***E - VARIOUS FORTS OF THE MAGINOT LINE
***e is one of the main centers for the French Army with its large training grounds northeast of the town. The little town is dominated by the old fortress which rises high above it and has stood here for a long time on the Franco-German border. But I am not going to write about ***e here – no matter how much I enjoy the town’s name. I am using the military connotations of ***e to lump together several other Maginot Line forts that I visited: Hackenberg, Fort Casso/Rohrbach, Michelsberg, Four-a-Chaux, and La Ferte. These were brief visits. For a more complete look at a fort of the Maginot Line, look at my Schoenenbourg pages where I spent lots of time above and below ground. Now, my list of forts above is far from being a comprehensive one. Even here in ***e there is Fort Simserhof which is one of two Gros Ouverages along the Line here – the other fort is on the military post and is not open to the public. There is a group of forts north of Metz running along the Franco-Luxembourg frontier that I did not get to visit: Fort Fremont, Fort Immerhof, and Fort Galgenberg are three of them. Also, you can find other forts along the border of Italy north from Nice.
When you visit the Maginot Line you should try to remember that the forts you come across were only pieces of the whole. The Line, itself, was a fortification system that was between 20-25 km in depth. There were several lines an enemy would have to fight through before they finally came up against the main forts. Then, the forts themselves were divided into three main types. Infantry blocks were the most pervasive. Reinforced concrete blockhouses from which troops could sally out from. Petit Ouverages were the next step up. They usually had three combat blocks which were all connected by underground tunnels. There were facilities within to keep the defenders self-sufficient for a month or more. Defensively, these forts had small anti-tank guns – 25mm – and machine gun turrets. Concrete was poured to 2.5 meters thick on the roofs to withstand enemy artillery shells up to 300mm in size. Typically, these forts had between 100-150 men on hand and there were 31 of these types of forts scattered along the northeastern French border. The final step up was the artillery forts or Gros Ouverages. There were 22 of these with between 500 to over 1000 men serving at each. These forts had a group of combat blocks forward and a support area located some 500-1000 meters behind. An underground gallery connected the two areas. The whole complex – except for the two entrances – was on the average about 20 meters under the sruface. Roof concrete thickness was poured to 3.5 meters thick – strong enough to defeat the largest German shells which were 420mm. The Gros Ouverages were sited so that they could support neighboring forts that may have come under attack. Artillery consisted mostly of twin 75mm turrets, but 81mm mortars and 135mm howitzers were also important in the defense of the forts.
During the German invasion five petit ouverages fell to assault and a lightly fortified area between ***e and Lembach in the northern Alsace was also breached. The Line eventually was surrounded, but by the time of the 22 June 1940 armistice, the main fortifications still held out. Some of the forts would be defended with German troops against the American sweep through Lorraine in late 1944 and you can see some of the damage from that fighting, especially at Hackenberg. However, the main forts used by the Germans in that campaign were the complex of forts that the Germans themselves had built around Metz before WWI when the area was part of the Second Reich. After WWII, the French Army took over the Line once more. With the development of French nuclear deterrance, the Line was abandoned in the 1960-70 time frame. Only the Gros Ouverage at Hochwald – just west of Schoenenbourg – is in active service as an air command center for the French Air Force – Base Aerienne 901 Drachenbronn, whose apartment blocks you drive past on the road from Wissembourg to Lobsann.
So, let’s visit some forts.
NOTE - the people at VT have decided that this town name cannot be spelled out in its proper manner - the editing is not done by me!