The Second World War Dragon's Teeth of Dover Beach at Sunrise, Kent, UK

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John Latter on June 17, 2011

Dragon's Teeth anti-tank obstacles stretching along the beach of Dover Harbour below the promenade seawall, photographed at 6.45 am on Wednesday, 13th of April, 2011, with one foot on the pebbles and the other in the water.

From a time when the town was known as "Hellfire Corner" and a reminder of Operation Sealion (German: Unternehmen Seelöwe), Adolf Hitler's plan to invade Great Britain in 1940 when attempt at such an invasion became a realistic possibility following Germany's defeat of France, and the British withdrawal from the continent at Dunkirk (see the Casemates Balcony, Entrance to the Secret Wartime Tunnels of Dover Castle photo).

Dragon's teeth (German: Drachenzähne, literally "dragon teeth") are square-pyramidal fortifications of reinforced concrete first used during the Second World War to impede the movement of tanks and mechanised infantry. The idea was to slow down and channel tanks into "killing zones" where they could easily be disposed of by anti-tank weapons. (1)

In practice, the use of combat engineers and specialist clearance vehicles enabled them to be disposed of relatively quickly, and they proved far less of an obstacle than many had expected (1). There's more on Dragon's Teeth after the following:

Elsewhere in the photo

Dominating the skyline left-of-centre is the Keep, or Great Tower, of Dover's 12th Century Norman Castle. It was built by Henry II, stands 83 feet high and has walls up to 21 feet thick. It now houses a reproduction of a 12th Century Royal Palace.

Immediately below the Keep are part of the massive walls and fourteen towers of the Inner Bailey (Inner Curtain Wall), on the right-hand side of which is Palace Gate.

Further to the right on the skyline is the top of Colton Tower and then the Roman watchtower or lighthouse known as the Pharos, adjacent to the Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro.

The Pharos and Church sit on Harold's Earthwork, part of the surviving southern half of the Roman Oval.

Next on the skyline is the western end of the Victorian Officers Mess ("Officers New Barracks") followed on the far right by the jutting roof of the First World War Admiralty Lookout and Port War Signal Station.

The barely-visible Western Curtain Wall below the Inner Curtain Wall extends to the cliff-edge, the beginning of the White Cliffs of Dover.

Dover Castle is an English Heritage site and a Grade I Listed Building, click to read the Pastscape entry for Dover Castle.

Beginning at top-left in the photo, and on the other side of Marine Parade, are the Gateway Flats; further along the seafront, the beige-coloured building below the cliffs at far-right is the Premier Inn.

Dragon's Teeth (1)

During the Second World War, or World War II, Dragon's teeth were extensively used by all sides in the European Theatre. The Germans made extensive use of them in the Siegfried Line (German: Siegfriedstellung) and the Atlantic Wall; typically, each "tooth" was 90 to 120 cm (3 to 4 ft) tall depending on the precise model. Land mines were often laid between the individual "teeth", and further obstacles constructed along the lines of "teeth" (such as barbed wire to impede infantry, or diagonally-placed steel beams to further hinder tanks). The French army employed them in the Maginot Line, while many were laid in the United Kingdom in 1940–1941 as part of the effort to strengthen the country's defences against a possible German invasion.

Behind minefields were the dragon's teeth. They rested on a concrete mat between ten and thirty meters wide, sunk in a meter or two into the ground (to prevent any attempt to tunnel underneath them and place explosive charges). On top of the mat were the teeth themselves, truncated pyramids of reinforced concrete about a meter in height in the front row, to two meters high in the back. They were staggered and spaced in such a manner that a tank could not drive through. Interspersed among the teeth were minefields, barbed wire, and pillboxes that were virtually impregnable by the artillery and set in such a way as to give the Germans crossing fire across the entire front. The only way to take those pillboxes was for infantry to get behind them and attack the rear entry. But behind the first row of pillboxes and dragon’s teeth, there was a second, and often a third, and sometimes a fourth. (1)

Due to the huge numbers laid and their durable construction, many thousands of dragon's teeth can still be seen today, especially in the remains of the Siegfried and Maginot Lines.

Post World War II: Switzerland continues to maintain lines of dragon's teeth in certain strategic areas. In the military jargon these constructions are often referred to as 'Toblerone lines', after the chocolate bar.

Dragon's teeth are also present in some areas along the Korean border (Korean Demilitarized Zone).

The term has survived into the present day and now also can be used to describe any line of posts or pegs set into the ground to deter vehicle access, for example in rural car parking areas, or alongside roads. Bollard is another term for such a post.

Some countries, such as those made after the breakup of Yugoslavia, have movable teeth, positioned at roadsides at strategic locations, which are to be lifted and placed on the roads.

Also see: Caltrop, Czech hedgehog, and the Short Screw Picket, Western Heights (1) and Short Screw Picket, Western Heights (2) photos.

Dragon's Teeth Anti-Tank Obstacles are also shown in the following photos:

The Keep of Dover Castle and Constable`s Gateway

The Norman Great Tower of Dover Castle at Dusk

Dragon`s Teeth Anti-Tank Obstacles, Dover Castle

Dragon`s Teeth under Snow, The Spur, Dover Castle

Sarah Grey Workboat and Haven Seafield Barge, Jetfoil Basin

(1) Wikipedia entry for Dragon`s Teeth

(2) Stephen Ambrose, The Victors: Eisenhower and his Boys - The Men of World War II (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), pg 256

Click to see all Dover Panorama photos

A Dover history photo.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

This is the Images of Dover website: click on any red or blue "John Latter" link to access the Entry Page.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on April 16, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2011/04/13 06:45:53
    • Exposure: 0.005s (1/200)
    • Focal Length: 31.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/7.100
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash

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