Dragon’s Teeth - Stopping Tanks in Their Tracks - Tank Historia

Dragon’s Teeth – Stopping Tanks in Their Tracks

Since the creation of the tank, people have come up with ways to stop them. One of the most simple yet effective methods is with dragon’s teeth.

Missile, bombs and high-velocity guns are all great ways to stop a tank, but dragon’s teeth can hold up entire battalions of tanks with relative ease.

Excellent at cutting off large swaths of land, dragon’s teeth have been employed all over the world since WWII to funnel and direct an attacking force into a more convenient area for the defenders.

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Dragon’s Teeth

The first arrival of the tank on the battlefield back in WWI instantly kick started the development of anti-tank weaponry. Naturally, a back and forth between anti-tank weapons and tank armor has been going on since then, and continues today.

While this technological arms race has provided some incredibly advanced pieces of equipment, tanks are still inherently vulnerable against large obstacles.

Launch of an early Javelin Missile.
Anti-tank weapons, such as missiles, have evolved to beat tank armor.

Though they can tackle rough ground better than most vehicles, tanks can be stopped by a simple river or trench. Man-made obstacles can be even harder to traverse.

Dragon’s teeth are one of the most basic tools to use against an attacking force. They can come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, materials and arrangements.

The most recognisable are the square pyramidal types made from reinforced concrete. Many of these blocks are placed close together to form one large obstacle. The rows of spiked concrete protrusions resemble “dragon’s teeth”, hence the name.

They are also known as “tank traps”.

Dragon's teeth in France.
These types of tank traps received their name because of their teeth like appearance. Image by Les Meloures CC BY-SA 3.0.

The job of dragon’s teeth is simple: to provide a physical, impassable obstacle to vehicles, primarily tanks.

The idea is that a tank will bottom out on the concrete teeth, lifting their tracks up off the ground and rendering them immobile. At the very least, the teeth will prevent the continued forward movement of the tank.

The exact implementation of the teeth is down to whoever constructs them, but they usually consist of multiple rows.

Dragon's teeth in Germany.
Rows of teeth in Germany. Image by Pascal Dihé CC BY-SA 4.0.

Often the teeth are irregularly positioned and get progressively higher until they are completely impossible to pass in a vehicle.

The height of each tooth can vary greatly, but a typical example is around 1 meter high.

To stop the teeth being knocked over when struck by a tank, they are set into a concrete base which itself is sunken a meter or two into the soil.

Dragon's Teeth Diagram
The concrete base kept them firmly in place and made digging under them difficult.

Each reinforced tooth is therefore remarkably strong. Even if one is destroyed, you still need to get through multiple layers.

As dragon’s teeth are a static defense, they are usually found near large defensive lines, such as the German Siegfried Line and the French Maginot Line. Additionally, they can be placed around strategically important locations, such as a town or military installation.

Dragon’s teeth were used extensively around the United Kingdom during WWII – particularly in its coastal areas – to hold up the expected German invasion.

Using Dragon’s Teeth

As shown, dragon’s teeth are a formidable obstacle to pass. However, while they are certainly capable of rendering a tank immobile, their real value is in their ability to deny the enemy passage through large portions of land.

Tanks and vehicles cannot cross, so they are forced to pass through areas without dragon’s teeth. This is the true tactical power of the teeth. Defenders can place the teeth in vulnerable or hard to defend areas, forcing attackers into areas that are much easier to defend, known as “killing zones”.

Dragon's teeth on the Siegfried Line.
The teeth can cut off land and guide attackers into a more easily defensible area.

In most proper implementations, dragon’s teeth are one piece of a multi-part defensive structure that bogs down an attack until it can be neutralised.

Behind the rows of teeth are often pillboxes and bunkers that fire on any force bogged down in the obstacle. Many defenders placed mines and barbed wire between the teeth to stop infantry.

Limitations

As with any fortification, they are not indestructible. A well prepared force can employ engineers to destroy the blocks with relative ease and create paths through the dragon’s teeth.

This occurred on many occasions during WWII.

Furthermore, once a force has found a way through, the many thousands of tons of concrete and steel no longer have any use.

One of the best methods of overcoming these obstacles was by bulldozing soil over them.

However, in many situations this was much easier said than done while under fire. Attackers will be unable to safely remove or overcome the teeth without incurring high losses. In this scenario, the dragon’s teeth have achieved their purpose of slowing an advance and holding it in place to be destroyed.

Overgrown dragon's teeth.
Dragon’s teeth can still be found today, albeit in an overgrown state. Image by Tibor CC BY-SA 4.0.

Due to being an effective and relatively simple fortification, dragon’s teeth have been built in enormous numbers all around the world.

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Their durability and quantity means there are still thousands left that can be seen today. In fact, some nations, such as Switzerland, still maintain dragon’s teeth in key locations for worst case scenarios.