The Maginot Line : The way it was conceived

Hardly had World War I ended when the French government resolved to avoid the recurrence of such invasions as occurred in 1914. The army executives were urged on to cope with the issue on the defense of the French frontiers. This issue was to be impregnated by the three outstanding World War I French commanders in chief : Marshalls Foch, Petain, Joffre, whose views on the matter actually differed widely. Foch was scarcely in favour of a static defence organic structure, Joffre fancied such defensive positions as reminded of those at Verdun, Toul, Epinal, whereas Petain thought of linear, built in depth positions. In fact, the structures of the fortification underwent alterations, departing from the Séré de Rivières Forts (Toul, Verdun, Belfort and the like), improved in the 1914-18 World War, eventually took the shape of today's bunkers.

The French Marshalls came to a compromise while Painlevé was in office, and two committees were appointed to implement its provisions :

In early 1929, Painlevé had the Council of Ministers approve the defence plan brought forward by the C.O.R.F, but in late 1929 his office was taken over by André Maginot, who submitted the bill to the Chamber of Deputies, where it was approved by show of hands.

The ensuing law, enacted on 14 January 1930, provided that the regions of Metz, the Lauter and those facing Italy be fortified and that lines of casemates be strung along the Rhine, yet only scraps were allowed for in the north.

The process of building had already begun by 1930. The rough work was achieved within three years, whereupon the bunkers were armed and equipped, which took another two years. Yet, the estimated cost was squeezed to such an extent that the building of many blocks was given up and the fitting in of some equipment postponed. On account of the everlasting inflation and even as the construction was well under way, the setting up of some blocks was deferred to a later date so as not to exceed budgetary allowances.

In 1934 the political situation gave rise to a quick resumption of the activities of the C.O.R.F and a New Front was built up in order to cover the Saar plateau, the Montmedy bridgehead and the region of Maubeuge. Yet these additional bunkers were virtually deprived of artillery guns. (Only two lonely 75 mm guns appeared at the Montmedy bridgehead). In fact, 2 artillery, 10 small bunkers and 55 interval casemates came into being. Thousands of lesser positions, mainly blockhouses, were erected by regular troops and reservists until the battle broke out. They were referred to as 'Mom', which stands for army craft.

All these positions turned out not to have been sufficiently armed to ward off German inroads in May and June 1940. But for the bunker 'La Ferté', such fortifications as surrendered under normal frontal fighting conditions, viz. with the support of the artillery and the presence of interval troops, were all built up in the later years, whereas the fortifications that belong to the Maginot Line proper, located in the north, in the area of St Avold or on the Saar plateau surrendered only by the time when the mobile interval troops had retreated, when they were deprived of artillery support and when the Germans had come from the rear. The casemates on the Rhine and the blockhouses in the Vosges were actually given up when their crews had gone in for belated hopeless tasks.

Whenever such bunkers were supported by artillery they resisted to the point of filling the Germans and Italians with admiration. Let's quote the attacks on the 'ouvrages' : Fermont, Michelsberg, Einzeling, Laudrefang, Teting, Four à Chaux, Hochwald and Schoenenbourg as well as on the casemates : Aschbach-Oberroedern, and on all the alpine positions. They surrendered only against orders issued by the High Command, and many of them did so only one week after the Armistice had been signed.

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