Gordon L. Rottman's German Field Fortifications 1939-1945 in Osprey's Fortress series is a dry, but comprehensive survey of the main German tactical defensive techniques in the Second World War. This volume is a useful addition to cover the non-fixed (e.g. Atlantic Wall) defenses that the Germans used to defend their conquests. While Rottman fails to provide much in the way of first-person type accounts, he has combed the contemporary field manuals and literature to provide a good overview of the subject. This volume is not for the casual reader, but intended primarily for military readers seeking greater background on German defensive doctrine.
The volume consists of seven main sections: German tactical defense doctrine, planning the defense, defensive firepower, materials and construction methods, types of defensive positions, theater-specific defenses, and the fortifications at war. The seven color plates in the volume are: a rifle platoon in defensive position; defense of a village; building a log machinegun bunker; a 20mm flak gun position; a squad strongpoint in the desert; an infantry battalion defensive sector and a company hilltop strongpoint. The author also provides a number of interesting sidebars on types of obstacles, German demolition charges and German divisional artillery.
Rottman begins with an interesting section on the German "elastic defense" doctrine and the gradual development of the sector defense. Modern military readers will recognize the antecedents of current defensive doctrine in these German roots, particularly the concept of advanced positions and main battle lines. By the start of the Second World War the Germans had already developed a pretty solid defensive doctrine, which they further refined in the early years of the war. However, Rottman notes that by the time the system was really put to the test in 1942-1943, the Germans found it difficult to execute their doctrine due to manpower shortages. The shrinking German infantry units found it more and more difficult to build a viable sector defense and had to rely more upon ad hoc "strongpoint" type defenses. Rottman adds some notes on interesting field expedients, such as the German discovery that ice blocks could make bullet-proof parapets in Russia and their use of portable saw mills to cut timber for fortifications.
Rottman attempts to provide examples of some successful defensive techniques, but not always with the detail that the reader might prefer. His discussion of the German 6th Panzer Division's hasty construction of bunkers in Russia in the winter of 1941 using demolition charges is interesting, but some of the others are rather short. He does discuss German field works in North Africa, Italy, Russia and Normandy, albeit succinctly. Rottman's dissection of a German battalion defense is excellent. The only area that I felt was a bit slighted was mine warfare, in terms of how did the Germans lay out their minefields and what was their capability to lay mines like at the regimental and division level. Overall, this is a good volume on a specific subject, although designed primarily for the specialist reader.
The German Army of World War II considered itself an offensive, mobile force. The experiences in the trenches in World War I had done much to shape its concept of field fortification, and its mobile warfare ethos was intended to prevent the previous war's stalemate. This book addresses frontline defensive field fortifications, built by infantrymen using local materials, and includes rifle platoon positions, trenches, crew-served weapon positions, bunkers, dugouts, shelters and more. It also covers anti-tank and anti-personnel obstacles, as well as field camouflage methods and construction methods. The integration of these positions into permanent systems and theatre-specific defences are also discussed.