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We all know that the German fortifications failed to halt the Allied landings in Normandy, but few of us have looked at the types of strongpoint involved. Here Steve Zaloga provides us with a splendid guide to all of them, from the anti-landing craft beach defences and concrete pillboxes and gun emplacements to the field fortifications that were little more than trenches.
He begins with the history of German coastal fortifications, originally the Navy’s responsibility but largely taken over as an Army job during World War 2. The Navy’s intention was to defend harbours, not whole shorelines, hence the Army involvement when over 1,000 kilometers of coast had to be defended. The book concentrates on the Normandy invasion beaches and their defences, starting with the original plans and their lack of preparedness as late as November 1943 – not helped by the removal of any fit soldiers to the Russian Front. The faults were revealed by an inspection by von Rundstedt and Hitler directed that the transfers of forces to Russia were to cease and the defences were to be strengthened. Rommel was appointed to head the defences, and accelerated the construction of new strongpoints. However, the lack of men and resources meant that many planned sites were never completed before D-Day and German concentration on the Pas de Calais, where they thought the blow would be most likely to fall, meant that the actual invasion area got less strengthening.
The styles and standards of strongpoint construction are considered, followed by detailed looks at the various types: mines and other beach defences, barbed wire entanglements, open gun pits, concrete-covered observation points and gun emplacements of all sizes from machinegun “Tobruks” to heavy artillery sites, and even Luftwaffe radar and fighter control stations. How the positions were manned is dealt with here, too. Then the actual D-Day attacks on them are considered, with a fair amount of detail tracking first the pre-landing naval gunfire and then, beach by beach, the effect of each strongpoint and the attacks on them. Some were so strongly protected by concrete armour that only ground assault from the rear could silence them, while others were knocked out by direct fire from tank guns and some were simply bypassed. A chapter on the aftermath follows, with the German view on why their defences failed, and an analysis of the defences’ effectiveness. Finally there’s a look at the sites today mentioning those worth visiting, and a list of suggested further reading for those wanting even more detail.
The whole book is profusely illustrated, combining wartime photographs and plans, modern shots of interesting sites, maps, and excellent colour plates of various types of strong point including cutaways of several interior layouts. This is an essential reference for anyone modelling D-Day scenes. Several Tobruks and other emplacements are available for diorama builders, but how the pillboxes were emplaced and how their entrance trenches ran are important factors for the authenticity of a scenic base.