Bassin à Flot

Surprisingly enough, after so many years the area which once hosted the Italian and German submarine bases in Bordeaux are still recognizable and have not changed too much. The neighborhood is called Bacalan and it is still considered a rough part of town. This is a working class, industrial area that precedes the “hangar”, or piers. The piers are similar to the ones in San Francisco, but instead of extending into the water, are laid alongside the river.

One of the remaining hangar; this one will be left standing for historical reasons.
(Photo Cristiano D’Adamo)

The Bassin à Flot is a relatively large enclosed waterway connected to the river by two short navigable channels delimited by locks. The length of the access channels is slightly less than 200 meters, and the two channels are different; the one to the right is narrower and has three locks, while the one to the left is wider and has only two locks. Near each set of locks, there is a turning bridge pivoted on its center, and similar to the one in Taranto, but much smaller. These bridges, when opened, are aligned with the small island, which divided the two channels. The basin can only accept ships up to 152 meters long and 22 meters wide, large enough to allow for the Himalaya, the Italian “block raider” to be docked alongside the submarine base.

The Himalaya docked near Dry-dock N. 2.
(Photo Etablissement de conception et de production audiovisuelle des Armees)

The Bassin à Flot number 1 is shaped like a T with the base toward the river. To the left there is a large depot, or storage building. The original storage buildings are gone, but one of the block-houses (warehouses) was replaced by a newer construction fashioned in the style of the preexisting one and housing an insurance company. Part of the docks is still surfaced with the original “pave”.

The original pavè (cobblestone).
(Photo Cristiano D’Adamo)

To the opposite side of the storage area, one can find the two dry docks. The first one, larger and to the left, could host two boats, while the second, smaller, just one. Although it was suggested that vessels were docked head to toe, by looking at the facility it appears that they could also have been
placed side by side. The total surface area of the first basin is 11 hectares (110,000 sq. meters), while the second one is 9 hectares (90,000 sq. meters).

Clear signs of the great tidal change in the Atlantic.This picture is not of the port of Bordeaux, but La Rochelle.
(Photo Cristiano D’Adamo)

The Bassin à Flot can only be accessed from the river during high tide. Once the river recedes, as the Garonne does twice a day, the water level inside stays constant, while outside it decreases quite considerably. At the other end of the basin is another lock leading onto Bassin à Flot N.2. This second Bassin is quite recognizable from a distance because it hosts the German-built submarine pens. The location is referred to as the “Base sous-marine”, or submarine base, and today, it is the home of a museum dedicated to sailing.

The German bunker used by the Submarines of the XII Flotilla U-Boot.
(Photo Cristiano D’Adamo)

This construction, at times also used by the Italian submarines, is massive; the cost of dismantling it would have been so great that the city decided instead to use it. From the parking lot facing Blvd. Alfred Domey, one can still see some of the damage caused by Allied bombing. This was the facility used during the filming of the movie “Das Boot”, even though in the movie the U-Boat was not based here with the German XII Flotilla U-Boot.