Hannes Trautloft's picture

German policy has consistently emphasized the development of highly mobile armies, and Germany's military successes have been gained in wars of maneuver. During the past 25 years the German High Command has become thoroughly convinced of the soundness of the Schlieffen theories of movement, envelopment, and annihilation, especially since Germany's central location in Europe gives her the
advantage of interior lines of communication-a decided strategic advantage in a war of maneuver. Indoctrined and trained in the Schlieffen theories, German armies were successful in the Franco-Prussian War, in World War I (until they became involved in trench warfare of attrition), and in the Polish, Norwegian, and western European campaigns of World War II.

However, Germany's central position ceases to be an advantage whenever her enemies can so combine that they engage her in a two-front war. Her transportation, manpower, and other resources are not sufficient to insure a decisive victory on two sides at once. In order to escape this prospect, the German Ih Command reached the conclusion that at least w one side Germany could and must. secure herself with a great fortified system.

A doctrine of permanent fortifications, exhaustive in scope, was formulated under the title "The Sta-bilized Front" (Die Stiindige Front). The classic concept of fortifications-isolated fortress cities and a line of fortified works-was abandoned as obsolete. The German High Command developed new principles in the light of modern warfare, weapons, and air power which called for the construction of permanent
fortifications in systems of zones, organized in great depth. By "stabilized front" they meant not only the fixed positions which the field armies might be compelled to establish during a campaign, but also the deep zones of fortified works which would be constructed in peacetime. (See par. 8, p. 24.)

The primary mission of the fortifications in the west was to serve at the proper time as the springboard for an attack; however, until that time came, they were to protect Germany's western flank while she waged offensive war in the east. Thus the West Wall was conceived as a great barrier against France and the Low Countries. But it is essential to realize that the conception of the West Wall, far from committing the German High Command to a passively defensive attitude, gave all the greater scope to the offensive character of its doctrine. The entire German Army, including the units assigned to the West Wall, was indoctrinated with the offensive spirit and thoroughly trained for a war of movement.

The role of fortifications in the German strategy was summarized in the following statement of General von Brauchitsch, then German Commander-in-Chief, in September 1939: "The erection of the West Wall, the strongest fortification in the world, enabled us to destroy the Polish Army in the shortest possible time without obliging us to split up the mass of our forces at various fronts, as was the case in 1914. Now that we have no enemy in the rear, we can calmly await the future development of events without encountering the danger of a two-front war."

This study does not propose to judge the soundness of the German concept of fortifications. It may be pointed out, however, that in formulating its doctrine, the German High Command did not foresee that the German West Wall and the great coastal defenses in
the occupied countries would not protect vital war industries against massive' and destructive attacks from the air. The aim of this study is to provide a digest of German principles of modern fortifications and the available information concerning the various lines of permanent and field fortifications which Germany has constructed within and outside her frontiers.


Military Intelligence Service - War Department - U.S. Army Military History Institute - U.S. Army - U.S. Government
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