Dragon's teeth (German: Drachenzähne) 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.
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. The obstacles could also simply be buried using bulldozers and dump trucks.
Dragon's teeth were used by several armies in the European Theatre. The Germans made extensive use of them in the Siegfried Line 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.
World War II dragon's teeth at Fairbourne Beach, Wales, in 2009, designed to stop tanks landing
Dragon's teeth on GHQ Line near Waverly Abbey, Surrey in 2006
Dragon's teeth from the Alpine Wall
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 Demilitarized Zone borderline and were also used on the GDR side of the Berlin Wall.
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 formed after the breakup of Yugoslavia, have movable teeth, positioned at roadsides at strategic locations, which are to be lifted and placed on the roads.
Some stages of Rallye Deutschland, the German round of the WRC rally championship, are run on roads belonging to the military training ground at Baumholder. The roads are lined with dragon's teeth, known as 'hinkelsteins'. They usually serve as obstacles to prevent tanks from leaving the roads, and cause devastation to any rally car which veers off track.
This section of the Siegfried Line sat in the middle of the Hardt Mountains, where the landscape was dotted with pillboxes and dragon teeth tank obstacles.
it was late afternoon on 18 Feb when [we] passed through the Siegfried Line dragons teeth
Human-made obstacles such as the "dragon teeth" were integrated carefully into the defense system of the line.
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