Smashing Hitler's Atlantic Wall
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Smashing Hitler's Atlantic Wall
ADOLF HITLER'S FORTRESS-PORTS AND THE SECRET EDICTS
The first strategic orders of the German Führer were promulgated in June 1936. Just before the Anschluss with Austria in March 1938 a numbered series called Führer Weisungen, or Führer directives, were issued. They were intended quite clearly to be his orders, some of an immediate, some of a long-term, nature. Number One was for the occupation of Austria, and on the same day Number Two was for the actual (bloodless) invasion of that country. Poor Czechoslovakia was the subject of 'Fall Green' (Case Green) for Edicts Numbers Three and Four respectively in May and October 1939. But after the attack on Poland, Hitler began a new numbered series of Führer Weisungen.
Around Christmas 1940, months after the defeat of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), and the successful evacuation of most of the British and some of the French armies from Dunkirk, Hitler made a tour of the western front. Operation Sealion (the invasion of England) had been scaled down and then cancelled. Dr Felix Todt's vast organization of mainly slave workers had constructed huge, casemented big-gun coastal batteries around Calais, Cap Gris-Nez and Dunkirk called Grosser Kurfurst (Great Elector), 'Siegfried' and 'Gneisenau'. His special inspection train was ambushed by the RAF on 23 December 1940 near Boulogne and had to be rapidly shunted into a long safe railway tunnel guarded by antiaircraft (AA) guns at each end. By September 1940 Churchill noted the growth of the German heavy batteries along the Channel coast:
a) Siegfried battery south of Gris-Nez, four 38 cm guns
b) Friedrich August battery, north of Boulogne, three 30.5 cm guns
c) Grosser Kurfurst battery at Gris-Nez, four 28 cm guns
d) Prinz Heinrich battery between Calais and Blanc-Nez, two 28 cm guns
e) Oldenburg battery, east of Calais, two 24 cm guns
f) M1, M2, M3, M4 batteries Griz-Nez-Calais, fourteen 17 cm guns and a further 35 heavy and medium batteries plus seven batteries of captured guns sited along French coast.
(Their Finest Hour Vol 2 of The Second World War)
These almost impregnable coastal batteries were intended not only to harass Channel convoys, but were the first steps towards the building of the famous Atlantic Wall. Hitler knew that Britain and the Allies would be back in Europe sooner or later. A week before Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia started in June 1941, he sent Hermann Goering's deputy, Field Marshal Erhard Milch to ensure urgent reinforcements were in place along the Dutch coastal ports to prevent or deter a British attack.
Edict Number 39 in July 1941 related to the defeat of his initial blitzkrieg in Russia. He wrote, 'We are justified in risking a purely temporary weakening of our forces in France during the winter. Battle-tried officers, NCOs and men from the divisions in the east which are to be relieved may be posted to the divisions in the west. Beyond this I will decide whether divisions in the west which cannot be employed in the east as full divisions should be disbanded and employed to reinforce seasoned divisions on the eastern front. At all events the strength of the army in the west must be maintained so that it is capable of coastal defence and of carrying out Undertaking Attila. Young workers classified as essential will be released from their employment on a large scale and will be replaced by prisoners and Russian civilian workers, employed in groups. The High Command of the Armed Forces will issue special orders in this respect.' On 20 October 1941 on his own initiative Hitler issued an OKW (Wehrmachtfuhr-ungsstab, Abt Landesverteidigung) order, 'large-scale English operations against the western occupied areas remain unlikely ... but account must be taken of the possibility that the English may at any time carry out isolated attacks as the result of pressure from their eastern allies and for political and propaganda reasons.' He was sure that the Channel Islands would be recaptured, 'Of considerable importance for our escort traffic.' Hitler did not use the term 'fortress' on this occasion but he personally went into great detail specifying the number, calibre and type of the coastal batteries, the details of the heavily reinforced concrete works and the thickness of the casement walls in millimetres. The Todt organization had to render monthly construction reports. The Führer had an immense collection of large-scale maps which he kept locked up in his own desk for his own personal scrutiny.
On 14 December 1941 Hitler decided to expand, in grandiose fashion, the quick achievements in the Channel Islands into what became known as Hitler's West Wall. The whole Atlantic coastline was now the almost impossible objective, 'Construction of a new west wall to assure the protection of the Arctic, North Sea and Atlantic coasts.' The strategy was, 'To assure protection against any leading operation even of very considerable strength with the employment of the smallest possible number of static forces.' In order of priority and urgency of construction, curiously enough, Norway was made first. Perhaps the Führer thought that Churchill wanted revenge for the fiasco of the British-French operations in the winter of 1939–40. Next came the coasts of Belgium and France which according to General Walther Warlimont (head of the 'national defence' section of the OKW), by agreement with Section Land, the high commands of the services, were divided into the following sectors. In the first category was the area between the mouths of the River Seine and the Scheldt, plus the area south of Brest and the area from Quiberon to the Gironde (protecting, of course, the great U-boat pens). In the second category were the Normandy and Brittany peninsulas. Third place was allotted to the coasts of Holland and the western and northern coast of Jutland. Finally came the German Bight. Fortifications on the coasts of the Baltic were to be dismantled and only the approaches through the Kattegat were to remain blocked. This was the initial plan for Hitler's subsequent 'Fortress Europa', based on the assumption that Russia would soon be rendered hors de combat.
By March 1942 the possible threats in the west were deemed much greater and Directive Number 40 was issued, now quoted in full.
THE FÜHRER AND SUPREME COMMANDER OF THE ARMED FORCES FÜHRER HEADQUARTERS 23 MARCH 1942 25 COPIES OKW/WFST/OPNO 001031 DIRECTIVE NUMBER 40
Ref. Competence of Commanders in coastal areas
I. General considerations:
The coastline of Europe will, in the coming months, be exposed to the danger of an enemy landing in force.
The time and place of the landing operations will not be dictated to the enemy by operational considerations alone. Failure in other theatres of war, obligations to allies, and political considerations may persuade him to take decisions which appear unlikely from a purely military point of view.
Even enemy landings with limited objectives can interfere seriously with our own plans if they result in the enemy gaining any kind of foothold on the coast. They can interrupt our coastal sea traffic, and pin down strong forces of our army and air force, which will therefore have to be withdrawn from areas of crucial importance. It would be particularly dangerous should the enemy succeed in capturing our airfields or in establishing his own in areas which he has occupied.
The many important military and industrial establishments on the coast or in its neighbourhood, some of them equipped with particularly valuable plant, may moreover tempt the enemy to undertake surprise attacks of a local nature.
Particular attention must be paid to English preparations for landings on the open coast, for which they have at their disposal many armoured landing craft, built to carry armoured fighting vehicles and heavy weapons. The possibility of parachute and airborne attacks on a large scale must also be envisaged.
II General operational instructions for coastal defence:
1. Coastal defence is a task for all armed forces, calling for particularly close and complete co-operation by all units.
2. The intelligence service, as well as the day-to-day reconnaissance by the navy and the air force, must strive to obtain early information of enemy readiness and approach preparations for a landing operation.
All suitable sea and air forces will then concentrate on enemy points of embarkation and convoys, with the aim of destroying the enemy as far from the coast as possible.
It is however possible that the enemy, by skilful camouflage and by taking advantage of unpredictable weather conditions, may achieve a complete surprise attack. All troops who may be exposed to such surprise attacks must be in a state of permanent readiness.
One of the most important duties of commanding officers will be to overcome the lack of vigilance among the troops which, as experience has shown, increases with the passage of time.
3. In defending the coast — and this includes coastal waters within range of medium coastal artillery — responsibility for the planning and implementation of defensive measures must, as recent battle experience dictates, lie unequivocally and reservedly in the hands of a single commander.
The commander responsible must make use of all available forces and weapons of the branches of the armed forces, of organizations and units outside the armed forces, and of our civil headquarters in the area, for the destruction of enemy transports and landing forces. He will use them so that the attack collapses if possible before it can reach the coast, at the latest on the coast itself.
Enemy forces which have landed must be destroyed or thrown back into the sea by immediate counterattack. All personnel bearing arms — irrespective to which branch of the armed forces or to which non-service organization they may belong — will be employed for this. Moreover, the required working capacity of the naval shore supply establishments must be guaranteed, insofar as they are not involved in the land fighting themselves. The same applies to the readiness for action of the air force ground staff and the anti-aircraft defence of airfields.
No headquarters or formation is to initiate withdrawal in such circumstances. All German troops stationed on or near the coast must be armed and trained for battle.
The enemy must be prevented from securing a foothold on all islands which could present a threat to the mainland or coastal shipping.
4. The distribution of forces and the extension of defensive works must be so carried out that our strongest defence points are situated in those sectors most likely to be chosen by the enemy for landings (fortified areas).
Other coastal sectors which may be threatened by small-scale surprise attacks will be defended by a series of strong-points, supported if possible by the coastal batteries. All military and industrial plant of importance to the war effort will be included within these strongpoints.
The same principles will apply to offshore islands.
Less-threatened sectors will be kept under observation.
5. The division of the coast into sectors will be decided by the three services in mutual agreement, or, should the situation demand it, by the responsible commander (referred to here in paragraph III, 1), whose decision will be final.
6. The fortified areas and strong-points must be able, by proper distribution of forces, by completion of all-round defence, and by their supply situation, to hold out for some time even against superior enemy forces.
Fortified areas and strong points will be defended to the last man. They must never be forced to surrender from lack of ammunition, rations, or water.
7. The responsible commander (referred to here in paragraph III, 2) will issue orders for keeping the coast under constant observation, and ensure that reconnaissance reports from all services are quickly evaluated, co-ordinated, and transmitted to the headquarters and civilian authorities concerned.
As soon as there is any evidence that an operation by the enemy is imminent, the commander is authorized to issue the necessary instructions for coordinated and complementary reconnaissance on sea and land.
8. There can be no question of peace-time privileges for any headquarters or formation of the armed forces in coastal areas, or for nonmilitary organizations and units. Their accommodation, security precautions, equipment, immediate readiness for action, and the use they make of the terrain, will be entirely dependent upon the necessity of meeting any enemy attack as swiftly and in as great strength as possible. Where the military situation requires it, the civilian population will be immediately evacuated.
III. Competence of commanders
1. The following are responsible for the preparation and execution of coastal defence in the areas under German command:
(a) In the eastern area of operations (excluding Finland): The army commanders appointed by the High Command of the Army.
(b) In the coastal area of Army High Command Lapland: Commander-in-Chief Army High Command Lapland.
(c) In Norway: Commander Armed Forces Norway.
(d) In Denmark: The Commander of German troops in Denmark.
(e) In the occupied western territories (including the Netherlands):
For coastal defence the responsible commanders in (d) and (e) will be directly subordinate to the High Command of the Armed Forces.
(f) In the Balkans (including the occupied islands): Commander Armed Forces Southeast.
(g) In the Baltic Territories and the Ukraine: Commander Armed Forces Baltic Territories and Ukraine.
(h) In the home theatre of war: the commanding admirals.
2. The commanders named in paragraph III, 1 will have for these tasks full powers of command over the staffs commanding all armed forces, the German civil authorities, and the nonmilitary units and organizations in their area.
In exercising their authority they will issue the necessary tactical, administrative, and supply instructions, and will ensure that they are complied with. In all matters relating to land fighting, training of units will follow their ruling, and all necessary information will be put at their disposal.
3. Among the orders to be given and measure to be taken, the following must be given first place.
(a) The inclusion within fortified areas of strongpoints of all important military and industrial establishments connected with defence, particularly those of the navy (submarine bases) and the air force.
(b) The co-ordination of coastal reconnaissance.
(c) The defence of fortified areas and strong-points by infantry.
(d) The defence by infantry of all isolated positions outside the fortified areas and strong points — e.g., coastal lookout points and air-attack warning-posts.
(e) Artillery defence against land targets. (The navy has priority in the installation of new batteries, or the conversion of existing batteries.)
(f) The defensive readiness, development, and supply facilities of installations, as well as of isolated positions away from these installations. (This includes being equipped with all weapons needed for defence: mines, hand-grenades, flamethrowers, barbed wire, etc.)
(g) The signals network.
(h) Methods for ensuring that troops are always on the alert, and that infantry and gunnery training is being carried out in accordance with the special defence requirements.
4. The same authority is conferred upon local commanders up to sector commanders, insofar as they are responsible for the defence of a part of the coast.
The commanders designated in paragraph III, 1 will, in general, appoint commanders of army divisions employed in coastal defence as local commanders with full powers. In Crete the Fortress Commandant Crete will appoint them.