There are three key sites dedicated to what are called Vengeance weapons (V1, V2 and V3) in and around Saint Omer in northern France: the Blockhaus d’Eperlecques, the fortress of Mimoyecques and the enormous round bunker known as La Coupole about 10km south of the town of Saint Omer.
La Coupole Bunker Saint Omer
La Coupole is a similar construction to the bunker at Eperlecques which is not that far away. It is massive and practically indestructible. Unlike the Eperlecques dome which is very square, this one is domed. It made from reinforced concrete and built into a trench scraped from the surrounding rocky countryside.
It was built by the German civil construction company, TODT. They used forced French labourers and prisoners of war for the manual, menial and very dangerous task and a very quick build. Thousands of civilian, military personnel and forced labourers died during its construction. The plan was for this monstrously large dome to top a series of underground tunnels and bunkers to create an impenetrable underground town. La Coupole was intended to be an assembly, storage and firing site for the advanced V2 rocket weapon. London, primarily, was to be the target.
The V2 rocket weapon was a dramatic advance in aviation technology developed by the German state. The liquid fuelled engine ran for about 65 seconds. In that time the V2 accelerated to a supersonic 5700 kilometres an hour, reached the near edges of space and the crash position of its intended target.
Allied bombing failed to destroy the dome and structure of La Coupole despite the use of the most powerful explosives. The completion of the structure was abandoned, however, in 1944 with the ground advance of Allied troops. No V2 weapons were ever fired from La Coupole. London, Antwerp and Liege, however, were badly damaged by V2 attacks from other positions.
La Coupole today is a museum. It is dedicated to commemorating the unified and peaceful Europe of today. The only surviving V2 rocket is displayed along with many other artefacts from the period.
It is also a memorial to celebrate the reality of modern spaceflight that has its origins in German vengeance weapon development.
There is a contemporary planetarium built alongside the domed and bleak, fortified structure. Visitors are provided with a set of 3D glasses and headphones which provide a running commentary of the films being shown (available in several languages). The 360 degree viewing room is like an enormous amphitheatre. The style of leading edge animation will literally take your sense of balance and your breath away, and if you can resist ducking in your seat as things “fall” from the sky, then you will be alone in achieving it!
Though there are several different 3D films to watch, one of the most popular is about space flight. Viewers have the feeling of being amongst the stars and sitting next to the astronauts in their capsules. When you reach the part about the first Apollo landings it’s an incredible illusion that makes you feel as if you too are walking on the moon. The 3D cinema show was incredibly impressive, the planetarium is a celebration of how modern spaceflight has its origins in Nord, Pas de Calais.
I stayed that night in a nearby hotel called La Ferm du Vert in Wierre-Effroy. It’s a gorgeous 16 room hotel and restaurant and the most delicious artisan cheese is produced here from cows grazing on the rich, lush pastures of Boulogne. It was the perfect place to get my breath back in a wonderful spot along a tranquil French country lane lined with wild flowers and alive to the sound of bird song.
Bob Lyons is an ex-pilot turned travel writer.