The English Channel, often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern 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 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).
Before the end of the Devensian glaciation (the most recent ice age that ended around 10,000 years ago), the British Isles were part of continental Europe, linked by an unbroken Weald-Artois Anticline, which acted as a natural dam that held back a large freshwater pro-glacial lake in the Doggerland region, now submerged under the North Sea. During this period the North Sea and almost all of the British Isles were covered with ice. The lake was fed by meltwater from the Baltic and from the Caledonian and Scandinavian ice sheets that joined to the north, blocking its exit. The sea level was about 120 m (390 ft) lower than it is today. Then, more than 200,000 yBP a single catastrophic glacial lake outburst flood overtopped the Weald-Artois Anticline and scoured a channel through an expanse of low-lying tundra, right down to the underlying chalk bedrock. In a study published in 2007 high-resolution sonar revealed the unexpectedly well-preserved scourmarks and the telltale lenticular island forms characteristic of torrential flood. Through the scoured channel passed a river which now drained the combined Rhine and Thames towards the Atlantic to the west. As the ice sheet melted, a large freshwater lake formed in the southern part of what is now the North Sea. As the meltwater could still not escape to the north (as the northern North Sea was still frozen) the outflow channel from the lake entered the Atlantic Ocean in the region of Dover and Calais.
The Channel, which delayed human reoccupation of Great Britain for more than 100,000 years, has in historic times been both an easy entry for seafaring people and a key natural defence, halting invading armies while in conjunction with control of the North Sea allowing Britain 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, and the Norman Conquest in 1066, while the concentration of excellent harbours in the Western Channel on Britain's south coast made possible the largest invasion of all time, 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 to 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 In ancient times there was also a "Domnonia" (Devon) in Brittany as well. In February 1684 (New style), ice formed on the sea in a belt 3 miles (4.8 km) wide off the coast of Kent and 2 miles (3.2 km) wide on the French side
World War IEdit
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 25 July 1909 Louis Blériot successfully made the first Channel crossing from Calais to Dover in an aeroplane. Blériot's crossing signalled the end of the Channel as a barrier-moat for England against foreign enemies. Because the Kaiserliche Marine 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", 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.
At the outset of the war, an attempt was made to block the path of U-boats through the Dover Strait with naval minefields. By February 1915, this had been augmented by a 25 kilometre stretch of light steel netting called the Dover Barrage, which it was hoped would ensnare submerged submarines. After initial success, the Germans learned how to pass through the barrage, aided by the unreliability of British mines. 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. During 1917, the Dover Barrage was re-sited with improved mines and more effective nets, aided by regular patrols by small warships equipped with powerful searchlights. A German attack on these vessels resulted in the Battle of Dover Strait in 1917. A much more ambitious attempt to improve the barrage by installing eight massive concrete towers across the straight was called the Admiralty M-N Scheme, but only two towers were nearing completion at the end of the war and the project was abandoned. The naval blockade in the Channel and North Sea was one of the decisive factors in the German defeat in 1918
World War IIEdit
During the Second World War, naval activity in the European theatre was primarily limited to the Atlantic. During the Battle of France in May 1940, the Germans succeeded in capturing both Boulogne and Calais, thereby threatening the line of retreat for the British Expeditionary Force. By a combination of hard fighting and German indecision, the port of Dunkirk was kept open allowing 338,000 Allied troops to be evacuated in Operation Dynamo. A further 192,000 were evacuated from ports further down the coast in Operation Ariel during June 1940. 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. Despite these early successes against shipping, the Germans did not win the air supremacy necessary for Operation Sealion, the projected cross-Channel invasion. The Channel subsequently became the stage for an intensive coastal war, featuring submarines, minesweepers, and Fast Attack Craft.
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. Dieppe was the site of an ill-fated raid by Canadian and British armed forces. More successful was the later Operation Overlord (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. 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, which was a protectorate and not part of the Commonwealth). The German occupation of 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 occupation, particularly in the final months, when the population was close to starvation. The German troops on the islands surrendered on 9 May 1945, a few days after the final surrender in mainland Europe.
United Nazi War Edit
The coastal resorts of the Channel, such as Brighton and Deauville, inaugurated an era of aristocratic tourism in the early 19th century, which developed into the seaside tourism that has shaped resorts around the world. Short trips across the Channel for leisure purposes are often referred to as Channel Hopping.