Every so often our research churns up snippets about the Second World War on Tenerife. It’s a topic I keep meaning to look into further as information for what must have been a fascinating period often seems to be hazy and disjointed.
Sometimes it’s not just research which throws up snippets about the war. Our neighbour was a source of all sorts of unusual information about the island, gems were regularly casually dropped into conversation. Some seemed too fantastical to be true, but on checking they usually turned out to have substance. Many of these tales remain recorded only in our memories, but we’ll get them down on virtual paper at some point.
Other times we’d literally stumble across remnants of the war, especially in the form of the military coastal defences – pillboxes – which are still dotted around Tenerife’s coastline.
Spain’s official role in the war was one of neutrality, although the country owed a significant financial debt to Germany due to assistance received from the Germans during the Spanish Civil War. Lying close to Africa, the Canary Islands were of great strategic importance. When coastal defences were built in order to keep a lookout for, or help deter, an invasion, those invaders would have been flying British and American flags.
In reality the coastal defences would never have been of much use as a deterrent. The U.S and Britain never invaded and the Canaries remained neutral. But the pillboxes and bunkers remain as a reminder of how the history of the islands could easily have changed.
It’s quite interesting to track these old bunkers down. Some require a bit of a trek whereas others are to be found in the most unexpected places.
The south east coast is a particularly good hunting ground with a few pillboxes around the El Médano area, one near Montaña Roja even has a helpful information board.
Further along the coast, the area between Güímar and Candelaria is littered with easy to spot coastal defences, along with driftwood dumped by the sea. Many of the old bunkers there are now used by fishermen.
San Andrés and surrounding coastline has been a strategic point for centuries, hence the broken castle. Again, you don’t have to look too far to spot former military defences.
We haven’t seen many along the north coast, too rugged for an attack from the sea. But there is one high on cliffs at Santa Ursula, a superb vantage point for keeping a watchful eye over the immense expanse of Atlantic which fills the horizon. Nearby low-lying Puerto de la Cruz was the potential weak point of that coast.
The most surprising examples are around the southern resort areas. Surprising because of what’s grown up around them. There used to be more along the coast between La Caleta and Los Cristianos, but apparently some were destroyed to make way for a smart promenade. Next time you pass the volcanic wall with the Torviscas Playa mural at the southern end of Playa Fañabe, take a closer look at it.
There’s another, or there was the last time we looked, tucked between apartment blocks above the harbour area in the back streets of Los Cristianos.
Obviously, given their purpose, the bunkers are not the most aesthetically pleasing of constructions. But for those who have an interest in Tenerife which stretches beyond the sand surrounding some of these pillboxes, they are intriguing keys to a very different time; one that sometimes feels in danger of being lost in a sea of sunbeds.