English Channel

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English Channel
View from Cap Gris-Nez over the canal to the white cliffs of Dover
View from Cap Gris-Nez over the canal to the white cliffs of Dover
Connects waters North Sea
with water Atlantic Ocean
Separates land mass Great Britain
of land mass Europe
Geographical location 50 ° 11 ′  N , 0 ° 32 ′  W Coordinates: 50 ° 11 ′  N , 0 ° 32 ′  W
Map of the English Channel
Smallest width 34 km
Coastal towns Le Havre , Saint-Malo , Southampton , Portsmouth , Plymouth
Islands Channel Islands , Isle of Wight
English Channel, satellite image
English Channel, satellite image

The English Channel (also The Channel for short ; English English Channel, literally 'English Channel'; French La Manche, literally 'The Sleeve'; Breton Mor Breizh, literally 'Breton Sea'; Cornish Mor Bretannek, literally 'British Sea') is a Inlet of the Atlantic and connects it to the North Sea via the Dover Strait .


The approximately 563 kilometers long English Channel continues as an arm of the Atlantic to the east and tapers like a clothing sleeve. This also explains the German name English Channel , possibly also as a translation from French.

The Romans called the sea area Oceanus Britannicus in antiquity , which is documented by Claudius Ptolemaeus , among others . This name was used throughout most of the Middle Ages or translated into the respective language. A designation that indicates the English Channel is probably first found on an Italian map from 1450 as Canalites Anglie. This designation was also used on the maps of the then leading seafaring nation in Northern Europe in Dutch as Het Engelse Kanaal , which was also used in Great Britain as The English Channel by the 18th century at the latest . English-speaking Northwestern and Western Europeans mostly omit the detailed definition if it is clear which channel is meant.

However, given the growing rivalry between France and England at the end of the Middle Ages and at the beginning of the modern era , France was not prepared to call several hundred kilometers of its own coastal waters "English". So by the 17th century, inspired by the sleeve shape of the coastline, the French name La Manche developed.

The French department of Manche extends to the middle of the canal and has been named after the canal since 1790.


Location of the canal

The English Channel lies between Great Britain in the north and France in the south. According to the definition of the International Hydrographic Organization , the eastern border to the North Sea is formed by a line that connects two historical landmarks about ten kilometers east of the Dover – Calais line. The western border is formed by the line from Land's End to the lighthouse of the Île Vierge . The British coast contains the Jurassic Coast , a protected natural area. Part of the French coast of the English Channel is the Alabaster Coast .

On the southern edge of the English Channel, the British Channel Islands are just off the French coast. The Isle of Wight , which is enclosed by a branch of the canal, the Solent , is centrally located on its northern edge. At the north-west entrance, the Isles of Scilly jut out into the North Atlantic, more precisely: into the Celtic Sea . The largest river that flows into the canal is the Seine .

Well-known port cities on the canal are Southampton , Plymouth and Dover in Great Britain and Cherbourg-en-Cotentin , Le Havre and Calais in France .

The English Channel is a maximum of 150 miles wide. The narrowest point is the Strait of Dover (English Strait of Dover, French Pas de Calais ) in the east - the distance from Dover to Cap Gris-Nez is only 34 km. The channel has an average depth of 120 m near the open Atlantic; at the eastern confluence with the North Sea it is shallower 45 m.


During the last ice ages, the water level was up to 120 meters lower than it is today. The North Sea coast was about 600 kilometers north of its present location, the area of ​​the English Channel was mainland to the western end (see  Doggerland ). According to recent research, there was a broad river that ran along what is now the English Channel and was fed by the Rhine , Seine and Thames as tributaries. This river system with its delta to the west was probably the largest that ever came into being in Europe.

When the water slowly began to rise after the Ice Age, a large freshwater lake formed in the southern North Sea basin, which was blocked off to the north by the Dogger Bank and to the west by a chalk connection. The chalk between the present-day cities of Dover and Calais was around 6500 BC. Chr. Eroded so far that the water of the southern North Sea could flow over the English Channel into the Atlantic. The last land connection between Ireland and the British Isles and the continent disappeared about 7,000 years ago.

Waves and wind erosion continue to erode the chalk at this point, so that the canal is still slowly widening today. Only when the water level continued to rise did the continuous North Sea basin form, so that today the water from the Atlantic flows over the English Channel into the North Sea and returns to the North Atlantic along the Norwegian coast .


Notable canal crossings

Strait of Dover

The canal has been tempting people to make dangerous attempts at crossing for a long time. Swimming through is known as channel swimming . For the first time the English Channel was swum on August 24th and 25th, 1875 by the Englishman Matthew Webb . It took him 21 hours and 45 minutes to get from Dover to Calais.

As the channel between the mainland and the British Isles is crossed in a variety of ways, this results in a number of different records and lists of such companies. First crossing with ... or fastest ... for example a sailing ship or rowing boat, balloon, airplane, helicopter, amphibious vehicle, via tunnels and railways, by parachute jump or flight with wings and nozzles and the historically significant military ventures to invade the neighboring country.


The central section in the canal, known as the “ Strait of Dover ”, is one of the shipping lanes with the world's densest shipping traffic (approx. 400–500 ships per day). Important ferry connections cross this east-west shipping route between Dover and Calais or Dunkirk .


Accidents without collisions:

  • March 6, 1987: In the evening the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry overturned while leaving the port of Zeebrugge. Of the 623 people on board, 193 were killed.
  • January 18, 2007: The container ship MSC Napoli under the British flag with home port London got into distress in the English Channel as a result of the hurricane Kyrill .
  • January 2015: Shortly after leaving the port, the “Höegh Osaka” loaded with 1,400 luxury cars got a list. The captain let the ship go aground off the Isle of Wight - to prevent the disaster.

Due to the high volume of traffic in the canal, there are always collisions:

  • November 6, 1910: After colliding with the illegally cruising steamer Brighton , the five-masted full ship Prussia ran aground and was lost.
  • March 16, 1978: The oil tanker Amoco Cadiz collided with a rock after a rudder failure and broke, causing the sixth largest oil spill in history.
  • October 31, 2000: The eleven-year-old liquid gas tanker Ievoli Sun sank with 6,000 tons of toxic chemicals and has since been 70 meters below the surface. Some of the biodegradable chemicals leaked in the following days.
  • December 14, 2002: The 15-year-old Tricolor car transporter sank after a collision with 2,871 luxury cars on board. As a result, several ships collided with the wreck, which barely protruded from the water at low tide . It took almost two years to saw the wreck into nine parts and transport it away.
  • January 31, 2006: The chemical tanker Ece , loaded with 10,000 tons of phosphoric acid , sank after a collision.
  • June 9, 2006: Two oil tankers collided off the Sussex coast . Despite the damage, no oil leaked.

To regulate shipping traffic, a number of traffic separation areas with separate sea routes were introduced in the English Channel .

Sailors on full ships called the English Channel a sea of head and heartache (Engl. Sea of sore heads and sore hearts ), especially if these ships sailed with all hands on deck against prevailing southwest winds through the narrow and dangerous area to the west had .

Rail transport

The Eurotunnel between Folkestone and Sangatte has been a rail link between Great Britain and the European continent since 1994 .

Unrealized construction projects

Canal company tunnel project

In 1875 the canal company began building a tunnel near Sangatte. In England at the same time sewer work began at Abbotscliff. By 1882, around 1,800 meters of tunnels had been built on both sides. Since England feared a later invasion by the French, the work was stopped around 1882.

The French film pioneer Georges Méliès was the first to take up the idea of ​​tunneling under the English Channel with a railroad connection on film and in 1907 he created the film Le Tunnel sous la Manche ou le Cauchemar franco-anglais.

Vision bridge city

In 1962/1963 the architects Yona Friedman and Eckhard Schulze-Fielitz developed the vision of a bridge city over the English Channel. The gigantic building, a megastructure consisting of a supporting structure and built-in modules , was supposed to take on the functions of a city .

Bridge over the English Channel

Boris Johnson proposed an approximately 32-kilometer bridge over the English Channel in January 2018. He justified this with the fact that there are longer bridges in the world and with technical progress. It would also encourage post- Brexit economic ties between Britain and the continent . The bridge would have to be higher than 60 meters in order not to obstruct shipping.

Reception in art




  • Longest day : United States 1962; Classic film about the invasion across the strait in June 1944, directed by Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton and Bernhard Wicki a. a. with Paul Anka, John Crawford; american. Title: The Longest Day. The title is a common designation for the entire event among all warring parties.
  • Lord Nelson's Last Love : Directed by Alexander Korda , UK 1941; Nelson dies while repelling the French invasion fleet; with Laurence Olivier , Vivien Leigh a . a.

See also

  • Cinque Ports (French for "five ports"), a former union of cities along the E. Channel in the counties of Kent and Sussex.
  • The French prefecture responsible for the maritime zone is the préfecture maritime de la Manche et la mer du Nord in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. The prefect, a military man, is appointed by the prime minister. The area of ​​responsibility is defined as follows: de la frontière franco-belge à la baie du mont Saint-Michel, 870 km of coastline.
  • The sailing competitions of the 2 major boat classes at the 1900 Summer Olympics sailed for medals in the English Channel off Le Havre from August 1st to 6th. Sailing competitions were also held here 24 years later at the 1924 Summer Games .

Web links

Wiktionary: English Channel  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : English Channel  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Italian map of the British Isles from around 1450. At: British Library.
  2. ^ Limits of Oceans and Seas. IHO, 3rd edition, 1953.
  3. ↑ The English Channel was a river 20,000 years ago. In: Berliner Morgenpost . September 16, 2006.
  4. ^ A Brief Geographical and Hydro Graphical Study of Straits Which Constitute Routes for International Traffic. (PDF; 2 MB) United Nations, 1958, accessed on November 10, 2014 .
  5. ↑ Luxury car freighter captain deliberately aground "Höegh Osaka" Die Welt January 5, 2015
  6. Peter Kemp (ed.): The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea . 1st edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1976, ISBN 0-19-211553-7 .
  7. Le Tunnel sous la Manche ou le Cauchemar franco-anglais. At: youtube.com.
  8. Johnson wants to build a bridge across the English Channel. At: FAZ.net. January 19, 2018, accessed January 20, 2018.
  9. Homepage of the Préfecture maritime de la Manche et de la Mer du Nord