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Forest Heritage Scotland webpage - Tentsmuir WWII defences

Date 2009

Event ID 588252

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


The website text produced for Tentsmuir webpages on the Forest Heritage Scotland website (

Introduction: The Lion and the Eagle

Polish Forces, based in Scotland, constructed the World War II defences], whose remains are still evident on Tentsmuir beach and hidden within Tentsmuir forest.

The sandy beaches at Tentsmuir would have made an ideal landing location for German invasion troops in 1940. The coast needed defending.

Polish Forces and locals built a system of linear defences as part of the overall plan to protect Britain from enemy invasion. The defences ran north from Leuchars Airfield, also a prime target for attack, to Lundin Bridge.

They included lines of concrete anti-tank blocks, observation towers and pillboxes, all designed to slow down enemy movement inland.

Long, wooden poles stood upright along the coastline to prevent enemy gliders from easily landing behind defence lines. At low tide, some of these poles are still visible at Tentsmuir beach.

The Polish soldiers constructed and lived in a camp at Tentsmuir forest. Once they had constructed the defences, many remained to man the guns and patrol the area.

Today little remains of the dismantled camp where the Polish soldiers lived. Look closely, however, and impressed in the concrete wall of an old well you can find the coat of arms of the Polish Army, a lion and an eagle. This survives as a reminder of the Poles who defended the beaches of Fife.

People Story: Polish stories of World War II

Many Polish soldiers came to help defend the coast of Fife. Their stories tell a little of what life was like under the threat of enemy invasion.

Prior to the construction of the defences at Tentsmuir, Wieslaw Szczygiel's Polish Engineer unit came to Tentsmuir Forest to build a camp. Later, this served as a home for other Polish soldiers who would build and man the defences.

The rainy Scottish weather often delayed the construction of the camp. Wieslaw remembers long hours, under tent cover, chatting and smoking.

Wieslaw also recalls day trips to St Andrews' Tudor cafe for a traditional British fry up. Ration portions were small so they would have breakfast, go to the pub, and return to the cafe in the afternoon for a second helping.

Stationed at Tentsmuir to build the defences, Tadeusz Apfel-Czaszka remembers the importance of their task.

"Here our job was to guard against the expected German invasion which we firmly believed would come. We built blockhouses and concrete obstacles, defended the coast with our French machine guns and trained"

Captain Tadeusz Apfel-Czaszka in Henderson's(2001) "The Lion and the Eagle"

Both these men share a similar story to many Poles. They escaped from Poland and fought elsewhere in Europe before arriving in Scotland. After the war ended, they settled in Scotland.

Thanks to the Scots at War Trust for collecting these wartime accounts.

Evidence Story: Examining the evidence: anti-tank blocks

The construction of the defences along the east coast of Scotland was a major task.

Personal accounts from Polish soldiers provide some detail about building the anti-tank blocks.

Dr Kazimierz Piotr Durkacz was a third year medical student in Poland when Germany invaded in 1939. He joined the Polish Forces and ended up in Scotland. Durkacz worked north of Tentsmuir on the coastal defences from Broughty Ferry to Arbroath. He describes building the anti-tank blocks.

"At first we used wood to make the mould for the large concrete blocks and then a combination of corrugated iron and wood. I can remember mixing the concrete with a shovel."

Dr Kazimierz Piotr Durkacz in Henderson's(2001) "The Lion and the Eagle"

Once the concrete set, they removed the wooden mould.

The soldiers worked in squads of ten men. Their squad leader would tell them where to place the double rows of blocks. Each squad had a target of blocks to complete in a week.

The soldiers built the anti-tank blocks either in situ or transported to a location. One sign of the latter would be an iron ring on the top. The blocks were heavy and a winch lifted them into place.

Some blocks had pebbles set into the concrete while they were still wet, this provided camouflage on a pebble beach. Others have the initials of the person who made them drawn into the concrete.

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