THE NAZI VILLA ON FUERTEVENTURA
One of the sun-soaked, scenic Canary Islands, Fuerteventura is a holiday favourite. But history buffs may also be interested in the presence of the Villa Winter, a remote mansion which has inspired Nazi-related conspiracy theories over the generations.
It was the brainchild of German engineer Gustav Winter, who apparently oversaw its creation in the late 1930s, although the story of Winter and the true reasons for his presence on the island are shrouded in rumours and tall tales. There are stories of workers being brought in by Winter to toil in secrecy, under the watchful eyes of guards. The curious architecture of the mansion - including the presence of a striking tower - had led to speculation it was used as a lighthouse to signal to U-boats, or that it was even the cover for a secret submarine base.
Today, the villa remains a surreal sight - an eerie, ornate, dilapidated dwelling against a barren backdrop, far from the tourist enclaves elsewhere, but still a place of morbid fascination.
THE BURIED D-DAY BUNKER
Looming over the English Channel is a cliff known as La Pointe du Hoc, the site of heavily armed, Nazi fortifications which the Allies wanted to capture on D-Day. It was an arduous mission that has gone down in the annals of D-Day heroism, with US troops using ropes and flimsy wooden ladders to scale the cliff and get to the German bunkers. Many died during the operation, while those who did make it to the bunkers discovered the German artillery had actually been removed from the site some time before.
While the assault on La Pointe du Hoc has become a sacred chapter in US military lore, depicted most famously in the classic war film The Longest Day, it's since transpired that a far more important target lay just over a mile away. This was the Maisy Battery, a sprawling network of gun emplacements and hidden dwellings, from which German troops could fire upon Allied soldiers during the D-Day landings.
After being taken by the Allies, the Maisy Battery was - for reasons that are still obscure - buried and hidden. It was only uncovered again in 2004 when amateur historian Gary Sterne found a map pointing to the mysterious complex. Sterne has since caused controversy by suggesting the much-mythologised assault on La Pointe du Hoc was misguided and led to unnecessary deaths, with the Maisy Battery being the truly crucial target in the area. Visitors can today tour the site and touch the once-hidden lair that's evaded the attention of the official history books.
THE SECRET V-2 LAUNCH SITE
Just south-east of Calais stands an imposing, hulking landmark that resembles a decaying slab of Brutalist architecture (Star Trek fans might mistake it for a crash-landed Borg cube). This is the Blockhaus d'Éperlecques, the forbidding remnants of one of Hitler's most audacious schemes, constructed to serve as a secret launch facility for the V-2 rocket: the so-called "super weapon" intended to turn the war in the Nazis' favour.
It was a mammoth undertaking, with the Blockhaus encompassing a vast area where the rockets could be built and stored, as well as a bomb-proof power station and a train station where supplies would be brought in. Many of the builders involved in the construction were slave labourers housed in nearby camps, working in 12-hour shifts under massive floodlights. The sheer scale of the work soon attracted the notice of RAF reconnaissance flights, although the Allies were unable to confirm just what was going on.
Not that the ambiguity mattered. As one of Churchill's advisors put it, "if it is worth the enemy's while to go to all the trouble of building [the base], it would seem worth ours to destroy [it]". Bombings were soon carried out by US Flying Fortresses, utterly wrecking the Blockhaus, and causing the deaths of many POW workers. Further bombings rendered the site unusable for the Nazis, who dubbed it the "Concrete Lump" - a description that's still apt today.
THE FORTIFICATIONS OF GUERNSEY
The whole island of Guernsey was one of Hitler's strongholds during the war - a fact that still seems somehow perverse today, since we generally think of the British Isles as impeccably untainted by Nazi invaders. In fact, the Channel Islands were controlled by Hitler's forces for much of the war, and were given up with barely any violence, since the British government regarded the islands as too strategically insignificant to be worth defending. (The Germans weren't fully aware of this to start with, and mistakenly bombed some Guernsey lorries containing tomatoes, thinking them to be military vehicles.)
An uneasy coexistence between Germans and locals ensued. Hitler, unlike Churchill, saw the islands as a crucial asset in the war. Specifically, they were to be part of his "Atlantic Wall" of fortifications, designed to stave off an attempted Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. Using POWs as slave labourers, the Nazis built gun batteries, brutal-looking watch towers and communications nests in Guernsey, along with a vast network of subterranean tunnels known as the Underground Hospital.
It was hard, painful, deadly work - the slaves often had to use their hands, and many were killed in accidents. The Underground Hospital and many fortifications still exist as eerie monuments to a sinister chapter in the history of the Channel Islands.