Have you just said: « base sous-marine »?

These past last months, what I consider as an important confusion has came back once again on the web. Some online publications are mixing up the two submarine bases’ of Bordeaux. However, Betasom was the telegraphic code name of the 11th group of Italian submersibles’, whereas the U-Boat Bunker was dedicated to the 12th U-boat flotilla.

What is Betasom ?

Betasom was a military administrative entity that allowed the Italian sommergibili installation’s in Bordeaux from the month of September 1940. The entity ceased its activities in September 1943. The Italian submersibles stationed on the first tidal basin. They also had an access to the La Pallice port which was used as a subsidiary base.

Once the U-Boat pens were built, German long range U-Boats’ were sheltered inside. Unlike what is shared on social medias, it was the Organization Todt that erected the U-Boat Bunker for the German submersibles. The Regia Marina had not participated to its construction. The Italian royal marine did not needed the shelter and did not had the means to build such a megastructure. Italian submersibles were just hidden from the Allied planes under nets. For their maintenance, they used the two dry docks that were located on the first tidal basin.

However, where the German submarines stationed?

Of course, it is not impossible that the Italian submersibles could have taken benefits of the U-Boat pens’, particularly when Betasom had to stop its activities and when the Italian boats were requisitioned by the Germans. Besides, the German U-Boats did not only stationed on the second tidal basin and some were moored on a pontoon along the Garonne. Some even stationed on the first tidal basin – which means inside the Italian base – while the U-Bunker was under construction. Nevertheless, if we want to distinguish well these two bases, we shall write that the Italian base was located on the first tidal basin while the second tidal basin corresponded to the German base. Betasom was not the name of the German U-Bunker.

Finally, we do not learn anything new in here…

I am aware my readers already know that and they are not learning anything on this post. Nonetheless, I allow myself doing that recall, as moreover the social networks, some press articles or blog notes, a fine book on the history of Bordeaux has done the same confusion.

Making mistakes is human, moreover when you are not a specialist. Even when you are a specialist and that your editor seriously manages the book, it still does not mean that you cannot do mistakes. It either does not mean that you do not have knowledges. The reasons can be numerous and varied. There is the limitation of space one’s, which makes you synthesizes too much your chapter. There is also the deadline one, that we all have faced. To end up, there is also the famous “you should write to a large audience, so don’t be too specific”.

Anyway, the submarine bases theme’s is just mentioned in the book in question. However, mentioning the U-Boat base, even with another name, is a good point. In addition, there would be other criticisms that this book could bring on. The chapter related to the last mayor of Bordeaux is too laudatory and shows a certain lack of critical spirit. Nevertheless, these points should not hide the rest of the whole publication. A book that proposes a synthesis on the latest historical researches’ over years as the previous publication about the history of Bordeaux dated from the year 1980.

Regarding the edition world, it shall be added that we regret the Bordeaux – Bacalan house of edition called Pleine Page, which has disappeared while the neighbourhood of Bacalan was changing, not only architecturally speaking, as it was also renamed: “Bordeaux Maritime”…

Where the confusion between the two bases does come from?

The confusion might be coming from the French expression of “base sous-marine”, which literally could be understood by: “a base under the water”. That French expression is used for different purposes. Instead using this expression, it should be said: “entity”, “protected base”, “shelter for submersibles/submarines”, “U-Boat Bunker” or it could be simply used the German expression “U-Boot-Bunker”. Its abbreviation “U-Bunker”, could be also be considered. Whereas, the French expression “Base sous-marine” with a capital letter should be kept to describe the cultural structure that is nowadays installed inside the U-Bunker tower’s.

Finally yet importantly, it shall be precise that since a few years, great studies are made about these two bases of Bordeaux. This is why, a list is suggested bellow this text.

The two bases of Bordeaux – Bacalan

In French :

Mathieu Marsan, « La base sous-marine de Bordeaux, sous le béton la culture », In Situ [Online 16 | 2011, uploaded on the 20th of February 2013, seen on the 25th of December 2020. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/insitu/9526 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/insitu.9526

In French summarized in English:

Jean-Baptiste B., “The difficult management of the U-Boot-Bunker in Bordeaux and Saint-Nazaire, from the Liberation to the twenty-first century”, Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l’Ouest [En ligne], 122-4 | 2015, uploaded on the 15th of December 2017, seen on the 25th of December 2020. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/abpo/3148 ; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/abpo.3148

This article was published a few years later after my master thesis defence, which took place in Bordeaux in April 2013.

Both in English and Spanish:

Nieves A. Calvo López, « La Base Sous-Marine », Hidden Architecture, March 2019, online (opened on December 25, 2020): http://hiddenarchitecture.net/la-base-sous-marine/

In Bordelais (French):

Laurent Perpigna Iban, « La base sous-marine rouge sang », Revue Far-Ouest, July 8, 2020, paid online article (read on October 2020) : https://www.revue-farouest.fr/articles/base-sous-marine-rouge-sang-republicains-espagnols-travaux-forces/

The article also mix up the two bases, but one of the magazine staff members’ has written me that it will be corrected.

Both in French and English :

It shall be precise that the video-mapping enterprise culturespaces, which is now in charge of the pens number 1 to 4 in the Bordeaux U-Bunker, has uploaded some historical elements on its website (open on December 25, 2020): https://www.bassins-lumieres.com/en/venue/an-historic-area

We are proud to say that one of our article has been quoted on it, even if our name doesn’t appear on the website1.

A reference to my work made on the Bassins de Lumières website’s.

1 It refers to that article, that can be shipped from the Municipal Archives of Bordeaux : Jean-Baptiste B., « Les bases de sous-marins de Bordeaux, une histoire européenne et locale », Revue historique de Bordeaux et du département de la Gironde, 20, 2017, (publié à la fin 2018), pp. 137-160.


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