The Pittsburgh Press (May 8, 1944)
What’s going on behind the German defenses?
Nazis furiously strengthen forts along highly-touted ‘Atlantic Wall’
Denmark also improved in bitter race against time
By Nat A. Barrows
How tough an opposition will our invading forces encounter when they land in Western Europe? What is really going on behind Hitler’s Atlantic Wall? From his observation post in neighboring Sweden, Nat Barrows has been collecting closely guarded information about Germany’s ability and willingness to cope with the titanic forces assembled in England for Allied victory. In a most important series of articles, of which the following is the first, Mr. Barrows will reveal many hitherto unknown facts about the men directing the German war effort, Germany’s heavy industry, and other hitherto undisclosed information about the German war machine.
Stockholm, Sweden –
In their machine-gun nests overtopping the fjords of Norway, behind their tank traps and minefields, along the shallow coast of Denmark, amid their “sandwich system” fortifications in Holland and their 20-mile-deep defenses in France, a million Germans await the Allied invasion.
What does D-Day mean for them?
What will happen behind that 2,000-mile stretch of the Atlantic Wall when the Nazis’ anti-invasion commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, tries to outguess Allied Commander-in-Chief Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower?
How have five Nazi leaders, wielding vast power, been able to reorganize Germany’s heavy industry and keep these Atlantic Wall fighting men superbly equipped and confident of victory in face of slashing Eastern Front defeats and relentless air bombardments?
What, then, is going on today inside the Atlantic Wall?
Only from Stockholm can such details be told. Here are men – and women too – newly arrived from inside the Atlantic Wall. They have heard and seen what our Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen must find out for themselves.
Would face torture
In this series, telling what the Germans are doing and thinking in the shadow of the greatest battles in history, are many details which have not hitherto been printed. Long weeks of careful checking and rechecking lie behind this assembly of facts, culled from travelers, refugees and deserters as well as German publications.
Some of these men and women are still in Sweden; some are now back home in Germany, France and other Nazi-occupied countries. I protect their true identities as I guard my American passport; torture or death would overwhelm them and their families if the Nazis learned that they had talked.
First, let us take the Atlantic Wall itself. One million Germans sit there, from the North Cape of Norway to the Pyrenees, waiting, waiting, waiting, only because Rommel forced the German High Command to make the greatest military dice-throw the Nazis have ever undertaken and transfer 50 crack divisions from the Eastern Front. The consequences of this sacrifice, leaving about 1,750,000 men facing the Russian Army, may soon become apparent.
Troop quality varies
The quality of these Atlantic Wall troops varies country by country; trainees and older men are the nucleus in Norway; absolutely first-class fighting men, the flower of all Germany, in France. They have good morale, thanks to Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ insidious program and they have splendid equipment, thanks to the way five Germans have been able to implement the ideas of a man long dead – Fritz Todt.
This Atlantic Wall stretch of 2,000 miles is divided into definite coastal defense zones, which the Germans call Küstenverteidigung Zone, two each in Norway and France, one each for Holland, Belgium, Denmark and Northwest Germany.
The Germans today think that they will get at least one diversionary attack somewhere along the shallow coast of Denmark – perhaps Jutland. They took Prime Minister Churchill’s speech seriously when he encouraged the Danes with such a hint.
Accordingly, they have been working feverishly in the past month, trying to strengthen defenses already heavily fortified, especially against paratroopers seeking to utilize the flat Danish terrain. They have sown vast minefields in every channel approach to the key Jutland harbors of Esbjerg, Hirtshals and Hansted and they have dug a triple line of tank traps 30 feet wide and 15 feet deep, strongly protected with pillboxes, casemates and artillery.
One of these tank traps extends entirely across Jutland from Jammerbugten in the north to the German border.
Six divisions ready
In all, Denmark has six divisions under the Nazi commander of occupation troops, Gen. Hermann von Hanneken, including one brigade of Gen. Vlasov’s traitorous Cossacks. The fighter plane strength in Denmark is small due to the presence of German bases hardly an hour’s flying time away.
In the past weeks, Todt Organization workers have been improving Danish airfields.
Danish improvements started when Rommel visited Hanneken at his Silkeborg headquarters last December and warned him that his guns were pointing the wrong way.
You’re not fighting tin soldiers now, general. You must be ready to meet attack from all directions.
Problem is different
A different military problem confronts the Germans in Norway. There the terrain aids the defenders and Gen. Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, Nazi occupation troop commander there, has tried to taker every advantage of the overhanging cliffs and deep fjords.
Harbors like Oslo, Narvik, Trondheim and Bergen are guarded with torpedo tubes mounted on cliff platforms, 12-inch howitzers and even 13-inch naval guns on railroad mounts. Every possible sea approach is protected with machine-gun nests and minefields.
Von Falkenhorst plainly built his defenses around the conception that the Allies would find it difficult to maintain proper air cover over the beachheads. His air force is now less than 100 planes on the theory that a powerful striking force could reach Norway within two days by a series of shifts in Luftwaffe power from the Mediterranean to the north.
Von Falkenhorst has eight divisions whose second-rate fighting abilities the Germans think to offset by the natural advantages of the terrain, although some members of the Nazi High command are known to have said that von Falkenhorst should not count too much on the impregnability of his section of the Atlantic Wall.
Holland, with eight divisions stationed in what its Nazi commander, Gen. Friedrich Christiansen, calls the “sandwich system of defense” is to be defended, of course, by flooding. Thus, the sandwich system: coastal fortifications, floods and inland fortifications.
But the Nazis have not forgotten how they crossed Holland’s flooded land in 1940 with 20,000 rubber boats and they have laid careful plans to make certain that the Allies do not use the same trick against them.
Antwerp may be hit
Christiansen thinks that the sector around the mouth of the river Scheldt, approaching Antwerp, will be one of the targets on allied D-Day and there he has concentrated his heaviest guns, torpedo batteries and minefields.
Three of his eight divisions guarding Holland are actually stationed across the German border at Wesel, Münster and Krefeld for greater mobility in the third layer of his sandwich system.
Denmark, Norway and Holland are part of this uncensored, detailed picture of what is happened behind the Atlantic Wall – but only one part. There is France… and the Luftwaffe… and the Kriegsmarine… and the five warlords running heavy industry… and the German people themselves. Other articles in this series will discuss them all in detail from the viewpoint of what lies ahead for the Allied boys preparing to fight and bleed and conquer inside the Atlantic Wall.
TOMORROW: Nazis have 200,000 entbehrlich troops on the Western Front. That word means “expendables,” men who will be sacrificed in the first push of the Allies into the continent.