June 06, 2003

By 1944, Hitler's Europe had become a seemingly impenetrable fortress, protected in the west by what came to be known as the Atlantic Wall. The Atlantic Wall is perhaps the most massive fortified position ever in history and had become a formidable obstacle for the Allied planners. It was created by order of Hitler's Führer Directive No. 405 and comprised of a massive WWI-like trench system, reinforced with massive concrete strong-points. This wall was filled with machine-gun nests and pillboxes. Some of the more heavily fortified concrete bunkers were home to massive 66, 75, 88, 115, and 155mm gun emplacements. The beaches were also heavily fortified with hedgehogs, Belgian gates, log ramps, wooden posts, and Rommel's asparagus.

Hedgehogs are star-shaped, six-foot high obstacles that were constructed of solid steel. They were topped with mines and were designed to rip out the hull of any boat that passed over them. Belgian gates are large pieces of steel perpendicular to the beach and facing the water. They were ten feet high and topped with antitank mines. The log ramps and wooden posts are bits of wood angled toward the sea and topped with mines intended to destroy any passing boats. The beaches were also covered with barb wire and minefields intended to stop any invading army from exiting the beach. By the time D-Day finally occurred, Rommel had laid 6.5 million mines and was working towards his goal of 11 million. Rommel's asparagus is the nickname for the poles the he had driven into the ground in any field that was suitable for landing a glider, these stakes would rip the glider up when it tried to land.

-- Andrew Ferguson

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THE ABOVE PHOTOGRAPH was taken from the deck of a small U.S. Coast Guard landing vessel, just off the shores of Omaha Beach, on June 6, 1944, just north of the French town of Bayeaux. It is a haunting and powerful reminder of what free men and nations must sometimes do -- not only to safeguard their own liberty, but also to liberate those nations suffering under the cruel hands of tyrants.

Few things, I think, capture so well this time in history. Fifty-nine years ago, our soldiers did so much more than serve with honor, dedication and courage. As they fought and suffered, their sacrifice gave free men hope: that soon would come a time when all was finished, and soon would come the time when Nazi Germany was thrown down to the ground.

PHOTO CREDIT: National Archives

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at June 6, 2003 08:31 AM