Atlantic Wall

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 Anglo-American 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.

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.

One of Germany's most clear-sighted Field Marshals, 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. A number of the bunkers are still present, for example near Scheveningen, The Hague, and in Normandy. In Ostend, Belgium a 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.

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. 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 May 9 1945 - one day after the rest of the German armed forces. The German garrison on Alderney did not surrender until May 16.

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