|A Belgian Gate on display today.
One of the most formidable German obstacles used on beaches of the "Atlantic Wall" during WW II was the so-called "Belgian Gate." Originally built before the war as an anti-tank obstacle, the Belgian Gate was three tons of half-inch-thick, six-inch-wide angle iron welded and bolted together into a ten-foot-wide by ten-foot-high lattice-faced barricade that would tear the bottom out of landing craft at high tide and block them at low tide. The gate was propped up on its landward side by 14-foot-long steel braces. It could easily be rolled onto a beach at low tide and was heavy enough to withstand any surf action. The gate was especially vexing for anyone contemplating its destruction since simply blowing them up with grenades would send shrapnel whizzing around on a beach full of soldiers and engineers. The Belgian Gate was also known as the Element Cointet, or Element C obstacle.
In preparation for the Allied assaults at Omaha and Utah Beaches, the U.S. Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs) trained in ship salvage, rocket disposal, mine recognition, and assault obstacle demolition practices. Of particular concern was demolition of the Belgian Gate. Large numbers of Belgian Gates had been discovered to the rear of the dune line along the entire coast of France in early 1944, and it was expected that they would be rolled up to the Channel beaches in anticipation of an invasion from England. Inasmuch as this was an entirely new obstacle to the NCDUs, considerable time had to be spent in the determination of the best methods for its destruction.
A device for destroying the Belgian gate was eventually devised by NCDU Lieutenant Carl Hagensen. Dubbed the "Hagensen Sack," the device was a basically a small waterproof canvas sack filled with two pounds of pliable plastic explosive (Composition-2, or C-2) that had a length of Primacord sticking out. The suppleness of the C-2 allowed it to be bent around the angle iron of the obstacle. There was a cord on one end of the sack and a hook on the other so that it could be quickly affixed to an obstacle and hooked into other charges for a simultaneous explosion. The sacks could be fitted and secured to the angle iron regardless of its size or shape by means of a line and the aforementioned specially designed V-slot hook. Sixteen Hagensen sacks placed at vital points on the gate's structure were required to bring down a Belgian Gate. Ultimately, over 10,000 of these sacks were sewn up and filled in time for the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and each NCDU member carried 20 of them.
Cross section of Omaha Beach showing obstacle types, including the Belgian Gate.
A Belgian Gate pushed aside on a French beach.
"Placing a Charge on a 'Belgian Gate'," a painting by Mitchell Jamieson (No. 216;
charcoal, and wash; June 1944; 88-193-HQ).