Atlantic Wall

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Atlantic Wall
Part of the Third Reich
Western coast of Europe and Scandinavia
The Atlantic Wall, shown in yellow
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945).svg Reichsadler der Deutsches Reich (1933–1945).svg
Type Defensive fortification
Site information
Controlled by  Nazi Germany
Open to
the public
Condition Partially demolished, mostly intact
Site history
Built 1942–1944
In use 1942–1945
Materials Concrete
Other materials
Battles/wars World War II
Events D-Day
Garrison information
Erwin Rommel (1943–44)
Occupants Wehrmacht
German soldiers placing landing craft obstructions.
A fortification in northern France.
German bunker at Søndervig in Denmark.
German bunkers at Longues-sur-Mer in France.
Command post for the batteries at Longues-sur-Mer in France.
Interior of Hohlgangsanlage 8, originally an artillery command centre converted into a hospital, St. Lawrence Jersey
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 1945 along the western coast of Europe and Scandinavia as a defense against an anticipated Allied invasion of the mainland continent from Great Britain.[1]

Today, the ruins of the wall exist in all of the nations where the wall was built, although many structures have fallen into the ocean or have been demolished over the years. While in the immediate years after the war there was little interest in preserving these structures, there have been recent movements to preserve the remaining structures in order to preserve the memory of what existed during the war.[2]


On 23 March 1942 Führer Directive Number 40 called for the official creation of the Atlantic Wall. After the St. Nazaire Raid, on 13 April 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.[3]

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 was 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.[4] 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.[citation needed]

Although the defensive wall was never completed, the Wall's existence has served to explain away concerns of the Soviet Union as to why the Second Front was not opened until 6 June 1944 (less than a year before the end of the war in Europe). 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 Britain. Hitler had decreed that 1/12th of the steel and concrete used in the Atlantic Wall go to the Channel Islands, because of the propaganda value of controlling British territory.[5] The Channel Islands were some of the most densely fortified areas in Europe with a host of Hohlgangsanlage tunnels, Casemates and Coastal artillery positions. Mountbatten commented: "Each island is a veritable fortress, the assault against which cannot be contemplated unless the defences are neutralised, or reduced to a very considerable extent by prior action." 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. Because the German garrison surrendered peacefully the Channel Islands are host to some of the best preserved Atlantic Wall sites.

Walcheren Island was considered to be the "strongest concentration of defences the Nazis had ever constructed."[6]


The Atlantic Wall was not a single organisation except in the administration of its building. Militarily it was divided into eight commands:[7]

  • Norway Army Command
  • Forces Commander in Denmark
  • German Bight 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)


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[8] and some of them remained in German hands until the unconditional surrender of Axis Forces on 8 May 1945. Several of the port fortresses were resupplied by submarine after being surrounded by Allied forces. The defenders of these positions included Foreign soldiers and SS troops. [9]

Location Commander Garrison Details of battle Surrender Allied use
Scheldt General von Zangen 90,000 Battle of the Scheldt 8 November 1944
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 1 November 1944 First shipment to Antwerp 28 November 1944. Eighty-five days after its capture.[10]
Ostend No resistance given, port not heavily damaged
Dunkirk Admiral Friedrich Frisius 12,000 Port isolated on 13 September 1944, Allied siege of Dunkirk 8 May 1945 Surrendered after the conflict.
Calais/Cap Gris-Nez Lt Colonel Schroeder 7,500 in Calais Batteries at Cap Gris-Nez surrendered a few days earlier. Port heavily damaged. Operation Undergo 30 September Returned to service late November 1944
Boulogne General Heim 10,000 Operation Wellhit 22 September 1944 British opened the port again in October
Le Havre Colonel Wildermuth 14,000 Operation Astonia 12 September 1944 Put back into action in October 1944
Cherbourg General von Schlieben 47,000 men in whole Cotentin Peninsula Port wrecked by demolitions. Hitler refused to allow demolitions earlier in the year. Battle of Cherbourg 27 June 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 2 September 1944. The island controlled the approaches to the port 17 August 1944. Out of use for whole campaign
Alderney Commandant Oberst Schwalm, Maximilian List and others Used for concentration camps and one of the most heavily defended fortresses on the Atlantic Wall 16 May 1945 Surrendered a week after the official Nazi Surrender
Jersey 11,500 (in 1941)[11] No resistance given during liberation 9 May 1945 Surrendered upon the arrival of HMS Beagle in St Helier
Brest General Ramcke 38,000+ men including the 2nd Parachute Division Fighting began on 25 August 1944. Port was completely demolished. Battle for Brest 19 September 1944
Lorient General Fahrmbacher 25,000 Besieged since 12 August 10 May 1945 Not captured during the conflict
St. Nazaire General Junck 35,000 Besieged since 27 August 11 May 1945 Not captured during the conflict
La Rochelle/La Pallice Admiral Schirlitz 11,500 Allied siege of La Rochelle 9 May 1945 Surrendered after the conflict
Royan Admiral Michahelles 5,000 17 April 1945 Surrendered after the conflict
Le Verdon-sur-Mer Colonel Otto Prahl 3,500 20 April 1945 Surrendered after the conflict
Channel Islands General von Schmettow, Admiral Hüffmeier 28,500 Occupation of the Channel Islands 9 May 1945 Surrendered after the conflict


In France, immediately after the war, there was little interest in preserving the wall due to the negative memories associated with the Nazi occupation. Recently, there has been renewed interest in preserving the wall, following the example of organizations in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. In France, many of the beach fortifications have fallen onto the beach or are underwater, while the ones further inland are still mainly existent due to their location.[2]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ a b Schofield, Hugh (12 September 2011). "Hitler's Atlantic Wall: Should France preserve it?". BBC. Retrieved 21 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Kaufmann J. E.; Kaufmann, H. W.; Jurga, Robert M. (2003). Fortress Third Reich: German Fortifications and Defense Systems in World War II. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. pp. 196-197. ISBN 0-306-81239-8
  4. ^ Historical Division War Department (1945). "Chapter 2, Assault Plan". Omaha Beachhead. American Forces in Action. United States Army Center of Military History. Archived from the original on 24 November 2009. Retrieved 6 November 2009. 
  5. ^ Cruickshank, Charles (1975). The German Occupation of the Channel Islands. London: Guernsey Press Co. Ltd. ISBN 0-902550-02-0. 
  6. ^ Williams, Jeffery (1988). The Long Left Flank. London: Leo Cooper. ISBN 0-85052-880-1. 
  7. ^ "Complexes" (in Dutch). Retrieved 26 January 2012. 
  8. ^ Whitaker, W. Denis; Whitaker, Shelagh (1984). Tug of War: The Canadian Victory that Opened Antwerp. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing. ISBN 0-7737-2034-0
  9. ^ Kaufmann J. E.; Kaufmann, H. W.; Jurga, Robert M. (2003). Fortress Third Reich: German Fortifications and Defense Systems in World War II. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. p. 352. ISBN 0-306-81239-8
  10. ^ Hastings, M. Armageddon p158, Macmillan, London 2004
  11. ^ "Jersey - My Island - History - German Occupation". BBC. 1 July 1940. Retrieved 8 February 2013. 

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 978-3-8370-2979-6.
  • 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 978-3-8370-2980-2.

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]