MAGINOT LINE: THE MOST POWERFUL AND TRAGICALLY USELESS FORTIFICATION OF HISTORY
It was a network of fortresses designed to protect France from Germany. The idea seemed great, but the Germans had no problem overtaking it
To avoid the German invasion, the French built a huge complex of interlocking military fortresses called the Maginot Line. Extending along the border of France and Germany, the line totaled 200 km, from the border with Switzerland to the Ardennes forest in Belgium.
One hundred and eight large underground forts kept the line 15 in 15 km. There were 410 infantry casemates, 152 mobile towers and 1 536 fixed domes and 339 pieces of artillery. Everything was interconnected by 100 km of underground galleries.
The works of the Maginot Line were started in 1929 after a large lobby of André Louis Rene Maginot, minister of the French war. A native of Lorraine, he had witnessed his homeland being devastated in World War I and viewed the re-emergence of Germany with suspicion. He would not see the end of his work.
In 1932, at age 55, he died of typhoid fever. In May 1940, the Germans declared war on France, and instead of attacking the powerful line, they skirted it, passing through Belgium. Less than two months later, France capitulated and the Maginot Line garrisons had to surrender, many without firing a single shot.
1. Well kept
To avoid a major explosion, the ammunition bunkers were divided into 3 separate areas. The main one, the M1, had 7 rooms and housed 3,000 projectiles. The second, at the foot of each block of combat, called M2, kept 2,800. And the third, inside the battle room itself, had room for 600 more projectiles.
The fort had only 2 entrances. One for the troops and one for the ammunition. The two were located behind the fortress, facing France, hidden by woods. Even so, both entrances were protected by anti-tank pieces, which were pointed towards the access road.
3. Old system
Thinking of the gas attacks of World War I, the forts had a ventilation system that expelled the air from the fort in case of such an attack. The system still cleansed the air from the smoke of the cannons and the smell of diesel engines. The air was renovated with air filters, the size of the current dishwashers.
Several artillery batteries, including 75mm cannons and other auxiliary pieces, such as machine guns and howitzers, made up the firepower of a fort. Generally, the pieces were in specially forged steel domes, which rotated 360º and were operated by 2, 3 or 4 soldiers.
5. Team united
In wartime a typical garrison was composed of 812 men: 27 officers, 107 wires, 587 soldiers, 161 engineers, and 97 other noncombatant officers, such as doctors and technicians. The dormitories were often 30 meters from the ground, but they had running water. The waste was treated with chemicals.
6. Energy to the end
Electric power was vital to the operation of the fortress. Therefore, in addition to the traditional means of distributing it, each fort had four Sulzer diesel generator sets, each with 290 horsepower and 250 kilowatts, capable of operating for up to two months. Eight water reservoirs, a total of 400 m3, would guarantee the survival of the garrison until the arrival of reinforcements.
n order to transport the ammunition – and eventually the troops – the fortresses had at least 4 small Vetra locomotives of 5.5 tons, pulling 57 wagons down the underground rails. This system was commonly called subway by the soldiers.
Belgium used to be part of the Maginot line, but threw the defensive system in jeopardy by proclaiming its neutrality and backing out from it.
The line did see some use, if only against the Italians, where it proved its effectiveness, so you know at least we can safely assumed it would have worked in its intended context.
Finally an interesting thing about the ventilation system used to prevent gas attacks that I just learned from Indy Neidell’s shows is that rather than making the whole complex airtight (which would have been impossible), its indoor areas were kept at an higher pressure to just keep the air flowing outward and never inward.
Matilda Mk I tanks of 4th Royal Tank Regiment being transported by train from Cherbourg to Amiens, 28 September 1939
Amiot 143, French Bomber
French Curtiss H-75A at low level.