Pillboxes are important not just as single sites, but also as an integral part of a significant and sadly diminishing wider wartime landscape of defences.
Pillboxes are small easily defended posts often built alongside other defensive structures to help protect important and often vulnerable locations. These are usually built as small concrete bunkers embedded in the ground to offer maximum protection to defenders whilst combating an invading enemy. Pillboxes were often placed on high ground to provide a wide range of fire and could be equipped with a variety of armaments including machine guns and anti-tank weapons to help supply maximum defensive power.
There are many different types of pillbox, which have been developed to suit different purposes resulting in changes in building materials, shape and design.
The most notable use of pillboxes was during the First and Second World Wars. The most common pillboxes in Britain during World War II were type 22 and 24, type 24 being the most frequent. Type 22 is a regular hexagon whereas type 24 is an irregular hexagon shape, both of which are bulletproof.
The different types of pillboxes include:
- Bulletproof pillboxes in the shape of regular hexagons.
- Bulletproof pillboxes in the shape of irregular hexagons.
- Shellproof boxes in the shape of regular hexagons.
- Shellproof boxes in the shape of irregular hexagons.
- Shellproof Square and rectangular pillboxes.
- Bulletproof square and rectangular pillboxes.
- Irregular four-sided pillboxes.
- Pentagonal pillboxes.
- Octagonal pillboxes.
- Gun-houses for anti-tank and field guns.
- Circular and rounded pillboxes.
Different combinations of pillboxes could be used to help create large networks of defence systems. During World War II this could be seen by the creation of defence lines up and down Britain in preparation for a possible German invasion, the most famous of which was the GHQ line. Pillboxes in Britain would often be used to defend key areas such as bridges, ports and airfields but were also used to cover wide areas of land and potential landing sites to hinder enemy movement in case of invasion. This pie chart from the Defence of Britain Project helps to show the range of different pillbox types.
There are less than 6,000 pillboxes left out of 28,000 in the country. Considering that every pillbox is unique makes the surviving examples even more important as without preservation the pillbox will disappear altogether. These pillboxes help represent one of the largest defensive strategies to have been successfully implemented in the British Isles.
Surrey’s pillboxes are included in the county’s Historic Environment Record (HER), click the link to see more information.