Inside The Network Of Eerie Abandoned Bunkers Hidden Beneath The French Countryside
France and Germany live in peace these days but it has not always been like this. The German military seemed to take special pleasure in attacking the French and had invaded France many times in the past. During World War 1, (1914-1918) German troops invaded France and even before that time, the war with Prussia (a part of Germany at the time) witnessed another humiliating invasion of France. A wise man once stated; “to be forewarned is to be forearmed”. After the defeat of Germany and their allies in 1918, it was clear that another war was imminent. This is why France decided to build massive fortifications to keep the enemy out of France. These fortifications were named The Maginot Line after the French War Minister André Maginot.
A Big Money Project
The Maginot Line was a big money project. It cost several billion Francs and this was a huge amount of money back then. It took eleven years to complete this project and the fortifications covered about 800 miles. Upon completion, the Maginot Line looked impressive and many people believed it would keep France safe from the imminent invasion by German soldiers. These fortifications had steel turrets, troops, machine guns, artillery pieces, bunkers, weapon dumps and anti-tank weapons.
Defense Instead of Attack
The fortifications were essentially defensive positions. The idea of the Maginot Line was to defend the country and ensure that invaders could not breach these defenses. From these defensive positions, French troops could turn defense into attack and inflict huge casualties on the enemy. Some military experts at the time opposed this idea for two reasons. First, they felt the money required to build these fortifications was too much. They felt the cash could be put to better use in other areas. Again, the experts opposing the Maginot Line felt France would be in a better military position if they invested in a strong air force with a mobile infantry, armoured and artillery troops.
A Case for Defensive Positions
The advocates of the Maginot Line hinged their argument on precedence. In the late 17th century, Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban had constructed forts and these forts effectively defended many settlements including the cities of Strasbourg and Briançon.
In addition, the supporters of the Maginot Line pointed out the successes recorded by Marshall Philippe Pétain during the WWI. His defensive ideas had proved successful so military strategists at the time felt a defensive approach was the way to go.
A Man Called Maginot
The chief advocate of the Maginot Line was a man called André Maginot. He was a gigantic soldier and he stood six feet six inches in his stockings. He was a war hero in World War I but a knee injury had left him with reduced mobility. Appointed War Minister in 1929, he used his office to make the Maginot Line a reality. However, he did not live to see the fortifications that would bear his name. He died in December 1931 but his successor, Edouard Daladier, completed the project.
Understanding the Maginot Line
The idea of the Maginot Line was to present the would-be invader with an impregnable defense. This defensive system began with the “strong houses”. In French, these houses were called “maisons fortes”. The men in these outposts were the lookout people and their job was to alert the main forces so that these troops will attack the enemy at the borders. Just a mile or two behind these strong houses were the pillboxes. These pillboxes were also called casements. The troops here were well-armed and could fight tanks and machine guns. For strategic reasons, these casements were located three-quarters of a mile apart from each other. This means the men here could come together and encircle the enemy. In addition, these casements had steel turrets that could pop up or down to aid attack or defense.
Note that these casements had a complex underground system and some casements were connected to each other by tunnels. These gave the troops the advantage of communicating and strategizing so that they could decimate the enemy. Meanwhile, there were spaces created deliberately by the planners of the Maginot Line to serve as killing zones in case the invaders breached the first line of defense.
The Backbone of the Maginot Line
In case the enemy managed to pass through the first two obstacles, the next obstacle was the backbone of the Maginot Line. They were called ouvrages or fortresses and this is what they were. These fortresses had troops, field guns, anti-tank weapons and ammunition. They had steel turrets to keep the French troops safe even as they poured fire on the invaders. Clearly, the planners of these fortresses knew what they were doing. But, how did these fortresses perform when the Germans invaded France in 1940?
Outsmarting the Maginot Line
The Germans invaded France in May 1940 and in June 1940, the French sued for peace. However, the Germans did not conquer any of the large fortresses that made up the Maginot Line. They simply outmaneuvered the forts by attacking from undefended positions. In cases where the Germans and their Italian allies attacked the well-defended fortresses, the forts did their jobs and kept the invaders at bay. For instance, Benito Mussolini sent 340,000 soldiers to attack a well-defended fortress in the south of France. Less than 35,000 French defenders aided by the impenetrable fortress decimated his troops.
The German Victory
The success of the Nazi Blitzkrieg does not take away the defensive capabilities of the Maginot Line. The French defenses did their jobs but the French army lost to the superior numerical strength military strategies of the German invaders.
Today, the Maginot Line remains as a testament to the vision of its builders. Some of these sites are impressive tourist attractions today. They are still part of French history and the legacy of war.