The Maginot Line
The design of this fortified line began at the end of the First World War to protect the borders of eastern France.
The French Corps of Engineers learned the lessons of the Great War by separating the entrances and the battle cells as was done in 1917 during the Battle of Verdun and after the study of the German fortresses notably Metz and Strasbourg.
This fortified line had as its mission:
_to compensate for the hollow classes caused by the First World War
_prevent a surprise attack by Germans and Italians and allow the French army to mobilize in security
_protect the industrial basins and mines of Alsace and Lorraine
_serve as a base for a possible counter-attack
_Push the Germans through Belgium or Switzerland forcing the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany.
The works begin along the Italian border because for the moment Italian fascism is more dangerous than the German Republic. In 1928 the first stones of the works of the future Fortified Sector of the Alpes-Maritimes are laid.
A year later, construction of the North-East structures began.
CORF engineers will thus fortify the borders of Luxembourg, Germany and Italy. Unfortunately the appropriations will only make it possible to strengthen the most sensitive sectors:
However, the achievement at this stage - which can be estimated at 50% of what was originally planned - is impressive. The Maginot line consists of :
The return of the Rhineland to Germany following the plebiscite of 1935, and the political upheaval linked to the declaration of Belgian neutrality in 1936, led to the granting of additional credits to the French general staff, which were essentially allocated to the North and North-East in view of the détente with Italy between 1935 and the end of 1936. From this date, the staff will have to make with its appropriations and its material means, and this will be partly at the expense of its campaign armament. The General Staff dissolved the CORF with effect from December 31, 1935 and delegates to its military regions the continuation of the construction of the fortifications. The people's front, which came to power in mid-1936, allowed the introduction of important social laws: paid holidays, reduction in working hours to 40 hours, wage increases, etc., which resulted in an increase in labour costs (+25% estimated by the army) and high inflation. For the same allocated budget, this translates into the subsequent postponement of many constructions and a slowdown in construction sites.
With the mobilization are thus thousands of small blockhouses of all types which mark out the borders of the North, the East and the South-East, in the zones abandoned by the CORF, in the "curtains" dear to the CDF, or between the powerful works of the Fortified Regions. This will accelerate even more during the 8 months of "funny war", taking advantage of the manpower brought by the mobilization. Parallel to this new wave of small blocks, the General Staff creates the Fortified Areas Study Commission (C.E.Z.F.) whose objective will be to coordinate the construction of a 2nd line of defense, made of large STG blockhouses behind the Maginot line. This line C.E.Z.F. will unfortunately be hardly begun in May 1940 because of a winter 1939-40 particularly cold and the lack of manpower. The most advanced parts are located in the Saar gap.
The total number of MOM constructions of all types is difficult to determine exactly. However, the count must be close to 15,000 units. However, the ensemble, MOM and CORF, offers a continuous front from the North Sea to the Glaserberg (Altkirch), to which are added the important dams of the Northern Alps, the Dauphiné, the Alpes-Maritimes and Corsica, as well as the beginning of circumstantial fortification in the Jura.
Thus at the end of 12 years of construction, the country has an almost continuous fortification line, but of objectively very heterogeneous quality, stretching from Zuydcoote to Bonifacio. Initially with an offensive vocation and centred on limited but powerful and homogeneous Fortified Regions, this major project is gradually drifting towards a purely defensive, global and static strategy. Proponents of small scattered blocks and low costs finally had the last word.
With the rise of Nazism and German expansionism, leading to the declaration of war in September 1939, the moment of truth for this "Wall of France" will soon sound.
The offensive of 10 May 1940 on Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands marked the turning point of the period and a form of culmination of the purpose of the Maginot Line since, as planned by the French command, it had fulfilled its deterrent role by forcing the enemy to pass through Belgium. The long-prepared response to this was the Dyle-Breda plan, and the entry into force of the Allied armies in Belgium to bring relief to the attacked country. The trap closed when, between 13 and 15 May 1940, the German armoured vehicles crossed the Meuse with great force at several points between Sedan and Dinant, an area held by the 9th French Army, poorly equipped and not very experienced 2nd order troops serving a thin line of light blockhouses.
May 16 is the breakthrough of the blockhouse line between Anor and Trélon. Between May 18 and 23, the Germans took the small works around Maubeuge, not covered by fortress artillery, as well as the isolated casemates of the forest of Mormal. On 23 May, the SARTS structure, the last to resist, laid down its arms after notable resistance. On May 24 and 25, the casemates of the forest of Raismes are in their turn neutralized, then on May 26 the small isolated work of ETH and its adjoining casemate.
Another tragic event was the fall of the FERTE structure. The withdrawal by order of the troops south of Sedan on May 15 puts the small work of the FERTE in first line. After the fall of the fortified village of Villy on May 18, the FERTE was heavily bombed and then attacked with great force. Only protected with limit of range by the mixed work of CHESNOIS, the FERTE is quickly capped and its weapons destroyed. The entire crew died of asphyxiation at the bottom of the gallery on the morning of 19 May. This drama will be widely used by German propaganda.
From 20 May to 1 June 1940, the fortified defences between Valenciennes and the North Sea did not really oppose resistance, gradually abandoned by their occupying troops, in full retreat. The tens of thousands of cubic metres of concrete poured there will not have been used.
The Alsace-Lorraine front remained relatively calm until June 10, the Germans putting their priority on the North, the Somme, Aisne then Champagne. Pressure increased gradually, however, with the retreat of the outposts and the rapprochement of the German units with the LPR. The catastrophic situation in the North led the French command to gradually withdraw a good number of reinforcement units along the German border, leaving only the minimum on the spot.
The retreat accelerated with the abandonment of the fortifications of the Montmédy bridgehead and the Marville plateau after sabotage between June 11 and 13. On 13 June, the general order of withdrawal of troops from the East, including fortress troops, was given. The Germans did not remain inactive and prepared in parallel two major offensives on the less powerful sectors of the Maginot line, the Saar (Operation Tiger) and the Rhine (Operation Kleiner Bär).
On 14 June, the 1st German Army attacked massively on the Saar, but was contained all day in a context of withdrawal of French troops. This defensive success was short-lived because the Saar line, evacuated in the night, was pierced on the 15th.
That same day, the 7th German Army crossed the Rhine. After two days of resistance, the lines of defence were breached again. On June 17, the enemy tanks reached the Jura on the rear and went up towards Belfort. All the armies of the East are surrounded in Lorraine and the Vosges. On the old LPR only the elements of fortress remain in the works and casemates, left in cover of the general withdrawal, and which are gradually circumvented by the enemy army and encircled dice June 19. That same day, the 215° ID German pierces the thin line of blockhouses of the Vosges, not supported, and circumvents the fortified sector of Haguenau.
Until June 25, date of the cease-fire, the powerful but encircled zones of the Maginot line will resist the adversary, whereas this one passes in Paris, then Lyon, Clermont-Ferrand, Brest and Bordeaux. Some attacks of works or casemates will be carried out by the Germans:
All sectors FERME-CHAPPY - MOTTENBERG, EINSELING-TETING, ROHRBACH-GRAND HOHEKIRKEL and LEMBACH-RHIN will reach the undefeated armistice, but will see their troops sent into captivity in accordance with the clauses of the armistice agreement.
Things are different in the Alps. Italy having declared war on France on June 10, 1940, the operations really begin only on June 21 despite some skirmishes between June 11 and 19. A strong army of 300,000 men launched themselves against all the great passages of the Alps on the morning of the 21st, with the main thrust axis towards Menton-Nice. In front of it, the Italian army has the Alpine army of Gal OLRY, strong of 180.000 men of which a part was already taken as of June 15 to form cork facing the Germans who descend from the North.
Disadvantaged by execrable weather, difficult terrain conditions and poorly motivated troops, the Italian army is contained everywhere and reaches the LPR only in rare points (Menton, Modane,…) and leaves all outposts undefeated. The Maginot fortification plays there completely and with success its role.
The Maginot line ended the war bloodless, partially destroyed and looted, almost totally unusable. However, his story will not end there…
pictures of the Maginot Line
All pictures has been taken by me