployed them individually and/or defensively. The German tanks, by contrast, massed the tanks together as independent fast-moving formations. It seems obvious now, but it didn't seem that way in 1940. Also, the German tanks had radios with which to coordinate with each other and their support units. The allied tanks did not. So, whenever a French or British tank was encountered, it would swiftly be gunned down by greater numbers of inferior (in terms of armor and armament) German counterparts. I believe that the German armored forces engaged in a direct frontal assault just once, at the Battle of Gembloux, and they were repulsed.

The Germans either went around French strong points or used aircraft to open gaps in the defensive lines, leaving the bulk of the French army sitting amidst their mostly intact static defensive positions and wondering what had just happened. When the invaders encountered French troops, it was bloody and fierce, but the Germans were able to get the strategic upper hand very early, overrunning the French rear and destroying their lines of supply and communication. By the time the bypassed troops realized what was happening, the allied command structure had collapsed, leaving isolated and sometimes improvised French units to fight while outmaneuvered against superior numbers and tactics with their capital city in enemy hands, their allies fleeing across the Channel, and their civilian leaders either fleeing the country or falling over themselves to surrender.

I guess you could say that, at that point, French morale suffered somewhat from what you might call Shock & Awe V.1.

the French continued fighting at Dunkirk while the British Expeditionary Force ran for it after telling the French they would stand with them. Dunkirk, celebrated in the UK as a moment where an entire nation came together, was actually a betrayal and should be a source of shame.

Well, that's a bit strong. The British did the right thing there in the long run. The writing was very clearly on the wall at that point. If the evacuation at Dunkirk hadn't happened, I believe the political mood and military reality in Britain would have favored a negotiated peace over Churchill's never-say-die approach, leaving the Germans in a very favorable position to win the whole damn thing.

Still, it would not have happened if the French didn't make it happen, and they deserve a lot more credit than the traditional anglophone story gives them.

Yeah, the French got beat, but so did the British and the Soviets at first. I think it's safe to say that it would have gone down a LOT worse for the completely unprepared-for-war Americans if we hadn't had been bracketed by two oceans. The important thing to remember is that the French fought.
posted by snottydick at 7:23 AM on February 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


Bike generator is very smart. Husband has been watching that "doomsday preppers". I am not showing him this pic. I hear the phrase "we totally need a bunker" way too often in my lifetime to spark other ideas.
posted by stormpooper at 7:25 AM on February 22, 2013


Le Bunker sous la Gare de l’Est de Paris

Jules: "What do they call a Bunker?"
Vincent Vega: "A Bunker's a Bunker, but they call it "le Bunker"."
Jules: ""Le Bunker"! Ha ha ha ha! What do they call a Whopper?"
Vincent Vega: "I dunno, I didn't go into Burger King."
posted by ersatz at 7:26 AM on February 22, 2013


Re WW2 isn't it generally accepted that the impressive bit was exactly managing to subdue France & BEF in 40 days -when WW1 was a stalemate for years- with the use of Blitzkrieg and unexpected moves like invading the Ardennes?
posted by ersatz at 7:36 AM on February 22, 2013


Reminded me of a WWII-era first-person shooter.

im in ur abandoned sub base killing ur d00dz
posted by dersins at 8:56 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


sboisvert? Isn't that (Boisvert) a French name? (Grin)

Anyway, according to Wikipedia (!) the Allies evacuated 215,000 British troops but also 123,000 French troops from the Dunkirk trap. And forces of the BEF were subsequently re-embarked further up the French coast, only to be withdrawn again when it was clear it was all over in France. So not, I think, too bad in the scheme of things.

Fabulous bunker. I see some kind of zombie theme park/ride.
posted by alasdair at 9:03 AM on February 22, 2013


I think it's safe to say that it would have gone down a LOT worse for the completely unprepared-for-war Americans if we hadn't had been bracketed by two oceans.

If we hadn't been bracketed by two oceans, our diplomatic and military policies from 1775 to 2013 would have been dramatically different. So also world history. (Possibly no independence, for starters.)
posted by IndigoJones at 9:51 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you like bunkers, have I got a link for you: The Infamous and Unknown Rubber Room. " In short, it’s an underground bomb shelter designed to protect Apollo astronauts and pad crews in the event of a Saturn V exploding on the launch pad. "
posted by benito.strauss at 10:35 AM on February 22, 2013


Churchill's decision to sink the French fleet.

Wow, that could be an FPP on its own. I had no idea.
posted by jjwiseman at 10:59 AM on February 22, 2013






sboisvert? Isn't that (Boisvert) a French name? (Grin)

French Canadian. An entirely different source of military shame (how the hell did my paternal ancestors lose on the plains of abraham? Totally embarrasing.)
posted by srboisvert at 8:02 AM on March 6, 2013


For anyone who wishes to go beyond American stereotypes or the national forgetfulness long common in France, I can only recommend reading Strange Defeat (full text available in French online here, translation for sale) The author, Marc Bloch, counts among the greatest historians and thinkers France ever produced, as he, together with the other founders of the Annales School, invented new fields of social and cultural history.

He wrote Strange Defeat in the summer of 1940, right after it all happened, as a spontaneous analysis of the catastrophe. He had served in WW1 and again in 1940 as a midrank officer (as all university graduates, Bloch had to serve as a member of the officers' reserve, a policy that led to the early death of a huge proportion of France's best and brightest in 1914), and could witness firsthand the incompetence of the old-fashioned High Command, its class hate and distrust against the enlisted soldiers, part of the people who had brought in 1936 the socialists in power, and strong racism (dating back to Dreyfus - Bloch, a Jewish Frenchman, could experience it as well as any other).

Then, he got into the Resistance, was arrested by the Vichy police, turned over to the Gestapo, who tortured and eventually killed him, 10 days after the Debarquement in Normandy. A real hero.
posted by susuman at 11:57 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


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