NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The gray, concrete, heavily scarred slabs that arrived at the National World War II Museum this week are more than just chunks of an old wall to historians.
The slabs are part of Nazi Germany's Atlantic Wall, a string of defenses ordered by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in 1940. The defenses, also known as "Hitler's wall," stretched 3,200 miles from France to Norway and were designed to stop, or at least slow, the Allies from advancing inland during an invasion.
Allan Millette, a history professor and director of the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans, said the relic is a portal to studying what happened in 1944 and 1945, when Allied forces penetrated the wall and the tide began to turn against Germany.
"The concept was to build coastal defense, gun positions that could shell ships and places that could cause havoc with landing forces," he said.
Each of the three sections of wall is 5 ½ feet high, 18 inches thick. Together they total 35 feet long and weigh 22 tons. Shots fired by incoming Allied troops who stormed Utah Beach in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, have pock-marked the surfaces.
The Normandy invasion created the final land front against Nazi forces. American, British Commonwealth and Free French forces led the assault, joined later by troops of other allied nations. As the new front opened, the Allies were slowly pressing up the Italian peninsula, which was invaded in 1943. On the eastern front, Soviet troops were pushing Germany and its allies out of occupied territories.
Less than a year later, the war in Europe ended with German capitulation in May 1945, though fighting continued in the Far East until Japan formally surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945.
The relics were donated to the museum by the Utah Beach Museum at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France. The two museums have a partnership of sorts. The wall was given to the New Orleans museum both as a thank-you for advice and to clear space, said Gordon "Nick" Mueller, president of the New Orleans museum.
The Atlantic Wall was made up of a number of fortifications — mines, pillboxes, rank traps and other things, including the sections of concrete wall.
"There is a misconception that it was one continuous wall," said Jeremy Collins, the conference programs manager for the museum. "It was actually a series of strong points or fortified points at likely landing sites."
The sections of wall were used to block easy access for vehicles and prevent them from being able to storm up from the beaches and go inland, he said.
"They especially did not want heavy vehicles to just be able to drive ahead full speed," Collins said. The walls were designed so the vehicles would be funneled into choke points where heavy defenses awaited them.
The slabs were removed from Utah Beach on June 5, using a huge industrial crane that placed them on flatbed trucks, which drove them to the port where they were crated and placed on a ship. The cost of removal and shipping were between $20,000 and $25,000, officials said.
The wall segments arrived in New Orleans on Wednesday and cleared customs on Friday, museum officials said.
They will be placed on the museum's "Parade Grounds," Mueller said, joining a couple of individual bomb shelters already there.