Breaking the Westwall (Siegfried line) October–December 1944

Joris Nieuwint


Allied penetration of the western defenses of Germany. The Siegfried Line an Allied label based on German World War I defenses, known to the Germans as the West Wall was a system of defensive positions in western Germany. The Siegfried Line ran south to north from the Swiss border along the Rhine River to the area of Karlsruhe and then northwest to Saarbrucken; it followed the Saar River to Trier and then paralleled the German border with Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

The West Wall did not rely on large fortifications but used terrain features and several belts of mutually supporting bunkers, pillboxes, and firing positions. These defenses, combined with minefields and antitank barriers such as “dragons’ teeth” and deep ditches, protected the German border region. The forward defenses were backed by hardened bunkers for troops, supplies, and command-and-control facilities. The operational concept was to slow attacking forces and create opportunities for counterattacks by mobile reserve forces.

The defensive system was initially developed following the German remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, and extensive work on it was carried out in 1938 under the direction of Fritz Todt. All construction work stopped in 1940 after the conquest of France, and the line was stripped of its armaments. Many guns were shifted to the new defenses on the French coast. In August 1944, German leader Adolf Hitler directed that an accelerated program begin to strengthen the West Wall in response to Allied advances in France, but the defenses were limited by shortages of troops, artillery, and ammunition. Nonetheless, the West Wall provided an important shield for reconstituting forces that had retreated from France, and it became the focal point for the defense of the German homeland in the west under Field Marshal Gerd von Rudstedt.


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