Sunday, 28 June 2009

The English Channel

The English Channel (French: La Manche, "the sleeve") is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about 560 km (350 mi) long and varies in width from 240 km (150 mi) at its widest, to only 34 km (21 mi) in the Strait of Dover. It is the smallest of the shallow seas around the continental shelf of Europe, covering an area of some 75,000 km2 (29,000 sq mi).

The length of the Channel is most often defined as the line between Land's End and Ushant at the (arbitrarily defined) western end, and the Strait of Dover at the eastern end. The strait is also the Channel's narrowest point, while its widest point lies between Lyme Bay and the Gulf of Saint Malo near the midpoint of the waterway. It is relatively shallow, with an average depth of about 120 m (390 ft) at its widest part, reducing to about 45 m (150 ft) between Dover and Calais. From there eastwards the adjoining North Sea continues to shallow to about 26 m (85 ft) in the Broad Fourteens where it lies over the watershed of the former land bridge between East Anglia and the Low Countries. It reaches a maximum depth of 180 m (590 ft) in the submerged valley of Hurds Deep, 30 mi (48 km) west-northwest of Guernsey. The eastern region along the French coast between Cherbourg and the mouth of the Seine river at Le Havre is frequently referred to as the Bay of the Seine (French:Baie de Seine).

French Side: Le Havre

Several major islands are situated in the Channel, the most notable being the Isle of Wight off the English coast and the British crown dependencies the Channel Islands off the coast of France. The Isles of Scilly off the far southwest coast of England are not generally counted as being in the Channel. The coastline, particularly on the French shore, is deeply indented. The Cotentin Peninsula in France juts out into the Channel, and the Isle of Wight creates a small parallel channel known as the Solent.
The Channel is of geologically recent origins, having been dry land for most of the Pleistocene period. It is thought to have been created between 450,000 and 180,000 years ago by two catastrophic glacial lake outburst floods caused by the breaching of the Weald-Artois Anticline, a ridge which held back a large proglacial lake in the Doggerland region, now submerged under the North Sea. The flood would have lasted several months, releasing as much as one million cubic metres of water per second. The cause of the breach is not known but may have been caused by an earthquake or simply the build-up of water pressure in the lake. As well as destroying the isthmus that connected Britain to continental Europe, the flood carved a large bedrock-floored valley down the length of the English Channel, leaving behind streamlined islands and longitudinal erosional grooves characteristic of catastrophic megaflood events.
The Celtic Sea forms its western border.
For the UK Shipping Forecast the English Channel is divided into the areas of (from the West):
Plymouth Portland Wight Dover


Map with French nomenclature

The name "English Channel" has been widely used since the early 18th century, possibly originating from the designation "Engelse Kanaal" in Dutch sea maps from the 16th century onwards. It has also been known as the "British Channel". Prior to then it was known as the British Sea, and it was called the "Oceanus Britannicus" by the 2nd century geographer Ptolemy. The same name is used on an Italian map of about 1450 which gives the alternative name of "canalites Anglie"—possibly the first recorded use of the "Channel" designation.
The French name "La Manche" has been in use since at least the 17th century. The name is usually said to refer to the Channel's sleeve (French: "manche") shape. However, it is sometimes claimed to instead derive from a Celtic word meaning "channel" that is also the source of the name for The Minch, in Scotland. In Spain and most Spanish speaking countries the Channel is referred to as "El Canal de la Mancha". In Portuguese it is known as "O Canal da Mancha". (This is not a translation from French: in Portuguese, as well as in Spanish, "mancha" means "stain", while the word for sleeve is "manga".) Other languages also use this name, such as Greek (Κανάλι της Μάγχης) and Italian (la Manica).
In Breton it is known as "Mor Breizh" (the Sea of Brittany), tied to the Latin and indicative in origins for the name Armorica.

Modern Crossing: Swimming or the Ferry

The channel has been the key natural defence for Britain, halting invading armies whilst in conjunction with control of the North Sea allowing her to blockade the continent. The most significant failed invasion threats came when the Dutch and Belgian ports were held by a major continental power, e.g. from the Spanish Armada in 1588, Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars, and Nazi Germany during World War II. Successful invasions include the Roman conquest of Britain, the Norman Conquest in 1066 and the invasion and conquest of Britain by Dutch troops under William III in 1688, whilst the concentration of excellent harbours in the Western Channel on Britain's south coast made possible the largest invasion of all times: the Normandy landings in 1944. Channel naval battles include the Battle of Goodwin Sands (1652), the Battle of Portland (1653), the Battle of La Hougue (1692) and the engagement between USS Kearsarge and CSS Alabama (1864).
In more peaceful times the channel served as a link joining shared cultures and political structures, particularly the huge Angevin Empire from 1135–1217. For nearly a thousand years, the Channel also provided a link between the Modern Celtic regions and languages of Cornwall and Brittany. Brittany was founded by Britons who fled Cornwall and Devon after Anglo-Saxon encroachment. In Brittany, there is a region known as "Cornouaille" (Cornwall) in French and "Kernev" in Breton. Anciently there was also a "Domnonia" (Devon) in Brittany as well.

Route to the British Isles
This is the approximate extent of Old Norse and related languages in the early 10th century around the North Sea.
The red area is the distribution of the dialect Old West Norse, the orange area is the spread of the dialect Old East Norse and the green area is the extent of the other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still retained some mutual intelligibility.
Diodorus Siculus and Pliny both suggest trade between the rebel celtic tribes of Armorica and Iron Age Britain flourished. In 55 BC Julius Caesar invaded claiming that the Britons had aided the Veneti against him the previous year. He was more successful in 54 BC, but Britain was not fully established as part of the Roman Empire until completion of the invasion by Aulus Plautius in 43 AD. A brisk and regular trade began between ports in Roman Gaul and those in Britain. This traffic continued until the Roman departure from Britain in 410 AD, after which we enter early Anglo-Saxons rendered less clear historical records.
In the power vacuum left by the retreating Romans, the Germanic Angles, Saxons, and Jutes began the next great migration across the North Sea. Having already been used as mercenaries in Britain by the Romans, many people from these tribes migrated across the North Sea during the Migration Period, conquering and perhaps displacing the native Celtic populations.

Norsemen and Normans

The Hermitage of Saint Helier lies in the bay off St. Helier and is accessible on foot at low tide

The attack on Lindisfarne in 793 is generally considered the beginning of the Viking Age. For the next 250 years the Scandinavian raiders of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark dominated the North Sea, raiding monasteries, homes, and towns along the coast and along the rivers that ran inland. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle they began to settle in Britain in 851. They continued to settle in the British Isles and the continent until around 1050.
The fiefdom of Normandy was created for the Viking leader Rollo (also known as Robert of Normandy). Rollo had besieged Paris but in 911 entered vassalage to the king of the West Franks Charles the Simple through the Treaty of St.-Claire-sur-Epte. In exchange for his homage and fealty, Rollo legally gained the territory he and his Viking allies had previously conquered. The name "Normandy" reflects Rollo's Viking (i.e. "Northman") origins.
The descendants of Rollo and his followers adopted the local Gallo-Romantic language and intermarried with the area’s previous inhabitants and became the Normans – a Norman French-speaking mixture of Scandinavians, Hiberno-Norse, Orcadians, Anglo-Danish, and indigenous Franks and Gauls.
Rollo's descendant William, Duke of Normandy became king of England in 1066 in the Norman Conquest culminating at the Battle of Hastings while retaining the fiefdom of Normandy for himself and his descendants. In 1204, during the reign of King John, mainland Normandy was taken from England by France under Philip II while insular Normandy (the Channel Islands) remained under English control. In 1259, Henry III of England recognized the legality of French possession of mainland Normandy under the Treaty of Paris. His successors, however, often fought to regain control of mainland French Normandy.
With the rise of William the Conqueror the North Sea and Channel began to lose some of its importance. The new order oriented most of England and Scandinavia's trade south, toward the Mediterranean and the Orient.
Although the British surrendered claims to mainland Normandy and other French possessions in 1801, the monarch of the United Kingdom retains the title Duke of Normandy in respect to the Channel Islands. The Channel Islands (except for Chausey) remain a Crown dependency of the British Crown in the present era. Thus the Loyal Toast in the Channel Islands is La Reine, notre Duc ("The Queen, our Duke"). The British monarch is understood to not be the Duke of Normandy in regards of the French region of Normandy described herein, by virtue of the Treaty of Paris of 1259, the surrender of French possessions in 1801, and the belief that the rights of succession to that title are subject to Salic Law which excludes inheritance through female heirs.
French Normandy was occupied by English forces during the Hundred Years' War in 1346–1360 and again in 1415–1450.

England & Britain: The naval superpowers
From the reign of Elizabeth I, English foreign policy concentrated on preventing invasion across the Channel by ensuring no major European power controlled the potential Dutch and Flemish invasion ports. Her climb to the pre-eminent sea power of the world began in 1588 as the attempted invasion of the Spanish Armada was defeated by the combination of outstanding naval tactics by the English under command of Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham with Sir Francis Drake second in command, and the following stormy weather. Over the centuries the Royal Navy slowly grew to be the most powerful in Europe.
The building of the British Empire was possible only because the Royal Navy exercised unquestioned control over the seas around Europe, especially the Channel and the North Sea. One significant challenge to British domination of the seas came during the Napoleonic Wars.
The Battle of Trafalgar took place off the coast of Spain against a combined French and Spanish fleet and was won by Admiral Horatio Nelson, ending Napoleon's plans for a cross-Channel invasion and securing British dominance of the seas for over a century.

First World War
The exceptional strategic importance of the Channel as a tool for blockade was recognised by the First Sea Lord Admiral Fisher in the years before World War I. "Five keys lock up the world! Singapore, the Cape, Alexandria, Gibraltar, Dover." However on July 25 1909 Louis Bleriot successfully made the first Channel crossing from Calais to Dover in an airplane. Bleriot's crossing immediately signaled the end of the Channel as a barrier-moat for England against foreign enemies.
Because the Kaiserliche Marine's surface fleet could not match the British Grand Fleet, the Germans developed submarine warfare which was to become a far greater threat to Britain. The Dover Patrol was set up just before war started to escort cross-Channel troopships and to prevent submarines from accessing the Channel, thereby obliging them to travel to the Atlantic via the much longer route around Scotland.
On land, the German army attempted to capture Channel ports (see "Race to the Sea") but although the trenches are often said to have stretched "from the frontier of Switzerland to the English Channel" in fact they reached the coast at the North Sea. Much of the British war effort in Flanders was a bloody but successful strategy to prevent the Germans reaching the Channel coast.
On 31 January 1917, the Germans restarted unrestricted submarine warfare leading to dire Admiralty predictions that submarines would defeat Britain by November, the most dangerous situation Britain faced in either World War.
The Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, was fought to reduce the threat by capturing the submarine bases on the Belgian coast though it was the introduction of convoys and not capture of the bases that averted defeat. In April 1918 the Dover patrol carried out the famous Zeebrugge Raid against the U-boat bases. The Naval blockade effected via the Channel and North Sea was one of the decisive factors in the German defeat in 1918.

Unloading the Mail by hand from the Francis Drake in 1929

Second World War

British radar facilities during the Battle of Britain 1940

During the Second World War, naval activity in the European theatre was primarily limited to the Atlantic. The early stages of the Battle of Britain featured air attacks on Channel shipping and ports, and until the Normandy landings with the exception of the Channel Dash the narrow waters were too dangerous for major warships. However, despite these early successes against shipping, the Germans did not win the air supremacy necessary for a cross Channel invasion.
The Channel subsequently became the stage for an intensive coastal war, featuring submarines, minesweepers, and Fast Attack Craft.

150 mm World War II German gun emplacement in Normandy.

The town of Dieppe was the site of the ill-fated Dieppe Raid by Canadian and British armed forces. More successful was the later Operation Overlord (also known as D-Day), a massive invasion of German-occupied France by Allied troops. Caen, Cherbourg, Carentan, Falaise and other Norman towns endured many casualties in the fight for the province, which continued until the closing of the so-called Falaise gap between Chambois and Montormel, then liberation of Le Havre.

As part of the Atlantic Wall, between 1940 and 1945 the occupying German forces and the Organisation Todt constructed fortifications round the coasts of the Channel Islands such as this observation tower at Les Landes, Jersey

The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Commonwealth occupied by Germany (excepting the part of Egypt occupied by the Afrika Korps at the time of the Second Battle of El Alamein). The German occupation 1940–1945 was harsh, with some island residents being taken for slave labour on the Continent; native Jews sent to concentration camps; partisan resistance and retribution; accusations of collaboration; and slave labour (primarily Russians and eastern Europeans) being brought to the islands to build fortifications. The Royal Navy blockaded the islands from time to time, particularly following the liberation of mainland Normandy in 1944. Intense negotiations resulted in some Red Cross humanitarian aid, but there was considerable hunger and privation during the five years of German occupation particularly in the final months when the population was close to starvation. The German troops on the islands surrendered on 9 May 1945 only a few days after the final surrender in mainland Europe.

US soldiers on their way to embark at Weymouth

The English Channel is densely populated on both shores, on which are situated a number of major ports and resorts possessing a combined population of over 3.5 million people. The most significant towns and cities along the Channel (each with more than 20,000 inhabitants, ranked in descending order; populations are the urban area populations from the 1999 French census, 2001 UK census, and 2001 Jersey census) are as follows:

British side
Brighton: 155,919 ----------------------------------Worthing: 96,964
Hove: 72,335

Littlehampton: 55,716 -------------------------------
Lancing–Sompting: 30,360
Portsmouth: 442,252, including Gosport: 79,200
Bournemouth & Poole: 383,713

Southampton: 304,400
Plymouth: 243,795 ----------------------------
Torbay (Torquay): 129,702
Hastings–Bexhill: 126,386
Eastbourne: 106,562
Bognor Regis: 62,141

Folkestone–Hythe: 60,039
Weymouth: 56,043
Dover: 39,078 ---------------------------------------
Exmouth: 32,972
Falmouth–Penryn: 28,801
Ryde: 22,806

St Austell: 22,658
Seaford: 21,851
Falmouth: 21,635
Penzance: 20,255 ------------------------------------

French side

View of the beach of Le Havre and a part of the rebuilt city

Le Havre: 248,547 inhabitants
Calais: 104,852 ----------------------------------------
Boulogne-sur-Mer: 92,704
Cherbourg: 89,704

Saint-Brieuc: 85,849
Saint-Malo: 50,675 --------------------------------

Lannion–Perros-Guirec: 48,990
Dieppe: 42,202 ---------------------------------
Morlaix: 35,996
Dinard: 25,006
Étaples–Le Touquet-Paris-Plage: 23,994
Fécamp: 22,717
Eu–Le Tréport: 22,019
Trouville-sur-Mer–Deauville: 20,406
Berck: 20,113
Channel Islands
Saint Helier: 28,310 inhabitants ----------------
Saint Peter Port: 16,488 inhabitants

Culture and languages

Kelham's Dictionary of the Norman or Old French Language (1779), dealing with England's Law French, a cross channel relic
The two dominant cultures are English on the north shore of the Channel, and French on the south shore. However, there are also a number of minority languages that are/were found on the shores and islands of the English Channel, which are listed here, with the Channel's name following them.
Celtic Languages :
Breton (Brezhoneg) - "Mor Breizh" (Sea of Brittany)
Cornish (Kernewek) - "Chanel"

Germanic languages
Dutch - "het Kanaal" (the Channel) Dutch previously had a larger range, and extended into parts of the modern-day French state.
Romance languages
French language - "La Manche"
Gallo Norman, including the Channel Island vernaculars -
Anglo-Norman (extinct, but still fossilised in certain English law phrases)
Auregnais (extinct)
Cotentinais -
Maunche Guernesiais -
Ch'nal Jèrriais -
Ch'na Sercquais
The English Channel has a variety of names in these languages. In Breton, it is known as Mor Breizh meaning the Sea of Brittany; in Norman, the Channel Island dialects use forms of "channel", e.g. Ch'nal, whereas the Mainland dialects tend more towards the French as in Maunche. In Dutch it is Het Kanaal (the channel).
Most other languages tend towards variants of the French and English forms, but notably Welsh has "Môr Udd"

Hastings Harbour, Kent

St. Peter Port, Guernsey

Bournemouth Beach, Dorset

Eastbourne, Kent

Exmouth Harbour, Devon

Folkstone, Kent

Weymouth, Dorset

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