Festung Europa (German for 'Fortress Europe') was the name for the Third Reich's defensive strategy for the Western Front. By 1942, Germany was engaged on two fronts, and the Eastern Front was pulling in much of Germany's forces. As a result, there was a shortage of troops to defend the Continent in the event of a western invasion. Hitler ordered the fortification of the western coastlines with over 15,000 concrete-reinforced positions. It was expected that the Allies would attack with local superiority in men and machines and fierce aerial and naval bombardment. The fully-fortified positions, reinforced against direct and overhead fire, would allow the lower-quality defending forces to resist until reinforcements could be rushed in.

The engineering effort was tremendous. By late 1943 the coastline was successfully fortified. The demands of the fortification program outstripped the ability of European industry to supply it, however; in many cases, after the invasion, strongpoints were found without any cannon mounted due to shortages.

When the invasion finally came, the fortifications did offer stiff initial resistance to the landings. However, Allied air power and naval bombardment (as well as strategic deception) prevented adequate reinforcement of the coastline near the invasion sites, and the Allies were able to concentrate enough force at isolated points to overwhelm the defenses despite the fortifications. Their defense was an all-or-nothing throw, an attempt to push the invasion back off the beach and prevent the Allies from making it off the shoreline; once that failed, they were useless.

Many of these concrete structures remain mostly intact today, judged either historically important or (in most cases) uneconomical to demolish. Their crumbling hulks watch westward, waiting to defend against an enemy that will never come.


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