Siegfried Line

The Westwall (Siegfried Line) was about 630 km long and ran along the western border of Germany, from the Netherlands in the north to the Swiss border. To reduce the length, however, it did not follow the border, but was shortened in some places. Further fortifications were later built there, running parallel to the main rampart.

The name Westwall was not actually an invention of the Nazis; it probably became common among the workers involved in the construction. Originally, various names were used, Todt-Linie, Limes-Programm, or Schutzwall; the military used Führer-Linie or Hitler-Linie. But from the end of 1938, the name Westwall prevailed, and from mid-1939 it was officially used. The Allies, on the other hand, called it the Siegfried Line, in the respective national language, of course.

In a way, the Siegfried Line was a myth or a bluff, built 1938-1940. Before the war, it was a propaganda tool to convey that the aggressors were on the other side and that Germany was merely defending its people. It was also sold as a heroic struggle for security, a popular propaganda theme in newsreels. At the beginning of the war, at a time when the German army was marching from one victory to the next, it was actually superfluous. The idea that the Wehrmacht could lose was downright absurd at the time. Statements to that effect could quickly be interpreted as Wehrkraftzersetzung and led to massive repression. Nevertheless, construction continued, albeit at a slow pace. Buildings that had been started were completed, and simpler, cost- and material-saving standard buildings were developed, the so-called war standard buildings of the 500 series. With the start of the French campaign on 10 May 1940, work on the West Wall came to a halt. After the defeat of France and the armistice, the OKH ordered the immediate cessation of all construction work on the West Wall.

It was not until 1944 that construction was resumed, because of the threat to Germany's western border from the approaching front. But by the end of the war, raw materials, funds and workers were in short supply. 20,000 forced labourers and members of the Reichsarbeitsdienst (Reich Labour Service, RAD for short) were used to restore defence readiness with improvised means. But two aspects made this impossible, the continuous Allied air raids and the outdated bunkers. Although they were only a few years old, they were no match for the more advanced armour-piercing weapons.

In September 1944, the Western Allies tried in vain to gain Rhine crossings in the Netherlands to bypass the Westwall to the north. In October, the first battles took place along the Westwall, mainly in the Hürtgenwald in the northern Eifel. In the Battle of Hürtgenwald, 12,000 Wehrmacht soldiers and 32,000 US soldiers died in February 1945. In Alsace, on the other hand, the Allies were already able to advance to the Rhine in November 1944.