The German Westwall, sometimes referred to as the ‘Siegfried Line’ or West Wall, was a construction built at the beginning of WWII in response to the French Maginot defense line built during WWI along the Eastern border between France and Germany (stripes.com).
The Westwall was built between 1938 and 1940. It stretched from Kleve in the north for 630km (390 miles) along the western border of Germany down to the Swiss border. The line was comprised of over 18,000 bunkers combined with tunnels and tank traps. The tank traps were a line of anti-tank obstacles made of steel-reinforced concrete located between bunkers along the front. In English, they are often referred to as ‘dragon’s teeth’ (dunkirk1940.com).
The Westwall was little better than a ‘building site’ in 1939, according to German General Alfred Joel after the war (wikipedia.com). The construction was weak and weapon defense paltry (ibid). In fact, there was no major combat along the line at the start of the war. Instead both the French and Germans stayed entrenched on their own safe sides in what today is called the ‘phoney war’ (ibid wikipedia).
1944 Changed the War and Led to Resumed Westwall Building
With the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944, war in the west broke out full-scale. Hitler gave the directive to renew construction of the Westwall using 20,000 forced-laborers and members of the Reichsarbeitsdienst (German Labor Service), most of whom were 14-16 year old boys. Working conditions were very dangerous and little regard for worker safety was exercised.
Confrontations at the End of the War
The first major clash along the Westwall took place in August, 1944 in the Hürtigenwald area of the Eifel, near Aachen. The Americans committed an estimated 120,000 troops to the Battle of Hürtigen Forest and 24,000 American soldiers were lost (wikipedia.com). Shortly thereafter the Battle of the Bulge began, beginning in the area south of the Hürtigenwald, extending from Monschau in the Eifel to Luxembourg. This was a last ditch German effort to reverse the war in their favor, but losses of life and material led to their defeat. By early 1945 the last of the bunkers along the Siegfried Line had fallen.
The British 21st Army Division led attacks on the Line and included American troops. US losses totaled around 68,000, plus 50,000 non-battle casualties and 20,000 casualties in the Ninth Army. As a result, close to 140,000 Americans lost their lives in battles along the Westwall/Siegfried Line in total during the war (wikipedia).
When asked about the Sigfried Line, General George S. Patton reportedly said: ‘Fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity’ (ibid).
The Westwall Today
Although most of the wall was purposely obliterated after the war, pieces of it still stand today. An association with the name ‘Der Denkmalswert des Unerfreulichen’ (The Value of the Unpleasant Memorial) is working to maintain the Sigfried Line as an historical monument. The Hürtgenwald Museum documents the famous battle there. Nearby in Kall, one can tour bunkers and a castle. In Saarland and in several locations in the Palatinate, other options are also available. Below are several online addresses for organizing a tour of the Westwall.
Online for further reference: