The English Channel (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 562 km (350 miles) long and varies in width from 240 km (150 miles) at its widest to only 34 km (21 miles) 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 square kilometres (29,000 mi²).
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):
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).
The geology and geography of the Channel make it a productive site for maritime archaeologists and it has thousands of shipwrecks.
In August 2007, artifacts including wood and hazelnuts from the 8,000-year-old Bouldnor Cliff Mesolithic Village were presented by the Underwater Archaeology Centre based in the Isle of Wight. The preservation of organic material from the stone age is unique to the UK, and the site is of international importance.
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.
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.
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.
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. The only 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
The Channel, with traffic in both the UK-Europe and North Sea-Atlantic routes, is one of the world's busiest seaways carrying over 400 ships per day. Following an accident in January 1971 and a series of disastrous collisions with wreckage in February,, the Dover Traffic Separation System (TSS) the world's first radar controlled TSS was set up by the International Maritime Organization.
In December 2002 the MV Tricolor, carrying £30m of luxury cars sank 32km (20m) northwest of Dunkirk after collision in fog with the container ship Kariba. The cargo ship Nicola ran into the wreckage the next day. However, there was no loss of life.
The shore-based long range traffic control system was updated in 2003. Though the system is inherently incapable of reaching the levels of safety obtained from aviation systems such as the Traffic Collision Avoidance System, it has reduced accidents to one or two per year.
Marine GPS systems allow ships to be preprogrammed to follow navigational channels accurately and automatically, further avoiding risk of running aground, but following the fatal collision between Dutch Aquamarine and Ash in October 2001, Britain's Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) issued a safety bulletin saying it believed that in these most unusual circumstances GPS use had actually contributed to the collision. The ships were maintaining a very precise automated course, one directly behind the other, rather than making use of the full width of the traffic lanes as a human navigator would.
A combination of radar difficulties in monitoring areas near cliffs, a failure of a CCTV system, incorrect operation of the anchor, the inability of the crew to follow standard procedures of using a GPS to provide early warning of the ship dragging the anchor and reluctance to admit the mistake and start the engine led to the MV Willy running aground in Cawsand bay, Cornwall in January 2002. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch report makes it clear that the harbour controllers were actually informed of impending disaster by shore observers even before the crew were themselves aware. The village of Kingsand was evacuated for 3 days because of the risk of explosion, and the ship was stranded for 11 days.
Because of the risk to life from large vessels maneuvering in narrow shipping lanes, unorthodox crossing of the Dover Straits is banned under French Law, the only exception being for Cross Channel swimming attempts organised and approved by the Channel Swimming Association (CSA) and (CS&PF).
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
Dutch previously had a larger range, and extended into parts of the modern-day French state. For more information, please see French Flemish.Romance languages
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 Flemish and 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"
As one of the narrowest but most famous international waterways lacking dangerous currents, crossing the Channel has been the first objective of numerous innovative sea, air and human powered technologies.
|7 January 1785||First crossing by air (in balloon, from Dover to Calais)|| Jean-Pierre Blanchard (France)|
John Jeffries (U.S.)
|15 June 1785|| First air crash|
(in combination hydrogen / hot-air balloon)
|Pilâtre de Rozier (France) Pierre Romain (France)||Attempted crossing similar to Blanchard/Jeffries|
|25 August 1875||First known person to swim the channel (Dover to Calais, 21 hrs, 45 min)||Matthew Webb (UK)||Attempted crossing on 12 August the same year; forced to abandon swim because of strong winds/rough sea conditions|
|27 March 1899||First radio transmission across the Channel (from (Wimereux to South Foreland Lighthouse)||Guglielmo Marconi (Italy)|
|25 July 1909||First person to cross the channel in a heavier-than-air aircraft (the Blériot XI) (Calais to Dover, 37 minutes)||Louis Blériot (France)||Encouraged by £1000 prize being offered by the Daily Mail for first successful flight across the channel|
|23 August 1910||First aircraft flight with passengers||John Bevins Moisant (U.S.)||Passengers were mechanic Albert Fileux and Moisant's cat.|
|16 April 1912||First woman to fly across the English channel (Dover to Calais, 59 minutes)||Harriet Quimby (US)||Her accomplishment did not receive much media attention, as the Titanic had sunk the evening before.|
|23 August 1926||First woman to swim across the channel (Cap Griz Nez to Kingsdown, 14 hours 39 minutes)||Gertrude Ederle (US)||Five men had successfully swum the channel before Ederle. Ederle beat their best time by two hours, creating a record for a female swimmer that stood until Florence Chadwick swam it in 13 hours 20 minutes in 1950.|
|25 July 1959||Hovercraft crossing (Calais to Dover, 2 hours 3 minutes)||SR-N1||Sir Christopher Cockerell was on board|
|22 August 1972||First solo hovercraft crossing (same route as SR-N1; 2 hours 20 minutes)||Nigel Beale (UK)|
|12 June 1979|| First human-powered aircraft to fly over the channel|
(in 70-pound (32 kg) Gossamer Albatross)
|Bryan Allen (U.S.)||Won a £100,000 Kremer Prize; Allen pedalled for three hours|
|14 September 1995||Fastest crossing by hovercraft, 22 minutes by "Princess Anne"||MCH SR-N4 MkIII||Craft was designed to work as a ferry|
|1997||First vessel to complete a solar-powered crossing using photovoltaic cells.||SB Collinda||—|
|14 June 2004||New record time for crossing in amphibious vehicle (the Gibbs Aquada, two-seater open-top sports car)||Richard Branson (UK)||Completed crossing in 100 min 06 sec. Broke record by about six hours.|
|31 July 2003||Crossing in a 20-mile long freefall using a Wingsuit and a carbon-fiber wing||Felix Baumgartner (Austria)|
|26 July 2006||New record time for crossing in hydrofoil car (the Rinspeed Splash, two-seater open-top sports car)||Frank M. Rinderknecht (SUI)||Completed crossing in 194 min|
|25 September 2006||First crossing on an Inflatable||Stephen Preston (ENG)||Completed crossing in 180 min|
|26 September 2008||First crossing with a "jetpack"||Yves Rossy (SUI)||Crossing completed in less than ten minutes|
The Mountbatten class hovercraft (MCH) entered commercial service in August 1968 initially operated between Dover and Boulogne, but later craft also made the Ramsgate (Pegwell Bay) to Calais route. The journey time, Dover to Boulogne, was roughly 35 minutes, with six trips per day at peak times. The fastest ever crossing of the English Channel by a commercial car-carrying hovercraft was 22 minutes, recorded by the Princess Anne MCH SR-N4 Mk3 on 14 September 1995, for the 10:00 am service .
The youngest recorded sailors to cross the channel by boat are Hugo Sunnucks and Guy Harrison aged 15 (formula 18 catamaran). They completed in 4 hours 15 mins in August 2006.
In 1927 (at a time when fewer than ten swimmers had managed to emulate the feat and many dubious claims were being made), the Channel Swimming Association (the CSA) was founded to authenticate and ratify swimmers' claims to have swum the English Channel and to verify crossing times. The CSA was dissolved in 1999 and was succeeded by two separate organisations: The CSA (Ltd) and the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation (CSPF). Both organisations are registered with the international governing body for swimming Fédération Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA) and observe and authenticate cross-Channel swims in the Strait of Dover.
Although the swimming rules and regulations of the two organisations are virtually identical, the CSA has not always been prepared to recognise swims conducted under the auspices of the larger and more popular CSPF.
The team with the most number of Channel swims to its credit is the International Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team with 35 crossings by 25 members (by 2005).
By the end of 2005, 811 individuals had completed 1,185 verified crossings under the rules of the CSA, the CSA (Ltd), the CSPF and Butlins.
The total number of swims conducted under and ratified by the Channel Swimming Association to 2005: 982 successful crossings by 665 people. This includes twenty-four 2-way crossings and three 3-way crossings.
Total number of ratified swims to 2004: 948 successful crossings by 675 people (456 by men and 214 by women). There have been sixteen 2-way crossings (9 by men and 7 by women). There have been three 3-way crossings (2 by men and 1 by a woman). (It is unclear whether this last set of data is comprehensive or CSA-only.)