Hitler’s Directives and Orders for Building an Atlantic Wall I

30 May 1944. Admiral Theodor Krancke (Oberbefehlshaber Marinegruppenkommando West); Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel (Oberbefehlshaber Heeresgruppe B); General der Infanterie Walter Buhle (Chef vom Heeresstab im OKW); General der Pioniere Alfred Jacob (General der Pioniere und Festungen im OKH). Generaloberst Hans von Salmuth (Oberbefehlshaber 15. Armee); Generalleutnant Rudolf Hofmann (Chef des Generalstabes 15. Armee); Generalmajor Max Pemsel (Chef des Generalstabes 7. Armee); Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann (Oberbefehlshaber 7. Armee); General der Artillerie Heinrich “Heinz” Meyer-Buerdorf (General der Artillerie bei Oberbefehlshaber West).

After the raids on Bruneval and St Nazaire, and Admiral Erich Raeder’s warning that the Kriegsmarine did not have the ability to repulse an enemy assault on the coast, Hitler realized that the situation in the West was not under control. He acknowledged that stronger naval forces would help, but Raeder believed that improved coastal defences would serve no purpose. Hitler had already issued a directive calling for the creation of a New West Wall along the coast in December 1941. Only five days before the raid on St Nazaire, he had formalized those instructions in Directive number 40 and sanctioned the fortification of all key and vulnerable sites, thus setting in motion the creation of the Atlantic Wall.

The only major fortifications built or under construction by the end of 1941 were the U-boat pens, casemates and associated facilities for seven heavy coastal gun batteries in the Pas de Calais, as well as several naval coastal batteries and positions on the Channel Islands. Work had also begun on the 380mm gun batteries on either side of the Kattegat at Hanstholm and Kristiansand. The OT [Organization Todt] had undertaken the construction of these facilities, mainly for the Kriegsmarine. Since the OT did not operate through the army chain of command, OB West had to depend upon its own resources for coastal defences.

Unfortunately, it had few means besides the RAD units, which it had taken over in August 1939 and formed into army construction battalions. These battalions were able to repair roads and bridges, erect barriers and obstacles, string barbed wire and lay mines, but their skills and equipment did not give them the ability to build anything more elaborate than field fortifications, even when using concrete. The coastal gun batteries were built for the campaign against the British and, like the submarine pens, were intended for offensive operations. However, since they were major fortified works, they were built by the OT. According to General Bodo Zimmermann, Field Marshal Witzleben had requested permission for the army to begin fortifying the coast in September 1941, but he had at his disposal only the army construction battalions when he needed the OT. The best Witzleben could manage was to station army units on the coast so he could give their higher commands the task of surveying their sectors for possible defensive sites and building field fortifications. However, a lack of construction materials seriously limited the scope of his building plans.

On 14 December 1941 Chief of Staff Wilhelm Keitel formally signed an OKW order that called for the creation of a ‘New West Wall’, whose mission would be to repel an enemy invasion with a minimal number of troops. The order called for the creation of Stützpunkt or strongpoints at threatened coastal areas and for improving the defences of battery positions. Due to the commando raids, first priority was given to Norway, followed by the coasts of France and Belgium on the Channel. The Dutch coast and the German Bight came next in the order of priority and remaining sectors were left for last. Norway became the responsibility of the Kriegsmarine, while the army received control of most other coastal areas, but this did not apply to fire direction for army and naval coastal batteries. Field Marshal Witzleben, OB West, was ahead of the curve since he had already begun designating Festungbereichen or fortified areas. The OT was given the responsibility for organizing and preparing the coastal defences in the West. However, the details still needed to be worked out with Dr Fritz Todt. The relationship between the three military arms of the Wehrmacht and the relationship between the OT and OB West also had to be spelled out.

Work proceeded smoothly in Norway where the Kriegsmarine retained control of coastal defences. The OT had been working with the naval fortress engineers almost since the outbreak of the war. After landing at Ratsenburg in February 1942, Fritz Todt visited Hitler’s huge ‘Wolf’s Lair’ headquarters compound for a conference on the new assignment and other matters. Albert Speer, en route from the Eastern Front to Berlin, arrived late on 7 February. Todt offered to fly him to Berlin the next morning. However, since Speer’s meeting with the Führer lasted until 3am he sent Todt a message that he would not make the flight. Todt’s special He-111 took off on the morning of 8 February 1942 and crashed within minutes. Hitler then appointed Speer as the new Minister of Armaments and the leader of the OT.

On 23 March 1942 Hitler’s Directive number 40 provided the guidelines for coastal defence, but failed to provide an adequate solution for the dispute between the army and the Kriegsmarine over control of the coastal artillery batteries. In May 1942 Albert Speer attended a conference at ‘Werewolf’, Hitler’s almost-completed fortified compound in the pinewoods north of Vinnitsa in the Western Ukraine, where he received further instructions regarding the defence of the West. Hitler decided that the OT would have to divert resources to the New West Wall. The Festungspioneer Korps or Fortress Engineer Corps, under Inspector of Engineer and Fortifications General Alfred Jacob, would be responsible for the design and supervising the OT, as it had been during the construction of the West Wall before the war. The Festungs pioneer Korps consisted mainly of staffs assigned to various districts, but had no troops that could actually carry out the construction work.

On 17 June 1942 the OKW issued a document formalizing the relationship between the OT and the Fortress Engineer Corps for the construction of fortifications. The Fortress Engineers would conduct the reconnaissance, select the sites and design the installations.

They would also decide the sequence of construction and prepare the blueprints for the OT. The fortress engineers would inspect the site and point out any flaws in the construction to the OT. They would also deliver to the construction site all armoured parts – such as turrets and plate armour – that required heavy transport. The engineers would likewise install all internal equipment for turrets, gun mounts, attachments to armour plate, weapons and optical instruments. They would also install the electrical wiring and mechanical equipment. Although the OT was responsible for security at the construction projects and storage sites, the engineers would supervise them. The OT could only take orders for fortification construction projects from the fortress engineer staffs. The OT was responsible for the construction and camouflage of the structures, the installation of interior components, including armoured parts, and the ventilation and water supply systems, but not the mechanical equipment and items listed for the fortress engineers. Except for the heavy items the engineers would have to deliver, the OT would be responsible for procuring and transporting all construction materials, creating wire obstacles, clearing fields of fire, digging trenches and other defensive requirements.

On 13 August 1942 Hitler specified what he wanted accomplished and told Keitel and others it must be done with ‘frantic energy’. Speer was to work with the engineer staff of OB West to create 15,000 bunkers to be used by an estimated 300,000 troops who were to defend the coast from the Spanish frontier to northern Norway, covering almost 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) of coastline by the end of April 1943.

Speer and his subordinates, however, doubted that they could achieve as much as 40 per cent of the total in that time. Hitler also wanted the bunkers to form strong-points manned by thirty to seventy men and to include positions for machine-guns and anti-tank guns that could withstand aerial and naval bombardment. The positions were to form a barrier using interlocking fire, like the West Wall. The protection of U-boat bases had to be put at the top of the priority list, followed by harbours the enemy would need to support an invasion, the Channel Islands and open coastline with beaches suitable for landings.

Hitler’s winter construction programme was an impossible mission, but Speer and the OT strove to meet their deadlines. In addition to the Atlantic Wall, Speer had to handle other construction projects throughout the Reich. Even though totals for concrete poured are often meaningless numbers, the following statistics illustrate how the effort grew in scope. During the first five months of 1941 the OT poured much more concrete for Luftwaffe installations than it did on other projects between July 1940 and the end of May 1941.

However, by mid-summer the U-boat bunkers had received about triple the amount of concrete used for other purposes, totalling over 350,000 cubic metres. Work on the fortifications of the Atlantic Wall did not begin again until October 1941. Between May and October 1941 only a few thousand cubic metres were poured for coastal defences (much of it on the Channel Islands), and the bulk of several hundred thousand cubic metres was used on the U-boat bunkers. During the late summer of 1942 the majority of the concrete poured went into the coastal fortifications: over 373,000 cubic metres out of 464,000 cubic metres poured in September 1942. During the construction programme for fortifications in the winter of 1942/1943 the concrete total stood at above 400,000 cubic metres, reaching a peak of about 770,000 cubic metres in April 1943. In spite of this massive effort, Speer was unable to meet the quota of 15,000 bunkers by May 1943, as ordered by Hitler. Monthly totals dropped to under 400,000 cubic metres (about 320,000 cubic metres in August 1943) but did surpass 300,000 cubic metres until February 1944, after Rommel took over. By April 1944 the totals were up to 600,000 cubic metres, but they dropped off suddenly when Allied bombing crippled the transportation lines in the West and the need for the OT to repair damage in Germany grew after the Allied bombings there.

On 29 September 1942 Hitler gathered Albert Speer, Herman Göring, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, General Günther Blumentritt (Chief of Staff for OB West), General Rudolf Schmetzer (Inspector of Land Fortifications for OB West) and General Alfred Jacob (Chief Engineer for OKH and Inspector General of Land Fortifications) for another conference at the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. Other staff officers were also present at this three-hour long conference. The Führer boasted that he would defeat the Soviets within the next year, but was worried that the Western Allies might try to create a second front in Europe. He was unaware that they would open a new front in North Africa a little more than a month after this meeting. His main concern at this time was Norway. Since France was still an obvious choice for invasion, he pushed again for the construction of a fortified coastline. Massive fortifications, he believed, would also offer a psychological advantage for the troops who must repel any assault.

In October 1942 Rundstedt and the staff of OB West prepared several operational plans, two of which focused on dealing with an Allied landing either in the Fifteenth Army area along the Kanalküste (Channel Coast) or in the Seventh Army area of Brittany and Lower Normandy (west of the Seine River); there was even another plan to counter a landing directed at Bordeaux in southwest France. A reaction force
– Armeegruppe Felber – was prepared for the occupation of Vichy France and a contingency plan was made for possible operations in Spain.

In response to the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, the German First Army and Armeegruppe Felber invaded the territory of Vichy France. The next summer, as Italy began to waver, General Hans-Gustav Felber prepared to move against the Italian Fourth Army in southeast France. In August 1943 General Georg von Sodenstern replaced Felber, and Armeegruppe Felber, which became the Nineteenth Army, took over the defence of the French Mediterranean coast. When Italy surrendered to the Allies, several of Rundstedt’s mobile divisions were dispatched across the border, while the Nineteenth Army easily subdued the Italian Fourth Army, sending 40,000 of its men as prisoners of war into France to be used as labour, mainly to work on fortifications on the French Mediterranean coast.

Earlier in the spring of 1943 Field Marshal Rundstedt had met with the Führer at his mountain retreat, the Berghof, at Berchtesgaden. Hitler simply shrugged off the problems in the West and showed no interest in the area until the summer. In June, as he worked on the last great offensive of the German army in the East, he turned his attention back to the West. The threat of a potential second front in Europe loomed again after the collapse of Axis forces in North Africa that spring. Due to an Allied subterfuge, the Germans became convinced that the next invasion would come in Greece or possibly Sardinia. Construction of launching sites for V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets began, although the engineers needed many more months to perfect these new V-weapons. Hitler gave priority to those sections of the Atlantic Wall where these V-weapons would be located. This meant that Fifteenth Army received the greatest number of troops and most of the OT’s building effort was concentrated in its sectors.

Construction on the V-1 launching sites began in the latter part of 1943. Allied intelligence uncovered the work on these new weapons and set in motion Operation Crossbow, whose objective was the destruction of the launch sites. The bombing missions against the sites near the coast, called ‘No Ball missions’, began in early 1944. As a result of these attacks, the Germans were not ready to schedule their V1 offensive against London until shortly after D-Day in June 1944.

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