Throwback Thursday: Hedgehogs!

The likely landing beaches on Normandy in 1944, after Rommel took over, were filled with obstacles, element “C,” tetrahedrons, barbed wire, mines, and so-called Czech hedgehogs. These were arranged to direct landing forces down natural beach exits that would be blocked with overlooking and self-supporting pillboxes. You know, the first 10 minutes of Saving Private Ryan.

“Detailing Information On Normandy Beach Defenses Was Obtained From ‘Dicing’ Shots Like This. Every Type Of Anti-Landing Obstacle Appears In This Photo, Including Most Formidable, Steel-Concrete Hedgehogs, (Left Center) And Tetrahedra In Left Foreground.” (U.S. Air Force Number 57359AC)

“Operation Overlord (the Normandy Landings)- D-day 6 June 1944. The British 2nd Army: Royal Navy Commandos at La Riviere preparing to demolish two of the many beach obstacles designed to hinder the advance of an invading army.” IWM A 23992

“A small landing craft holed in the bows by obstacles without serious damage completes this study of obstacles and hedgehogs piled against the groin of one of the beaches.” IWM A 24033

When talking of the Czech hedgehogs, the trope is that the name came from the extensive border defenses erected along the German-Czech border in the late 1930s, essentially a steel version of the ancient Cheval de frise, which had been used to defeat cavalry charges and break up the momentum of attacks going back for centuries. Made simply of cut I-beams riveted together (during the 1930s and 40s), and enhanced with concertina and land mines, they could be effective if used in conjunction with the right tactics (i.e. channeling incoming attackers into an ambush or enfilade.)

While famous at Normandy, they were also used extensively on land, as seen by this October 1940 shot from the Western Desert.

Original wartime caption: Patrolling anti-tank defenses of “hedgehogs” and “Dragon’s Teeth” at Mesa Makul Fortress, 1st Bn South Staffordshire Regt. IWM E 831

While the hedgehog became scarce in Europe after 1945, with wartime examples soon cut up for scrap metal, they made a return along the Iron Curtain in the 1960s then promptly went extinct once again when the Berlin Wall fell. They became so rare, in fact, that in Western Europe and the U.S. it became a cottage industry for folks to make reproductions for film, paintball fields, and battlefield museum use.

Looks legit, eh? This is a repro hedgehog made by Brutal Rust, who says, ” Get yourself a few hedgehogs for your next family get-together or maybe even for your next business venture. We will happily build as many as you need.”

Well, in the past couple of weeks, hedgehogs have made a big comeback!

Hedgehogs on beach reportedly near Odessa, Ukraine Feb 2022

Ukraine’s Odessa opera theater with anti-tank hedgehogs, 1941 and 2022.


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