Hitler's Atlantic Wall is an excellent overview of the design, construction and defense of the German fortifications along the French coast in 1940-1944. The Atlantic Wall was intended to reduce German military weakness in the West and thereby deter or impede an Allied invasion. The book consists of nine chapters, including detailed sections on the design and building of the wall, the labor force and a very detailed section covering all the major batteries. Numerous excellent photographs and sketches of bunker designs supplement the text. There are two excellent appendices, which list all the different types of bunkers and all the major coastal batteries in France. Note that this book is for the specialist, primarily for military historians interested in greater detail on the Atlantic Wall or persons planning to visit D-Day sites in France, not for readers interested in a general historical perspective. There are only two weaknesses in the book, the most serious being a lack of any maps. The other weakness is that the book only discusses the Atlantic Wall in France, but does not discuss German coastal fortifications in Belgium, Holland or Norway.
There are a number of interesting statistics in this book. Construction on the Atlantic Wall began in late 1942 and by the summer of 1944, 11,500 bunkers of various sizes had been built at a cost of about $1.5 billion. About 5% of Germany's steel production went into the project. About 250,000 workers - mostly forced labor - were used in the project, but only 15,000 were German. The Todt Organization, a semi-independent agency under the Ministry of Armaments, built most of the wall and the German army, navy and air force had little control over the construction efforts. Indeed, the entire project was a tangle of bureaucratic and organizational in-fighting, since the wall was mostly designed by the three services, built by Todt, out-fitted by other organizations and finally manned by the services. There was little standardization in construction and over 43% of everything built was non-standard.
While the author's technical analysis is excellent, his conclusions are more contentious. He states, "to have built so much in so short a time along such a distance of coastline was indeed astonishing,..[but] it was built by slave labor.. [and] the truth is that it was ill-conceived." Noting the wall's failure, he states, "it took two years to build and two hours to breach. And once breached, the rest of it largely became redundant." Actually, the Germans never intended that the wall would defeat the invasion in itself, only that it would buy time for mobile reserves to move up and counterattack. There is little doubt that the resistance nests on Omaha Beach on 6 June 1944 brought the US landings to a virtual halt for several vital hours and the failure of the German armor to respond quickly was not the fault of the fortress troops but rather, Hitler, Rommel and von Runstedt. Also, the author's assertion that the wall tied up large amounts of German manpower in static defense and was a waste of resources is incorrect. The German army in France had been stripped to the bone because of the needs of the Russian Front, and there was no choice but to use fortifications as a combat multiplier. The argument that fixed defenses are a waste of time and resources could only be made by someone who has never been under air attack or artillery bombardment; the Germans knew that they were going to have to face an invasion someday. Had the Germans built more panzer divisions with that steel, as the author argues, most of those tanks would have gone to the Russian Front and the second rate divisions in France would have been fully exposed. Without the Atlantic Wall - imperfect though it might be - the Allied invasion probably would have achieved all it's D-Day objectives and then some. Furthermore, the delay and heavy casualties caused when the Allies began clearing the fortified ports had a larger effect on Allied strategy than the author suggests. The troops left behind in the ports were mostly low quality, but they tied down Allied troops and required an inordinate amount of firepower to eliminate. The author's contention that the wall was instigated by Hitler's "bunker mentality" is rather a cheap shot as well, since any military man would have recommended improving coastal defenses. The fact is that Germany was a resource-poor nation and it had to use reinforced concrete and slave labor in a desperate effort to keep retribution at bay.