FESTUNGSPIONIERE

      

The Festungspioniere (fortress engineers) were the units in the German army tasked with developing and constructing the various defensive lines along the German(-occupied) borders. These units were also responsible for e.g. de development of the various bunker types.

The service was commanded by a General der Pioniere und Festungen. For the entire duration of the war this position was held by General der Pioniere Alfred Jacob. He exercises command over a number of Inspekteure der Landesbefestigungen, of which the Inspekteur der Landesbefestingungen West in Paris was responsible for the Atlantikwall. The latter was again subdivided in a number of Festungspionierkommandeure, who were allocated to specific Armeeoberkommandos, including the AOK 15. For the latter this was Festungspionierkommandeur XVIII.

Festungspionierkommandeur XVIII was composed of 3 Festungspionierstäbe. These were mostly responsible for a fairly large area and were themselves made up of a number of Festungspionierabschnittgruppen. The Stab as well as the Gruppe only consisted of a staff which took care of the coordination and and administration of the various consctruction sites, while the actual construction work was done by a Festungsbaubataillon. The latter consisted of 350 to 400 men in six or so companies. The following clickable schema offers an overview:

 

  

 

The tasks of the Festungspionierkommandeur XVIII were defined by the Armeeoberkommando 15 on 3 February 1942  They can be summaruzed in the following points:

  1. The Festungspionierstab XVIII was subordinated to the Armeeoberkommando 15 (tactically), the Inspekteur der Landesbefestingungen West (organically) and the corps in whose area the headquarters were located (logistically)(initially the Höheres Kommando zbB XXIII, later the LXXXII Armeekorps). The headquarters were first located in Amiens, later in Lille.

  2. The Festungspionierkommandeur was the adviser of the AOK 15 in all technical and tactical issues relating to the fortification of the Channel Coast with permanent and semi-permanent constructions, as well as relating to the deployment of lower-level fortress engineer units (see table above) and construction forces in general.

  3. As outpost of the AOK 15 for the fotification of the Channel Coast it cooperated in all construction questions with the Armeepionierführer and the Führungsabteilung of the AOK, receiving its order from the AOK 15 Ia/Armeepionierführer. For the technical and tactical constriuction of the permanent and semi-permanent contructions and the supply of construction materials it received orders from the Inspekteur der Landesbefestingungen West, on the understanding that the AOK was to be kept informed of all important technical questions and the supply situation.

  4. The Festungspionierkommandeur supervised the fortification of the channel coast with permanent and semi-permanent constructions. It managed the deployment of Festungspionierstäbe (see above) with their construction troops, who were subordinated to him. He continuously informed the AOK about the progress made.

  5. The above tasks also applied to the cooperation between the Festungspionierstäbe and the corps and the Festungspionierabschnittsgruppen and the division (see table above).

  6. The above-mentioned tasks did in no way affect the tactical responsibility of the commanders of the Küstenverteidigungsabschnitte for the construction of coastal defences in their sectors.

In 1942 guidelines were issued for the delineation of tasks and for the cooperation between the OT and the Festungspioniere in the construction of fortified defences. The document was signed by Xaver Dorsch, head of the OT-Zentrale in Berlin and General der Pioniere Alfred Jacob and consisted of three main parts:

a) RESPONSIBILITIES

The Festungspioniere were responsible for the tactical and fortress-technical interests, while the OT was responsible for the construction of fortified defenses.

b) TASKS OF THE FESTUNGSPIONIERE

The Festungspioniere had the following specific responsibilities:
  • the exploration (i.e. finding of locations)
  • the design of fortified defenses
  • the decision on the locations of the fortified defenses
  • the order (chronology) of the construction, taking into account the general tactical urgency
  • the making of construction drawing, including technical details and the tranfer to the OT
  • the instruction of the OT for each construction in the form of a written assignment
  • the guaranteeing of tactical-technical interests and ensuring that military regulations were observed during construction
  • the takeover of finished constructions
  • the transportation and delivery of armoured turrents and parts to the construction site
  • the fitting of:
    • the interior installation of armoured turrets
    • the work required on armoured plates in embrasures
    • the fortress-specific weapons and optics
    • the electrical installations for weapons and power
    • the machinery, including the machine-operated water supply as well as sewage infrastructure
  • the equipping of completed constructions with moveable objects and equipment (tables, chairs, tools, ...)
  • the management of the supply of fortress-specific parts and equipment (ventilation, heating, water, ...)
  • the management of the securing of construction sites and locally stored armoured parts which is to be executed by the OT in the context of available security units

c) TASKS OF THE OT

  • Assignments for the construction of fortified defenses for the Heer, Marine and Luftwaffe to the local OT-Baulietungen can only be given by the fortress engineer headquarters
  • On the basis of documents privided by the Festungspioniere the OT takes care by itself of the construction of the fortifed defenses right up until the schlûsselfertigen completion of the constructions (including camouflage and interior fixtures and fittings).
  • the OT is alone responsible for the supervision of the construction work and for the adequate nature of that supervision.
  • the OT provides all building materials (excepted those mentioned above) and directs the supply.
  • the OT is responsible for the defensive supervision of the labour force and guards the construction sites
  • the OT is responsible for making available the manpower and and vehicles required for the work to be executed by it.
  • the OT is responsible for providing the information required by the Festungspioniere as concerns construction progress and targets.
  • the OT takes over assignments for further defensive constructions (e.g. barbed wire, trenches, firing position, ...) when this is necessary for reaching fast operational capability or when the OT has labour forces available for this.
  • the OT is responsible for checking the quality of the concrete used during and after the construction

The document then finishes by stating that only the will to be closely cooperate in mutual trust will lead to success.

In an extra page the document then further mentions the information to be included in the report drawn up on site when the exact location of a buinker is being planned. Thus, the following was to be included:

  • Description of the construction (e.g. Regelbau, Unterstand  as depicted in deawing x, feldmässige  fire position for MG according to sketch y, barbed wire obstacle with a width of 5m, and so on)

  • The exact location on the terrain (to be marked with poles) and located on a sketch

  • The height of foundations and embrasures (relative to a fixed point of reference)

  • A visual representation of details that either non-standard or invisible (e.g. protection against ground water, protective walls, location of cable entrances/exists, wells, powersupply, etc)

  • Details of existing camouflage to be retained (e.g. trees), as well as the nature of the camouflage during the construction process, also of the construction site

  • A visual representation of the entrance space (Hof), as well as of the form and mass of the protection (by means of a sketch or drawing)

  • The type of cmouflage for the completed construction

On 8 April 1943 the Ordonnanzoffizier  of the General der Pioniere was Oberstleutnant Kühne and the Inspekteur der Landesbefestigungen West was Generalleutnant Schmetzer.
On 13 April 1943 orders were issued by the LXXXII Armeekorps for the cooperation between the Kommander des Festungspionierstabes  and the Stopi or divisional staff officer for engineer matters. Since the former was responsible for the construction of permanent bunkers and the latter for that of field fortifications and since these two were often interrelated, orders for the cooperation between these two were necessary. These orders were formulated as follows:
  • Both parties had to keep one another informed on permanent and field fortifications
  • Each new task had to be evaluated by the Stopi as to whether his command or that of the Festungspioniere was to execute it. Also, in order to reach some uniformity in the overall planning of strongpoint fortification, it was ordered that the planning and execution of construction in Panzerstützpunkten and other strongpoints with mainly permanent fortifications would be carried out by the Festungspioniere, for all other strongpoints by the Stopi.
  • Orders or reports with important contents were to be exchanged between the two parties if their contents were important for both parties.
  • Each party had the right to be present when the other party was reporting to the corps commander