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Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort

Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort



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The Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort was one of a series of forts constructed by the French to defend their border with Germany following the First World War.

Named after the then defence minister, Andre Maginot, the Maginot Line forts were a series of heavily defended subterranean fortifications.

Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort history

The Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort (Ouvrage Schoenenbourg) was the largest of the Maginot Line forts, a series of forts built in the 1920s and 30s by the French government to deter invasion from Germany. Made up of a series of locations spanning over 3 kilometres, the Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort was entirely self sufficient, with everything from kitchens and water facilities to medical rooms and weaponry.

Open to the public since 1978, about 40,000 visitors come yearly to discover its settings. The latter are all original and the fort is on the complementary historical register in full. As an actual strong lock of Northern Alsace, the Schoenenbourg Fort is the fort that saw the most action during Word War Two.

Between September 1939 and June 1940, it fired up to 18,000 shells. During that time, it was itself shot at by 56 420mm shells, 33 280mm shells, 160 aircraft bombs and 3,000 150mm and 105mm shells.

A war council was held on June 14th 1940 and the decision was made to resist on the ground in the spirit of the “No way through for anyone” motto. In reality however, the Germans attacked France not from the expected route through the Maginot Line, but via Belgium, meaning that the forts were unable to defend the nation.

The crew surrendered on July 1 1940 and only by the French high command’s order, that is to say six days after the armistice was signed.

Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort today

Today, the Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort is open to visitors, who can explore this vast underground network. The barracks and kitchens, the command post, gun positions and other former locations can be visited.

The museum also presents documents on the history of the Maginot Line and on military life in a fort. A visit usually lasts around 2 hours.

Getting to Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort

The Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort is located right on the eastern border between France and Germany. It is roughly 60 kilometres north of Strasbourg, no more than an hour’s drive away.

The closest city to the Maginot line in Germany is Stuggart, roughly 125 kilomteres away. A drive from here via the A8 would take roughly 2 hours.


Why the Massive Maginot Line Failed to Stop Hitler

World War I absolutely devastated France. Of the roughly 8.5 million French soldiers mobilized in 1914 to fight Germany and the other Central Powers, more than 6 million became casualties, either killed, wounded or declared missing during four years of grueling trench warfare.

In the wake of that catastrophic war, the French government vowed to protect its vulnerable northeast border with Germany from any future attacks. With fresh memories of fighting and living in squalid, open-air trenches, the French spent a decade building a 300-mile (482-kilometer) series of underground fortifications that would be both impenetrable and comfortable to live in. Behind an imposing line of pop-up gun turrets, tank traps and 12-foot (3.6-meter) concrete walls were fully equipped subterranean military bases complete with mess halls, hospitals, recreation facilities and railway lines.

These impressive fortifications — 142 large artillery forts called ouvrages or "works," 352 fortified gun emplacements called "casemates," and 5,000 smaller bunkers and pillboxes — became known as the Maginot Line, named after the French politician André Maginot (pronounced Mah-ji-noh). The line wasn't Maginot's idea alone, but he helped push the ambitious, multimillion-franc project through parliament.

Despite its monumental concrete glory, which was the pride of interwar France, the Maginot Line ultimately wasn't able to stop Adolf Hitler's Nazi war machine from quickly overwhelming and occupying France in World War II. But does that mean that the Maginot Line was the colossal blunder that many historians have made it out to be?

Not according to Robert Kirchubel, a military historian with the FORCES Initiative at Purdue University.

"The Maginot Line was meant to stop a World War I-style attack of infantry and artillery, and it did what it was supposed to do," says Kirchubel, who's written multiple books on World War II military campaigns. The problem was that Hitler and his generals abandoned the "static" style of WWI fighting for a far more mobile blitzkrieg attack that punched a hole into France through Belgium and the Netherlands. "That's the part that fell apart for the Allies."

A Love of Fortresses

The Maginot Line was the brainchild of Marshal Joseph Joffre, a French WWI general, but it was hardly a new idea. The French had been building state-of-the-art fortresses and fortified cities along the German border for centuries.

"That's just what the French did," says Kirchubel. "The Maginot Line fit perfectly with this kind of thinking."

In the 17th century, from his luxurious palace at Versailles, Louis XIV oversaw the construction of citadels and fortresses meant to mark and protect the Sun King's territory. The genius behind these innovative fortifications was Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, who designed dozens of strongholds, including the magnificent fortified town of Neuf-Brisach in the contested Alsace-Lorraine region bordering Germany.

Fortress construction in France continued through the 19th century. After a humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the French built a ring of 19 heavily fortified military bases around the ancient city of Verdun in northeastern France near the borders with Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium. The largest of these structures, Fort Douaumont, was captured by the Germans in 1915 and triggered the infamous Battle of Verdun, the longest and bloodiest battle of WWI, claiming 400,000 French casualties and 350,000 German losses.

"With the Maginot Line, Joffre's idea was to take these fortifications that France had had for 200 years and bring them into the mid-20th century," says Kirchubel.

Constructing an Unbreakable Wall of Defense

The Maginot Line took 10 years to build, starting in 1929. By the eve of WWII, the French had constructed a string of fortifications stretching from the Swiss Alps to the English Channel, but the heaviest defenses were along the 280-mile (450-kilometer) border with Germany.

The Germany-facing section of the Maginot Line presented a string of obstacles, traps and artillery forts that ran 16 miles (25 kilometers) deep in places. An advancing German army would first be spotted by camouflaged observation points hugging the German border. The enemy's position would be communicated to a cluster of 78 fire control stations that coordinated the French defense from hilltop outposts.

The fire control stations would give orders to the hundreds of anti-tank and heavy artillery positions that could pop out of the ground and fire from armored turrets. Behind them were minefields and tank traps made from row after row of porcupine-like iron girders that would cripple armored vehicles. French engineers even constructed emergency dams and levees that could flood the surrounding fields to further slow the German attack.

The last line of defense was the Maginot Line's massive ouvrages, each large enough to hold 500 to 1,000 permanent troops. These colossal concrete "works" packed heavy firepower and were connected to nearby stations by underground rail lines to shuttle men, weapons and supplies. While the accommodations weren't luxurious, the barracks and mess halls were a tremendous improvement over the mud, freezing cold and disease of WWI trenches.

Planning for the Wrong Kind of War

When Joffre, Maginot and others conceived of the Maginot Line, Germany was under tight military restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.

"The Maginot Line would have done just fine against a German army with no tanks, airplanes or heavy artillery," says Kirchubel, all of which were banned inside Germany after WWI.

But when Hitler and the Nazis rose to power in the early 1930s, they quickly backed out of the Treaty of Versailles and began equipping for a much different kind of war. While the Germans built a fleet of bombers and armored vehicles for their mobile blitzkrieg strategy, the French were putting the finishing touches on their very large and static underground fortresses.

"Maginot Line" has acquired a secondary meaning: a defensive barrier or strategy that inspires a false sense of security, according to Merriam-Webster. But this may not be a fair characterization.

Keep in mind, says Kirchubel, that the French didn't believe that the Maginot Line alone could win another war with Germany. The heavy fortifications were designed to block the most direct line of attack into France and avoid repeating what happened in WWI, when the German forces occupied large swaths of the strategically important Alsace-Lorraine region.

"Maginot and these other guys weren't dumb," says Kirchubel. "The Maginot Line was never meant to fight the war by itself. It was part of a bigger plan to force a German attack through Belgium. When the bigger plan went to crap, the Maginot Line went along with it."

The Nazis' End-run Around the Maginot Line

By the time Germany invaded Poland in 1939, it was clear to French military leaders that they had greatly underestimated the speed and ruthless efficiency of the German blitzkrieg. But it was too late to reorganize the entire French military in a matter of months. The French strategy was already set in millions of cubic feet of concrete.

The Nazis knew that the heart of the Maginot Line was nearly impenetrable, so they feinted attacks along the heavily fortified border while they planned for their massive 1940 invasion of France through the Netherlands and Belgium. The boldest and most pivotal German line of attack ran through the dense Ardennes Forest in Belgium, which both the French and the other Allies had dismissed as impassable.

The thick-walled forts and casemates of the Maginot Line withstood direct hits from German bombers as they were designed to do, but the real action happened far away from that solid line of defense. By the time the Germans crossed into French soil through Belgium, the fight was all but over.

"The French were beaten emotionally and spiritually," says Kirchubel. "They cashed in their chips. They fought for four years in WWI, but were done in a week in WWII." Just six weeks after Hitler began his land invasion of the country, France surrendered to Germany.

While most of the giant underground fortresses of the Maginot Line were abandoned or destroyed, you can visit a few of them, still in working order. Check out the Hackenberg Maginot Fort, now a military museum offering tours, and the Schoenenbourg Fort.


Contents

The Hochwald site was surveyed by CORF (Commission d'Organisation des Régions Fortifiées), the Maginot Line's design and construction agency, in 1928. Work began the next year, and the position became operational in 1933. [1] [2] The gros ouvrage is unique in size and extent. The reduit at the peak of the Hochwald would have provided heavy, long-range artillery cover for the entire sector. [1] [nb 1]

Hochwald is flanked on the west by Ouvrage Four-à-Chaux and on the east by Ouvrage Schoenenbourg, comprising one of the strongest points on the Line. The height of the Hochwald ridge overlooks the area of Wissembourg to the east, which forms a gap between the hills of the northern Vosges and the Palatinate forest on the west and the Bienwald on the east. The landscape on the French side of the border is an open farmed plain for 24 kilometres (15 mi) eastwards to the Rhine. The ouvrage formed part of the "principal line of resistance", an element of defense in depth that was preceded by line of advance posts close to the border and backed by a line of shelters for infantry. Hochwald's fighting elements were placed in the line of resistance, with the entrances and their associated supply lines protected by infantry in the third line, 1-kilometre (0.62 mi) or more to the rear. The entrances were served by narrow-gauge 60-centimetre (24 in) railways, that branched from a line paralleling the front and connecting to supply depots. The rail lines ran directly into the munitions entry of the ouvrage and all the way out to the combat blocks, a distance of nearly 2,000 metres (6,600 ft). [5]

Ouvrage Hochwald includes ten combat blocks and three entrance blocks: five combat blocks located on each side of the Hochwald massif, an ammunition entrance, a personnel entrance located on the back (south) side and an intermediate personnel entrance located in the middle of the principal gallery. [1] Hochwald was equipped in 1940 with the following armament:

Eastern wing (O 720) Edit

  • Block 1: Artillery block with one 135mm gun turret, one 135mm gun embrasure, one automatic rifle cloche (GFM) and one observation cloche (VDP). [6]
  • Block 2: A submerged (in the earth) block with one 81mm mortar turret, one GFM cloche and one machine gun cloche (JM). [7]
  • Block 3: A casemate block with two 75mm gun embrasures, two machine gun/47mm anti-tank gun embrasures (JM/AC47), two GFM cloches and two 50mm grenade launcher embrasures. [8]
  • Block 4: unbuilt.
  • Block 5: A submerged block with one machine gun turret. [9]
  • Block 6: A casemate with three 75mm gun embrasures, one grenade launcher cloche (LG), one GFM cloche and one JM cloche. [10]
  • Block 7: East entry block with two GFM cloches and two machine gun/47mm anti-tank gun embrasures (JM/AC47). A shaft connects to the galleries below and the eastern underground barracks. [1][11]
  • Block 7 bis: Submerged block with one 75mm gun turret and one GFM cloche. [12]

Western wing (O 703) Edit

  • Block 12: A casemate block with two 75mm gun embrasures, one GFM cloche and one VDP cloche. [13]
  • Block 13: A casemate block with one 135mm gun embrasure, one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure, one LG cloche and two GFM cloches [14]
  • Block 14: A submerged block with one 135mm gun turret, one GFM cloche and one VDP cloche. [15]
  • Block 15: A submerged block with one machine gun turret and one GFM cloche. [16]
  • Block 16: A casemate block with two 75mm embrasures, two JM/AC47 embrasures, two 50mm mortar embrasures and two GFM cloches. [17]

Anti-tank ditch and casemates Edit

A chevroned ditch runs over the ridge between the east and west wings with a series of casemates located to sweep the ditch with fire. The casemates are not connected to each other or to the ouvrage.

  • Casemate 1: Single-sided, firing to the west with one JM embrasure, one JM/AC47 embrasure and one GFM cloche.
  • Casemate 2: Single-sided, firing to the west with two JM embrasures, one mortar cloche and one GFM cloche.
  • Casemate 3: Single-sided, firing to the west with four JM embrasures and one GFM cloche.
  • Casemate 4: Double-sided, firing east and west with four JM embrasures on two levels, two mortar cloches and one GFM cloche.
  • Casemate 5: Single-sided, firing to the east with two JM embrasures, one mortar cloche and one GFM cloche.
  • Casemate 6: Single-sided, firing to the east with four JM embrasures on two levels and one GFM cloche.
  • Casemate 7: Single-sided, firing to the east with two JM embrasures, one mortar cloche and one GFM cloche.
  • Casemate 8: Single-sided, firing to the east with two JM embrasures and two GFM cloches.
  • Casemate 9: Single-sided, firing to the east with one JM embrasure, one JM/AC47 embrasure, one mortar cloche and one GFM cloche. [1]

Entries, observation post and réduit Edit

  • Block 8: A munitions entry for the west wing with two JM/AC47 embrasures and two GFM cloches. The entry connects at the level of the gallery system. [1][18]
  • Block 9: A personnel entry for the west wing with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one LG cloche and one GFM cloche. The entry reaches the galleries below by a shaft. [1][19]

The planned réduit for long-range 145mm or 155mm guns was never built. Its entry was partially completed and never armed. Partially completed galleries run some hundreds of meters into the hill from the rear to the location of the planned combat blocks at the crest of the ridge. [1] [20] [21]

Entry blocks 8 and 9 serve the main ammunition magazine, utility area (usine) and underground barracks. They are more than a kilometer from the west wing combat blocks and close to two kilometers from the east wing blocks, [22] at a depth underground of approximately 30 metres (98 ft). The western underground barracks and the large "M1"-type magazine are just inside the entries. These areas were converted and expanded to form the basis of Base Aérienne 901 Drachenbronn [23] in a manner similar to the adaptation of Ouvrage Rochonvillers for the NATO CENTAG headquarters of the 1960s.

Block 20 is an isolated and unconnected observation block on the summit of the Hochwald with a VP cloche and a GFM cloche. [1] [22]

The generating plant was split into two units: the west generating plant comprised four Sulzer engines of 240 hp each, and the east four Sulzer engines of 165 hp each. [1]

Casemates and shelters Edit

A series of detached casemates and infantry shelters are in the vicinity of Hochwald, including

  • Abri de Walkmühl: Subsurface abri-caverne[nb 2] for two infantry sections, with two GFM cloches.
  • Abri de Birlenbach: Sub-surface abri-caverne for two infantry sections with two GFM cloches.
  • Casemate de Drachenbronn Nord: SIngle block with one JM/AC37 embrasure, one twin machine gun embrasure and a GFM cloche.
  • Casemate de Drachenbronn Sud: SIngle block with one JM/AC37 embrasure, one twin machine gun embrasure and a GFM cloche. Drachenbronn Nord and Sud are linked by an underground gallery. [1]

Ouvrage Bremmelbach Edit

Two casemates to the east of Hochwald comprise the remainder of the planned petit ouvrage Bremmelbach, canceled in 1929.

  • Casemate Bremmelbach Nord: Double casemate with two JM/AC47 embrasures, two JM embrasures and one GFM cloche.
  • Casemate Bremmelbach Sud: Single casemate with on JM/Ac37 embrasure, one JM embrasure and one GFM cloche.

The two casemates are linked by an underground gallery. [1]

The 1940 manning of the ouvrage under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Miconnet comprised 1022 men and 41 officers of the 22nd Fortress Infantry Regiment and the 156th Position Artillery Regiment. The units were under the umbrella of the 5th Army, Army Group 2. Interval troops covering the areas between and outside the fortifications were assigned to the 16th and 70th Infantry Divisions, 12th Corps. [25] [26] The nearby Casernement de Drachenbronn provided peacetime above-ground barracks and support services to Hochwald and other positions in the area. [27] [28]

Hochwald was one of the most active ouvrages during the Phoney War of 1939–1940. On 8–9 October 1939, Hochwald fired in support of French patrols, revealing deficiencies in gun mounts and ammunition. [29] In November the ouvrage fired on German minelayers. During the Battle of France in June 1940, Hochwald remained unmolested until 16 June, when it fired on Germans moving toward Lembach and received artillery fire and Stuka attacks in return. Attacks came again on the 20th, and Hochwald fired in support of Lembach. More aerial attacks followed on the 22nd.

In 1944, the retreating Germans blew up blocks 1, 3 6 and 16, and all three entrance blocks, as well as all turrets. [30] In 1944 Hochwald (renamed Werk Hochwald) was used as an underground factory. [31]

With the formation of NATO, French interest in a renewed fortification system against a Warsaw Pact invasion caused the renovation of most of the larger Maginot fortifications by the 1950s. Hochwald joined Schoenenbourg, Four-à-Chaux and Lembach in a system called the Môle de Haguenau, with work at Hochwald proceeding in 1952 to repair the war damage. However, in 1956, Hochwald was transferred to the French Air Force for use as an air defense command center. New underground galleries were built in the rear (i.e., near the entrance blocks), and were even provided with an internal machine gun port. [32] The facility was briefly known as Ouvrage H before its designation as Base Aérienne 901 Drachenbronn. [33]

Hochwald is part of the French Air Force's Drachenbronn Air Base, and is used as a hardened command center. It is closed to the public except for the Pierre Jost Museum, which is open on days of national remembrance. [23] Another Maginot ouvrage, Mont Agel of the Alpine Line, performs a similar function in southeastern France. [34]


Description [ edit | edit source ]

The work is composed of eight blocks, with six combat blocks including two casemate blocks, a personnel entrance block and an ammunition entrance block. Underground galleries connect the blocks, extending more than 1500 meters in length. The underground barracks and utility areas are located just inside the personnel entry. The ouvrage was served by electrified narrow-gauge (600mm) railways that branched from a line paralleling the front and connecting to supply depots. The rail lines ran directly into the munitions entry of the ouvrage and all the way out to the combat blocks. Α] Δ]

  • Block 1: Infantry casemate on two levels, with one twin machine gun/47mm anti-tank gun embrasure (JM/AC47), one flanking twin machine gun and two automatic rifle cloches (GFM), as well as an emergency exit. This block was particularly difficult to supply with ammunition, since it lacked a hoist, and all ordnance had to be carried by the troops. Ε]
  • Block 2: Infantry block with one retractable twin machine gun turret and one GFM cloche. As with Block 1, no ammunition hoist was provided. Ζ]
  • Block 3: Artillery block with one retractable twin 75mm gun turret and one GFM cloche. The block had an ammunition hoist with a capacity of 2.5 tons. Η]
  • Block 4: Artillery block, identical to Block 3, with an additional observation cloche (VDP). ⎖]
  • Block 5: Artillery block with one retractable twin 81mm mortar turret, one GFM block and one grenade launcher cloche (LG) (never armed). The hoist capacity was 500 kg. ⎗]
  • Block 6: Infantry casemate, identical to Block 1, with a single GFM cloche. ⎘]
  • Block 7: Ammunition entry with two hoists of 5 and 2.5 ton capacity, two GFM cloches, three FM automatic rifle embrasures and one JM/AC47 embrasure. Radio communications were also available at this location. ⎙]
  • Block 8: Personnel entry with one GFM cloche, one LG cloche, one JM/AC47 embrasure and two FM automatic rifle embrasures. Due to explosive demolition by the Germans in 1944, the block was reconstructed in 1950. ⎚]

The generating plant comprised four Sulzer engines of 165 hp each. Α]

Casemates and shelters [ edit | edit source ]

A series of detached casemates and infantry shelters are in the vicinity of Schoenenbourg, including

  • Casemate de Breitenacker Nord: SIngle block with one JM/AC37 embrasure, one twin machine gun embrasure and a GFM cloche.
  • Casemate de Breitenacker Sud: SIngle block with one JM/AC37 embrasure, one twin machine gun embrasure and a GFM cloche. Breitenacker Nord and Sud are linked by an underground gallery.
  • Abri de Grasserloch: Subsurface abri-caverne[nb 2] with two GFM cloches.
  • Abri de Schoenenbourg: Surface abri with two GFM cloches.
  • Casemate d'Ingolscheim Ouest: SIngle block with one JM/AC37 embrasure, one twin machine gun embrasure and a GFM cloche.
  • Casemate d'Ingolscheim Est: SIngle block with one JM/AC37 embrasure, one twin machine gun embrasure and a GFM cloche. Α]

Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort - History

This article was originally published in warhistoryonline.com

The top countries in Europe offer a variety of post-war sites to see, whether your interest lies in World War II, World War I or one of the many historic wars that have taken place on the continent. France is a great destination for anyone already living on the European continent, or those who are taking a short trip to Europe in the fall. However, don&rsquot just stick with the normal tourist sites.

Check out some of the best war-related sites to see when you visit France below.

Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe is situated right in the heart of Paris. It&rsquos also one of the most iconic Parisian landmarks and is one that&rsquos probably on your travel bucket list already. It was built in 1806 by Napoleon, to commemorate the French soldiers who had fallen during the Napoleonic Wars.

Completed in 1836, its design includes various military victories, soldiers&rsquo names and various artistic touches. The arch is also the site of the French Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, honoring those who fell in both world wars. If you have friends, families or other traveling companions who don&rsquot quite share your love for war history, this is one site that you&rsquoll easily be able to drag them along to, as the beautiful surroundings and easy location make it a great spot to visit.

Schoenenbourg Maginot Line Fort

The Schoenenbourg Maginot Line fort was one of several forts built on the border of Germany and France. The partially underground forts were meant to protect the French from German invasions after World War I. This particular fort out of the entire series of Maginot forts was the largest and was created and designed to be entirely usable during extreme disasters.

With its own water source, plenty of food stocks, weapons and a small medic station, it was a totally fortified bunker that could support parties for an extended amount of time. Visitors can explore the fort for themselves, and all its underground twists and turns. It&rsquos said that to see it all takes about two hours.

Somme Battlefields

While seemingly beautiful, the Somme Battlefields are the sites of major loss and destruction. During the battles, the plan was, the British would destroy German trenches, and then British and French troops would cross no man&rsquos land to capture the German soldiers.

Unfortunately, the Germans were alerted to their efforts, and were prepared, and suffered very little damage to their trenches. An exceptional number of Allie casualties occurred, with more than one million on both sides killed or wounded over the months-long endeavor. Today, you can visit the large area on your own, or you can take a tour. There are even cycling tours in the area that will show you the history of the region.

Vel D&rsquoHiv Monument

During the early days of World War II, the French police herded up Jewish families and held them in the Velodrome, which was at one time an indoor cycling track. There, more than 13,000 French Jews endured horrific living conditions, with no bathrooms, water or food, before being sent to various concentration camps.

The memorial stands for those who suffered at the hands of the French government, which has since issues an official apology for their actions during the war.

Oradour-Sur-Glane

This French village also suffered during World War II, as many villages did, but to an extreme extent.

The Nazis committed heinous crimes in this western French location, killing a large majority of the population in 1944. In addition to much of the village being completely destroyed, more than 600 individuals were killed at the hands of the German soldiers.

After the war, the village was rebuilt a few miles away, but the original site still stands, untouched and legally protected, as a remembrance of the horrors of war.

Musee de la Reddition

It was here that the Germans met with Allied troops to end World War II. On May 7, 1945, German high officers signed a document committing to unconditional surrender.

The document was signed in the Map Room, and that same room has been preserved behind glass, in perfect condition for visitors to see, when they also take a look at the museum.

Normandy

Of course, the most important war site to visit when traveling to France is Normandy. This all-important destination was where the war turned its course, and the Allies began to gain considerable forward ground.

Just about any individual in the modern world can tell you what happened on D-Day, when the Allied forces landed successfully on the beaches. Today, there are a handful of memorials there on the beaches that you can visit and learn more about the day and surroundings as you pay your respects.

The German and American Cemeteries in Normandy

Both Germany and the United States have cemeteries in Normandy. The American cemetery in Coleville-Sur-Mer is graced with bright, white crosses and views of the sea &ndash a somber, yet beautiful place to remember the fallen. However, a short distance away is the German cemetery at La Cambe, where rows of dark, flat grave markers solemnly mark the fallen, and a mass grave mound at the center of the cemetery drives the point home.

The significant differences between the two spots are saddening, but a necessary reality of war and the contrasting sides.

Memorial of the Martyrs of the Deportation

Near Notre Dame, this memorial in Paris honors those who more than 200,000 French citizens who were hauled off to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

The dark, underground, yet beautifully designed monument features a haunting inscription &ndash forgive, but never forget.


Marc Halter

Marc Halter, an educator and history enthusiast, is President of Fort Schoenenbourg in Alsace and an expert on the Maginot Line. In these pages, he removes the mysteries that have long surrounded the legend of the Maginot Line. He explains the true history of these fortifications, their genesis, functions and construction, as well as the fierce fighting that took place in Alsace-Lorraine and the Alps. He also redeems the memory of the undefeated defenders of the fortress who can be counted among the first French Resistance fighters of 1940.

Brian Chin

Brian Chin, an American artist, brings a detailed knowledge of every aspect of this modern fortress system to his presentation of the settings and characters of this era. His realistic drawings bring us inside this closed world of concrete and reveal the secrets of this remarkable achievement.


The Maginot Line Mostly Worked the Way it was Expected to & Great Footage in Here Too

The moment the Germans entered Belgium, the plan was for the French (and hopefully British) to move in and fight them there and the Maginot Line did that.

The Maginot Line was a series of fortifications built by France between 1929-34 and subsequently enhanced until 1939. Named after André Maginot, the French Minister of War, it ran along the eastern border with Germany and Luxemburg and stretched across 450km (

The fortifications were built as a result of experiences from the exceptionally bloody war in 1914-18. At around 3 billion French Francs, the cost of the Maginot Line was enormous. However, the intention was to save lives and what price can a government put on that?

Troops of 51st Highland Division march over a drawbridge into Fort de Sainghain on the Maginot Line, 3 November 1939

The French remembered when the Germans invaded their country in World War I, and were anxious that the same thing should not happen again. The idea behind the creation of the Maginot Line was not only to avoid trench warfare inside France but also to stop or at least delay any potential offensive from the east which would give troops time to prepare a counter-attack.

French military minds thought the Maginot Line was insurmountable. It could defend against most forms of attack, including tanks and air bombings. It had underground railways that could carry troops and equipment from fort to fort. Over 600 main combat objects were supported by 6,000 kinds of various fortifications and obstacles.

A soldier from the Cameron Highlanders looks through a periscope in the Fort de Sainghain on the Maginot Line, 3 November 1939.

The Germans were aware of the pros and cons of the French fortifications. They even built an equivalent which they called the Siegfried Line so that they could obtain first-hand insights into its structure and defenses.

In comparison to French war doctrines, Germans preferred an offensive fight. As such, plans based on the shocking Blitzkrieg method were created.

In September 1939, the Third Reich proved how effective a swift and sudden attack could be, but French still believed in the might of the Maginot Line. However, the enemy did not plan to attack from the east.

German officers entering the ammunition entry at Ouvrage Hackenberg. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 121-0363 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

There was no fortification across the Belgium border because the French planned to use the lowlands for a possible counter-offensive and there was simply no reason to fortify a border with a neutral country. Unfortunately, the Germans recognized and exploited that weakness. They had no problem with violating the neutrality of several countries rather than attacking France head-on.

The Maginot Line itself had some weak points, one of which was at the Ardennes Forest. The French thought the area nearby was difficult enough to cross, even without a heavy defensive system. However, the Nazis proved them wrong and managed to encircle the Allied troops. Many mistakes were repeated from the previous war.

French soldiers on Maginot Line

The German war machine attacked on 10 May 1940. Five days later, the Germans were well into France and continued to advance until 24 May, when they stopped near Dunkirk. In six weeks, France had been conquered. Nevertheless, the Maginot Line itself still stood, intact and ready to fight back. The Germans were unable to capture any of the forts within this complex.

Despite being surrounded, many commanders were prepared to hold out at any cost. However, after the capitulation of France, there was nothing left to defend. The entire garrison of the Maginot Line was captured and sent to POW camps.

American soldiers examine the Maginot Line in 1944

It wasn’t the end of the war for the Maginot Line though. In 1944, this time in hands of the Germans, the line got in the way of advancing U.S. troops. The fortifications were largely bypassed, but not without a few exceptions near Metz and Alsace.

Despite their impressive structure, fixed fortifications on such a vast scale like the Maginot Line and the Siegfried Line were now simply outdated and obsolete. The Maginot Line still exists, but it is not maintained and not used for military purposes anymore.

More photos

Map of the Maginot Line

Soldiers of the 51st Highland Division wearing gas masks while on duty in a fort on the Maginot Line in France, November 3, 1939

The British Expeditionary Force in France 1939-1940. HM King George VI visits the BEF, December 1939.

Destroyed turret on the Maginot Line, 1940. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-382-0204-22A / Greiner / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Destroyed bunker, Maginot Line, 1940. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-383-0348-30A / Greiner / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Bunker at the Maginot Line, 1940. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 121-0486 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Maginot Line now

Michelsberg entrance block. Photo: Benrichard3rd / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Main gallery, showing the 60cm internal rail line. Photo: DrAlzheimer / CC-BY-SA 4.0

The power plant at Michelsberg. Photo: DrAlzheimer / CC-BY-SA 4.0

Kitchen in Michelsberg. Photo: DrAlzheimer / CC-BY-SA 4.0

Tunnels under Michelsberg. Photo: Deep Darkness / CC-BY-SA 2.0

Fort de Fermont. Photo: Guido Radig / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The ammunition bunker entrance to Ouvrage Schoenenbour, Maginot Line in Alsace.

View of the entrance and the barbed wire network, Immerhof (Maginot line), Moselle, France. Photo: Lvcvlvs / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Bunker C 23 in Ravin de Crusnes (Maginot Line), Crusnes, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France. Photo: Lvcvlvs / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The view from a battery at Ouvrage Schoenenbourg in Alsace. Notice the retractable turret in the left foreground. Photo: John C. Watkins V.

Entrance at l’ouvrage du Kobenbusch.

Railway tunnel in l’ouvrage du Four-à-Chaux. Photo: Sylvainlouis / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Entrance at l’ouvrage du Col-de-la-Moutière.

GFM cloche, one of the most common defensive armaments on the Maginot Line. Bunker in de la Ferté.

Destroyed GFM Cloche in l’ouvrage du Kerfent. Photo: Kefrent / CC-BY-SA 3.0

View at the heavy shelled bunker, l’ouvrage du Bambesch. Photo: Lvcvlvs / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Bunker no 8 at l’ouvrage du Hackenberg, damaged by US troops in late 1944. Photo: Nicolas Bouillon / CC-BY-SA 3.0


Inspecting a Maginot Line fortress

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Over the years, I heard and read a lot about the Maginot Line, and I always wanted to visit the most impressive part of it. Because it extended from Luxembourg to Switzerland, with another section from Switzerland to the Mediterranean, I needed some help and turned to the French Government Tourist Office. The problem was that the tourist office couldn’t (or wouldn’t) answer simple questions like “Where is the best site to visit?” and “When is the best time to go?” I was referred to a website which was mostly in French, making it difficult to find answers.

After three years of contacting the tourist office every time I went to Europe, my luck turned when they gave me the name of Marc Halter, president of the Maginot Line Association, a tremendous source of information. He can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected] Additional information came from the association’s webpage, www.lignemaginot.com, which has an English section.

Following Mr. Halter’s directions, in December ’03 my wife, JoAnn, and I drove on the A4 from Paris to Haguenau, about 15 miles north of Strasbourg. Haguenau is the gateway to the Maginot Line’s most impressive installation: Schoenenbourg fortress.

Because we arrived at Haguenau after 5 p.m., we decided to stay at the Campanile Hotel (Campanile Haguenau, 129 Route de Strasbourg, Haguenau, Bas-Rhin, 67500 France visit www.campanile-haguenau.activehotels.com), part of an extensive chain, for two nights. The accommodations were clean, comfortable and reasonably priced at €59 (near $74) a night. The Campanile also has a restaurant, but we didn’t eat there, opting instead for a feast, in our room, of pâté, ham, cheese, bread, pastry and wine from the local supermarket.

When driving to Schoenenbourg, take N340, direction Wissembourg, from Haguenau. Driving about 30 minutes along winding but well-marked roads takes you to the fort. The entrance is through a 2-story block house with 9-foot-thick poured-concrete walls. There is no indication of the 1½-mile network of tunnels (some as deep as 90 feet) and the facilities to house hundreds of soldiers.

Aboveground at various places are cannons and machine guns, still in working order. There’s also an armory, where I saw some of the guns up close. One turret was reinforced with 80 tons of steel and yet was so well balanced that the cannon could be moved hydraulically with one hand, which I did.

The fort, which took four years to build, has a complete self-contained electrical and communications system kitchens office enlisted quarters repair facilities a private well for unlimited water space for enough food and ammunition to withstand a 6-month siege, and an air filtration system so well designed it could withstand a poison gas attack. There are even some Mickey Mouse drawings from the 1930s.

I walked the entire complex, but JoAnn could see only part because her bad hip prevented her from climbing the steep stairs.

Schoenenbourg did come under German attack by Stuka dive-bombers and infantry, but because of the thick walls it sustained practically no damage. Some of the holes from bombs and machine gun fire are still on the building.

French resistance was so fierce that the garrison refused to surrender even after hostilities had ceased. They finally capitulated several weeks later on direct orders from the French government, but not before destroying the codes for sighting and firing the artillery.

After World War II ended, Schoenenbourg was restored by private interests. It now attracts about 40,000 visitors a year. Guided tours are in five languages, including English. The tour lasts 1½ hours, but you can stay longer, if you wish. Admission is €5. If you plan to visit from December to February, check for times.

Our guide explained that the French people as well as the government really want to forget about the Maginot Line, because they feel it caused France’s defeat. (The truth is that it was only designed to hold up the Germans for at least a week until the French could mobilize.) That may explain why it took me nearly three years to learn about Schoenenbourg, even though on two other occasions we were within 20 miles of it and never knew.

Less than a half mile from the fort is an excellent and reasonably priced restaurant, L’Auberge de la Ligne Maginot. JoAnn and I both had a stew for €8 each which was delicious and almost more than we could eat.

For anyone interested in military history, we highly recommend a visit to Schoenenbourg. For those who really want to see more than one site, consider visiting, less than 10 miles away, Lembach, which we didn’t have time to visit but which comes highly recommended. Its webpage is www.ot-lembach.com.

JoANN & BILL KOFOED
Ft. Pierce, FL

Over the years, I heard and read a lot about the Maginot Line, and I always wanted to visit the most impressive part of it. Because it extended from Luxembourg to Switzerland, with another section from Switzerland to the Mediterranean, I needed some help and turned to the French Government Tourist Office. The problem was that the tourist office couldn’t (or wouldn’t) answer simple questions like “Where is the best site to visit?” and “When is the best time to go?” I was referred to a website which was mostly in French, making it difficult to find answers.

After three years of contacting the tourist office every time I went to Europe, my luck turned when they gave me the name of Marc Halter, president of the Maginot Line Association, a tremendous source of information. He can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected] Additional information came from the association’s webpage, www.lignemaginot.com, which has an English section.

Following Mr. Halter’s directions, in December ’03 my wife, JoAnn, and I drove on the A4 from Paris to Haguenau, about 15 miles north of Strasbourg. Haguenau is the gateway to the Maginot Line’s most impressive installation: Schoenenbourg fortress.

Because we arrived at Haguenau after 5 p.m., we decided to stay at the Campanile Hotel (Campanile Haguenau, 129 Route de Strasbourg, Haguenau, Bas-Rhin, 67500 France visit www.campanile-haguenau.activehotels.com), part of an extensive chain, for two nights. The accommodations were clean, comfortable and reasonably priced at €59 (near $74) a night. The Campanile also has a restaurant, but we didn’t eat there, opting instead for a feast, in our room, of pâté, ham, cheese, bread, pastry and wine from the local supermarket.

When driving to Schoenenbourg, take N340, direction Wissembourg, from Haguenau. Driving about 30 minutes along winding but well-marked roads takes you to the fort. The entrance is through a 2-story block house with 9-foot-thick poured-concrete walls. There is no indication of the 1½-mile network of tunnels (some as deep as 90 feet) and the facilities to house hundreds of soldiers.

Aboveground at various places are cannons and machine guns, still in working order. There’s also an armory, where I saw some of the guns up close. One turret was reinforced with 80 tons of steel and yet was so well balanced that the cannon could be moved hydraulically with one hand, which I did.

The fort, which took four years to build, has a complete self-contained electrical and communications system kitchens office enlisted quarters repair facilities a private well for unlimited water space for enough food and ammunition to withstand a 6-month siege, and an air filtration system so well designed it could withstand a poison gas attack. There are even some Mickey Mouse drawings from the 1930s.

I walked the entire complex, but JoAnn could see only part because her bad hip prevented her from climbing the steep stairs.

Schoenenbourg did come under German attack by Stuka dive-bombers and infantry, but because of the thick walls it sustained practically no damage. Some of the holes from bombs and machine gun fire are still on the building.

French resistance was so fierce that the garrison refused to surrender even after hostilities had ceased. They finally capitulated several weeks later on direct orders from the French government, but not before destroying the codes for sighting and firing the artillery.

After World War II ended, Schoenenbourg was restored by private interests. It now attracts about 40,000 visitors a year. Guided tours are in five languages, including English. The tour lasts 1½ hours, but you can stay longer, if you wish. Admission is €5. If you plan to visit from December to February, check for times.

Our guide explained that the French people as well as the government really want to forget about the Maginot Line, because they feel it caused France’s defeat. (The truth is that it was only designed to hold up the Germans for at least a week until the French could mobilize.) That may explain why it took me nearly three years to learn about Schoenenbourg, even though on two other occasions we were within 20 miles of it and never knew.

Less than a half mile from the fort is an excellent and reasonably priced restaurant, L’Auberge de la Ligne Maginot. JoAnn and I both had a stew for €8 each which was delicious and almost more than we could eat.


History of the Maginot Line, Marc Halter

Contrary to what we have been told, the Maginot Line functioned perfectly and did everything that was expected of it. After the war, the Maginot Line wrongly became the ideal scapegoat for the greatest military and political disaster ever suffered by France.

Marc Halter, author of this book, removes the mysteries that have long surrounded the legend of the Maginot Line. He explains the true history of these fortifications, their genesis, their functions, their construction, and the fierce fighting that took place in Alsace-Lorraine and in the Alps. He also restores the memory of the undefeated defenders of the fortress who can be counted among the first French Resistance fighters of 1940.

Brian Chin, an American artist, brings a detailed knowledge of every aspect of this modern fortress system to his presentation of the settings and characters of this era. His realistic drawings bring us inside this closed world of concrete and reveal the secrets of this remarkable achievement.

Author of numerous articles and essays, Marc Halter is President of Fort Schoenenbourg in Alsace and an expert on the Maginot Line, which he has presented to thousands of tourists from all over the world.

Brian B. Chin has a degree in history from the University of California. He has worked in Hollywood for 20 years as artist He is the author of a book on the harbor defenses of San Francisco as well as a graphic album on the taking of a German fort at Metz in 1944.


Very interesting fort on Maginot line

We wanted a first hand experience of the Maginot line and we were not disappointed. Very good guide, walked us through the impressive fort for 2 and a half hours, showing us all the secrets and stories. Don't miss it-- well worth the detour

We spent several hours here there's a lot to see and it's a lot of walking. Good signage in three languages [French, German, and English]. There were a few docents in some of the areas, who could provide additional information. But the place really speaks for itself. Glad we visited!

Very interesting. for adults and kids. a place to visit for not forget the history. Watch out that there's a long way to walk: short visit 3 km, long 7 km aprox

You have probably heard of this fortress, which is a part of the Ligne Maginot. During high season, you can visit it on your own, but otherwise, you will have to walk with a French or a German guide at 2.30 for about 3 hours. It is amazing to see the tunnels, the kitchen, the gun turret, but you have to walk a lot. The visit is not suitable for disabled people and not for all children. We learnt a lot during the visit and had a great time there even if it is a memory of a dark period in European history.

Allow 2/3 hours for this visit which requires walking along about 2/3 kms of tunnels. It is really a very worthwhile visit as it is so historically interesting. It is maintained by an association of volunteers and the guides stationed at various points are passionate about the fort and full of information that they are only too pleased to pass on to you. Visit the very informative website before your visit to get a better understanding of the forts importance. Amply free parking on site.

From the outside, all you see is the entrance to a bunker in the forest, but once inside and having taken a modern lift down into the earth - who knows how far but it seems like at least 50 metres - I was amazed at what is under the ground, even though I had previously seen photos of various parts of the Maginot Line. Although some artifacts have probably been placed there to give a more complete understanding and experience of the complex, in the main it is like you have been transported back in time to the 1930s, when it was in operation. Train tunnels stretch into the distance well over a kilometre I believe. Most of what you see there is just as it was left nearly 80 years ago. The engineering was amazing and the gun turret with a counter balance to make it raise and lower with minimal power, was incredible. It is like a small town under the ground, with sleeping quarters, a hospital, operating theatre, command centre, kitchen with original ovens and other equipment, eating mess room, toilets, showers, etc. It really was one of the most unique and fascinating experiences of my lifetime.

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Watch the video: Fort Schoenenbourg - Maginot line (August 2022).