The original Siegfried Line (German: Siegfriedstellung) was a line of defensive forts and tank defenses built by Germany as a section of the Hindenburg Line 1916–1917 in northern France during World War I. In English, Siegfried line more commonly refers to the similar World War II defensive line, built during the 1930s, opposite the French Maginot Line, which served a corresponding purpose. The Germans themselves called this the Westwall, but the Allies renamed it after the World War I line. This article deals with this second Siegfried line.
The Siegfried Line was a defence system stretching more than 630 km (390 mi) with more than 18,000 bunkers, tunnels and tank traps. It went from Kleve on the border with the Netherlands, along the western border of the old German Empire as far as the town of Weil am Rhein on the border to Switzerland. More with Nazi propaganda in mind than for any strategic reason, Adolf Hitler planned the line from 1936 and had it built between 1938 and 1940.
Origin of the Name Westwall
The official name for the Second World War-era defensive line construction program that collectively came to be known as the “Westwall” in German and “Siegfried Line” in English changed several times during the late 1930s reflecting areas in progress:
- Border Watch programme (pioneering programme) for the most advanced positions, 1938.
- Limes Programme, 1938.
- Aachen-Saar Programme, 1939.
- Geldern Emplacement between Brüggen and Kleve, 1939–1940.
- Western Air Defence Zone, 1938.
These programmes were all pushed forward with the highest priority, using every available resource. The origin of the name “Westwall” is unknown, but it appeared in popular use from the middle of 1939; there is a record of Hitler sending an Order of the Day to the soldiers and the workers at the “Westwall” on 20 May 1939.
Standard construction elements such as large Regelbau bunkers, smaller concrete “pillboxes”, and “dragon’s teeth” anti-tank obstacles were built as part of each construction phase, sometimes by the thousands. This standardisation was the most effective use of scarce raw materials, transport and workers.
“Dragon’s teeth” tank traps were also known as Höcker in German (“humps” or “pimples” in English) because of their shape. These blocks of reinforced concrete stand in several rows on a single foundation. There are two typical sorts of barrier: Type 1938 with four teeth getting higher toward the back, and Type 1939 with five such teeth. Many other irregular lines of teeth were also built. Another design of tank obstacle, known as the Czech hedgehog, was made by welding together several bars of steel in such a way that any tank rolling over it would get stuck. If the contour of the land allowed it, water-filled ditches were dug instead of tank traps. Examples of this kind of defence are those north of Aachen near Geilenkirchen.
Small bunkers with 50 cm (20 in) thick walls were set up with three embrasures towards the front. Sleeping accommodations were hammocks. In exposed positions, similar small bunkers were erected with small round armoured “lookout” sections on the roofs. The programme was carried out by the Border Watch (Grenzwacht), a small military troop activated in the Rhineland immediately after the region was re-militarised by Germany after having been de-militarised following the First World War.
The Limes Programme began in 1938 following an order by Hitler to strengthen fortifications on the western German border. Limes refers to the former borders of the Roman Empire; the cover story for the programme was that it was an archaeological study.
Its Type 10 bunkers were more strongly constructed than the earlier border fortifications. These had 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) thick ceilings and walls. A total of 3,471 were built along the entire length of the Siegfried Line. They featured a central room or shelter for 10-12 men with a stepped embrasure facing backwards and a combat section 50 cm (20 in) higher. This elevated section had embrasures at the front and sides for machine guns. More embrasures were provided for riflemen, and the entire structure was constructed so as to be safe against poison gas.
Heating was from a safety oven, the chimney of which was covered with a thick grating. Space was tight, with about 1 m2 (11 sq ft) per soldier, who was given a sleeping-place and a stool; the commanding officer had a chair. Surviving examples still retain signs warning “Walls have ears” and “Lights out when embrasures are open!”
The Aachen-Saar programme bunkers were similar to those of the Limes programme: Type 107 double MG casemates with concrete walls up to 3.5 m (11 ft) thick. One difference was that there were no embrasures at the front, only at the sides of the bunkers. Embrasures were only built at the front in special cases and were then protected with heavy metal doors. This construction phase included the towns of Aachen and Saarbrücken, which were initially west of the Limes Programme defence line.
Western Air Defence Zone
The Western Air Defence Zone (Luftverteidigungszone West or LVZ West) continued parallel to the two other lines toward the east, and consisted mainly of concrete FlaK foundations. Scattered MG42 and MG34 emplacements added additional defence against both air and land targets. Flak turrets were designed to force enemy planes to fly higher, thus decreasing the accuracy of their bombing. These towers[clarification needed] were protected at close range by bunkers from the Limes and Aachen-Saar programmes.
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