Beach Obstacles

In December of 1943 and January of 1944, in his new role as Inspector General of the Coastal Defences, Erwin Rommel carried out an inspection of the Atlantic Wall defenses from Denmark to France. His report found that there was insufficient mine placement, as well as an insufficient number of beach obstacles. In light of this, Rommel insisted upon “nearly round-the-clock” work placing obstacles of a variety of kinds in the months leading up to D-day.

The beach obstacles took a variety of forms, and broadly served to impede the eventual Allied amphibious invasion. Thanks to the work aerial reconnaissance missions over the coast, the Allies were able to learn what types were being planted along the beaches, and create prototypes to practice with in their training.

This article is meant to provide a summary of different kinds of beach obstacle and their intended uses, to give you a better idea of the beach defenses that existed on top of the infantry, bunkers, and mines.

Juno Beach Obstacle Info:

Mike: ~2,012m wide; 915 obstacles
Nan: ~5,030m wide; 2701 obstacles

Sample distribution of beach obstacles: Gold Beach

Obstacle type Number
Beach width 2,470m
Ramps 112
Stakes (Hemmbalken) 228
Czech hedgehogs 655
Tetrahedrons 45
Belgian gates (Element C) 66
Nutcracker mines 10


Beach obstacles :

Wooden beams (Hemmbalken, or Hochpfähle):

  • Appearance:
    • Wooden posts; 4-5m (13-16ft) long; planted at an angle in the sand; located along the Norman coastline; supported and reinforced by other wooden poles to make more secure; topped by a Teller mine.
  • Use:
    • To disable or damage landing craft.
    • To generally hinder an amphibious invasion.
  • Frequency:
    • Roughly 11,000 planted on Norman coastline prior to landings
  • Efficacy:
    • Once reinforced, Hemmbalken were effective as impediments to landing craft.
    • Though all Hemmbalken were topped with Teller mines, these mines were attached with thin wire, which would rust underwater and often cause the mine to fall off.
    • Their use was a factor in the Allies opting for a low-tide rather than a high tide landing.
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Belgian Gates / Element C / Cointet Element

  • Appearance:
    • Made of angled steel rebar and plates; often standing on roughly 2m high, 3m wide; rough resemblance to a barnyard gate; weighs more than 1,000kg; meant to impede the advance of tanks, predominantly on inland terrain.
  • Use:
    • Inland, to prevent tank advances along roads.
    • On the coast, to disable or damage landing craft as well as impede tank advances.
    • To generally hinder an invasion, amphibious or otherwise.
  • Frequency:
    • Depends on which beach. None on Utah, between 45-65 on Sword and Gold, and up to 200 on Omaha. Inland and Juno numbers unknown.
  • Efficacy:
    • Though the design had been rejected for use along the Maginot line, they were effective in impeding the advances of tanks and were quite time-consuming to dismantle.

Belgian_Gate

“Nutcracker” mines (Nussknackermine)

  • Appearance:
    • Short steel or wood beam attached with hinges to either a steel or a concrete base; mines or old artillery shells attached to base; mines or shells positioned to be hit by beam if the beam is displaced.
  • Use:
    • To disable or damage landing craft.
    • To generally hinder an amphibious invasion.
  • Frequency:
    • Though apparently more “regularly manufactured” than other, impromptu beach obstacles, there appears to only be concrete evidence of their use on Gold beach, and at that only 10. Apparently more common to the east (Le Havre) and the west (Cherbourg, Brest) of the landing beaches.
  • Efficacy:
    • Presumably relatively effective, but very uncommon on the D-day beaches.

Tetrahedrons

  • Appearance:
    • Large hollow triangular prisms with sides between 1m and 2m long. Made of either steel or reinforced concrete. Topmost point often equipped with space for an antitank mine to be attached, though it was only rarely that mines were attached.
  • Use:
    • Antitank obstacles.
      • Those made of steel could be used in the water; those made of concrete were more suited to blocking roads.
      • Shape of prism makes it nearly impossible to tip over if struck by a tank.
    • To generally hinder an amphibious invasion.
  • Frequency:
    • Much less frequent than Czech hedgehogs along the landing beaches. Possibly used more often further inland. No numbers for Juno, but 150 for Utah and 45 for Gold.
  • Efficacy:
    • Effective as antitank obstacles thanks to their shape, but posed comparatively less danger than others due to their lack of attached mines.

Czech hedgehogs (Tschechenigel)

  • Appearance:
    • Made of steel angles or rails of between 1.5m and 2m in length; two rails crossed in an X form with a third resting on an angle in the crossed rails; either bolted or welded together; positioned in shallow water and anchored with concrete bases.
  • Use:
    • Combination anti-craft and antitank obstacles.
    • Meant to hinder military advances.
  • Frequency:
    • Very common. Upwards of 3600 on all landing beaches minus Juno.
  • Efficacy:
    • Given the low tide landing, not as much of a hindrance as they might have been, and not as dangerous as those obstacles topped with Teller mines.

Rommel’s Asparagus (DE: Rommelspargel): NOT used on the beach! Honorary beach obstacle.

  • Appearance:
    • Wooden posts; 4-5m (13-16ft) long; planted upright in the ground; located in fields and pastures; occasionally connected to each other by a web of barbed wire; 1/3 were topped with either a mine or a hand grenade.
  • Use:
    • To impede aerial landings by parachutists.
    • To tear the wings of gliders and planes attempting to land.
  •  Frequency:
    • More than 1mil Rommelspargel planted in fields and pastures inland of the Norman coast.
  • Efficacy:
    • Was effective at tearing wings of gliders.
    • not as dangerous as other, natural obstacles. Rommelspargel were planted rather far inland, pilots instead dropped airborne infantry closer to the coast, largely bypassing the obstacles

Dispatches from Juno shares all the news, events, and stories from the Juno Beach Centre in France and Canada. Interested in contributing a story to the blog? Email the editor at jbca@junobeach.org.

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