Well, time to take a look at German Field
Fortifications in World War 2. Originally, I had this video planned for 2017 or even
2016, but it just didn’t feel right. Yet, now, it clearly does. So, grab your shovel,
your Stahlhelm and of course your toilet paper and let’s start digging.
Since we want to do this the proper way, we need to make sure to have some basics down,
before we look at all the different fortifications. This means some general thoughts from German
Army Regulations on Field Fortifications. And they note:
“Field fortifications increase one’s own [weapon effect], reduce the enemy weapon effect
and maintains one’s own fighting power. The longer they remain undetected, the greater
the benefit.” Another crucial aspect was the German Army’s
focus on combat effectiveness, as such: “For all emplacements apply the principle
of effect before cover [effect takes precedence over cover].” The pioneer regulation for all arms explains
that the effect of firepower could be increased by the proper selection of firing positions,
clearing the line of fire, the establishment of observation and communication posts. Additionally,
by using existing obstacles or constructing new ones. Furthermore,
“Hedges, trees, bushes are to be removed only where necessary. Felled trees often block
the field of fire. Trees are therefore generally only thinned out of branches, the crowns are
left as protection against enemy observation from the air.” Of course, it was also crucial to have proper
camouflage, which seems obvious, but you also need to consider the timing here:
“All field fortifications that are constructed according to schedule must therefore be camouflaged
before and during execution.” Note that camouflage should start before the
work. As you can imagine doing hard manual labor
with pickaxes, shovels and other equipment while also maintaining proper concealment
can be a bit of an issue, it is both difficult and time intensive. As such, the regulation
notes that the construction process is often easier during the night or fog. As mentioned before combat effectiveness was
crucial. The Germans usually called it “Kampfkraft” usually translated with “Fighting Power”.
This is also related on how the German Army saw dugouts, to quote a heading for sub-chapter:
“2. Facilities for maintaining fighting power. Dugouts.“ It was of course also crucial to preserve
the fighting power of troops and weapons, one paragraph addresses this:
“Means of maintaining fighting power are: digging in, building concealed dugouts or
shelters, and preferably camouflaged connections backwards and sideways.” This could be done in various ways, first
spreading out the entire fortification system in both depth and width. Second, to have rather
small individual fortifications as well, since those would diminish the effect of enemy fire.
It is explicitly stated that such an arrangement is more effective than a single large well-developed
strongpoint. Another way to reduce the enemy firepower
was the construction of decoy positions: “Decoy positions are designed to deceive enemy
observers and fragment enemy fire. They are to be camouflaged in such a way that they
are still recognizable on photographs or with sharp binoculars and cannot be distinguished
from real positions.” Yet, decoy positions had to be planned out
and maintained as well: “Decoy positions must appear occupied. Therefore,
they must not lie dead. Trails, connecting ditches, wagon tracks must also be led to
or beyond them.” Since we have the basics set, it is time now
to look at some field fortifications in more detail. So, let us start with some trenches. And instruction
pamphlet from 1944, basically notes that there are three types of trenches:
The fire trenches , which the Germans called “Verbindungsgräben” or “Kampfgräben”,
meaning literally “connection trenches” and “combat trenches”, but be careful
here, the literal translation of the first one is misleading, since that is very similar
to the English name of the second type. Fire trenches ran parallel to the frontline and
connected the various positions and outpost with each other.
These should be constructed narrow, meaning about 0.4 m on the bottom and about 0.6 to
0.8 m at the top. The depth should be around 1.8 to 2.0 m. Furthermore, every 10 to 15
m they should be a bend. The second type were the communication trenches.
These were called “Annäherungsgräben” in German, literally meaning “approach trenches”.
They usually were laid out perpendicular to the frontline and were meant to enter and
leave the fire trenches. Communication trenches in their dimensions
were similar to fire trenches, namely about 0.4 m on the bottom, but at the top about
0.8 to 1.0 m, hence 0.2 m wider. The depth should be up to 2.0 m. Additionally, it is
noted that regularly they should contain small trenches that protect against tanks, which
brings us to the final type. Namely, “Panzerdeckungsgräben”, which
literally means “tank cover trenches”. Note, these trenches should not be confused
with anti-tank ditches. These trenches were built that tanks could roll over them and
still protect the personnel inside. The design was like those of the fire trenches and they
were built near installations that didn’t provide cover against tanks.
Here you see an example position, there were would barb wire in front of the trenches.
Here is a machine gun position. These small elements were dugouts to take cover. And these
parts are foxholes for 2 riflemen. A bit further behind is the shelter. Be aware that there were several ways to classify
trenches, e.g., the US Field Manual from 1940, had two systems one by direction, the other
by employment. Whereas the 1944 Field Manual, went by layout differentiating between Special
and Standard trench, whereas the latter was used for fire and communication trenches.
Anyway, let us move on. Ideally, such a trench position is protected
by an alarm system as well. And this is how it looked like. Now these elements here are
the sound generators, which were usually tin cans, which were connected with wires. Note
that they should emit a buzzing sound and not a loud noise. To quote:
“When the wire is touched, it is set in vibration, which is transmitted to the sound generator
(tin can) acting as a soundboard. The guard is alerted by a clearly audible buzzing sound.
The same effect is achieved when pieces of wire fall onto the tension wire when cutting
through the wire obstacle. If the tension wire is cut through, the sound generator falls
down.” The construction details are quite interesting,
the also particularly include, which tin can is the loudest or how to increase its volume:
“The sound generator consists of a long narrow tin can (asparagus can – loudest buzzer)
(1). Increase the volume by means of sound generators from two cans according to (2).” Next, let us look at anti-tank ditches and
tank traps. The Anti-Tank Ditch from the side looked like
this. The angle of the ditch should be at least 55 degree.
This triangular shape should result in the tank either doing a nosedive into the ground,
ideally damaging its gun or to fall into the ditch after the front had crossed. Now, in
case you think that such a ditch can be easily spotted, you probably never sat in a tank.
As such, you might want to watch this video first, where I sit in a bow-gunner position
of a T-34 while it drives with an open driver’s hatch, which is not recommended in combat.
Also be aware, if the enemy firing at you, there is smoke, burning wreckages and explosions
going off all around you, you probably see far less in such a situation as well.
In terms of constructing the anti-tank ditch. There were two stages, in the first one, the
width was about 3,5 m, whereas for the second stage it would be 4,5 m. This stage was also
provided for two types soil conditions. For weaker ground, it was required to use wood
to stabilize the ditch properly. Yet, let us look at the tank trap. This one
comes with a preface: “Tank traps shall only be set up as an addition
to other barriers that are located before the front line in the own firing range (e.g.
setting up a trap on a forest road that cannot be bypassed by tanks, in front of a wire obstacle).” Hence, this was not about destroying the tank,
but to render it at least temporary immobile to increase the chance to hit.
Here you can see the cross section. Notice it had a box shape, the bottom width was about
5 meters, top width about 6.5 meters and the depth 3 meters. To cover the trap, wood was
used, and the previously removed topsoil should be put back into position again. The next one requires a bit more material,
but also provides more protection. Namely a “MG-Ringstand aus Stahlbeton” – literally
meaning “MG Ring Stand out of reinforced concrete”. This one you see right here,
was filmed at the Oder-Warthe-Bogen or often called Ostwall in Poland. If you never heard
of the Ostwall btw. you might want to check out this video from my second channel that
contains many videos at museums, historical sites and also interviews with various experts.
Now, let’s look at the blueprint. As you can see, it is a rather simple setup. The
opening had diameter of about 0.8 meter, where angle steel should be used as a guide rail.
Additionally, there were built-in platforms as well and a wooden one that could be moved.
It was designed in a way that: “With bipod mount, you can go from anti-air
combat to horizontal fire without having to reposition.” In terms of supported weapons, it is noted
that the MG 34, 42, 08/15 and MG 30 could be used in the ring stand, additionally 2
captured French and Czech machine guns are listed as well. Furthermore, anti-tank rifles,
the 5-cm mortar, flamethrowers, the scissor scope and tank turrets from captured tanks
were supported as well. Note that the construction of such a fortification
would take about 25 days for about 10 men working 8 hours a day. About 55 cubic meter
of earth would have to removed. The material required was as follows:
14 cubic meter of gravel sand, 90 square meters of wooden formwork
4.5 tons of cement, 4 kg nails,
750 kg round steel, about 230 m of wires
and 150 meters of wooden beams. With an estimated total weight of 25 tons.
Which is actually quite a lot, if you consider how small these positions actually were. The next position is for a Nebelwerfer, namely
the 28/32 cm Nebelwerfer 41, which was of course covered in my video on Nebelwerfer,
if haven’t seen it, check it out. Anyway, here we have the basic outline from the top.
The enemy is towards the right side. The Nebelwerfer 28/32cm should be positioned here. The space
for the Nebelwerfer should be about 5 meters ins length. Now, the two larger areas on the
left and right are for the ammunition, they should have a depth of 1.3 m.
The areas further away from the enemy, namely here are the cover for the crews. These should
have a depth of 1.8 to 2.0 m, so regular trench depth. Note that the trenches at the front
are less deep, but the earth banks provide additional protection. Also, during construction keep in mind that:
“During the entrenchment work the Werfer are to be placed about 5.00 m in front of the
planned covers so that the battery is always ready to fire. […] The drawings should only
be taken as a guide. The details of the positions are to be developed irregularly and adapted
to the respective terrain.” Next, let us look at an artillery the position.
Namely, for the 10.5 cm leichte Feldhaubitze 18.
The area of the gun would be around 5 meters wide and 6 m in length. The position would
be about 0,4 meters deep, yet the trenches would deepen, with 1,25 m on the left and
1,1 m on the right side. Additionally, there would be locations for the ammunition at various
points located on the right side. Whereas dugouts for personnel would be located on
the left. The estimated man hours were around 110 hours, so 22 hours for 5 men. Finally, let us look at a “Panzerkampfwagenstand”
so a position for a tank. Here we have the view from the side and the
top as well. As you can see, the dug-out is placed directly into the fire trenches and
allow the infantry to pass by. The length of the area before the ramp is
given with 8 meters. Considering that even the Königstiger had a length of about 7.4
meters, 8 meters should be sufficient, especially for smaller tanks, like the Panzer IV. The
length of the ramp was given with 4.7 m. The depth was around 1.6 meters. The walls were
made with fascines, which are bundles of brush wood or other material, that were held in
place by stakes. The whole position required the removal of
about 80 cubic meters of earth. The required material was about 121 meters of round lumber
posts, 150 m of wires and 40 square meters of fascines.
Construction time was at about 5 days for about 9 men. Note that the vast majority of the fortifications
and other elements listed in the pamphlets and manuals are of the non-combat nature,
to give just a few examples. There are plans and instructions for various kinds of roads,
dams, log causeways, wells, water filters, latrines, 8 different types of floors, windows,
doors and much much more. Well, the next time you need to dig in, you
know some basics. A big thank you here to my patreon and subscribestar supporters that
make videos like these possible. Special thanks to Andrew for reviewing the
script! As always, sources are listed in the description.
Thank you for watching and see you next time!