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The Frightening Beauty of Bunkers

A visitor to the beaches of Normandy in France will no doubt be aware of its historical evidence. It was only two generations ago that thousands of soldiers arrived here in the most dire of consequences. Nothing less than the fate of the free world was at stake.

As the Allied troops stormed the beach, waiting for them were thousands of Axis troops. Hitler’s army sat poised in bunkers, plotting and planning their next move. And those bunkers, in a myriad of shapes and sizes, still stand on Normandy’s beaches long after the fighting has ceased, but still serving as reminders of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

These bunkers were part of Hitler’s grisly Siegfried Line, a series of fortifications that ran along the Western edge of Germany’s empire.  The bunkers—approximately 1500 of them—worked as a sort of protective architecture along with flak towers and submarine pens. There is an order to their placement and when visiting them it is easy to wonder what strategic purpose they may have served.  Even though they may have been assembled hastily, they are far from bland, as is so often the case with military edifices.

From a design standpoint, the bunkers are firmly in the Modernist school. In fact, the noted British author JG Ballard points to the bunkers on the French coast as a sort of last gasp of particular type of Modernism where functioned defined form, and some of the bunkers recall the work of Le Corbusier.

When looking over one of the bunkers it is easy to forget that in these tiny blockhouses Hitler’s world view was defended, attacked and defeated. They represented a world view which its occupants felt was worth defending to the death—which is often how confrontations ended.

Visiting the Normandy region can be a somber experience. There are plenty of informative, organized tours that are worth your time. The Caen War Memorial is well worth your time. And if you wish to go further back in history, the Bayeux Tapestry is a must-see. But an impromptu visit to a string of Normandy’s bunkers can be stirring also. While you are admiring the durability and resonance of the architecture you can let your mind drift to what may have taken place on the hallowed ground where you now you stand.

A visit to the coastline of Normandy reminds us that history is all around. Often, specific locales are memorials with a plaque or a stone. Visitors can read about the great event that took place at or near this very spot. But in the case of many of the bunkers along the Atlantic coast of France no such explanations are needed. SD

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  • faith

    March 6, 2015

    They will be left alone to the testament of what an evil empire is capable of !

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  • james

    May 20, 2013

    third bunker down is in East Point Military Reserve, Darwin Australia and was built against a poss Japanese invasion…

    An ABC reorter took shelter in it when cyclone Tracey destroyed Darwin in 1974… solid enough…

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  • Chris

    November 6, 2012

    Top bunker is in Cape May New Jersey, nowhere near Normandy. The rest of the information here is equally wrong.

  • steve

    July 10, 2012

    Hi all, i’m planning to go on a roadtrip crossing Normandie, after seeing the top picture up above, i desperately want to know where the bunker is situated, so anyone who can help me with that, would be my pre-roadtriphero !
    Thanx in advance !

  • Warren Street

    February 12, 2011

    Are they really modernist? Or were they functionally designed to maximize the use of concrete, rebar, and whatever other materials were available?

    I think that they were more designed for the function of surviving artillery hits and aerial bombardment and were not designed for their looks.

  • Kaiser

    November 6, 2010

    SD, Surely you mean the ‘Atlantik Wall’, Built by the ‘Organisation Todt’ it consisted of an interlinked system of thousands of bunkers and was Hitlers insurance against invasion from the West,it ran all along the coast from Norway all the way to the south of France.

  • Hääkuvaaja

    July 25, 2010

    As a photographer with interrest in architectual design I find these concrete relics quite beautiful in a way. You really only have look at them in a certain angle…


    May 19, 2010

    these resemble bunkers in the halo video games.

  • SD

    April 20, 2010

    MH, Thanks for reading. As a point of clarification. The original Siegfried Line (referred to then as The Hindenburg Line, dates to WW I and was built from Lens to the south. Additional fortifications were built in the run-up to WW II. I’ve attached two sources below…Thanks again for reading!

  • Mark Harrison

    April 19, 2010

    Interesting article but as history, it’s suspect indeed… unless we’re talking Oliver Stone-style history, where facts are mere details. e.g. The Siegfried Line was built on German territory & had nothing to do with the coastal defences of France.

    It would be vastly more informative if the photos were captioned with the location. e.g. One of the photos looks more like the Fjords of Norway than France. If it really is France, I would’ve like to know where it was taken!

    Thanks. per: MH

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