Hedgehogs, Hemmbalken And Other Omaha Obstacles

Mission Photo Album

Storming Omaha Beach (Video)

A screenshot photo of two U.S. Army Rangers taking cover on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (MOHAA).

Two U.S. Army Rangers take cover on Omaha Beach.

The storming of Omaha Beach is ubiquitous in popular media today – appearing in numerous movies and nearly every WWII-based game. So, this will be the first of what I can only assume will be many D-Day posts. Summing up the largest amphibious invasion in history in 750 words doesn’t seem at all possible, anyway.

As such, this post will cover the first two minutes and 45 seconds of the Omaha Beach mission in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. That is, the time it took me to get from the LCVP to the safety of the shingle.

As MG42s cut down the Rangers while they slog through the water and artillery pounds the beach, the only cover can be found behind the numerous beach obstacles.

Reassigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion, Lt. Mike Powell disembarks on Charlie sector of Omaha Beach, just west of the Dog One Exit, according to Col. Stanley Hargrove in the pre-mission briefing. After escaping the bullets that kill the four men in front of him on the boat, Powell hits the water between 150 to 300 feet from the beach – exactly where most of the landing troops ended up. From there, he and the other Rangers move between ramps and Czech hedgehogs, using them to avoid being killed as they head across 600 feet of beach to the shingle.

Three of the four common beach obstacles present on June 6, 1944 can be seen in the game. However, Allied Assault depicts them as being scattered in groups on the beach, when they were actually placed in lines. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the low tide line was blocked by posts and hedgehogs.

A screenshot photo of a Czech hedgehog, an anti-tank obstacle, on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (MOHAA).

A Czech hedgehog anti-tank obstacle on Omaha Beach.

A Czech hedgehog is an anti-tank obstacle made of three pieces of iron, with notches for barbed wire. Even when tipped over, it still presents and obstacle for tanks, though infantry may still find minimal cover behind it.

These obstacles were between 4.5 and 5.5 feet high and weighed between 440 and 550 pounds, depending on what they were made of and where they were made. Typically, they were manufactured, but makeshift hedgehogs were made out of anything that could withstand a head-on collision with a tank. However, their main purpose wasn’t to block tanks – it was to get stuck underneath them, preventing the tank from moving anywhere at all.

While this half of the low tide defenses has a creative name, the other half – posts – are just that… posts. To increase their effectiveness against landing craft, the Germans strapped Teller mines to their tips. However, these mines were never meant to be underwater mines, so many of them corroded and were rendered ineffective.

After the low tide line was a line of Belgian gates (Cointet elements) – the only beach defense obstacle not seen in the game. These were steel gates on rollers that were created by French Col. Léon Edmond de Cointet in the 1930s as anti-tank obstacles. C-elements, as they were also called, were about six feet tall, nine feet long and weighed about 3,000 pounds. According to this article, they were usually placed in lines, connected by steel cables. When a tank was driven into the line, the gates would roll back, absorbing the tank’s energy and interlocking around the tank, trapping it inside a wall of steel and making it an easy target for artillery. Infantry would’ve had to climb over these obstacles.

A photo of a Belgian Gate, or Cointet Element, on a beach during WWII.

A lone Belgian Gate, or Cointet Element, on a beach. These were typically placed in rows.

After the gates came a line of posts, a line of wooden ramps, and another line of hedgehogs before the shingle. These ramps, called Hemmbalken, were placed sloping toward the water (depicted incorrectly in Saving Private Ryan), so that landing craft would ride up them and flip or detonate attached Teller mines. Some even had metal spikes attached – meant to tear into the bottoms of landing craft and sink them. Since the Allies attacked at low tide, these ramps were exposed, and the landing craft never reached them.

During the battle, engineers attempted to clear some obstacles to open up paths for the DD tanks. However, most DD tanks at Omaha were swamped and sunk before they even reached the shore. In Allied Assault, the fate of the tanks and the job of the engineers are both mentioned in dialogue between Rangers during their journey up the beach.

So, 750 words later, the Rangers on Charlie sector of Omaha Beach are taking cover at the shingle, pinned down by MG42s and prevented from moving forward by the barbed wire on top of the shingle. What’s behind that wire? Only my next Omaha Beach post will tell…


~ by John on March 18, 2011.

4 Responses to “Hedgehogs, Hemmbalken And Other Omaha Obstacles”

  1. Thank you for detailed description of obstackles. It will help me scratchbuilding ;landing beach diorama.

  2. A WWII veteran mentioned “gurgers” as obstacles. Do you know what that was?

    • Hi Esther,

      I searched the Internet, asked knowledgeable people, and did everything I could to find the answer to your question, but I turned up nothing. It might’ve been a local thing, or a name that person had for a type of obstacle.

      As far as I can tell, “gurger” was never a common name for any obstacles. If you ever find out more information, let me know, because I’d be interested to learn.

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