Paul Painlevé, Colonel Tricaud
André Maginot (French Minister of War, 1915–1920s)
Concrete, steel, iron
World War II
Battle of France
Battle of France (1940)
Operation Nordwind (1945)
Maginot Line (French: Ligne Maginot, IPA: [liɲ maʒino]),
named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, was a line of
concrete fortifications, obstacles, and weapon installations built by
France in the 1930s to deter invasion by Germany and force them to
move around the fortifications. Constructed on the French side of its
borders with Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Luxembourg, the line did
not extend to the
English Channel due to French strategy that
envisioned a move into
Belgium to counter a German assault.
Based on France's experience with trench warfare during World War I,
Maginot Line was built in the run-up to World War II,
Locarno Conference gave rise to a fanciful and optimistic
"Locarno spirit". French military experts extolled the Line as a work
of genius that would deter German aggression, because it would slow an
invasion force long enough for French forces to mobilize and
Maginot Line was impervious to most forms of attack, including
aerial bombings and tank fire, and had underground railways as a
backup; it also had state-of-the-art living conditions for garrisoned
troops, supplying air conditioning and eating areas for their
comfort. Instead of attacking directly, the Germans invaded through
the Low Countries, bypassing the Line to the north. French and British
officers had anticipated this: when Germany invaded the Netherlands
and Belgium, they carried out plans to form an aggressive front that
Belgium and connected to the Maginot Line. However, the
French line was weak near the
Ardennes forest. The French believed
this region, with its rough terrain, would be an unlikely invasion
route of German forces; if it was traversed, it would be done at a
slow rate that would allow the French time to bring up reserves and
counterattack. The German Army, having reformulated their plans from a
repeat of the First World War-era plan, became aware of and exploited
this weak point in the French defensive front. A rapid advance through
the forest and across the River Meuse encircled much of the Allied
forces, resulting in a sizeable force being evacuated at Dunkirk
leaving the forces to the south unable to mount an effective
resistance to the German invasion of France.
The line has since become a metaphor for expensive efforts that offer
a false sense of security.
2 Planning and construction
2.1 1927: Allied Control Commission abolished
2.2 German economic superiority
2.3 War of long duration
5.2 Armoured cloches
5.3 Retractable turrets
5.5 Anti-tank guns
6.1 Czechoslovak connection
7 German invasion in World War II
8 After World War II
9 Post-war assessment
10 See also
13 Further reading
14 External links
Maginot Line was built to fulfil several purposes:
To prevent a surprise German attack
To deter a cross-border assault.
Alsace and Lorraine (returned to France in 1918) and their
To save manpower (France counted 39 million inhabitants, Germany 70
To cover the mobilisation of the French Army (which took between
two and three weeks)
To push Germany into an effort to circumvent via
Belgium, and allow France to fight the next war off of French soil
to avoid a repeat of 1914–1918.
To be used as a basis for a counter-offensive
Planning and construction
The Maginot Line
The defences were first proposed by Marshal Joffre. He was opposed by
modernists such as
Paul Reynaud and Charles de Gaulle, who favoured
investment in armour and aircraft. Joffre had support from Marshal
Henri Philippe Pétain, and there were a number of reports and
commissions organised by the government. It was
André Maginot who
finally convinced the government to invest in the scheme. Maginot was
another veteran of World War I; he became the French Minister of
Veteran Affairs and then Minister of War (1928–1932).
In January 1923, after Germany defaulted on reparations, the French
Raymond Poincaré responded by sending French troops to occupy
Germany's Ruhr region. During the ensuing Ruhrkampf ("Ruhr struggle")
between the Germans and the French that lasted until September 1923,
Britain condemned the French occupation of the Ruhr, and a period of
sustained Francophobia broke out in Britain, with Poincaré being
vilified in Britain as a cruel bully punishing Germany with
unreasonable reparations demands. The British—who openly championed
the German position on reparations—applied intense economic pressure
on France to change its policies towards Germany. At a conference in
London in 1924 to settle the Franco-German crisis caused by the
Ruhrkampf, the British Prime Minister
Ramsay MacDonald successfully
pressed the French Premier
Édouard Herriot to make concessions to
Germany. The British diplomat Sir
Eric Phipps who attended the
conference commented afterwards that:
The London Conference was for the French 'man in the street' one long
Calvary as he saw M. Herriot abandoning one by one the cherished
possessions of French preponderance on the Reparations Commission, the
right of sanctions in the event of German default, the economic
occupation of the Ruhr, the French-Belgian railroad Régie, and
finally, the military occupation of the Ruhr within a year.
The great conclusion that was drawn in Paris after the Ruhrkampf and
the 1924 London conference was that France could not make unilateral
military moves to uphold Versailles as the resulting British hostility
to such moves was too dangerous to the republic. Beyond that, the
French were well aware of the contribution of Britain and its
Dominions to the victory of 1918, and French decision-makers believed
that they needed Britain's help to win another war; the French could
only go so far with alienating the British. From 1871 onwards,
French elites had concluded that France had no hope of defeating
Germany on its own, and France would need an alliance with another
great power to defeat the Reich.
1927: Allied Control Commission abolished
In 1927, the Allied Control Commission, which was responsible for
ensuring that Germany complied with Part V of the Treaty of
Versailles, was abolished as a goodwill gesture reflecting the "Spirit
of Locarno". When the Control Commission was dissolved, the
commissioners in their final report issued a blistering statement,
stating that Germany had never sought to abide by Part V and the
Reichswehr had been engaging in covert rearmament all through the
1920s. Under the Treaty of Versailles France was to occupy the
Rhineland region of Germany until 1935, but in fact the last French
troops left the
Rhineland in June 1930 in exchange for Germany
accepting the Young Plan. As long as the
Rhineland was occupied by
the French, the
Rhineland served as a type of collateral under which
the French would annex the
Rhineland in the event of Germany breaching
any of the articles of the treaty, such as rearming in violation of
Part V; this threat was powerful enough to deter successive German
governments all through the 1920s from attempting any overt violation
of Part V. French plans as developed by Marshal
Ferdinand Foch in
1919 were based on the assumption that in the event of a war with the
Reich, the French forces in the
Rhineland were to embark upon an
offensive to seize the Ruhr. A variant of the Foch plan had been
used by Poincaré in 1923 when he ordered the French occupation of the
Ruhr. French plans for an offensive in the 1920s were realistic,
as Versailles had forbidden Germany conscription, and the Reichswehr
was limited to 100,000 men. Once the French forces left the Rhineland
in 1930, this form of leverage with the
Rhineland as collateral was no
longer available to Paris, which from then on had to depend on
Berlin's word that it would continue to abide by the terms of the
Versailles and Locarno treaties, which stated that the
to stay demilitarized forever. Given that Germany had engaged in
covert rearmament with the co-operation of the Soviet Union starting
in 1921 (a fact that had become public knowledge in 1926) and that
every German government had gone out of its way to insist on the moral
invalidity of Versailles, claiming it was based upon the so-called
Kriegsschuldlüge ("War guilt lie") that Germany started the war in
1914, the French had little faith that the Germans would willingly
allow the Rhineland's demilitarized status to continue forever, and
believed that at some time in the future Germany would rearm in
violation of Versailles, reintroduce conscription and remilitarize the
Rhineland. The decision to build the
Maginot Line in 1929 was a
tacit French admission that without the
Rhineland as collateral
Germany was soon going to rearm, and that the terms of Part V had a
German economic superiority
After 1918, the German economy was three times as large as that of
France; Germany had a population of 70 million compared to France's 40
million and the French economy was hobbled by the need to reconstruct
the enormous damage of World War I, while German territory had seen
little fighting. French military chiefs were dubious about their
ability to win another war against Germany on its own, especially an
offensive war. French decision-makers knew that the victory of
1918 had been achieved because the British Empire and the United
States were allies in the war and that the French would have been
defeated on their own. With the United States isolationist and
Britain stoutly refusing to make the "continental commitment" to
defend France on the same scale as in World War I, the prospects of
Anglo-American assistance in another war with Germany appeared to be
doubtful at best. Versailles did not call for military sanctions
in the event of Germany remilitarizing the
Rhineland or breaking Part
V; while Locarno committed Britain and
Italy to come to French aid in
the event of a "flagrant violation" of the Rhineland's demilitarized
status, without defining what a "flagrant violation" would be. The
British and Italian governments refused in subsequent diplomatic talks
to define "flagrant violation", which led the French to place little
hope in Anglo-Italian help if Germany should remilitarize the
Rhineland. Given the diplomatic situation in the late 1920s, the
Quai d'Orsay informed the government that French military planning
should be based on a worst-case scenario that France would fight the
next war against Germany, without the help of Britain or the United
France had an alliance with
Belgium and with the states of the Cordon
sanitaire, as the French alliance system in Eastern Europe was known.
Although the alliances with Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania
and Yugoslavia were appreciated in Paris, it was widely understood
that this was no compensation for the absence of Britain and the
United States. The French military was especially insistent that the
population disparity made an offensive war of maneuver and swift
advances suicidal as there would always be far more German divisions;
a defensive strategy was needed to counter Germany. The French
assumption was always that Germany would not go to war without
conscription, which would allow the German Army to take advantage of
the Reich's numerical superiority. The power of properly dug-in
defensive trenches had been amply demonstrated during World War I,
when a few soldiers manning a single machine gun post could kill
hundreds of the enemy in the open and therefore building a massive
defensive line with subterranean concrete shelters was the most
rational use of French manpower.
The American historian William Keylor wrote that given the diplomatic
conditions of 1929 and likely trends, the decision to build the
Maginot Line was not irrational and stupid, building the Maginot Line
was a sensible response to the problems that would be created by the
coming French withdrawal from the
Rhineland in 1930. Part of the
rationale for the
Maginot Line stemmed from the severe French losses
during the First World War, and their effect on the French
population. The drop in the birth rate during and after the war,
resulting in a national shortage of young men, created an "echo"
effect in the generation that provided the French conscript army in
the mid-1930s. Faced with a manpower shortage, French planners had
to rely more on older and less fit reservists, who would take longer
to mobilize and would diminish French industry because they would
leave their jobs. Static defensive positions were therefore intended
not only to buy time but to economise on men by defending an area with
fewer and less mobile forces. In 1940, France deployed about twice as
many men, 36 divisions (roughly one third of its force), for the
defence of the
Maginot Line in
Alsace and Lorraine, whereas the
Army Group C only contained 19 divisions, fewer than a
seventh of the force committed in the
Manstein Plan for the invasion
of France. Reflecting memories of World War I, the French General
Staff had developed the concept of la puissance du feu ("the power of
fire"), the power of artillery dug in and sheltered by concrete and
steel, to inflict devastating losses on an attacking force.
War of long duration
Map of the principal fortified section of the Maginot Line
French planning for war with Germany was always based on the
assumption that the war would be la guerre de longue durée (the war
of the long duration), in which the superior economic resources of the
Allies would gradually grind the Germans down. The fact that the
Wehrmacht embraced the strategy of Blitzkrieg (Lightning War) with the
vision of swift wars in which Germany would win quickly via a
knock-out blow, was a testament to the fundamental soundness of the
concept of la guerre de longue durée. Germany had the largest
economy in Europe but lacked many of the raw materials necessary for a
modern industrial economy (making the Reich vulnerable to a blockade)
and the ability to feed its population. The guerre de longue durée
strategy called for the French to halt the expected German offensive
meant to give the Reich a swift victory; afterwards, there would be an
attrition struggle; once the Germans were exhausted France would begin
an offensive to win the war.
Maginot Line was intended to block the main German blow if it
should come in eastern France and to divert the main blow through
Belgium, where French forces would meet and stop the Germans. The
Germans were expected to fight costly offensives, whose failures would
sap the strength of the Reich, while the French waged a total war with
the resources of France, its empire and allies mobilized for the
war. Besides the demographic reasons, a defensive strategy served
the needs of French diplomacy towards Great Britain. The French
imported a third of their coal from Britain and 32 percent of all
imports through French ports were carried by British ships. Of
French trade, 35 percent was with the British Empire and the majority
of the tin, rubber, jute, wool and manganese used by France came from
the British Empire.
About 55 percent of overseas imports arrived in France via the Channel
ports of Calais, Le Havre, Cherbourg, Boulogne, Dieppe, Saint-Malo and
Dunkirk. Germany had to import most of its iron, rubber, oil,
bauxite, copper and nickel, making naval blockade a devastating weapon
against the German economy. For economic reasons, the success of
the strategy of la guerre de longue durée would at very least require
Britain to maintain a benevolent neutrality, preferably to enter the
war as an ally as British sea power could protect French imports while
depriving Germany of hers. A defensive strategy based on the Maginot
Line was an excellent way of demonstrating to Britain that France was
not an aggressive power and would only go to war in the event of
German aggression, a situation that would make it more likely that
Britain would enter the war on France's side.
The line was built in several phases from 1930 by the Service
Technique du Génie (STG) overseen by Commission d'Organisation des
Régions Fortifiées (CORF). The main construction was largely
completed by 1939, at a cost of around 3 billion French
francs.[clarification needed] The line stretched from
Luxembourg and a much lighter extension was extended to the Strait of
Dover after 1934. The original construction did not cover the area
chosen by the Germans for their first challenge, which was through the
Ardennes in 1940, a plan known as
Fall Gelb (Case Yellow), due to the
neutrality of Belgium. The location of this attack, because of the
Maginot Line, was through the Belgian
Ardennes forest (sector 4),
which is off the map to the left of
Maginot Line sector 6 (as marked).
Maginot Line fortifications were manned by specialist units of
fortress infantry, artillery and engineers. The infantry manned the
lighter weapons of the fortresses, and formed units with the mission
of operating outside if necessary. Artillery troops operated the heavy
guns and the engineers were responsible for maintaining and operating
other specialist equipment, including all communications systems. All
these troops wore distinctive uniform insignia and considered
themselves among the elite of the French Army. During peacetime,
fortresses were only partly manned by full-time troops. They would be
supplemented by reservists who lived in the local area, and who could
be quickly mobilised in an emergency.
Maginot Line troops were accommodated in barracks built
close by the fortresses. They were also accommodated in complexes of
wooden housing adjacent to each fortresses, which were more
comfortable than living inside, but which were not expected to survive
Training was carried out at a fortress near the town of Bitche, built
in a military training area and so capable of live fire exercises.
This was impossible elsewhere as the other parts of the line were
located in civilian areas.
Block 14 at
Ouvrage Hochwald in 1940
Side view diagram of the operation of a retractable turret: 75 mm gun
of block 3 in Ouvrage Schoenenbourg
Casemate of Dambach Nord, Fortified Sector of the Vosges, Sub-sector
Layout of Ouvrage Hackenberg, one of the largest fortress complexes
Although the name "Maginot Line" suggests a rather thin linear
fortification, it was quite deep, varying (from the German border to
the rear area) from 20–25 kilometres (12–16 miles). It was
composed of an intricate system of strong points, fortifications and
military facilities such as border guard posts, communications
centres, infantry shelters, barricades, artillery, machine gun and
anti-tank gun emplacements, supply depots, infrastructure facilities
and observation posts. These various structures reinforced a principal
line of resistance made up of the most heavily armed ouvrages, which
can be roughly translated as fortresses or big defensive works.
From front to rear, (east to west) the line was composed of:
1. Border Post line: This consisted of blockhouses and strong houses,
which were often camouflaged as inoffensive residential homes, built
within a few metres of the border and manned by troops so as to give
the alarm in the event of a surprise attack and to delay enemy tanks
with prepared explosives and barricades.
2. Outpost and Support Point line: Approximately 5 km (3 mi)
behind the border, a line of anti-tank blockhouses that were intended
to provide resistance to armoured assault, sufficient to delay the
enemy so as to allow the crews of the C.O.R.F. ouvrages to be ready at
their battle stations. These outposts covered the main passages within
the principal line.
3. Principal line of resistance: This line began 10 km
(6 mi) behind the border. It was preceded by anti-tank obstacles
made of metal rails planted vertically in six rows, with heights
varying from 0.70–1.40 metres (2 ft 4 in–4 ft
7 in) and buried to a depth of 2 m (6 ft 7 in).
These anti-tank obstacles extended from end to end in front of the
main works, over hundreds of kilometers, interrupted only by extremely
dense forests, rivers, or other nearly impassable terrain.
The anti-tank obstacle system was followed by an anti-personnel
obstacle system made primarily of dense barbed wire. Anti-tank road
barriers also made it possible to block roads at necessary points of
passage through the tank obstacles.
4. Infantry Casemates: These bunkers were armed with twin machine-guns
(abbreviated as JM — Jumelage de mitrailleuses — in French) and
anti-tank guns of 37 or 47 mm (1.5 or 1.9 in). They could be
single (with a firing room in one direction) or double (two firing
rooms, in opposite directions). These generally had two floors, with a
firing level and a support/infrastructure level that provided the
troops with rest and services (power generating units, reserves of
water, fuel, food, ventilation equipment, etc.). The infantry
casemates often had one or two "cloches" or turrets located on top of
them. These GFM cloches were sometimes used to emplace machine guns or
observation periscopes. They were manned by 20 to 30 men.
5. Petits ouvrages: These small fortresses reinforced the line of
infantry bunkers. The petits ouvrages were generally made up of
several infantry bunkers, connected by a tunnel network with attached
underground facilities, such as barracks, electric generators,
ventilation systems, mess halls, infirmaries and supply caches. Their
crew consisted of between 100 and 200 men.
6. Gros Ouvrages: These fortresses were the most important
fortifications on the Maginot Line, having the sturdiest construction
and the heaviest artillery. These were composed of at least six
"forward bunker systems" or "combat blocks", as well as two entrances,
and were connected via a network of tunnels that often featured narrow
gauge electric railways for transport between bunker systems. The
blocks contained infrastructure such as power stations, independent
ventilating systems, barracks and mess halls, kitchens, water storage
and distribution systems, hoists, ammunition stores, workshops and
stores of spare parts and food. Their crews ranged from 500 to more
than 1,000 men.
Blockhouse MOM (Main d'Oeuvre Militaire) de Richtolsheim – Secteur
Colmar – Sous secteur de Hilsenheim
7. Observation Posts were located on hills that provided a good view
of the surrounding area. Their purpose was to locate the enemy and
direct and correct the indirect fire of artillery as well as to report
on the progress and position of key enemy units. These are large
reinforced buried concrete bunkers, equipped with armoured turrets
containing high-precision optics, connected with the other
fortifications by field telephone and wireless transmitters (known in
French by the acronym T.S.F., Télégraphie Sans Fils).
8. Telephone Network: This system connected every fortification in the
Maginot Line, including bunkers, infantry and artillery fortresses,
observation posts and shelters. Two telephone wires were placed
parallel to the line of fortifications, providing redundancy in the
event of a wire getting cut. There were places along the cable where
dismounted soldiers could connect to the network.
9. Infantry Reserve Shelters: These were found from 500–1,000 m
(1,600–3,300 ft) behind the principal line of resistance. These
were buried concrete bunkers designed to house and shelter up to a
company of infantry (200 to 250 men) and had such features as electric
generators, ventilation systems, water supplies, kitchens and heating,
which allowed their occupants to hold out in the event of an attack.
They could also be used as a local headquarters and as a base for
Anti-tank rails around casemate 9 of the Hochwald ditch
10. Flood Zones were natural basins or rivers that could be flooded on
demand and thus constitute an additional obstacle in the event of an
11. Safety Quarters were built near the major fortifications so
fortress (ouvrage) crews could reach their battle stations in the
shortest possible time in the event of a surprise attack during
12. Supply depots.
13. Ammunition dumps.
14. Narrow Gauge Railway System: A network of 600 mm
(1 ft 11 5⁄8 in) narrow gauge railways was built
so as to rearm and resupply the main fortresses (ouvrages) from supply
depots up to 50 km (31 mi) away. Petrol-engined armoured
locomotives pulled supply trains along these narrow-gauge lines. (A
similar system was developed with armoured steam engines back in
15. High-voltage Transmission Lines, initially above-ground but then
buried, and connected to the civil power grid, provided electric power
to the many fortifications and fortresses.
16. Heavy rail artillery was hauled in by locomotives to planned
locations to support the emplaced artillery located in the fortresses,
which was intentionally limited in range to 10–12 km
There are 142 ouvrages, 352 casemates, 78 shelters, 17 observatories
and around 5,000 blockhouses in the Maginot Line.[a]
There are several kinds of armoured cloches. The word cloche is a
French term meaning bell due to its shape. All cloches were made in an
alloy steel. Cloches are non-retractable turrets.
The most widespread are the GFM cloches, where GFM means Guetteur
fusil-mitrailleur (machine-gun sentry). They are composed of three to
four openings, called crenels or embrasures. These crenels may be
equipped as follows: Rifle machine-gun, direct vision block,
binoculars block or 50 mm (2.0 in) mortar. Sometimes, the
cloche is topped by a periscope. There are 1,118 GFM cloches on the
line. Almost every block, casemate and shelter is topped by one or two
The JM cloches (jumelage de mitrailleuses or "twin machine-guns") are
the same as the GFM cloches except that they have one opening equipped
with a pair of machine-guns. There are 174 JM cloches on the line.
There are 72 AM cloches (armes mixtes or "mixed weapons") on the line,
equipped with a pair of machine guns and a 25 mm (1.0 in)
anti-tank gun. Some GFM cloches were transformed into AM cloches in
1934. (The aforementioned total does not include these modified
There are 75 LG cloches (lance-grenade or "grenade launcher") on the
line. Those cloches are almost completely covered by concrete, with
only a small hole to launch grenades through for local defence.
There are 20 VP cloches (vision périscopique or "periscopic vision")
on the line. These cloches could be equipped with several different
periscopes. Like the LG cloches, they were almost completely covered
The VDP cloches (vision directe et périscopique or "direct and
periscopic vision") are similar to the VP cloches, but have two or
three openings to provide a direct view. Consequently, they were not
covered by concrete.
The line included the following retractable turrets.
21 turrets of 75 mm (3.0 in) model 1933
12 turrets of 75 mm (3.0 in) model 1932
1 turret of 75 mm (3.0 in) model 1905
17 turrets of 135 mm (5.3 in)
21 turrets of 81 mm (3.2 in)
12 turrets for mixed weapons (AM)
7 turrets for mixed weapons + mortar of 50 mm (2.0 in)
61 turrets of machine-guns
75 mm (3.0 in) Turret model 1932
135 mm (5.3 in) Turret
81 mm (3.2 in) Turret
AM (Mixed-Weapons) Turret
Both static and mobile artillery units were assigned to defend the
Maginot Line. Régiments d’ artillerie de position (RAP) consisted
of static artillery units. Régiments d’ artillerie mobile de
forteresse (RAMF) consisted of mobile artillery.
Canon de 25mm SA Mle1934
SA-L Mle1937 (Puteaux) L/72
81 mm (3.2 in) mortar
The specification of the defenses was very high, with extensive and
interconnected bunker complexes for thousands of men; there were 45
main forts (grands ouvrages) at intervals of 15 km (9.3 mi),
97 smaller forts (petits ouvrages) and 352 casemates between, with
over 100 km (62 mi) of tunnels. Artillery was coordinated
with protective measures to ensure that one fort could support the
next in line by bombarding it directly without harm. The largest guns
were therefore 135 mm (5.3 in) fortress guns; larger weapons
were to be part of the mobile forces and were to be deployed behind
The fortifications did not extend through the
Ardennes Forest (which
was believed to be impenetrable by Commander-in-Chief Maurice Gamelin)
or along France's border with Belgium, because the two countries had
signed an alliance in 1920, by which the French army would operate in
Belgium if the German forces invaded. However, after France had failed
to counter Germany's remilitarisation of the Rhineland,
Belgium—thinking that France was not a reliable ally—abrogated the
treaty in 1936 and declared neutrality. France quickly extended the
Maginot Line along the Franco-Belgian border, but not to the standard
of the rest of the line. As the water table in this region is high,
there was the danger of underground passages getting flooded, which
the designers of the line knew would be difficult and expensive to
In 1939 US Army officer
Kenneth Nichols visited the
Metz sector, where
he was impressed by the formidable formations which he thought the
Germans would have to outflank by driving through Belgium. In
discussion with General Brousseau the commander of the
Metz sector and
other officers, the general outlined the French problem in extending
the line to the sea in that placing the line along the Belgian-German
border required the agreement of Belgium, but putting the line along
the French-Belgian border relinquished
Belgium to the Germans. Another
complication was Holland, and the various governments never resolved
Corridor inside the
Fort Saint-Gobain near Modane in the Alps. The
When the British Expeditionary Force landed in France in September
1939, they and the French reinforced and extended the
Maginot line to
the sea in a flurry of construction from 1939–1940 accompanied by
general improvements all along the line. The final line was strongest
around the industrial regions of Metz, Lauter and Alsace, while other
areas were in comparison only weakly guarded. In contrast, the
propaganda about the line made it appear far greater a construction
than it was; illustrations showed multiple stories of interwoven
passages and even underground railyards and cinemas. This reassured
Czechoslovakia was also in fear of Hitler and began building its own
defenses. As an ally of France, they were able to get advice on the
Maginot design and apply it to Czechoslovak border fortifications. The
design of the casemates is similar to the ones found in the southern
part of the
Maginot Line and photographs of them are often confused
with Maginot forts. Following the
Munich Agreement and the German
occupation of Czechoslovakia, the Germans were able to use the Czech
fortifications to plan attacks that proved successful against the
western fortifications (the Belgian
Fort Eben-Emael is the best known
German invasion in World War II
Battle of France
Battle of France
Battle of the Netherlands
Battle of Belgium
Invasion of Luxembourg
Combat block 1 at the fortress Limeiln (ouvrage Four-à-Chaux,
Alsace), showing signs of German testing of explosives inside some
fortresses between 1942 and 1944
World War II
World War II German invasion plan of 1940 (Sichelschnitt) was
designed to deal with the line. A decoy force sat opposite the line
while a second Army Group cut through the
Low Countries of
the Netherlands, as well as through the
Ardennes Forest, which lay
north of the main French defences. Thus the Germans were able to avoid
a direct assault on the
Maginot Line by violating the neutrality of
Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Attacking on 10 May, German
forces were well into France within five days and they continued to
advance until 24 May, when they stopped near Dunkirk.
During the advance to the English Channel, the Germans overran
France's border defence with
Belgium and several Maginot Forts in the
Maubeuge area, whilst the Luftwaffe simply flew over it. On
19 May, the German 16th Army successfully captured the isolated
petit ouvrage La Ferté (southeast of Sedan) after conducting a
deliberate assault by combat engineers backed up by heavy artillery.
The entire French crew of 107 soldiers was killed during the action.
On 14 June 1940, the day Paris fell, the German 1st Army went over to
the offensive in "Operation Tiger" and attacked the Maginot Line
St. Avold and Saarbrücken. The Germans then broke through the
fortification line as defending French forces retreated southward. In
the following days, infantry divisions of the 1st Army attacked
fortifications on each side of the penetration; successfully capturing
four petits ouvrages. The 1st Army also conducted two attacks against
Maginot Line further to the east in northern Alsace. One attack
successfully broke through a weak section of the line in the Vosges
Mountains, but a second attack was stopped by the French defenders
near Wissembourg. On 15 June, infantry divisions of the German 7th
Army attacked across the Rhine River in Operation "Small Bear",
penetrating the defences deep and capturing the cities of
By early June the German forces had cut off the line from the rest of
France and the French government was making overtures for an
armistice, which was signed on 22 June in Compiègne. As the line was
surrounded, the German Army attacked a few ouvrages from the rear, but
were unsuccessful in capturing any significant fortifications. The
main fortifications of the line were still mostly intact, a number of
commanders were prepared to hold out, and the Italian advance had been
successfully contained. Nevertheless,
Maxime Weygand signed the
surrender instrument and the army was ordered out of their
fortifications, to be taken to POW camps.
When the Allied forces invaded in June 1944, the line, now held by
German defenders, was again largely bypassed; fighting touched only
portions of the fortifications near
Metz and in northern Alsace
towards the end of 1944. During the German offensive Operation
Nordwind in January 1945,
Maginot Line casemates and
fortifications were utilized by Allied forces, especially in the
region of Hatten-Rittershoffen, and some German units had been
supplemented with flamethrower tanks in anticipation of this
Stephen Ambrose wrote that in January 1945 "a part of
the line was used for the purpose it had been designed for and showed
what a superb fortification it was." Here the Line ran east-west,
around the villages of Rittershoffen and Hatten, south of
After World War II
The view from a battery at
Ouvrage Schoenenbourg in Alsace. A
retractable turret is in the left foreground.
After the war the line was re-manned by the French and underwent some
modifications. With the rise of the French independent nuclear weapons
by 1960 the line became an expensive anachronism. Some of the larger
ouvrages were converted to command centres. When France withdrew from
NATO's military component (in 1966) much of the line was abandoned,
NATO facilities turned back over to French forces and the
rest of it auctioned-off to the public or left to decay. A number
of old fortifications have now been turned into wine cellars, a
mushroom farm and even a disco. Besides that, a few private houses are
built atop some of the blockhouses.
The view of the village of Lembach in
Alsace (north-east), taken from
the combat unit number 5 of the fortress ouvrage Four-à-Chaux
Ouvrage Rochonvillers was retained by the French Army as a command
centre into the 1990s, but was deactivated following the disappearance
of the Soviet threat.
Ouvrage Hochwald is the only facility in the
main line that remains in active service, as a hardened command
facility for the
French Air Force
French Air Force known as Drachenbronn Air Base.
In 1968 when scouting locations for On Her Majesty's Secret Service,
Harry Saltzman used his French contacts to gain permission to
use portions of the
Maginot Line as SPECTRE headquarters in the film.
Saltzman provided art director
Syd Cain with a tour of the complex,
but Cain said that not only would the location be difficult to light
and film inside, but that artificial sets could be constructed at the
studios for a fraction of the cost. The idea was shelved.
In analyzing the Maginot Line, Ariel Ilan Roth summarized its main
purpose: it was not "as popular myth would later have it, to make
France invulnerable", rather it was constructed "to make the appeal of
flanking [the fortifications] far outweigh the appeal of attacking
them head on." J.E. Kaufmann and H.W. Kaufmann added to this, that
prior to construction in October 1927, the Superior Council of War
adopted the final design for the line and identified that one of the
main missions would be to deter a German cross-border assault with
only minimal force thus allowing "the army time to mobilize." In
addition, the French envisioned that the Germans would conduct a
repeat of their First World War battleplan in order to flank the
defences and drew up their overall strategy with that in mind.
Julian Jackson highlighted one of the line's roles was to facilitate
this strategy by "free[ing] manpower for offensive operations
elsewhere ... and to protect the forces of manoeuvre"; the latter
included a more mechanized and modernized military, which would
Belgium and engage the German main thrust flanking the
line. In support, Roth commented that French strategy envisioned
one of two possibilities by advancing into Belgium: "either there
would be a decisive battle in which France might win, or, more likely,
a front would develop and stabilize". The latter meant the next war's
destructive consequences would not take place on French soil.
Post-war assessment of whether the
Maginot Line served its purpose has
been mixed. Due to its enormous cost, and its failure to prevent
German forces from invading France, journalists and political
commentators remain divided on whether the line was
worthwhile. Historian Clayton Donnell commented "If one
Maginot Line was built for the primary purpose of
stopping a German invasion of France, most will consider it a massive
failure and a waste of money ... in reality, the line was not built to
be the ultimate savior of France". Donnell argued that the primary
purpose of "prevent[ing] a concerted attack on France through the
traditional invasion routes and to permit time for the mobilization of
troops ... was fulfilled" as was the French strategy of forcing the
Germans to enter Belgium, which ideally would have allowed "the French
to fight on favorable terrain". However, he noted that the French
failed to use the line as the basis for an offensive. Marc
Romanych and Martin Rupp highlight that "poor decisions and missed
opportunities" plagued the line, and point to its purpose of
conserving manpower: "about 20 per cent of [France's] field divisions
remained inactive along the Maginot Line", while
Belgium was overrun
and British and French forces evacuated at Dunkirk. They argue had
these troops been moved north "it is possible that Heeresgruppe A's
advance could have been blunted, giving time for Groupe d'armees 1 to
reorganize". Kaufmann and Kaufmann commented "When all is said and
Maginot Line did not fail to accomplish its original mission
... it provided a shield that bought time for the army to mobilize ...
[and] concentrate its best troops along the Belgian border to engage
The psychological factor of the
Maginot Line has also been discussed.
Its construction created a false sense of security, which was widely
believed by the French population. Kaufmann and Kaufmann comment
that this was an unintended consequence of André Maginot's efforts to
"focus the public's attention on the work being done, emphasizing the
role and nature of the line". This resulted in "the media
exaggerat[ing] his descriptions, turning the line into an impregnable
fortified position that would seal the frontier". This false sense of
security contributed "to the development of the "Maginot
Jackson commented that "it has often been alleged that the Maginot
Line contributed to France's defeat by making the military too
complacent and defence-minded. Such accusations are unfounded."
Historians have pointed to numerous reasons for the French defeat:
faulty strategy and doctrine, dispersion of forces, the loss of
command and control, poor communications, faulty intelligence that
provided exaggerated German numbers, the slow nature of the French
response to the German penetration of the Ardennes, and a failure to
understand the nature and speed of the German doctrine. More
seriously, historians have noted rather than the Germans doing what
the French had envisioned, the French played into the Germans hand
culminating in their defeat.
When the French Army failed in Belgium, the
Maginot Line covered their
retreat. Romanych and Rupp indicate that, with the exception of
the loss of several insignificant fortifications due to insufficient
defending troops, the actual fortifications and troops "withstood the
test of battle", repulsed numerous attacks, and "withstood intense
aerial and artillery bombardment." Kaufmann and Kaufmann point to
Maginot Line along the Italian border, which "demonstrated the
effectiveness of the fortifications ... when properly employed."
World War II
World War II portal
Czechoslovak border fortifications
List of Alpine Line ouvrages
List of Alpine Line ouvrages (works)
List of Maginot Line ouvrages (works)
Commission for Organising the Fortified Regions
Commission for Organising the Fortified Regions (CORF)
^ There are 58 ouvrages, 311 casemates, 78 shelters, 14 observatories
and around 4,000 blockhouses on the North-West and 84 ouvrages, 41
casemates, three observatories and around 1,000 blockhouses to the
^ Gravett 2007, p. 187.
^ Chelminski 1997, pp. 90–100.
^ a b c d Roth 2010, p. 6.
^ Kaufmann & Kaufmann 2006, Introduction.
^ Kaufmann & Kaufmann 2006, p. 5.
^ Kaufmann & Kaufmann 2006, p. 122.
^ Romanych & Rupp 2010, p. 8.
^ Marks 1978, p. 249.
^ Young 2005, p. 20.
^ Smith, Audoin-Rouzeau & Becker 2003, p. 11.
^ Keylor 2001, p. 121.
^ a b c Keylor 2001, pp. 121-122.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k Keylor 2001, p. 122.
^ a b Keylor 2001, p. 123.
^ a b Young 2005, p. 13.
^ Frieser 2005, p. 88.
^ Young 2005, p. 36.
^ a b c Young 2005, p. 35.
^ Young 2005, pp. 35-36.
^ Young 2005, p. 37.
^ a b c d Young 2005, p. 40.
^ Young 2005, p. 33.
^ Young 2005, pp. 40-41.
^ Allcorn 2003, p. 43.
^ a b Allcorn 2003, p. 44.
^ Romanych & Rupp 2010, p. 19.
^ Nichols 1987, p. 27.
^ Zaloga 2010, p. ??.
^ Ambrose 2016, p. 386.
^ Seramour 2007, pp. 86-97.
^ Chelminski 1997, abstract.
^ Cain 2005, p. ??.
^ Kaufmann & Kaufmann 2006, p. 14.
^ a b Jackson 2003, pp. 26-27.
^ Kaufmann & Kaufmann 2006, pp. 4, 85-86, 88.
^ Haynes, Gavin (25 October 2017). "What's the stupidest thing a
nation has ever done?". Theguardian.com. Retrieved 25 October
^ "Opinion - The difficult truths behind 'Dunkirk'". The Washington
Post. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
^ a b Donnell 2017, p. 4.
^ a b Donnell 2017, p. 45.
^ Romanych & Rupp 2010, p. 91.
^ a b Kaufmann & Kaufmann 2006, p. 182.
^ Kaufmann & Kaufmann 2006, p. 15.
^ Jackson 2003, p. 27.
^ Kaufmann & Kaufmann 2006, pp. 153, 157, 160.
^ Jackson 2003, p. 221.
^ Roth 2010, p. 7.
^ Romanych & Rupp 2010, pp. 91-92.
^ Kaufmann & Kaufmann 2006, p. 180.
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