|German WW1 & WW2 fortifications in Denmark & Europe|
|American infantry crossing the Siegfried line in February 1945|
objective of a fortification
Apart from marking the territory, the primary function
of any fortification is deterrence.
By its mere might and force, enemy forces should be rendered disheartened
and refrain from attack or at least start this fearful and aware of their
Once in combat, the primary task shifts to protection;
protecting observation, communication and weapons systems and their
operators against hostile activity and thus preserve the battle worthiness
of the position. The means to achieve these goals are partly active –
the firepower installed – and passive in terms of the protection offered
by buildings, excavations and camouflage.
Autonomy – the ability to function effectively for
some time without supplies and reinforcements needed from the outside –
is also an important parameter for any fortification.
Fixed fortifications on the other hand, are erected
where you intend to stay permanently at least for a considerable time. The
Atlantic Wall is an excellent example here, as we may assume that the Nazi
Regime did not expect to man it for all times – only until
Prominent examples of the great fortifications built in
the last century embrace the Maginot line in France,
The Belgian fortress of Eben-Emael and the Siegfried Line in Germany.
importance of camouflage
Camouflage is often mandatory in field fortifications,
but even the large, bulky structures of the fixed fortification can
benefit from concealment that serve to render the enemy uncertain of where
exactly to aim. Thus, clever use of camouflage begin with studying the
terrain and try to “blend in” when construction the fortification.
This also allows for use of existing hindering elements such as waterways,
soft or steep terrain, and natural gorges and crevasses.
Resistance nest (Wiederstandsnest)
Strongpoint group (Stützpunktgruppe)
comprised four Defense Areas;
Aalborg, Hanstholm, Esbjerg and Grove (today: Karup) Air Base.
Although large facilities such as Hanstholm, and
Thyboron are sometimes referred to as fortresses in local terminology, no
defense area in
common Regelbau bunkers in the Danish Atlantic Wall
in the the theatre of war
The invention of rapid action firearms such as the
machine gun seemed for a brief period to pin man down in trenches, unable
to advance without staggering costs in human life, but the subsequent
appearance of the tank (in essence a movable fortress) opened up the
tactical situation once again and added to the perils of trench warfare.
As a result, all continental parties that had suffered massively under the
First World War took steps to protect their soldiers should war break out
again. Mighty fortresses were erected along the French/German and
Belgian/German borders, offering troops sanctuary under meters of concrete
At the outbreak of WW2 in the west in 1940, however,
developments in weapons technology had expanded the threats to the fixed
fortification tremendously – a bitter lesson learned by
Hitler was in no way the military mastermind some
historians want to attribute him, but he did possess a political nose and
he was quick to adapt the
idea of Blitzkrieg – Lightning Attacks with highly mobile forces – and
he did score massive victories in the early years of WW2 with these
tactics. In the view of this, it is fair to ask why the Führer himself
just a few years later yielded to construct a fixed fortification of a
magnitude as that of the Atlantic Wall. The answer is quite simple though;
he had no other option. At that point in the war, the crumbling eastern
front consumed all available resources and manpower, and to leave just a
remote chance to fend off an attack in the west, the attackers had to be
stopped on the beach – or not at all.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel – the legendary “Desert
Fox” and at that time one of Hitlers pet generals – was appointed to
spearhead reinforcement of the Atlantic coast fortifications from Norway
to Spain, and it is fair to say that he, given the conditions, did a
tremendous job. Being an experienced tank commander he probably realized
that all his efforts were in vane, but with little choice, he set out to
saturate the 5000 km coastline with millions of mines, countless makeshift
obstacles and some 15.000 Regelbau bunkers to counter the expected
invasion of allied forces.
Air assault was thus a major concern to Rommel's
fortifications which has to be able to preserve the fighting ability of
the soldiers after the heavy bombardment that would precede enemy
landings. Thousand of bunkers of every sort were erected in record time
and protected by anti-aircraft guns of every caliber. Coastal artillery
was protected in concrete embrasures and ammunition stockpiled in deep
bunkers. Crews lived, slept and ate under two meters of reinforced
concrete and all vital components right down to the water supplies were
entombed in bunkers.
Naval artillery was another matter. Firstly because of
its immense caliber with grenades that could be up to 42 cm in diameter
and weigh more than a ton. Secondly because direct fire would be used,
aimed at necessary embrasures, and finally because the battleship is a
mobile enemy that can be difficult to hit by coastal batteries that even
are inferior in firepower.
Rommel put all this into use and supplemented with tank ditches, dragon teeth and Czech hedgehogs to canalize tank attacks into "killing zones" - areas and angles that were suitable for his anti-tank weapons.
The Atlantic Wall was one of the mightiest obstacles, man has ever built
to to ward off an attack. It stretched from northern Norway to the
Pyrenees and when it was finally assaulted, the attack came on one of the
most heavily fortified areas (personally, I never understood why they
didn't pick Denmark*). Nonetheless, after twelve hours the wall was
penetrated, bridgeheads established and Fortress Europe had to join the
league of monuments over yesterdays warfare. Many young men died in the
ordeal, but it was still just a fraction of the deaths experienced during
some of the infantry attacks of the first world war.
The Atlantic Wall was one of the mightiest obstacles, man has ever built to to ward off an attack. It stretched from northern Norway to the Pyrenees and when it was finally assaulted, the attack came on one of the most heavily fortified areas (personally, I never understood why they didn't pick Denmark*). Nonetheless, after twelve hours the wall was penetrated, bridgeheads established and Fortress Europe had to join the league of monuments over yesterdays warfare. Many young men died in the ordeal, but it was still just a fraction of the deaths experienced during some of the infantry attacks of the first world war.
The Atlantic Wall is likely the last mighty fortification to be built for ages to come. Already before the work started, it was obsolete and not even its constructors seriously believed that it would hold back an invasion if and when it came. It was primarily a showpiece, conceived to boost the morale at the home front and deter the enemy from attempting to invade. As invasion became a reality, it took only hours to prove once again that a determined attacker with sufficient resources will always win the day.
*Long, poorly defended coastline, second-rate complaisant troops in inferior numbers. Outdated artillery. Little and obsolete panzer.
Good infrastructure from beach landings to major roads. A straight road to Berlin with no rivers to cross.
Closing off supply lines to Norway. Immediate access to the Baltic and German coast, the list goes on."
You tell me...
|This text will be further elaborated with Regelbau examples. Comments are welcome...|