The Maginot Line

 

Map depicting the Maginot Line.
 

In 1922, the French set up the Commission d'Organisation des Régions Fortifiées (CORF). The role of CORF was to examine the existing fortifications defending the country and to advise and offer solutions (by way of designs) for the protection of the newly-created borders. The regions of Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France in 1918 and the exercise was one which had not been conducted since the creation of the Séré de Rivières Line of fortifications following the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.

Please click the image above to learn more about it.


By 1930, CORF had not only reported on the measures required, but also started some experimental constructions near Rimplas. The next phase was to present the findings and recommendations to the French Government, in order to sign off on the funding for the commencement of constructing the actual works. André Maginot, Government Minister of War and a veteran of the battle of Verdun, approved the funds, although in practice this was a mere formality, as works were already well under way. Maginot's role in the project extended only as far as his remit as Minister of War, although by doing so the line would go on to be for evermore referred to as the Maginot Line.



Anti tank defence rails of the Maginot Line.

Principally, there were seven grades of fortifications, although for the purposes of simplicity, these are most commonly reduced to placing the actual combat works into one of two types: The Gros Ouvrage (GO) or large works and the Petit Ouvrage (PO), small works. The difference was that the GOs contained artillery and the POs were armed with standard infantry equipment. The construction called on lessons learned from the bitter fighting of World War One. The main purpose of the line was to offer an unbroken, strong defensive line against the parts of the French border most likely to be attacked. This would allow the French Army to mobilise while the would-be aggressors were either held at bay in a frontal attack, or be forced to seek a route around the line. Likewise it was envisaged as a means of defending France with the minimum amount of troops. Following full mobilization, the line would provide the perfect jump-off point for the French to be able to mount their own offensive.



Photograph depicting a part of the 'Usine' (Power Plant) of Gros Ouvrage Rochonvillers.

When France entered World War One, they had in place the Entente Cordiale with the British. What became crystal clear from the events of 1914, was that the British were not guaranteed to act upon this, whereas any violation of Belgian neutrality was seen as the one thing which would bring Britain into any future conflict on the side of the French. Thus, by forcing the would be-attacker to find an alternative route, the most obvious choice would be through Belgium.




Photograph staged for the media of troops marching in the Gros Ouvrage of Hackenberg.

The construction of the works can only be described as nothing less than state-of-the-art technical achievement. Effectively, the combat works were landlocked battleships, with the majority of the construction being 30m below ground. The GOs were accessed by two entrances; one for the troops and the other for munitions. The munitions entrance was supplied by a 60mm narrow-gauge railway, which was connected to one of a network depots. The entrances were approximately 1km behind the actual combat blocks. Access to the main fort from the munitions entrance was either by lifts (the most common means); an inclined plane (a ramp which descended to the level of the main section of the fort); or in some cases, by means of a level access. Once inside, the works contained barracks, a kitchen, a power station, stores, an air filtration plant and a command post, all connected by galleries. The larger works transported materials by means of an electric 60mm narrow gauge railway operating on a 400v system, created by step-down transformers.




Photograph staged for the media of troops being transported on the 600v electric train in the Gros Ouvrage du Galgenberg.

There was a great deal of electricity used within the forts. In the GOs, it was used it for cooking and to run the electrical motors which operated the lifts in the combat blocks to supply the guns, and to move the turret-mounted artillery. This said,everything could be operated manually, so that even with a complete suspension of the supply, the fort could continue to fight. The works as a whole were supplied by power from a dedicated external armoured electrical grid system, although when the guns were being fired, (even for exercises), the fort exclusively ran under its own internally-generated supply. Communication was achieved between the forts (and the rest of the system) by means of radio and buried telephone lines. Additionally, every vital function had a minimum of double redundancy back-up systems.






One of 75 mm guns of the Maginot Line involved in test firing during the Phoney War. These were typically housed in a combat block consisting of three such guns.

Each fort, being 30m below ground, was prone to water ingress. This was dealt with by internal drainage systems; the subterranean sections were all discretely angled to a single point main drain, which would also act as a means of escape should it be required. The washing facilities were contained in raised areas in order to better assist the removal of the waste matter (gravity lacking its usual effectiveness at these depths). The air filtration plants pulled in air from the surface and once scrubbed by a bank of filters, pumped this fresh air around the entire works. This was done by achieving a positive air pressure throughout, which had the dual purpose of expelling any noxious gases created from the discharge of the guns, while simultaneously preventing the attacker from introducing any form of chemical in order to gas the garrison. Near each fort was a barracks, which was the peacetime location for the fortress crew. When mobilised, the troops would divide into three groups; the first manned the fort; the second was used as interval troops, to man the surface and could be deployed in anything from an open trench to a small blockhouse; the third group remained in the barracks to act as reserves. Every three weeks these troops were rotated right up to the point of an actual attack, when they would maintain the role they found themselves in.




French Infantryman in one of the many trenches above the Maginot Line.

While it is true that the German forces bypassed the line by attacking through the Low Countries, it is, as you have read, exactly what the line was intended to do. When the Armistice with Germany was signed on June 22, 1940, The Maginot Line continued to fight on; it took an act of betrayal by the new Vichy régime to finally get the the line to surrender on July 10th.




British and French Infantryman swapping rations somewhere on the Maginot Line.


Please click on the links below to explore the artefacts. 


Click here to view Maginot Insignia.

Click here to view Maginot External Defences.

Click here to view Internal fixtures and fittings.

Click here to learn more about Maginot Armarments.

Click here to view the Maginot ANP31 Gasmask.

To view a uniform of a French Officer,
click here.

To read about casemate 35-3 Marcklosheim Sud, click here.

To read about the tragic events at La Ferté, click here.

To read about the Plus Gros Ouvrage Hackenberg, click here.

To read about the Plus Gros Ouvrage Hochwald, click here.

To view a youtube video of a tour around the Gros Ouvrage Four aux Chaux (20 mins long), click here.

To find out about the Maginot site at Barst, please click here.

By way of comparison please click here, to view images of the Czechoslovakian boarder fortification.







The Maginot Medal.
Having been betrayed by their own country and allowed to be turned into an international joke, the association of the old comrades of the Maginot Line commissioned their own medal in the 1960s. Having fought on beyond the armistice, the surviving fortress crews felt rightly proud of their contribution.

To return to the main museum menu, click here.

Here is a gallery of images of the Maginot Line as it is today. 

 
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