From Hackenberg, the Line goes southwest an the next fort you can visit is the fort at Michelsberg. To tour the fort you need to know the precise times and dates however. Knowing neither, I simply got to visit the entrance – which seemed to be the case for several of the forts in this section. The fort had five combat blocks – two infantry blocks and a separate block for one 81mm mortar, one for a 75mm gun and another for a 135mm howitzer. Tours aregiven by a local group of volunteers on Sundays between April and September. The entry point into the fort was mixte meaning it was used by both personnel and for bringing in ammunition. Most of the larger forts had separate entrances making Michelsberg a bit unique in that sense.
The Petit Ouverage La Ferte was built as one of the nouveaux fronts that made up the Malmedy Bridgehead – a collection of infantry blocks, two petit ouverages and two small gros ouverages that were added late to the Maginot Line to defend the frontier facing the southern end of the Ardennes when Belgium revoked its military alliance with France, returning to a state of neutrality. The problem with these forts were that they were widely separated and were less able to mutually support each other as the forts further east could. La Ferte consisted of two combat blocks – there were also two separate infantry blocks just outside – which were connected by a subterranean gallery of some 275 meters. Being an isolated petit ouverage ennabled the Germans to better attack and overrun the fort on 18 May 1940. Engineers were able to place charges to destroy the turret on Block 2 and the defenders retreated to Block 1. Carbon poisoning from the subsequent explosions blasting into Block 1 asphyxiated all 104 defenders. There are tours given inside the fort or you can – as I did – simply walk above ground and visit the different turrets and cupolas that way. The exploded rusting machine gun turret of Block 2 is still there popped out of its emplacement. A memorial to the fort’s defenders is located just to the west of Block 2 along the road. Across the road from the memorial is the small national cemetery where the defenders are buried.
Guided tours visit the barracks, powerhouse, main gallery, msueum and one of the six combat blocks – Bloc 2 which houses a twin 75mm gun turret. The fort was manned by just under 600 men and is located just uphill to the east of the town of Lembach. “Four-a-chaux” means “lime kiln” and the fort name came from such a quarry and kiln that operated here until 1939.
Originally planned to be a Gros Ouverage, Fort Casso’s construction was scaled back to that of a Petit Ouverage consisting of two infantry blocks and an entrance block. Casso is an example of one of the nouveaux fronts – new forts that were added to the Line beginning in 1934. They were built in response to the worsening strategic situation – in this case, because of Saarland voting to remain with Germany instead of France. In the case of other forts like La Ferte, the reason was because of Belgium opting out of its military alliance with France in favor of a return to neutrality. Tours are given between 15 March and 11 November on weekends – see the website for exact times. Or you can simply walk above ground and visit the different blocks as I did.
This was the largest of the Maginot forts. Over 1000 men served this fort and there were 19 separate blocks – 7 main artillery blocks and 3 others which maintained machine guns turrets. Terrain dictated that the combat blocks be divided into two separate areas with about 500 meters between them. The support areas were another 500 meters to the rear.
Today, one of the combat blocks is functional and visits are all guided with tour groups utilizing the old electric trains. The main point about visiting Hackenberg – like most of the other maginot forts with the exception of Schoenenbourg – is that there are no self-guided tours meaning you need to find out the tour times in advance of a visit. When I visited here, a French tour group had just pushed off and the next group – an English group – was scheduled to go in another two hours. A bit inconvenient for a passing-by tourist, but you have to remember that the fort is run by volunteers. If you have the time, I recommend a visit.
I recommend it because it's really the only thing to do in the town and the whole point of going to ***e. Touring the Citadel is nice, and it's worth it to see such an awesome site and the history is interesting. For such a large site, there really isn't that much to see. Definitely don't forget to tour the gardens just after you leave the entrance to the Citadel. They are very quirky and beautiful. I thought the whole trip was very much worth it just to see the gardens (and it's free), just hold onto the ticket they give you when you buy your entrance to the Citadel. I would imagine it's only a spring/summer thing.
Admission (at 8 euros per adult) is a bit steep, but if you are a history buff, it is extremely worth it. They will give you comfortable headsets with your admission price that explains the ***e fortress' role in the Franco-Prussian War. I knew very little about that war when I entered the fortress, but after two hours, I felt like an expert.
I recommend touring the above-ground portion first. There are funky-looking information poles placed all over the fortress. When you come in close proximity of one, it will cause your headset to start a new part of the program.
After touring the topside. Go back to the main guardhouse at the top of the tunnel and wait for the green light to enter the building. You will be led through the underground portion of the fortress and will see an exceptionally well done movie set in the days of the Franco-Prussian War making that war come alive.
Allow about two hours overall.
Well, as I said before, don't visit in the winter...there's not so much to see and do. It seems this is the only thing to do there, so until I go back, this is the only activity tip I could come up with. :-) From what I understand,the tour is self-guided with a handheld set you program to give you a tour in your native language, so you can explore at your own pace.