The critical points of Europe's Atlantic coast are, of course, those beaches which are suitable for major landing operations. Germany's maximum effort in men, materials, and weapons on her Western Front has been directed toward the fortification of these potential gateways to the interior.
Forbidden zones have been defined by the Germans, and their inhabitants have been evacuated therefrom, not only to facilitate the organization and construction of defenses but also to prevent the native population from joining or assisting any landing forces. Seaside homes and other buildings along the coast have been razed to provide fields of fire, or space for the construction of reinforced concrete forts, ammunition dumps, and gun emplacements.
Those buildings that have been allowed to stand near the beaches have been incorporated in the defenses. Many attractive villas are still deceptively innocent and peaceful in appearance, but only the exteriors remain the same. The interiors of some have been converted into steel-and-concrete emplacements, and they have been armed with guns of varying sizes. Many of the houses have not been fortified so elaborately, but have been turned into effective positions for smaller guns and machine guns by the filling-in of doors and windows with brick or concrete. Passages have been cut through continuous rows of fortified houses so that the occupying troops may pass from one to another without being exposed to observation and fire from the beach. Corner houses which command stretches of roads and intersections have likewise been converted into emplacements for weapons.
The sea walls and the promenades or boardwalks along the beach
fronts have also been fortified by the installation of emplacements
from which guns could be brought to bear on the beach and the water
beyond. In some places the dunes are no longer mere heaps of sand
dotted with bunch grass. They have been hollowed out, and
reinforced concrete shelters and emplacements have been built within
them. Such concrete works are occupied by antiaircraft and heavy gun
crews, and by infantry units that would come out to engage landing
forces. (See sec. IV, pp.
As for the beach proper, the Germans have devised a variety of obstacles of more or less conventional type. These will be discussed in detail in this section.
The photographs in figures 3 to 6, inclusive, give an idea of common features of the beaches in the Low Countries and France. Figure 3, a picture of the coast line on the Island of Walcheren, Zeeland, in The Netherlands, shows a line of dunes and the breakwaters that run at right angles as well as parallel to the beach. The dunes characteristic of the beaches of The Netherlands and Belgium are also shown in figure 4. (Note the bunch grass.) Figure 5 is an example of the beaches along the English Channel coast of France. Many of these beaches are flanked by cliffs which dominate the landing areas. A stretch of sea wall is shown in figure 6. Such walls are normally supplemented by obstacles to convert them into barriers, and gun and troop positions are constructed in the face of the walls. (See pars. 12c and 17g and i.)
Figure 3.—Typical dune beach with breakwaters.
Figure 4.—Close-up view of dunes, showing bunch grass.
Figure 5.—French beach, showing typical cliffs on flanks.
Figure 6.—Typical sea wall and promenade in Belgium.