Dragon’s teeth: Square pyramidal fortifications first used during WWII to slow down and channel tanks into killing zones

David Goran
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The development of fast-moving reliable tanks led to many ideas of how to slow or disable them.

One of those ideas was to design obstacles to immobilize tanks by lifting their treads off the ground from below. These traps were first used during World War Two, predominantly in Europe, and were called Dragon’s Teeth.

Large shaped blocks of concrete, strengthened with a steel core. Photo Credit

Large shaped blocks of concrete strengthened with a steel core. Photo Credit

They are square pyramidal fortifications of reinforced concrete, arranged in irregular rows, and the idea was to slow down and channel tanks into killing zones where they could easily be disposed of by anti-tank weapons.

These blocks of reinforced concrete stand in several rows on a single foundation. Photo Credit

These blocks of reinforced concrete stand in several rows on a single foundation. Photo Credit

Dragon’s teeth tank traps were also known as Höcker in German (“humps” or “pimples” in English) because of the way they were shaped.

Dragon's teeth near Aachen, Germany, part of the Siegfried Line. Photo Credit

“Dragon’s teeth“ near Aachen, Germany, part of the Siegfried Line. Photo Credit

The Germans made extensive use of them, and hundreds of kilometers of dragon’s teeth and other obstacles have been constructed in the Siegfried Line and the Atlantic Wall, but these anti-tank obstacles were not developed by just one country. They were used more by some countries than others.

For example, France used large numbers of Dragon’s Teeth in the construction of the Maginot Line and many Dragon’s Teeth were deployed by the British in preparation for a German invasion.

Field Marshal Montgomery with Major General Simpson looking at the 'Dragon's Teeth' part of the Siegfried Line. Photo Credit

Field Marshal Montgomery with Major General Simpson looking at the ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ part of the Siegfried Line. Photo Credit

 

United States Army troops passing through dragon's teeth on the Siegfried Line in 1944. Photo Credit

United States Army troops passing through dragon’s teeth on the Siegfried Line in 1944. Photo Credit

 

American soldiers look down on the Siegfried Line. Photo Credit

American soldiers look down on the Siegfried Line. Photo Credit

 

by the road bridge above Guildford's London Road station. Photo Credit

“Dragon Teeth“ by the road bridge above Guildford’s London Road station. Photo Credit

This type of obstacle often consists of three or four (sometimes up to five) staggered rows with the distance between the teeth in each row being six to eight feet.

The rails project about four feet above ground level and are embedded in concrete. Typically, each “tooth” was 90 to 120 cm (3 to 4 ft) tall depending on the precise model.

“Dragon's teeth“ tank barrier with 5 “teeth“. Photo Credit

“Dragon’s teeth“ tank barrier with 5 “teeth“. Photo Credit

 

Dragon's teeth from the Alpine Wall. Photo Credit

Dragon’s teeth from the Alpine Wall. Photo Credit

Dragon's teeth from the Alpine Wall. Close view. Photo Credit

Dragon’s teeth from the Alpine Wall. Close view. Photo Credit

To make things more difficult for the enemy, land mines were often laid between the individual “teeth”, and further obstacles were constructed along the lines. Behind these obstacles were pillboxes – a guard post with holes in it through which to fire weapons.

Land mines, barbed wire, and diagonally-placed steel beams were placed between the teeth to further impede movement. Photo Credit

Land mines, barbed wire, and diagonally-placed steel beams were placed between the teeth to further impede movement. Photo Credit

However, in combat, Dragon’s Teeth proved to be far less effective than originally expected and were easily destroyed or removed by army engineers and specialized clearance vehicles.

 

Anti-tank obstacles in Wimmis, Switzerland. Photo Credit

Anti-tank obstacles in Wimmis, Switzerland. Photo Credit

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Still, if deployed in the right quantities, (thousands for example) they could stall enemy forces for quite some time.

Due to the huge numbers laid and their durable construction, many thousands of dragon’s teeth can still be seen today.