The Atlantikwall

The Atlantikwall (English: Atlantic wall) was an extensive system of coastal fortifications built by the German Third Reich in 1942 until 1944 during World War II along the western coast of Europe to defend against an anticipated British led Allied invasion of the continent from Great Britain.

Fritz Todt, who had designed the Siegfried Line (Westwall) along the Franco-German border, was the chief engineer employed in 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.

German bunker at Sřndervig in Denmark (source: wikipedia)

Already from 1934 onwards the Wehrmacht cooperated with the civil industry in order to find types of fortress buildings, which were strategical and tactically appropriate for the use in large fortress constructions. These types should provide the best possible protection against air and ground attacks, without unnecessarily constraining the mobility of the troop. Following this principle the Westwall (“Siegfried-Linie”) was built between Germany and France in the year 1938. The development of new types was continued all the time during and after the construction. At the end of the war existed plans for a few hundred different bunker types.

This huge number resulted from the demand to accommodate every function of a fully equipped strongpoint, e.g. a battery, an airfield or a radar station, in bunkers. Therefore bunkers for crew, ammunition, equipment, weapons, power supply, food, communication and much more were needed. A variety of types for each sector also resulted from the fact that the planning was not organized centrally, instead each branch of service developed its own designs. Furthermore, improved versions of many bunkers were introduced during the war. There existed different construction forms, ranging from light constructions made of basic materials to permanent concrete bunkers with walls up to 3.5 m in thickness.

Type: 671 gun-bunker
Type 671 gun-bunker near Scheveningen (source:

The planning and organisation was done centrally by the high command of the Wehrmacht in Berlin, but also partly by the three parts of the Wehrmacht themselves. Special task were intended for each part. In the ideal case the army should have been responsible for the land defences, the navy should have guarded the coasts while the airforce should have set up radar stations and anti-aircraft batteries.
However, bottlenecks in supply were a common problem, because of the enormous dimension of the planned constructions for the Atlantikwall. This resulted in frequent arguments between the parts of the Wehrmacht concerning the priority of the construction projects.
This conflict raised the question whether the allied landing troops should be attacked on the sea and during the landing or only on the land. The answer to this question would have made clear whether construction projects of navy or army should be preferred.

Finally, in 1942, the Wehrmacht decided to consider coast and sea as main front. In addition, the parts of the Wehrmacht should cooperate better among each others. Thus, for example, weapons which were intended to fight sea targets should also be able to be used against targets on the land.
Taking the army coastal batteries, one can especially see how hard it was to combine the demands of army and navy into an effective coast defence. The army was deployed in an area which rather belonged to the navy’s field of activity. On the other hand the batteries should also be used against targets on the land and so arose a conflict about the command of the batteries and the training of the personnel. Finally was determined that the navy was responsible for the battle on the sea and the army for the battle on land. Nevertheless, this was not a real solution and the discussion continued until the end of the war.

In the autumn of 1942, August 8th 1942, Hitler officially gave the order to start constructing the Atlantikwall. As the construction work at the Atlantikwall involved a huge need for personnel, which could not be satisfied by only the fortress engineers of the Wehrmacht, civil firms were also deployed for the works.
The clearly biggest and most important of them was the Organisation Todt (OT) (Todt organisation). Originally this had been a merger of german firms under supervision of engineer Dr. Todt. It was primarily deployed at the big public works, which were launched by Hitler, e.g. the construction of the Reichsautobahnen. Later, OT was involved in the work at the Westwall on a large scale and finally took over all works of the Wehrmacht, that could be done by civil firms.

Hitler gave the order on August 8th 1942 to start constructing the Atlantikwall (source: wikipedia)

The OT worked independently and was bound to a construction quota, which were based on the amount of used concrete. Local firms or teenagers, serving at the Reichsarbeitsdienst (labor service of the Reich), could be used as supplement at the construction sites.
The cooperation with the fortress engineers corps was carried out about as follows:
Planning and preparation was done by the fortress engineers staff (territory surveys, construction designs etc.). Then, the construction and assembling plans were handed over to the OT who carried them out. After completion of the construction, the furnishing and fitting up with weapons, equipment and most other things were again carried out by the fortress engineers.
A clear priority over other constructions had:

  • the batteries, which were to be exposed to the heaviest attacks
  • long-ranging and not mobile batteries
  • command centers and headquarters

    Weapons were at first often emplaced in field fortifications and were later installed in concrete bunkers. However, this highly reduced the mobility.

    Early in 1944, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was assigned to improve the defenses of the Wall. 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. Minefields and antitank obstacles were planted on the beaches themselves, and underwater obstacles and mines were planted in the waters just off shore. The intent was to destroy the Allied landing craft before they could even unload.

    By the time of the invasion, the Germans had laid almost 6 million mines in northern France. More gun emplacements and minefields extended inland, along the roads leading out 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"), and low-lying river and estuarine areas were permanently flooded as well.

    Rommel firmly believed that the invasion would have to be stopped at the beach itself, or the situation would otherwise inevitably lead to the defeat of Germany.

    The defensive wall was never completed; consisting primarily of batteries, bunkers, and minefields, which during 1942-1944 stretched from the French-Spanish border into Norway (Festung Norwegen) and this defend line was about 5000 kilometers. The Atlantikwall had a length of about 2685 kilometers. A number of the bunkers are still present, for example near Scheveningen, Den Haag, Katwijk and in Normandy. In Oostende, Vlaanderen well-preserved part of the defenses can be visited. It consists of the 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 military engineers (Pionierstab) who were in charge of the construction of bunkers.

    German bunkers at Longues-sur-Mer in France (source: wikipedia)

    The Channel Islands were heavily fortified, particularly the island of Alderney which is the 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.[citation needed] Despite the mooting of Operation Constellation et al, the Allies bypassed the islands for this reason and did not try to liberate them when they liberated Normandy. The islands' German garrisons did not surrender until 9 May 1945 - one day after the rest of the German armed forces. The German garrison on Alderney did not surrender until 16 May.

    (source: wikipedia and atlantikwall-denmark)

    There is extensive information available on the internet about The Atlantikwall, too much to fill this website. More information about Atlantikwall and links to related websites can be found on our links page in the menu on the left.


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