Battleship Islands, a DVD about Alderney fortifications

Alberto Tabone contacted me about a project he has been working on and is now released to the public. A DVD series about fortifications, starting with the fortified island of Alderney.

I asked Alberto a couple of questions about his project and his love for Alderney.

You’re an Italian, how did you end up in Alderney?

I am Italian but I currently live in the UK. I have always had a passion for fortifications, especially bunkers and coastal batteries, since the age of 14. The first coastal battery I visited was in Italy and had been used and modified by the Germans with the building of a double Schartenstand over the existing emplacements, and had seen a lot of action during WWII. I was totally fascinated, to be there and see the remains of fortified combat after so many years. Since then I have explored many other fortifications, and given my profession (I come from TV and multimedia production) I always thought that I could make a documentary on fortifications and that it would work well. I also had an urge to ‘fix’ the bunkers on video, before they were erased from memory. So last year I decided to push the idea with TV broadcasters, and being in the UK and knowing about the Channel Islands’ fortifications, I thought they would make a suitable subject for a UK audience. When I started researching more in detail, I soon came to the conclusion that Alderney offered more compared to Guernsey and Jersey, both in terms of ‘genuine’ abandoned fortifications to show, and in terms of unique and less known history. I also realised that the historical heritage with forts and bunkers on this island was worth an international awareness. Alderney is just amazing for a fortification enthusiast like me, and it absolutely fitted the bill when I decided that I was going to do a series just on fortified islands, hence the title ‘Battleship Islands’.

Tell me a little bit about the documentary, what can the viewer expect?

The documentary, which is feature-length at 87 minutes, has been scripted and ‘designed’ to satisfy as wide an audience as possible. That means that it contains enough technical and historical detail for the bunker-passionate but not so much to alienate the less knowledgeable public. It is made in the style of modern British TV, with a first-person approach and a strong narrative, with me presenting and exploring the bunkers and practically taking the viewer with me. It isn’t the typical ‘academic’ documentary with tons of archive footage and a patronising voice-over – although there is plenty of rare colour footage from the war, as well as some rare samples inside and outside bunkers. It’s more ‘hey-ho-let’s-go’ and the viewer at the end will feel like they have been on the island visiting most places like I have. There is however plenty of technical information, some delivered using 2D animations, and some clever now-and-then effects using old pictures, which kind of works like a time machine – something I would love to have!

Finally, I have used some music tracks from famous artists, to give more of a ‘human soul’ to what many people otherwise regard as ‘old concrete’. The documentary has a ‘travel’ slant to it, like for instance an interactive map on the DVD, so it is also an excellent introduction to Alderney for those who are planning to visit the island, or for those who just like to ‘travel from the armchair’.

The documentary is technically and historically accurate (apart from a minor mistake), and is the result of a very extensive research.

At the end of the documentary the viewers, be they bunker experts or the general public, will feel like they have learnt and seen quite a bit and certainly like they just stepped off from a trip to Alderney, hopefully an enjoyable one!

What do you think is so special about Alderney and its defences?

I think this question is very well answered in my documentary, so go and buy a copy to find out! 😉

Joking apart, and without spoiling the story too much, there are many reasons why I (and many others) think that Alderney is special by itself and for the fortifications, and they are all shown on the documentary.

First of all it is a beautiful small island, with a very unique and slightly ‘wild’ character.

Secondly, it has an amazing history: it was inhabited by the Romans, then by the Normans, then it was a fortified base during Victorian times (and plenty of interesting traces there!), then occupied by the Germans (and you will see the extent of that), with also a dramatic and dark aspect to its fortifications that many simply do not know, neither did I until last year, and it was also involved in the Normandy campaign in 1944, something else that not many people know. There are many more fascinating aspects about Alderney’s history that are dealt with in the documentary, as well as the reasons why Alderney was so heavily defended.

Thirdly, it is perhaps the only place that offers so many remains of fortifications from so many different eras, and many left as they were when they were abandoned. For example, in some places you still see the original wood planks lining the machine gun pits from 1945!!! I have seen many bunkers from WWII, but unfortunately so many now are either reduced to their bare concrete, or even rubble, spoiled by the weather or by vandals, or converted to civilian use, that they lose the original ‘feel’ and impact from a true war relic. Others have been restored, and personally I find them less fascinating. Alderney on the other hand, offers loads of fortifications left as they were in 1945 (or earlier), it really is like going back in time. There is so much on Alderney that I struggled to keep the documentary to under 1.5 hours, and I still have plenty of unused footage left over!

How did you prepare the documentary, who did you talk to/interview for it?

Well, first of all I have a knowledge coming from decades of passion for and study on fortifications. Then of course I read many (if not all) books on the Channel Islands’ fortifications and especially on Alderney. I then scoured the Internet and gradually wrote the backbone of the script as I was ‘remotely’ discovering the island. I did a lot of planning and cross-checking and I went twice to film, as the first time many things were new to me and there simply wasn’t enough time to record them all. Going there again allowed me to expand and refine the content and complete the script.

I soon got in touch and became friends with Trevor Davenport, who is the island’s main expert on fortifications, and he is widely featured and interviewed on the documentary, guiding us and talking about the various defences. He is actually seen more often than me! There is also an interview with Louis Jean, a native who also has a very interesting collection indeed!

What’s your favourite place on the island?

To be honest I don’t have a clear favourite, all of the island is very dear to me and all its fortifications have something interesting or particular. If I really must make a single choice I’d say Stutzpunkt Sudhafen, which is on the cliffs of the southern coast. The views from there are just spectacular, and I was lucky to be there on a beautiful day. I didn’t actually explore all of it, as it can be dangerous due to the steep cliffs (there’s a searchlight bunker that is excavated INSIDE the cliff’s double edge), and some of it is hard to explore underground due to entrances becoming obstructed, but the bunker for the 10.5cm gun is in very good shape (it is shown as a good example in the documentary), and generally the stronghold offers a good mix of fortifications and beautiful views, with a very peaceful atmosphere. There are of course other places that I really like, like Fort Albert, Fort Grosnez (not open to the public), Fort Doyle, Battery Annes, Stuzpunkt Biberkopf (probably the most interesting bunker complex), the Nunnery, Longis Lines, and all featured in the documentary, but perhaps I would make a special mention of Fort Houmet Herbé, which is an abandoned Victorian fort on a tiny islet (not used by the Germans), which is cut off during high tide. It is a beautifully shaped fort, in good condition and with some surprising remains, and visiting it is a must just for the experience.

Are you planning on more documentaries about the Atlantikwall?

Well, this is supposed to be the first episode of a series on fortified islands, so it isn’t necessarily going to be about the Atlantic Wall all the time. There are indeed a few islands, related to the Atlantic Wall, that are on my list of likely candidates for future episodes, but a lot depends on their current state and the actual useable content that I can make out of them. I think it’s more likely that you will see the next episodes of this series further away from the Channel Islands and possibly in places not related to the AtlantikWall. This series is entirely and solely my effort, there is no big business or external money funding this, and I am not a rich person, so the future of the series depends heavily on the success and sales of the first episode, as well as my future ability to set aside time and resources to this project. I have every intention to complete it with at least five more islands (six in total), and I do have a very interesting and varied list, but it doesn’t just depend on my goodwill. Suggestions from viewers about likely places are very welcome, and frankly I would do every single fortified island in the world if I could, if not more, but making a documentary is an expensive and time-consuming business, so hard choices will have to be made. That’s unless I win the lottery! 😉

I do have plans to somehow broadcast Alderney or future episodes on television (even just local ones), but it is very complicated, both from a technical and marketing point of view, so it’s possible it may only be on DVD in its current form, we’ll see. That’s why for now it is only a Limited First Edition, and I don’t think I will ever do a re-print, so my DVD on Alderney could become a collector’s item.

Every contribution to this series, be it the purchase of a DVD or simply spreading a good word or providing valuable information, is a step forward in making the next one. I do hope you will buy the DVD (it is available on most Amazon European websites), and I am confident that you will enjoy it.

Thanks Alberto and good luck with your future projects!

More information on the DVD including a trailer and where to buy can be found on the website http://www.battleshipislands.com .

Battleship Islands DVD

Battleship Islands DVD

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