Atlantic Wall

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Atlantic Wall
Part of the Third Reich
Western Coast of Europe
Atlantikwall.gif
The Atlantic Wall, shown in green
Built 1942–1944
In use 1942–1945
Current
condition
Partially demolished, mostly intact
Open to
the public
Yes
Battles/wars World War II
A fortification in northern France.
German bunker at Søndervig in Denmark.
German bunkers at Longues-sur-Mer in France.
One of three 40.6cm guns at Batterie "Lindemann", a German Cross-Channel gun. Named after the commander of the battleship Bismarck Kapitän zur See Ernst Lindemann

The Atlantic Wall (German: Atlantikwall) was an extensive system of Coastal fortifications built by Nazi Germany between 1942 and 1944 along the western coast of Europe as a defense against an anticipated Allied invasion of the mainland continent from Great Britain.[1]

History[change | change source]

On March 23, 1942 Führer Directive Number 40 called for the official creation of the Atlantic Wall. After the St. Nazaire Raid, on April 13, 1942 Adolf Hitler ordered naval and submarine bases to be heavily defended. Fortifications remained concentrated around ports until late in 1943 when defences were increased in other areas.[2]

Organisation Todt, which had designed the Siegfried Line (Westwall) along the Franco-German border, was the chief engineering group responsible for the design and construction of the wall's major fortifications. Thousands of forced laborers were impressed to construct these permanent fortifications along the Dutch, Belgian and French coasts facing the English Channel.

Early in 1944, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was assigned to improve the Wall's defences. Rommel believed the existing coastal fortifications were entirely inadequate and he immediately began strengthening them. Under his direction, a string of reinforced concrete pillboxes were built along the beaches, or sometimes slightly inland, to house machine guns, antitank guns, and light artillery. Mines and antitank obstacles were planted on the beaches themselves, and underwater obstacles and mines were placed in waters just off shore.[3] The intent was to destroy the Allied landing craft before they could unload.

By the time of the invasion, the Germans had laid almost six million mines in northern France. More gun emplacements and minefields extended inland, along roads leading away from the beaches. In likely landing spots for gliders and parachutists, the Germans emplaced slanted poles with sharpened tops, which the troops called Rommelspargel ("Rommel's asparagus"). Low-lying river and estuarine areas were permanently flooded, as well.

Rommel firmly believed that Germany would inevitably be defeated unless the invasion could be stopped at the beach.

Although the defensive wall was never completed the Wall's existence has served to explain away concerns of the Soviet Union for why the Second Front was not opened until June 6, 1944 (less than a year before the end of the war). The Wall primarily consisted of batteries, bunkers, and minefields, which during 1942–1944, stretched from the French-Spanish border to Norway (Festung Norwegen). Many bunkers still exist, for example near Scheveningen, Den Haag, Katwijk and in Normandy. In Oostende, Belgium the public may visit a well-preserved part of the defences. That section consists of emplacements of the "Saltzwedel neu battery" and the "Stützpunkt Bensberg", consisting of several men’s quarters and the necessary facilities. These constructions were used by a unit of German military engineers (Pionierstab) who were in charge of bunker construction.

The Channel Islands were heavily fortified, particularly the island of Alderney which is closest to France. Hitler had decreed that 10% of the steel and concrete used in the Atlantic Wall go to the Channel Islands, because of the propaganda value of controlling British territory.[source?] Despite the mooting of Operation Constellation et al., the Allies bypassed the islands and did not try to liberate them when they invaded Normandy. The islands' German garrisons did not surrender until 9 May 1945 – one day after the German armed forces on the mainland. The German garrison on Alderney did not surrender until 16 May.

Walcheren Island was considered to be the "strongest concentration of defences the Nazis had ever constructed."[4]

Atlantic Wall Commands[change | change source]

The Atlantic Wall was not a single organisation except in the administration of its building. Militarily it was divided into eight commands[5]:

  • Norway Army Command
  • Forces Commander in Danmark
  • Deutschen Bucht Command
  • Wehrmacht Netherlands Command
  • Armee Oberkommando 15 (15th Army zone)
  • Armee Oberkommando 7 (7th Army zone)
  • Armee Oberkommando 1 (1st Army zone)
  • Armee Oberkommando 19 (19th Army zone)

Atlantic Wall Fortresses[change | change source]

Many major ports and positions were made part of the Atlantic wall and received heavy fortifications, Hitler ordered them all to fight to the end [6] and some of them remained in German hands until the unconditional surrender of Axis Forces on May 8, 1945. Several of the port fortresses were resupplied by submarine after being surrounded by Allied forces. The defenders of these positions included Slavic soldiers and SS troops. [7]

Location Commander Garrison Details of Battle Surrender Allied Use
Cherbourg General von Schlieben 47,000 men in whole Cotentin Peninsula Port wrecked by demolitions. Hitler refused to allow demolitions earlier in the year. June 27, 1944 majority of strong points surrendered Put back into use by Americans. Limited use by the middle of August
Saint-Malo/Dinard Colonel von Aulock 12,000+ men including paratroopers and SS Port wrecked by demolitions. 300 men on the fortified island of Cézembre held out till September 2, 1944. The island controlled the approaches to the port August 17, 1944. Out of use for whole campaign
Alderney One of the most heavily defended fortresses on the Atlantic Wall May 16, 1945 Surrendered a week after the official Nazi Surrender
Brest General Ramcke 38,000+ men including the 2nd Parachute Division Fighting began on August 25, 1944. Port was completely demolished September 2, 1944
Lorient General Junck 15,000 May 8, 1945 Not captured during the conflict
Quiberon Bay and Belle Île General Fahrmbacher 25,000
St. Nazaire General Junck 35,000 May 8, 1945 Not captured during the conflict
La Rochelle/La Pallice Admiral Schirlitz Naval Units, 158th Reserve Infantry Division May 8, 1945 Surrendered after the conflict, following the Allied siege of La Rochelle
Le Havre Colonel Wildermuth 14,000 Surrendered after 3 days of fighting September 14, 1944 Put back into action in October 1944
Boulogne General Heim 10,000 Fighting started on September 7, 1944 September 22, 1944 British opened the port again in October
Calais/Cap Gris-Nez Lt Colonel Schroeder 9,000 Batteries at Cap Gris-Nez surrendered a few days earlier. Port heavily damaged September 30, 1944 Returned to service late November 1944
Dunkirk Admiral Friedrich Frisius 12,000 from the 18th Luftwaffe Ground Division Port isolated on September 13, 1944 May 1945
Ostend No resistance given, port not heavily damaged
Zeebrugge General Eberding 14,000 Held as part of the Scheldt Fortress denying access to the Port of Antwerp. Fighting started in Early October 1944 November 1, 1944 First shipment to Antwerp November 28, 1944. Eighty-five days after its capture.[8]
Scheldt Fortress General Daser 8,000 Defended South Beveland and Walcheren Island. Fighting started in late October 1944 November 6, 1944

References[change | change source]

  1. Hakim, Joy (1995). A History of Us: War, Peace and all that Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509514-6.
  2. Kaufmann JE, Kaufmann HW: "Fortress third Reich", page 196–197. DA Capo Press, 2003.
  3. Historical Division War Department (1945). "Omaha Beachhead". American Forces in Action. United States Army Center of Military History. http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/100-11/100-11.htm. Retrieved 6 November 2009.
  4. Williams, Jeffery (1988). The Long Left Flank. London: Leo Cooper. ISBN 0850528801.
  5. Map of the Atlantikwall
  6. Whitaker, W. Denis; Whitaker, Shelagh (with General Guy Simonds) TUG OF WAR – The Canadian Victory that Opened Antwerp Toronto Stoddart Publishing 1984 ISBN 0773720340 First Edition Hard Cover
  7. Kaufmann JE, Kaufmann HW: "Fortress Third Reich", page 352. DA Capo Press, 2003.
  8. Hastings, M. Armageddon p158, Macmillan, London 2004

German Publication (PhD) in military history

  • Dr. Thorsten Heber: Der Atlantikwall 1940–1945. Band I Die Befestigung der Küsten West- und Nordeuropas im Spannungsfeld nationalsozialistischer Kriegführung und Ideologie. 564 Seiten, 157 Bildtafeln mit 535 Abb. BoD 2008, ISBN 9783837029796.
  • Dr. Thorsten Heber: Der Atlantikwall 1940–1945. Band II Die Invasion – Die Atlantikfestungen 1944/45 – Der Atlantikwall in Deutschland, Dänemark, Norwegen – Kompendium Regelbauten. 504 Seiten, 196 Bildtafeln mit 670 Abb. BoD 2008, ISBN 9783837029802.

Further reading[change | change source]

  • Kauffmann, J.E. and Jurga, Robert M. Fortress Europe: European Fortifications of World War II, Da Capo Press, 2002. ISBN 0-306-81174-X

Other websites[change | change source]