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German fortifications: D-Day on Normandy

German fortification at Pointe du Hoc on D-Day, June 6, 1941.
US Navy photo.

Hitler ordered the building of an Atlantic Wall defense that was planned to extend from Norway to the border of Spain, to defend against an anticipated Allied invasion of the European mainland.

Heaviest fortifications were in the area of Pas du Calais where the Germans anticipated the Allies would attack. The actual invasion took place to the south, along the coast of Normandy. The wall was never completed.

By June 6, 1944, the Germans had strengthened the Atlantic Wall on the coast of Normandy. Mines and obstacles were set up to impede or destroy the Allied landing craft before they could unload. They poured concrete for pillboxes and other fortifications which could hold tank turrets, machine guns, anti-tank guns, light artillery, flamethrowers, mortars, rocket-launchers, and radios.

The concrete fortifications were built underground, with some also being built above ground or partially underground. Pillboxes contained embrasures (loopholes) through which to fire the weapons. Various sizes of reinforced concrete Tobruk pits were built entirely underground to support machine guns, mortars, or tank turrets mounted on top. The beach exits (ravines leading from the beach up to the top of the highlands) were most heavily fortified.

Allied minesweepers showed up the day before the invasion to clear the area of navel mines. Just prior to the invasion, commandos and frogmen were scheduled to clear lanes through the beach mines and obstacles, for the landing ships to use. When the fortifications could be identified by navy ships, they were targeted by navel weapons. The infantry attempted to destroy the German fortifications by putting Ban galore torpedoes, satchel charges and hand grenades into the openings of the concrete pillboxes. Flamethrowers were also used.


The German Air Force and Navy were badly weakened by June 6, when the attack on Normandy began, and the battered German Army was left to defend against the Allied landings. But the Allies were still afraid of tremendous damage being inflicted by heavy German artillery stationed at Pointe du Hoc. According to Martin Gilbert in D-Day, when the bunkers were captured at Point du Hoc, it was found "that all but one of the much-feared heavy guns were not there. The one that remained had been damaged in an earlier air attack. The remaining five had been taken from their emplacements and hidden, unguarded, in a nearby orchard" (pp144-145).

The photo above shows Lieutenant Commander Knapper and Chief Yeoman Cook, of USS Texas (BB-35), as they examine a damaged German pillbox at Pointe du Hoc on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Earlier in the day the USS Texas had bombarded the point in support of the Omaha Beach landings. Pointe du Hoc was a cliff that was situated between Omaha and Utah beaches.