Atlantic Wall

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Atlantic Wall
Part of the Third Reich
Western coast of Continental Europe and Scandinavia
TypeDefensive fortification
Site information
Controlled byFlag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Nazi Germany
ConditionPartially demolished; mostly intact
Site history
Built byForced labourers
In use1942–45
  • Concrete
  • Wood
  • Steel
Battles/wars World War II
Events Operation Neptune
Operation Undergo
Operation Overlord
St Nazaire Raid
Dieppe Raid
Garrison information
Erwin Rommel (1943–44)
Occupants Wehrmacht

The Atlantic Wall (German: Atlantikwall) was an extensive system of coastal defence and fortifications built by Nazi Germany between 1942 and 1944, along the coast of continental Europe and Scandinavia as a defence against an anticipated Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe from the United Kingdom, during World War II. The manning and operation of the Atlantic Wall was administratively overseen by the German Army, with some support from Luftwaffe ground forces. The Kriegsmarine (German Navy) maintained a separate coastal defence network, organised into a number of sea defence zones. [1]

Coastal defence and fortification military operations and doctrine regarding protection of coastlines against military attack

Coastal defenceand coastal fortification are measures taken to provide protection against military attack at or near a coastline, for example, fortifications and coastal artillery. Because an invading enemy normally requires a port or harbour to sustain operations, such defences are usually concentrated around such facilities, or places where such facilities could be constructed. Coastal artillery fortifications generally followed the development of land fortifications, usually incorporating land defences; sometimes separate land defence forts were built to protect coastal forts. Through the middle 19th century, coastal forts could be bastion forts, star forts, polygonal forts, or sea forts, the first three types often with detached gun batteries called "water batteries". Coastal defence weapons throughout history were heavy naval guns or weapons based on them, often supplemented by lighter weapons. In the late 19th century separate batteries of coastal artillery replaced forts in some countries; in some areas these became widely separated geographically through the mid-20th century as weapon ranges increased. The amount of landward defence provided began to vary by country from the late 19th century; by 1900 new US forts almost totally neglected these defences. Booms were also usually part of a protected harbor's defences. In the middle 19th century underwater minefields and later controlled mines were often used, or stored in peacetime to be available in wartime. With the rise of the submarine threat at the beginning of the 20th century, anti-submarine nets were used extensively, usually added to boom defences, with major warships often being equipped with them through early World War I. In World War I railway artillery emerged and soon became part of coastal artillery in some countries; with railway artillery in coast defence some type of revolving mount had to be provided to allow tracking of fast-moving targets.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Scandinavia Region in Northern Europe

Scandinavia is a region in Northern Europe, with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties. The term Scandinavia in local usage covers the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The majority national languages of these three, belong to the Scandinavian dialect continuum, and are mutually intelligible North Germanic languages. In English usage, Scandinavia also sometimes refers to the Scandinavian Peninsula, or to the broader region including Finland and Iceland, which is always known locally as the Nordic countries.


Hitler ordered the construction of the fortifications in 1942. Almost a million French workers were drafted to build it.[ citation needed ] The wall was frequently mentioned in Nazi propaganda, where its size and strength were usually exaggerated. The fortifications included colossal coastal guns, batteries, mortars, and artillery, and thousands of German troops were stationed in its defences. [lower-alpha 1] When the Allies eventually invaded the Normandy beaches in 1944, most of the defences were stormed within hours. Today, ruins of the wall exist in all of the nations where it was built, although many structures have fallen into the ocean or have been demolished over the years.

Adolf Hitler Leader of Germany from 1934 to 1945

Adolf Hitler was a German politician and leader of the Nazi Party. He rose to power as Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and later Führer in 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland on 1 September 1939. He was closely involved in military operations throughout the war and was central to the perpetration of the Holocaust.

French people are a Romance ethnic group and nation who are identified with the country of France. This connection may be ethnic, legal, historical, or cultural.


World War II in Europe began on 1 September 1939, with Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland. Two days later, the UK and France declared war on Germany. [3] Poland's geographical location, however, prevented the Allies from intervening directly.[ citation needed ] Four weeks into the attack, the Germans had successfully occupied Poland. [3]

Invasion of Poland Invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent

The invasion of Poland by Germany, known in Poland as the September campaign or the 1939 defensive war, and in Germany as the Poland campaign (Polenfeldzug), marked the beginning of World War II. The German invasion began on 1 September 1939, one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviets invaded Poland on 17 September. The campaign ended on 6 October with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing the whole of Poland under the terms of the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty.

French Third Republic Nation of France from 1870 to 1940

The French Third Republic was the system of government adopted in France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed during the Franco-Prussian War, until 10 July 1940 after France's defeat by Nazi Germany in World War II led to the formation of the Vichy government in France.

Less than a month after this victory, Adolf Hitler issued a directive stating that Germany must be ready for an offensive through France and the Low Countries. [3] However, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (German high command; OKW) was convinced that preparations would take at least until the following year. After furious arguments, Hitler reluctantly agreed to wait. [3] In May 1940, three massive German army groups overran France and the Low Countries in little more than six weeks. [3]

Low Countries Historical coastal landscape in north western Europe

The Low Countries, the Low Lands, or historically also the Netherlands, is a coastal lowland region in northwestern Europe, forming the lower basin of the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt rivers, divided in the Middle Ages into numerous semi-independent principalities that consolidated in the countries of Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, as well as today's French Flanders.

<i>Oberkommando der Wehrmacht</i> High Command of the Wehrmacht (armed forces) of Nazi Germany during World War II

The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht was the High Command of the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II. Created in 1938, the OKW had nominal oversight over the Heer (Army), the Kriegsmarine (Navy), and the Luftwaffe.

Battle of France Successful German invasion of France in 1940

The Battle of France, also known as the Fall of France, was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries during the Second World War. France had previously invaded Germany in 1939. In the six weeks from 10 May 1940, German forces defeated Allied forces by mobile operations and conquered France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, bringing land operations on the Western Front to an end until the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944. Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940 and invaded France over the Alps.



Field Marshal Erwin Rommel visiting the Atlantic Wall defences near the Belgian port of Ostend, part of the fortifications which today comprise the Atlantic Wall Open Air Museum at Raversijde Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-295-1596-12, Raversijde, Rommel bei Besichtigung.jpg
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel visiting the Atlantic Wall defences near the Belgian port of Ostend, part of the fortifications which today comprise the Atlantic Wall Open Air Museum at Raversijde

Prior to the Atlantic Wall decision, following a number of commando raids, on 2 June 1941 Adolf Hitler asked for maps of the Channel Islands. These were provided next day and by 13 June Hitler had made a decision. Ordering additional men to the Islands and having decided the defences were inadequate, lacking tanks and coastal artillery, the Organisation Todt (OT) was instructed to undertake the building of 200-250 strong points in each of the larger islands. The plan was finalised by the OT and submitted to Hitler. [4] The original defence order was reinforced with a second dated 20 October 1941, following a Fuhrer conference on 18 October to discuss the engineers assessment of requirements. [5] :197 Referring to the "permanent fortification" of the Islands to make an impregnable fortress to be completed within 14 months. [6] :448Festungspionierkommandeur XIV was created to command the project of fortifying the Channel Islands.

Commando Soldier or operative of an elite light infantry or special operations force; commando unit

A commando is a soldier or operative of an elite light infantry or special operations force often specializing in amphibious landings, parachuting or abseiling.

Channel Islands Archipelago in the English Channel

The Channel Islands are an archipelago in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. They include two Crown dependencies: the Bailiwick of Jersey, which is the largest of the islands; and the Bailiwick of Guernsey, consisting of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and some smaller islands. They are considered the remnants of the Duchy of Normandy and, although they are not part of the United Kingdom, the UK is responsible for the defence and international relations of the islands. The Crown dependencies are not members of the Commonwealth of Nations nor of the European Union. They have a total population of about 164,541, and the bailiwicks' capitals, Saint Helier and Saint Peter Port, have populations of 33,500 and 18,207, respectively.

Coastal artillery Military service branch equipped with artillery in defense of territory against attack from the sea

Coastal artillery is the branch of the armed forces concerned with operating anti-ship artillery or fixed gun batteries in coastal fortifications.

It was six months later on 23 March 1942 that Hitler issued Führer Directive No. 40, which called for the creation of an "Atlantic Wall". He 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. [7] This decision required the army engineers and the OT to organise quickly. Massive supplies of cement, steel reinforcing and armour plate would be required and everything would need to be transported.

Fortification A military construction designed for miltiary defense

A fortification is a military construction or building designed for the defense of territories in warfare, and is also used to solidify rule in a region during peacetime. The term is derived from the Latin fortis ("strong") and facere.

Nazi propaganda claimed that the wall stretched from the cape of Norway down to the Spanish border. [8] [9]


The Regelbau (standard build) system used books of plans for each of over 600 approved types of bunker and casemate, each having a specific purpose, having been updated as enemy constructions were overrun and examined, even testing some to destruction for effectiveness. They incorporated standard features, such as an entrance door at right angles, armoured air intake, 30-millimetre (1.2 in) steel doors, ventilation and telephones, [10] :7 internal walls being lined with wood, emergency exit system. [11] There were over 200 standardised armour parts. [12] :350

The standardisation greatly simplified the manufacture of equipment, the supply of materials and the budgetary and financial control of the construction as well as the speed of planning for construction projects. [13] :50

To offset shortages, captured equipment from the French and other occupied armies were incorporated in the defences, casemates designed for non-German artillery, anti tank and machine guns and the use of turrets from obsolete tanks in tobrukstand pill boxes (tobruk pits). [13] :51

Organisation Todt

A British soldier poses next to the recently captured German 380mm gun Todt Battery at Cap Gris Nez. The British Army in North-west Europe 1944-45 B10467.jpg
A British soldier poses next to the recently captured German 380mm gun Todt Battery at Cap Gris Nez.

Organisation Todt (OT), formed in 1933, had designed the Siegfried Line during the prewar years along the Franco-German border. OT was the chief engineering group responsible for the design and construction of the wall's major gun emplacements and fortifications. [8] [14]

The OT supplied supervisors and labour as well as organising supplies, machinery and transport to supplement the staff and equipment of construction companies. Many of them were German, however construction companies in occupied counties bid for contracts. Companies could apply for OT work or could be conscripted. [13] :53 Companies failing to complete their work on time, which was always possible as the OT controlled the material and manpower of each firm, could find themselves closed down, or more likely fined, or taken over or merged with another firm to make a more efficient larger unit, successful firms however could make attractive profits. [13] :53–4

The OT obtained quotes for necessary works and signed contracts with each construction company setting out the price and terms of the contract, such as bonus payments for efficiency, including the wage rates and bonus payments for OT workers (which depended on their nationality and skill). There could be several construction companies working on each site. [13]

Labour comprised skilled volunteers, engineers, designers and supervisors, who were paid and treated well. Second came volunteer workers, often skilled technicians, such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians and metal workers. Again, these workers were paid, took holidays and were well treated. Next came unskilled forced labour, paid very little and treated quite harshly. Lastly came effective slave labour, paid little, badly fed and treated very harshly. [13] :75 The OT ran training courses to improve labour skills. [13] :18

Massive numbers of workers were needed. The Vichy regime imposed a compulsory labour system, drafting some 600,000 French workers to construct these permanent fortifications along the Dutch, Belgian, and French coasts facing the English Channel. [14] Efficiency of the OT decreased in late 1943 and 1944 as a result of manpower pressures, fuel shortages and the bombing of worksites, such as V-weapons sites, where some volunteer workers refused to work in such dangerous areas. [13] :50

OT Cherbourg in January 1944 dealt with 34 companies with 15,000 workers and 79 sub contractors. Daily, weekly and monthly reports showing progress, work variations, material used, stocks of material, labour hours used per skill type, the weather, equipment inventory and quality, level of supervision, employee absences, staffing levels, deaths and problems experienced all had to be filed with the OT. [13] :57

British attacks

Throughout most of 1942–43, the Atlantic Wall remained a relaxed front for the Axis troops manning it, with only two large-scale British attacks. Operation Chariot, launched near St Nazaire in March 1942, successfully destroyed German pumping machinery for, and severely damaged, the Normandie dry dock and installations. [15] The second attack was the Dieppe Raid, launched near the French port of Dieppe in August 1942 to test the German defences and provide combat experience for Canadian troops. The Germans were defeated at St. Nazaire, but had little difficulty in repulsing the attack at Dieppe, where they inflicted heavy casualties. Although the Dieppe raid was a disaster for the Allies, it alarmed Hitler, who was sure an Allied invasion in the West would shortly follow. [16] Following Dieppe, Hitler gave Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the overall German Commander-in-Chief in the West, 15 further divisions to shore up the German positions. [16]


German soldiers placing landing craft obstructions, 1943 Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-297-1716-28, Im Westen, Belgien-Frankreich, Atlantikwall.jpg
German soldiers placing landing craft obstructions, 1943

Early in 1944, with an Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe becoming ever more likely, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was assigned to improve the wall's defences. [9] [16] Believing the existing coastal fortifications to be entirely inadequate, he immediately began strengthening them. [16] Rommel's main concern was Allied air power. He had seen it first-hand when fighting the British and Americans in North Africa, and it had left a profound impression on him. [16] He feared that any German counterattack would be broken up by Allied aircraft long before it could make a difference. [16] Under his direction, hundreds of reinforced concrete pillboxes were built on the beaches, or sometimes slightly inland, to house machine guns, antitank guns, and light and heavy artillery. Land mines and antitank obstacles were planted on the beaches, and underwater obstacles and naval mines were placed in waters just offshore. [17] The intent was to destroy the Allied landing craft before they could unload on the beaches. [17]


One of the casemates of the Longues-sur-Mer battery in Normandy, destroyed by naval gunfire during the Allied landings Batterie Longues-sur-Mer bunker gun 2.jpg
One of the casemates of the Longues-sur-Mer battery in Normandy, destroyed by naval gunfire during the Allied landings

By the time of the Allied invasion, the Germans had laid almost six million mines in Northern France. [9] More gun emplacements and minefields extended inland along roads leading away from the beaches. [9] In likely landing spots for gliders and parachutists, the Germans emplanted slanted poles with sharpened tops, which the troops called Rommelspargel ("Rommel's Asparagus"). [18] Low-lying river and estuarine areas were intentionally flooded. [16] Rommel believed that Germany would inevitably be defeated unless the invasion could be stopped on the beach, declaring, "It is absolutely necessary that we push the British and Americans back from the beaches. Afterwards it will be too late; the first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive." [17]

Channel Islands

The Channel Islands were heavily fortified, particularly the island of Alderney, which is closest to Britain. Hitler had decreed that one-twelfth of the steel and concrete used in the Atlantic Wall should go to the Channel Islands, because of the propaganda value of controlling British territory. [19] The islands were some of the most densely fortified areas in Europe, with a host of Hohlgangsanlage tunnels, casemates, and coastal artillery positions. [20]

However, as the Channel Islands lacked strategic significance, the Allies bypassed them when they invaded Normandy. As a result, the German garrisons stationed on the islands did not surrender until 9 May 1945—one day after Victory in Europe Day. The garrison on Alderney did not surrender until 16 May. Because most of the German garrisons surrendered peacefully, the Channel Islands are host to some of the best-preserved Atlantic Wall sites. [21]

The commander in Guernsey produced books giving detailed pictures, plans and descriptions of the fortifications in their island, Festung Guernsey.


Many major ports and positions were incorporated into the Atlantic Wall, receiving heavy fortifications. Hitler ordered all positions to fight to the end, and some of them remained in German hands until Germany's unconditional surrender. Several of the port fortresses were resupplied by submarines after being surrounded by Allied Forces. The defenders of these positions included foreign volunteers and Waffen-SS troops. [22]

LocationCommanderGarrison strengthNotesSurrenderRef.
Alderney Maximilian List 3,200 Fortifications of Alderney 16 May 1945 [23]
Antwerp Gustav-Adolf von Zangen 90,000 Battle of the Scheldt 8 November 1944 [24]
Boulogne Ferdinand Heim 10,000 Operation Wellhit 22 September 1944 [16]
Brest Hermann-Bernhard Ramcke 38,000 Battle for Brest 19 September 1944 [25]
Calais/Cap Gris-Nez Ludwig Schroeder7,500 Operation Undergo 30 September 1944 [16]
Cherbourg Karl-Wilhelm von Schlieben 47,000 Battle of Cherbourg 27 June 1944 [16]
Dunkirk Friedrich Frisius 12,000 Allied siege of Dunkirk 8 May 1945 [26]
Guernsey Rudolf Graf von Schmettow
then Friedrich Hüffmeier
11,700 German fortification of Guernsey 9 May 1945 [16]
Jersey Rudolf Graf von Schmettow
then Friedrich Hüffmeier
11,600 German occupation of the Channel Islands
Liberation of the German-occupied Channel Islands
9 May 1945 [27]
La Rochelle/La Pallice Ernst Schirlitz 11,500 Allied siege of La Rochelle 9 May 1945 [28]
Le Havre Hermann-Eberhard Wildermuth 14,000 Operation Astonia 12 September 1944 [16]
Le Verdon-sur-Mer Otto Prahl3,500
20 April 1945 [29]
Lorient Wilhelm Fahrmbacher 25,000
10 May 1945 [30]
Ostend Erich Julius Mülbe, Oberst60,000
7 September 1944 [31]
Royan Hans Michahelles 5,000
17 April 1945 [30]
Saint-Malo/Dinard Andreas von Aulock 12,000
17 August 1944 [32]
St. Nazaire Hans Junck35,000
11 May 1945 [30]
Zeebrugge Knut Eberding14,000
1 November 1944 [33]



Many French construction companies benefited financially from helping construct the Atlantic Wall; these companies were not penalised during the post war period. [34]

Immediately after the war, there was little interest in preserving the wall due to the negative memories associated with the Nazi occupation. Some of the beach fortifications have toppled or are underwater, while those further inland still exist mainly due to their location. [35]

One of the best preserved parts is the Todt Battery. In 2011, renewed efforts to preserve the wall were spearheaded by organisations in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The question has been raised over whether France should declare the wall a National Monument to ensure it is preserved; however no government so far has envisaged this. [36]


Although the defensive wall was never fully completed, many bunkers still exist near Ostend, Channel Islands, Scheveningen, Den Haag, Katwijk, and in Scandinavia (Denmark and Norway specifically). [37]

See also


  1. The coast defence along the North Cape down to the Spanish border, included artillery pieces and naval guns from 105mm to 406mm and were organised into over 600 batteries. In addition, there were over 250 batteries of guns ranging from 75mm to 90mm, including anti-aircraft artillery. [2]

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Polygonal fort

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