Plus Gros Ouvrage Hackenberg


The Fortress of Hackenberg was one of the four 'super' Maginot forts (PlusGros Ouvrage). Construction of these began before the actual funds had been officially signed off; as such, they were seen as the type-typical concept proofs for the rest of the Maginot Line. In reality, they were over-grandiose and sapped much of the funding that could have been better used elsewhere on the construction of the line. Hackenberg is arguably the largest of all Maginot forts, costing 172 million Francs and with over 10km of tunnels.



The construction took a mere 3 years, with a proposed second phase envisaged to follow at a later date; this would have seen the addition of combat blocks to defend the rear of the work (which would have been unique). The fort itself is divided into two halves (east and west) with the two combat areas linked by an anti-tank ditch.






To support the fortress, a barrack complex was constructed just outside the village of Verkering. The fortress itself comprised 17 combat blocks mounting some 18 artillery pieces of various calibre. The garrison was commanded by Chef de Battalion Ismeur and comprised 42 officers and 1,040 other ranks and came under the command of the Boulay fortified sector.





After war was declared, the fortress soon became the 'celebrity' fortification and was featured in newsreels and visited by King George VI in 1939 (this visit is notable for the 135mm turret of block 9 being featured, even though one of the two barrels had exploded and thus, the turret is shown with one embrasure covered with wood).




In 1940, this sector of the line was partly held by the British 51st Highland division. The French best remember them for their drinking. An enterprising French NCO decided that the base of the stairwell of the the entrĂ©e des hommes (men's entrance) would make an ideal location for an informal bar. Using a small Renault truck, each week a trip into nearby Metz was made in order to use the profits to restock. When the 51st arrived at the barracks at Verkering, word soon got around of this local amenity; needless to say, the walk up to the fort (just over 1km) and the descent of 30m was well worth the effort, as indeed was the return journey. The Highlanders drank an entire week's stock in a single night!



When fighting began, the German forces deliberately avoided a direct assault on the Hackenberg. Instead, they pushed around to the west, planning to break through somewhere easier and then swing around to attack the weaker rear of the fortress. The German 1st army broke through the line at the Saar river and then pushed both east and west to fully surround the line. Despite the armistice being signed on June 25th, the Maginot Line fought on and Hackenberg was not surrendered until July 4th.



Following the surrender, the German victors put their prisoners to work clearing the landmines in the area, causing many casualties. In the early years of the occupation, Hackenberg sat empty, gradually being stripped of anything that might be of use on the Atlantic Wall. Once Allied air raids
began to threaten the already fragile German war production, Hackenberg was converted into an underground factory producing transmissions and gears for Klockner-Humboldt-Deutz. This work was done mainly by PoWs. The main M1 magazine and part of the fort's internal barracks were used for the storage of munitions. The conversion works, along with the removal of useful material, severely damaged the interior of the fort. This, along with thedamage sustained in 1944 when the Germans attempted to reuse the fort defensively, left the site needing major restoration during the 1950s.



Following reconstruction, the fort remained in French army service, designated as a defensive strong point in the event of a full-scale Soviet attack. By the late 1960s, this purpose had been shelved and so gradually, the forts were mothballed. In 1975 AMIFORT began to offer tours of the site and the fort is now slowly being restored.


To find out more about Hackenberg, click here.

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