The Atlantic Wall in Denmark

A pleasant country in northern Europe, Denmark is geographically surrounded by the North and Baltic seas, and shares its only land border with Germany. In the late 1930s, this meant having a very dangerous dictatorship as the only neighbor, and no possible direct help coming by land from other allies. Without natural defenses against and attack from the south, the Kingdom of Denmark was militarily occupied basically in one day, on April 9th, 1940. This happened through a joint operation carried out by the land, air and naval forces of Nazi Germany.

A quick historical overview

The interest of Germany in controlling Danish territory was mainly strategic. It served as a springboard to attack Norway further north. The latter was in itself more interesting to the economy of the Third Reich, as it was rich of natural resources, including raw materials not available in Germany. These were so needed by the Führer, who was dreaming of making Germany independent from international supply trade.

Furthermore, controlling both Denmark and Norway meant control over the eastern coast of the North Sea, and a chance to control the only access to the Baltic Sea. The USSR was not a declared enemy before 1941, but withdrawing from the mutual cooperation pact with Stalin – signed in a hurry just days before the invasion of Poland in September 1939 – at some point, and openly attacking Russia, had been in the mind of the Führer since he first put on paper his worrying geopolitical thoughts. By controlling the Baltic, Hitler could control sea trade to non-freezing ports of the USSR, which in 1940 had already taken over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in agreement with Germany.

As a matter of fact, the conquer of Norway was not without significant losses for Germany. This was also the result of Britain starting to militarily oppose Germany. The two countries had been already at war since September 1939, but without any serious confrontation having taken place for months.

Since then, the British – and later also the American – threat from the west had to be faced through the fortification of the western coast of the Third Reich, which by the end of the summer of 1940 extended roughly from the Pyrenees in southern France to Kirkenes in northern Norway. This highly visionary task was taken up very seriously by the German military-economic machine, and produced the ‘Atlantikwall’ – which translates pretty obviously into the ‘Atlantic Wall’. This long defensive line had to be built all along the coast, and was mainly based on a catalog of standardized reinforced concrete constructions, to be reproduced in great numbers. Construction was coordinated by the main contractor, the German ‘Organization Todt’, which made extensive use of subcontracted local companies in the various occupied states where construction had to take place.

Despite the majority of the elements in the line were reinforced barracks for troops watching the coastline, ammo and supply storages, command and communication bunkers, canteens, and other service buildings, there were of course also a number of heavier constructions. These included coastal gun batteries, to counter attacking ships, lighter gun batteries, to stop troops attempting a beach landing, aiming stations, to adjust the line of fire of gun batteries, anti-aircraft guns to defend the line from air attacks, and some technical buildings serving as bases for advanced radar systems. The latter were among the most useful and widespread items along the line, as German technology developed fast during the war, to produce powerful detection systems against air and sea menaces.

Needless to remember, similar to many pharaonic works conceived by the Führer and his entourage, the Atlantic Wall was never completed, and it failed to spare the Third Reich from total annihilation. The once-modern military installations along the western coast of Europe soon became obsolete, as war changed face at a quick pace following WWII, with new weapons and techniques. Furthermore, the front line of the new Cold War shifted geographically to the middle of Europe. A tangible sign of enemy occupation, the massive bunkers of the Atlantic Wall met different destinies depending on the country. However, albeit only rarely preserved, thanks to their bulkiness and sturdy make, they are in most cases still visible.

About this post

Being the first land along the western coast to fall under German control, work on the Atlantic Wall started in Denmark earlier than anywhere else. Today extensive traces of the line are still pointing the shores of the North Sea.

A few focal points are preserved as first-class museums. These include the strongholds of Hirtsthals and the huge battery at Hanstholm, in Northern Jutland. The latter had been designed around a cluster of four monster coastal guns, to the aim of controlling the passage through the Skagerrak channel, providing access to the Baltic Sea. A twin battery – Vara – was built to the north of the strait in Norway.

Closer to the German border, the area of Blavand – featuring also the famous ‘Tirpitz battery’ in its arsenal – is another example of a partly preserved portion of the line. Bangsbo fort in Frederikshaven has been partly refurbished and opened as a museum, after being used by the Danish military for a while. There you can find one of the few remaining examples of an Atlantic Wall installation with its original guns still in place.

Smaller strongholds, opened as smaller scale museums or left to more adventurous explorers, often feature unique special constructions, which justify a detour at least for more committed war historians. These include the Skagen battery, the disguised bunkers in Thyboron, and the complicated Stauning battery, built on two opposite coasts of a closed firth.

All these sites – and a few more – are covered in this post, which is based on photographs taken in August 2019. Denmark is officially protecting the installations of the Atlantic Wall as historical buildings – unlike France, for instance – so visiting even abandoned sites maybe rewarding, especially if they are out of the mainstream touristic routes. Unfortunately, many bunkers now closer to crowded touristic areas have been damaged by vandals.

Sights

Map

The sites covered in this post are listed on the following map. Sites opened as museums are pinpointed in red, wild sites are marked in blue.

The sites are listed in the post following the coastline of Jutland from its southwestern end.

Navigate this post – Click on links to scroll

Blavand – Shore Battery & Military Area

Located about 50 miles north of the German border along the coast of the North Sea, the small town of Blavand sits on a promontory protruding towards the sea, and protecting the access to the port town of Esbjerg – still today a major commercial port of Denmark.

The area of Blavand saw the construction of an incredible number of Atlantic Wall elements, which grew up in more instances during the war years.

Close by the parking ahead of the lighthouse on the very tip of the promontory, you can find trailheads leading to the southern and western shores of the promontory.

The southern shore makes for a typical North Sea landscape – an endless sand beach. What makes it different from others is the number of light bunkers placed along the shoreline. Despite little imposing, this model – type ‘F’ – was purpose built for the wide shores of Denmark in 1944, in view of a potential enemy beach landing. These firing positions were armed with machine guns, and placed at pre-determined intervals – about 1’500 ft – matching their accuracy range.

Many bunkers are slowly sinking in the sand, and only small parts of them can be seen emerging from the ground.

Others have been turned into strange sculptures, adding a horse head and tail.

Under favorable tide conditions, you may enter some of the bunkers. There you can appreciate their simple structure, with a defensive embrasure by the entrance (looking towards the coast) and loopholes to the sides of the firing chamber.

On the beach close to the lighthouse you can find a very big bunker with a wide hollow cave on the inland side, which used to support a searchlight.

Along the western shore you can find more massive bunkers. These include four former coastal gun batteries. These heavier constructions have assumed strange attitudes, after sinking in the sand somewhat irregularly over the years.

Looking towards the inland from the beach, you can spot an aiming/fire control positions, with a distinctive bulbous roof and a long curved slot on the facade.

Your walk along the northern shore may be interrupted by safety warnings concerning mine threat. As a complement to the defensive potential of the Atlantic Wall, extensive minefields were set up on most of the Danish beaches. This turned into a big issue soon after WWII, when an extensive demining action had to be carried out.

Furthermore, part of the Blavand promontory is occupied by a military firing range. When training exercises are taking place, special warning lights are lit and flags are raised, to delimit the territory where you should not venture.

In the dunes slightly inland from the shoreline, it is possible to find another big number of bunkers. They are not always visible from the distance, and entrance is in most cases from one side only – the only side emerging from the sand.

A very distinctive item is the colossal platform for a ‘Mammut’ type long-range anti-aircraft radar. This used to be operated by the Luftwaffe, whereas other bunkers in Blavand – like elsewhere along the Atlantic Wall – used to be run by other branches of the Germany military.

The base for the radar is in itself a rather complex bunker, with several cavities and extensive piping, once needed for power cables feeding the antenna, as well as other wiring.

Close by, a smaller radar base bunker used to be operated by the German Navy. Also here, holes and passages for cables can be found in the walls and roof.

It is noteworthy how many bunkers feature traces of original decorations, like painted walls, fake wallpaper, frescoes and small frieze lines. This is typical to many other installations of the Atlantic Wall.

Metal hardware can be found in the form of a bulky aiming turret emerging from a bunker.

In another instance, a mortar mouth pops out from the ground.

The underground bunker underneath the latter can be explored with some difficulty – there are also quite annoying bats inside -, but it reveals an aiming wheel with original markings in a reinforced concrete dome!

An interesting sight nearby the lighthouse is the tower once supporting a ‘See Riese’ radar. The protruding arms once sustained a wooden platform for military operators.

Getting there and moving around

The area of Blavand is rather extensive and rich of diverse installations, so notwithstanding the general bad shape of most of the bunkers, visiting may easily take 3-4 hours for a committed tourist, getting inside most of the items. A good starting point is the free parking by the lighthouse, provided you come early especially in summer, cause it tends to get more and more crowded along the day.

Blavand – ‘Tirpitz’ Coastal Guns

Despite at least some of the bunkers on the shores of Blavand being in a relatively good shape, there is a part of the Atlantic Wall which is officially preserved as a museum. This is one of the two unfinished bunkers intended to support a set of massive 38 cm coastal guns.

These guns – four, two for each bunker – were originally intended to be put on board battleship Gneisenau. The latter got damaged in port, and the guns were diverted to coastal use. The decision to build the Tirpitz battery to protect the port of Esbjerg came relatively late during the war, in 1944. As a result, construction of the battery supporting structures was not completed when the war ended, and the four never installed guns were scrapped – except one, which can be admired in Hanstholm (see below).

The name ‘Tirpitz’ attributed to this battery is of uncertain origin, and sometimes this installation is also referred to as ‘Vogelnest’.

The museum has been built only in the southernmost bunker. The installation is very modern (and crowded), and it has been designed as a thematic museum in five sections. Two of the most interesting are about the Atlantic Wall and its impact on local life, and on the extensive mining and demining operations on the shores of Denmark.

Other sections are related to amber trade and local seamen activities.

Finally, you can get access to the base of the gun turret. Photographs are bad here, due to very poor lighting and limitations on camera use.

You can see a central round dome, surrounded by an external corridor. Traces of a post-war explosion can be noticed looking at the metal part of the construction.

Outside of the museum you can find a cannon cut in pieces, plus rigs used for construction. The bulky concrete arms protruding from the roof were meant to support the crane for mounting the cannons.

With a five minutes walk from this bunker, you can get to the northern battery. This is not preserved, and the entrances have been bricked up. Yet you may better appreciate the size of the bunker from this exemplar than from the one turned into a museum.

Getting there and moving around

The museum is located east of Oksby along Tane Hedevey, a local road connecting Blavand to Esbjerg. There are signs along the road, and a large parking ahead of the entrance. The museum is very modern, and may turn very crowded in summer. Website with full information here. You can visit on your own with an audio-guide. The visit to the military-related sections may take about 1 hour.

Adding a walk to the northern battery will take further 20 minutes at most, as there is no chance to step in.

Stauning Battery

Construction of this battery started in the second half of 1944, and consequently it was only partially completed before the end of the war. The geography of the Stauning battery is rather peculiar. The intended design was based on four coastal guns to be placed on the inland side of the Ringkobing firth – basically a lake with a channel-like small mouth connecting it to the sea. On the other coast of the firth, i.e. very close to the North Sea in Hvide Sande, the aiming station for the battery was finally built.

In the event, only one of the reinforced concrete gun positions reached completion, whereas the other three cannons were kept on basic, not reinforced aprons. The gun bunker is the only exemplar of this model built along the Atlantic Wall, and was designed around a 19,4 cm gun manufactured in France.

Located far from the shore in a secluded area of the countryside, this battery is in a relatively good shape, and thanks to the hard soil its position has not drifted since it was installed. You can even walk on top.

More elements are scattered in the bushes and over the private pasture nearby. Among them, a firing position presumably for anti-aircraft or light field guns, and corresponding ammo storages.

There is also a reinforced concrete barrack or command post. This can be toured inside, revealing some metal piping still in place.

Traces of gun concrete platforms – likely gun firing positions – blown up after the war can be seen, similar to many smaller cubic buildings of uncertain purpose.

A couple of unattractive half-interred ‘living bunker’ can be found too, another design present only in Denmark – the type was named ‘Falkenhorst III’. Inside, traces of original wall paintings can be easily spotted.

There is actually a fire direction post of some sort in this part of the battery too. This is a square-based concrete booth, with an adjoining living bunker.

The aiming position in Hvide Sande is rather easy to find, on top of a mound close to the city center. There are actually two concrete accesses on the eastern side of the hill. The one closer to the top gives access to the metal dome you can spot on top of the mound.

Climbing up to the dome is possible along a rusty ladder, going through a narrow vertical passage. Once there you can see the mounting of a telescope for measurements. There are side slots looking outside, and an original marked wheel to provide measurements. You can also spot small foldable wooden tables (or perhaps jump-seats).

Downstairs, there are a few panels explaining the history of the battery.

The second concrete entrance gives access to a ‘living bunker’ for the troops, with explanatory panels on the history of the place.

Getting there and moving around

The inland part of the Stauning battery with the gun station is located close to Stauningvej 55. You may park your car not far north from this address, on a wide lot close to the entrance of a local residential area. Most notably, this battery is about .5 miles from the beautiful Danish Museum of Flight (see this post). Exploring the battery may take 1-1.5 hours, as the place is totally wild and inconvenient to visit.

The Hvide Sande point is on the northern rim of the channel linking the firth to the North Sea. You can see the mound close by a major round about, where road 181 meets Troldbjergsvej. There are several parking options nearby. The place is technically not abandoned, but there was no ticket/staff, and it was totally dark when I visited. You would better take a small torch with you.

Sondervig

Just as an example of how extensive the construction of the Atlantic Wall was in Denmark, you may have a look to the beach in Sondervig, where people spending the day by the sea are accustomed to the view of the monstrous German bunkers pointing the shore.

Getting there and moving around

You may find a parking spot in Sondervig and access this famous touristic beach by foot.

Thyboron

The coastal battery at Thyboron has a unique place in the panorama of Atlantic Wall buildings. Here a sort of sample list of possible deceptive techniques were tested on otherwise normal bunkers. The usual constructions pointing the shore have a strange appearance here, thanks to the imaginative talent of a Danish architect – who turned out to be a spy working for the Allies.

At least two gun batteries bear a special roof, resembling that of a house. Also thanks to erosion, they now have even odder shapes, resembling some Star Wars spaceship.

An observation bunker bears a tiled roof. Surprisingly, an apparently original fragment of telegraph wire can be found inside.

Given the position of the bunkers – lying isolated on a deserted beach – it’s pretty difficult to suppose this kind of deception was ever effective…

There are also some more straightforward constructions around, some of them in a relatively good shape. The cusped lintels above most doors and openings are typical to elements of the Atlantic Wall in northern countries, and are made for protecting the passages against snow and icing rain.

Just inland from the ‘sample list’, you can find a large underground bunker, somewhat difficult to access – it is sinking in the sand. Conspicuous traces of original wall painting and even writings in German can be found on the walls.

The message in German is a warning message, telling to stay away of the walls in case of bombardment. This warning sign is rather ubiquitous in Danish bunkers.

Close to the the city center – and actually a part of the Coastal Center, a museum for children dedicated to the life along the western coast of Jutland – it is possible to find another bunker deceived as a wooden house! This deception technique is far more convincing than those on the shore…

Getting there and moving around

To visit the bunkers on the shore you can reach a convenient public parking at the southern end of Vesterhavsgade, southern Thyboron. Visiting these bunkers may take about 45 minutes for a committed tourist. To get to the Coastal Center you may follow the signs and park at your convenience ahead of the building. The deceived bunker can be seen from the outside of the museum, so getting the ticket is not needed if you are not interested in the rest of the installation.

Extra feature – Sea War Museum, Thyboron

Thyboron has a prominent place in WWI history, being the Danish village closest to the area of the Battle of Jutland, one of the very few naval battles of that war, and one of the top-ranking in history for the number of vessels and tonnage involved, and for the casualties – almost 9’000 seamen were killed.

The battle was fought between two major formations of the the German Kaiser on one side and the King of England on the other. Started almost by chance, as the two opposing factions appeared on the same sector unaware of each other, the fighting was so intense that cannon fire was heard along the shores of Thyboron for many hours. The battle ended with a tactical defeat on the British side, but the Kriegsmarine of the Kaiser avoided any other serious clashes with the British for the rest of the war – in this sense, this was a British strategic victory.

Today, a monument dedicated to those who perished in the Battle of Jutland occupies a wide area over a promontory in northern Thyboron, close by the Coastal Center (see above).

A nice museum dedicated to sea war has been put in place nearby. On the exterior you can find old mines, torpedoes and even parts of relics taken from the bottom of the sea.

Inside you can find many unique artifacts, including cannons, insignia, and everyday items from ships taking parts to the Battle of Jutland.

Also unique are parts of early submarines dating from WWI, recovered from the sea thanks to novel investigation and capture technologies.