Siegfried Line

views updated


SIEGFRIED LINE. The Siegfried Line was the name given by Allied troops to fortifications erected before World War II along Germany's western frontier. The name derived either from a German defensive position of World War I, the Siegfriedstellung, or from the Siegfried legend celebrated in Richard Wagner's operas; it was popularized by a British music hall tune, "We're Going to Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line." Known to the Germans as the Westwall, it was begun in 1938 as a short belt of fortifications opposite France's Maginot Line but later was extended to the Swiss and Dutch frontiers. It was a band three miles deep of more than three thousand concrete pillboxes, troop shelters, and command posts. Where no natural antitank obstacles existed, a belt of pyramidal concrete projections called "dragon's teeth" barred access across the terrain. Touted by German propagandists as impregnable, the line contributed to German success in bluffing France and Great Britain at Munich in 1938.

The line was neglected following German victory over France in 1940; but as Allied armies approached in September 1944, Adolf Hitler decreed that it be held. American attacks concentrated near Aachen penetrated the line, only to be contained by German reserves. An attempt to outflank the line with an airborne attack in the Netherlands failed. Not until early spring of 1945, after German strength had been dissipated in a futile counter-offensive (the Battle of the Bulge), was the line pierced along its full length.


MacDonald, Charles B. The Mighty Endeavor: American Armed Forces in the European Theater in World War II. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.

———. The Siegfried Line Campaign. Washington, D.C: The Center for Military History, United States Army, 1984.

Prefer, Nathan. Patton's Ghost Corps: Cracking the Siegfried Line. Novato, Calif.: Presidio, 1998.

Charles B.Macdonald/a. r.

See alsoBulge, Battle of the ; Normandy Invasion .