Mirus

Overview

The Final Anthony Nolan run PIGS event was Mirus 2011 16th and 17th September 2011.

This case file contains the findings from six visits to Mirus with help from Chris Conway, Ciarán Okeeffe, and Anna Spenser this location through these events has contributed in excess of £30’000 every peney going to save lives via the charity Anthony Nolan.

Batterie Mirus
Located at Le Frie Baton, St Saviour on Guernsey’s west coast, the four structures that made up Batterie Mirus were the largest coastal batteries in the Channel Islands, forming part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall securing the defence of the Bay of St Malo and protecting the German shipping coastal sailing between the major sea ports of Cherbourg and Brest.

Batterie Mirus – Gun Position No 4
Covering an area of 45 metres by 35 metres, Batterie Mirus Gun Position No 4 has over 20 rooms, doorways and passageways all dimly illuminated. The site is currently used for Battletec games. There have been frequent reports of a ghostly presence in the bunker, a presence named ‘Fritz’ by the Battletec staff. Visitors have felt a presence brushing past them in the narrow corridors and there have been sightings of a dark figure running along passageways, then disappearing into the many rooms. Images of a black shadow have been caught on several photographs.

Ghost Stories

In the back room I heard footsteps behind me and my feet felt very cold”

In the room before the back room I felt a pressure on my scalp like I was wearing a helmet”

“I saw a black figure about 6.5 feet tall and was very cold”

History

Mirus battery has a relatively brief history, which began in 1940 with the invasion of the Channel Islands. However that which does exist is a part of one of the darkest areas of global history. In fact, the complete history of the battery goes back further than this, to 1914.

The History of the Guns
In 1914, the four main guns used in the Mirus Battery were cast in the Obuchov Foundry in Russia. These, as part of the armament of twelve 30.5cm guns and eighteen 13cm guns were destined for a Dreadnought of the Imperial Russian Black Sea Fleet, the Imperator Aleksandr III. She was launched on the 15th April 1914 and completed in June 1917 at the Admiralty Yard in Mykolaiev, Ukraine. After the Russian Revolution, her name was changed to the Volya when she was captured by the Germans and then fell into Allied hands, before being returned to the White Russian fleet, taking part in such action as the Evacuation of Sevastopol in 1920. The ship was abandoned in 1921 in North Africa. After lots of demands over the fate of the ship, she was eventually sold for scrap in 1928, but three years later, she was still intact when she took on water and foundered at her mooring. She was refloated, and towed to the Bay of Sebra, where she was broken up. The guns were taken to Sidi-Abdullah for storage, earmarked for return to Russia. However, in 1940 the guns were sent to Finland, following the outbreak of the Russo-Finnish war. The guns that ended up at Mirus were shipped on board the Nina and arrived in Norwegian waters two days before the signing of the Russo-Finnish treaty, bringing an end to the ‘Winter War’. The guns were still onboard when Norway was overrun by the German Army. These guns were taken as a prize and sent to the Friedrich Krupp A.G at Essen, Germany, where they were redesignated as 30.5cm K.14 (r) guns, defining calibre, year of manufacture, and provenance. It was here that modifications were made to the guns and suitable mountings were fabricated to improve the elevation and depression of the barrels to extend their range and allow for them to be shore mounted. In fact, the modifications made the maximum possible range of these guns an amazing 51,000m with 250kg HE shells, and 32,000m with the heavier 405kg shells. These were propelled with Cordite, and a compressed air system was developed to allow for the barrels to be cleared after every round. By 1941, the work was sufficiently well advanced to commence work on the armour plating of the guns- 150mm thick at the front, and 50mm thick on the sides, top and rear, although the top was reinforced to 150mm soon after. The decision to transport these to Guernsey was taken in October 1941.

The Nina Battery and the Atlantic Wall

Following the invasion of the Channel Islands, Hitler believed that their recapture would be one of the Allies’ top priorities, and he wished to keep the Islands after the end of the war, so ordered that these be made impregnable. It was initially agreed that the defence of the Channel Islands would come under the remit of the Navy, and so the First Naval Coastal Artillery Battalion, MAA 604 (Marine Artillerie Abteilung 604) was despatched to set up a battery on each of the principal islands and establish its headquarters at St Martin’s, Guernsey. Battery ‘Strassburg’ was completed and ready for action by May, supported by a number of Army coastal batteries. Hitler ordered the 319 Infantry Division to the Islands, and they were supported by armoured units to further bolster their defences. After carrying out surveys on the Islands, it was felt that the defence was not sufficient, and proposals were made for a heavy battery on each island. However, due to resources, this was not to be possible, although the Nina guns were suggested as a suitable alternative. Work on the Nina Battery commenced in November 1941, and used over 47,000 cubic metres of concrete. This new battery was an important part of Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’, the defence of the northern coasts of Mainland Europe and Scandinavia. The Channel Islands, however, used no less than 10% of all of the concrete and steel used in the entire Atlantic Wall construction.

This work was delegated to Organisation Todt. By 13th April 1942, Gun no.2 was ready for testing. The demonstration of the gun was witnessed by several observers, including an official photographer, who were stood too close, and were hurled into a ditch by the blast. By the 29th June, all 4 guns were in operation, and were ready for manual operation, and by the 1st November, mechanical preparation of the battery was complete. It was then formally handed over to the Navy, and came under the remit of MAA604. Before their handover, a renaming ceremony was carried out to honour a naval Captain who had been killed on a voyage between Guernsey and Alderney. Mirus Battery was born.

Organisation Todt
Founded in 1938, Organisation Todt (OT) was born from the engineering company responsible for the modernisation of the German Roadway system and West Wall defences (Siegfried Line). They undertook the bulk of the work here in the Channel Islands; the Wehrmacht did not possess the manpower to complete the work alone. They comprised a workforce of approx. 5,269 workers, mostly conscripted labour, including Hilfswillige (volunteer POW workers) and Ostarbeiter (Eastern Workers- basically slave labour). All 4 positions were built simultaneously. OT was initially overseen by Fritz Todt, and as well as the overseeing and manpower provision for the construction of the Atlantic Wall, they were also responsible for the operation of the concentration camps on Alderney. Todt died in a plane crash during the construction of Mirus, following a meeting with Hitler in Prussia. There is some speculation of a covert assassination, but this has never been substantiated. The work continued after his death, and OT was effectively incorporated into Albert Speer’s Ministry of Armaments and War Production after he succeeded Todt as the de facto head of OT.

The Operational Battery
After being declared operational, the battery came under the control of MAA604. Work continued on the site, however, and all ancillary works were constructed in the ensuing months. The first commander of the battery arrived in January 1942. Kapitän-Leutnant Peter Müller, from Bremen, had served previously as a commander of a coastal battery in Russia. He was in charge of Mirus until he was succeeded by Korvetten Kapitän Max Schreiber, a former Chief of Police in the City of Munich. Max Schreiber was extremely popular, and was its longest serving commander. He was eventually replaced as commander of Mirus by Kapitän-Leutnant Bruno Heck. He was its commander until the German Surrender in May 1945, before which he was promoted to the rank of Korvetten Kapitän. The Battery Commander oversaw a Battery Artillery Officer, who was directly in charge of all 4 guns, each with a gun commander (Turmführer), three NCO’s and some 68 men. The Battery Commander throughout Mirus’ active period was Oberleutnant Hellings. His counterpart in the command post was Oberleutnant Viggerhaus. Both Viggerhaus and Hellings were regular naval personnel trained in Coastal Artillery. It is often reported that Mirus never saw action. However, the Naval Commander’s War Diary shows the frequency of alerts that Mirus was placed on. It is worth pointing out that although the battery was placed on alert frequently, it was not always called into action. The presence of the guns served two purposes. The first purpose was one of propaganda. The guns were used in a propaganda film, claiming to be guns in the Pas de Calais, firing on Dover! Secondly, the battery was involved in a cat and mouse game, where the Royal Navy would test the range of the guns, and the battery would fire on the vessels. The battery often ceased fire on the ships well within range- on one hand, because the longer the range, the higher the risk of damage to the guns, and on the other, because of the strategic advantage of not disclosing the maximum range. The problem of damage to the guns was borne out in 1943, when the battery opened fire on a target to the north-west, Gun no. 4 broke its trunion rings after two rounds, and Gun no. 3 suffered the same fate one round later. Gun no.1 was also put out of action due to a damaged recoil mechanism. Engineers were hastily flown out, and repairs were completed within the month. This was one of several occasions where Mirus was actually called into action, not least on the 2nd November when the battery opened up on a target in the north-west. Along with some of the smaller batteries, 529 rounds were fired with no effect- the target proved to be a collapsed barrage balloon drifting in the sea, attached to a second one. Mirus was called into action on D-Day, attacking naval units patrolling off of the Cotentin peninsula, damaging two vessels from the resulting blast of a near miss from one 30.5cm shell. It proved so effective as a deterrent that the Royal Navy were issued with instructions on how to avoid coming into range of the guns during Operation Neptune. When the guns fell silent at the end of the war, they did so peacefully on the 7th May 1945. However, in spite of the official surrender, Admiral Hüffmeier, the Garrison Commander of the Channel Islands warned the Royal Navy that he would fire the coastal batteries at the fleet unless they withdrew until the official surrender time of one minute past Midnight on the 9th May 1945. When the Allies arrived in Guernsey, the guns were still intact, with no orders to sabotage the guns. The battery personnel were interned in a camp on the island, before being shipped to the UK as POWs. A local resident said that he went to the battery after the surrender to find it pristine. 2 days later, the place was a shambles having been pillaged. Throughout the war, morale was low on the island, with an open revolt narrowly avoided. The Nina guns were sold for scrap in 1947, however, when it was discovered that the steel contained within the guns was to be sold abroad, the contract was terminated. They were eventually scrapped in 1951. It was discovered when these were removed, that under each gun was a Naval Pattern Depth Charge, should the Germans have decided to neutralise the guns in the event of invasion. All that remains is the concrete emplacements that we see today.

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