Atlantic Wall

A fortification in northern France

A fortification in northern France

The Atlantic Wall was a 2685 km long line of fortified positions along the coasts of the Atlantic, English Channel and the North Seas. They were planned during the Second World War by the German occupiers in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, the Channel Islands and the German Empire in the period 1942-1944 and partially built. The Atlantic Wall was to protect these areas against Allied invasion.

Hitler and Rommel’s command building types from November 1943

Already in December 1941, Hitler demanded a “girdle of ramparts” coast on the 5,000-kilometer-long Atlantic. After the unfortunate landing of Canadian troops at Dieppe on 18-19. August 1942 (Operation Jubilee), Hitler ordered 25 August 1942 fixing the entire Atlantic coast to a “Atlantic Wall”. For such a large building, it lacked the kingdom but in part to personnel and material. The management of the work was taken over by the Organisation Todt. From September 1942 to June 1944 was carried out daily on the Atlantic Wall fortifications.

After the death of Fritz Todt operation in November 1943, General Rommel work on the “Atlantic Wall” before it. In his opinion, there was such a “wall” have not, but the coast was previously attached only selectively. Rommel was shocked, because Hitler’s propaganda about the “Atlantic Wall” proved to be a total bluff. Nothing was done. Even von Rundstedt, commander West, expressed this view: “a huge bluff”.

After Rommel had been given his new role, he traveled to many coastal sections to get a picture of the situation on the ground. Due to the lack of troop strength in his opinion to be operational reserves are not possible, so he drew the conclusion: “HKL [main line] is the beach.”

In the following time Rommel’s plans tied to large parts of the human and material resources of the empire for the “Atlantic Wall”. Very large amounts of steel and concrete came out of the whole area, which was under Nazi rule, the construction of the “Atlantic Wall”. Due to the lack of permanent steel was waived larger rotating steel tank turrets at the design stage, only splinter protection hoods were installed in larger systems. The gun positions were mostly built in the style of tunnel batteries or casemates and therefore were more like bunkered shelters. The field of fire of the gun s was very limited by the construction of gun emplacements. In places, therefore, were the older armored turrets, for example of captured French Renault FT-17, integrated into the lines. To gain access to raw materials, parts of the Maginot Line and old German border fortifications were dismantled, melted down and used the “Atlantic Wall”.

Rommel soon realized the very low depth defense of the Atlantic Wall, so he left the beaches and surf zones barricade. Barriers were built in large numbers, these consisted of several rows Czech hedgehogs n Hemmbalken, many of which were fitted to the peaks with mines or explosive shells, and beat barbed wire. On a large scale the coastal area, the riparian zones and the spaces between the individual pockets of resistance were mined. In many places, also known Rommel asparagus were used, these obstacles formed from wire stretched between poles and should avoid open field airborne operations or at least considerably more difficult. Systems of ditches, moats, walls and tank fire traps completed the fortifications. Coastal buildings were expropriated and demolished or incorporated places in the defenses for safety. The coastal towns were usually surrounded with several pockets of resistance and / or fortresses, in the cities themselves were at different points Defence points. Existing defenses were rebuilt and extended. The bunker were depending on local conditions draped with camouflage nets for camouflage, camouflage or provided with Tarnverputz than “normal” building disguised or integrated directly into the rock or the like.

The “Atlantic Wall” in France worked from November 1943 a total of 291,000 men, including 15,000 German and 85,000 French. Sites with up to 1,000 men were not uncommon. By resorting to forced labor, as well as the activities of various resistance groups were frequent acts of sabotage, which the construction work, in addition to the danger in the air by the ever increasing enemies considerably more difficult.

The construction work at the “Atlantic Wall” were closely monitored by Allied side, particularly by aircraft. Much of the information came from the circle of resistance groups such As the Resistance. In many places, the Allies tried to stop bombing by the works or to destroy the buildings. The “collateral damage” of civilian buildings were significantly decreased in some cases even the total destruction of entire cities such as Lorient, St. Nazaire and La Pallice. Most military installations could only by developing bunker-busting bombs, such as the British “Tall Boys” can be effectively fought from the air. Thus, the British destroyed the launchers of the V3 with these weapons.

Importance of the Atlantic Wall in the War

Up to the Allied invasion (Operation Overlord) the fortifications in France were the most advanced, especially at Pas-de-Calais, where the narrowest part of the English Channel, most likely an enemy invasion was expected. This assessment was supported by the Allies through deception underpins (details here). Were most advanced in the development of the fortifications around the Gironde estuary and the plants in the area to the Spanish border in Bayonne / Biarritz because of their importance for the overseas transfer. Here were built with a huge construction effort by the Organization Todt and using thousands of forced laborers and prisoners of war bunkers and gun batteries for e different caliber.

The southern end of the Atlantic Wall was the several kilometer wide mouth of the Gironde. In the “Fuehrer Directive No. 50,” Hitler ordered all estuaries to strong “defense areas” to expand, to secure it against an Allied invasion. In January 1944, Hitler stated some defense areas to “forts” that had to defend “to the last bullet” (see firm position). On the land between the Atlantic and the Gironde was built on an area of 170 square kilometers of the South Fortress Gironde.

An idea of the numerical importance of the fortifications, the following incomplete list of battery positions:

•Theo with four guns in caliber 40.6 cm (Trondenes, Norway)

•Dietl with three guns in caliber 40.6 cm (Engeløya, Norway)

•Vara. N with four cannon caliber 38.0 cm (Kristiansand, Norway)

•Hanstholm with four guns in caliber 38.0 cm (Hanstholm, Denmark)

•Lindemann with three guns in caliber 40.6 cm (Sangatte, Pas-de-Calais, France)

•Dead with four guns in caliber 38.0 cm (Audinghen, Pas-de-Calais, France)

•Great Elector. Having four guns in caliber 28 cm (Cap Gris-Nez, Pas-de-Calais, France)

•Friedrich August. Having three guns in caliber 30.5 cm (Wimereux, Pas-de-Calais, France)

•Plouharnel. Having three guns in caliber 34 cm (peninsula of Quiberon, Brittany, France)

Usually, the batteries were equipped with artillery guns in caliber between 10.5 cm and 15.5 cm, as the following table shows:

•Ouistreham., With six guns in caliber 15.5 cm (Normandy, France)

•Mont Fleury., With six guns in caliber 12.2 cm (in Russian) (Normandy, France)

•Longues-sur-Mer with four guns in caliber 15.2 cm (tschech.) (Normandy, France)

Pointe du Hoc with six guns in caliber 15.5 cm (double) (Normandy, France)

•Marcouf. Having three guns in caliber 21 cm (tschech.) (Normandy, France)

•Azeville. Having four guns in caliber 10.5 cm (Normandy, France)

Also been completed in many parts of the log cabin of Éperlecques the largest bunker in France. This building was to serve as a base for the use of V2.

Concept of the Atlantic Wall

Total 8119 bunkers were built for the Atlantic Wall, for reasons of efficiency were of the different branches of standard or Regelbauten developed, most buildings were constructed according to the plans. The individual Military Branches Army, Air Force and Navy had their own largely standardized A / equipment. The type of weapon frequently related arming the individual plants, the Würzburg radar was operated by the Air Force, particularly the heavy artillery batteries and the coastal batteries often of the Navy. The individual Regelbauten were built as modules, adapted to the purpose of protection and topography arrangement. Such was about the coastal batteries near the beach, increasing the fire control centers and ammunition and equipment team moved further to the rear. The individual modules were connected either by more or less fortified trenches and partially covered by paths or hollow passages. A major disadvantage of the Atlantic Wall was mainly the small depth of defense, it was in many places only a few hundred meters. If the attacker had broken through the first line, followed in the immediate hinterland only slight self-defense systems of infrastructure building, other lines were not provided proof. A structure composed of numerous, interconnected network lines as the Maginot Line did not exist. As a consequence, after a successful breakthrough in the beach area, a deep penetration into the hinterland was possible.

Operation Overlord

During Operation Overlord here particularly strong defense showed the disadvantage of low depth. Compensate for the massive superiority of material, information, and teams of the Allies only means “fortified beaches”, “back to throw him into the sea,” presented himself as almost impossible, especially since the landing beaches in advance almost all been heavily bombed by sea and by air . Was a first breach beaten, the invader could advance far in all directions. On the side of the Germans led competence ambiguity, misperceptions, changing strategies for the defense of the Atlantic Wall and the predominant until the D-day assumption that the invasion would take place at the narrowest point of the English Channel to other serious mistakes that favored the invasion in the course.

The positions of the Atlantic Wall in Normandy were the carefully planned invasion of the Allies was only a day (Operation Neptune). However, the facilities of the west coast of France remained longer in German hands, especially those in the field of submarine systems. They were gradually eliminated because they were not primary targets. The rapid advance on Paris and then Berlin had priority.

The Atlantic Wall played in the course of the Second World War no more decisive role, although the positions were stubbornly defended partly by the Germans.

The coastal towns and Port cities of the Atlantic Wall, which were explained by Hitler to “forts” were held by the German crews sometimes down to surrender, or the Allies, who had lost 10,000 troops to the invasion of Brest (dead and wounded) decided that coastal cities in a siege to leave until the war was over, so that the remaining local population had to go through an additional nine-month siege in the totally destroyed city. Such military tank of the Atlantic Wall to the end of the war, for example, the boiler Dunkirk, Lorient and Saint-Nazaire. “Overlord” was for the populations of these cities until 9 or 10 May 1945 to the end.

Architectural and artistic aspects

The architecture critic Christopher Hackelsberger indicates the relationship of the formal language of the bunkers of the Atlantic Wall and concrete structures with expressionist architecture of the 1920s, as well s the Goetheanum in Dornach. The completely different purpose as well as the military use are not a reason to deny them a high architectural quality in the sense of “Black Modern”.

The Hungarian artist Gabor Ösz developed his most famous work “The Liquid Horizon”, as he traveled through the Atlantic Wall and photographed. He built it the bunkers that were designed for the observation of the sea, into a camera obscura in order to return them to you thus this function in an artistic way.

Atlantic Wall


Fortress in Europe

Fortifications in World War II

Built in the 1940s


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