Maginot the Official Myth

There are many myths that have grown up around the Maginot Line. Some are born of pure ignorance, others were officially sanctioned. Here we have two images which purport to show a cross-section of a fortress. Both are based upon some basic facts; however, they are based in as much reality as anything you may find contained between the covers of a romance novel.

The top image was an officially-sanctioned diagram and published in the War Illustrated, as well as a number of Hammerton publications after the war. Of the two, it offers a more realistic view of a cross-section of a typical Gros Ouvrage (large artillery fortification); that said, it is also steeped in a large amount of fantasy. Overall, it offers a fair representation of the general layout, although rather than the vertical profile, it would, in reality, be spread over a horizontal plain. Certainly there was no provision within the design of the forts for anti-aircraft defences; these would have been provided by the interval troops stationed on the surface and because the forts were located between 20-30 metres below the surface and thus considered, based upon the experience of World War One, impervious to attack from both aerial and conventional bombardment.

The turrets depicted were again a pure trip of fantasy, as they were enclosed in actual combat blocks, which were effectively individual fortifications in their own right. It is most likely from here that the myth grew that the entire line was linked by a subterranean narrow-gauge railway system, whereas in reality, only the various blocks of the individual larger forts were so linked. While there were certainly lifts in the majority of the forts, these were solely for the movement of munitions and not for the use of the crew. Equally, the escalator is a work of total fiction. The other aspect of this illustration is that some of the space allocation has been amended, giving the impression of certain areas being larger than they would be in reality, compared to other areas of the fort.

The lower image is another work of fiction, although beyond the obvious labels in English, we do not know where this was published; it is certainly not an officially-sanctioned illustration. The most obvious flaw in the drawing is the accredited depth of the fortification; a figure most likely derived from the aspiration of the illustrator. It is, however, loosely based on one of the German Festen, (which were incorporated into the Maginot Line as second line fortifications), left over from the German occupation of Alsace-Lorraine 1871-1918. A clear indication as to the way these were viewed by the French when planning the Maginot Line is the construction of the Gros Ouvrage at Metrich, almost directly next door to the Festen of Koingsmaker. A key feature of the Festen was the artillery mounted in turrets on the surface of the works, which, as illustrated, were not constructed with the means of retraction. They are not monolithic constructs as shown, but spread out like the Maginot works, although unlike the Maginot, they consisted of large concrete bunkers which were mostly surface works and the underground passages only connected the various blocks.

An important aspect to bear in mind is that the Festen were built by the Germans who were acutely aware of the layouts and any potential weaknesses. Likewise, the Maginot was constructed at a time of economic turmoil, using a large amount of migratory labour which, partly due to the losses sustained during World War One, consisted of German and Italian workers. Naturally, it was not possible to for these individual workers to provide a great deal of tactical information and the locations of the works would hardly be a secret.

To view a period Pathe film, click here.


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