THE FORGOTTEN TRACES OF WW II ON LANZAROTE
This is the story of the legendary 'machine gun nests on Lanzarote ' and the role they played in the Second World War.
Compared to the enormous impact on large parts of Europe, there are hardly any perceptible memories of the Second World War.
Yet the Canary Islands were on the brink of global conflict on several occasions. Lanzarote did not become a war zone, but it was on the brink and the architectural traces still remain today.
During the Second World War, the battles took place in the Pacific and Asia, but Western Europe and North Africa were the main battlefields, once again underlining the geostrategic role of the Canary Islands as a gateway to and from both continents and the key Mediterranean area.
Franco's military and economic support from Hitler's Germany and Mussolini-Italy had been crucial during the Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939), and the Spanish dictator's desire to expand his territories in Africa at the expense of French possessions or to drive the British out of Gibraltar was also evident.
However, this mood was clouded by the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, barely five months after a civil war that had plunged Spain into war and completely disrupted its economy and society. Spain initially declared itself neutral.
The support of the Nazi side and the use of the port of La Luz or Jandía by the Germans meant great uncertainty for the islands, as the Atlantic was dominated by the British, with whom the Canary Islands had close economic and social ties.
The Allies were torn between the economic and diplomatic strangulation of Franco and the hope that he would not join Hitler's side in the war.
On the military chessboard of Southern Europe and North Africa, Gibraltar played a key role.
The Germans and Spaniards studied very carefully what an attack might look like in order to control the entrances and exits to the Mediterranean. Fearing the loss of Gibraltar, the British thought of capturing the Canaries as an alternative base.
Thus, various plans were drawn up for an invasion of the Canary Islands, with Gran Canaria (especially the port of La Luz, which could accommodate a whole fleet of large ships) and Tenerife as the primary targets.
The invasion plans of the British forces, in which Canadians and Americans also participated from a certain point, were successively called Chutney, Puma, Pilgrim and Tonic.
These were years of great tension due to the closeness of the conflict and the different options being considered. The German side also drew up a plan to invade the Canary Islands in the event of conquest by the Allied sector, and there were even rumours of the possibility of an alternative government to Franco in the event of a British invasion of the Canary Islands.
Ultimately, Franco responded with an unprecedented program to strengthen the military defenses of the islands, including Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and the offshore islands.
The Spanish strategy from 1940 onwards was mainly to make it difficult for enemy troops to land by reinforcing the coast and building a variety of smaller fortifications in the ports, at anchorages and on the beaches, especially nests of automatic weapons.
From 1940 onwards, "machine gun nests" were also built on Lanzarote, which also contained cannons and howitzers. The coast was divided into three types of zones: Resistance, Surveillance and Passive, with special attention to the areas of El Río, La Bocaina, Arrecife, Puerto de Cabras, Arrieta, La Caleta de Famara.
In addition to military installations, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura were also the scene of the passage of German and Italian submarines and ships, as well as skirmishes between the two sides, but no acts of war on the islands.
Spain consolidated its "armed neutrality" and continued its program of building smaller fortifications along the Canary coasts.
It is not clear how many fortifications were built during the Second World War, but the most reliable sources put the number at around 120 (on Lanzarote and Fuerteventura), which fortunately were never used.
Today, their fate is somewhat paradoxical. Almost 80 years after the end of the Second World War, these silent witnesses of the past, stand for the futility of defense, against military invasion by the very nations that have since conquered Lanzarote for tourism.
Text: Chris Ernst / Montefuego Media Services
Photos: Sabine (aka 'la fotógrafa Pelirroja) / Montefugeo Media Services