Maginot Line at War 1939-1940

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Visiting The Maginot Line

“Patriotism ruins history.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), German writer and philosopher

Touring the Maginot Line
 
To comprehend the magnitude of the Maginot Line, a visit to see the fortifications and the terrain of northern Alsace and Lorraine is important.  Fortunately, most of the Line still remains in place; which is amazing, considering that more than six decades have passed since the battles of 1940.  Furthermore, several fortified works (fortresses, forts, casemates, and bunkers) are maintained as museums.  The rest of the Line lies abandoned in the country side, largely ignored by the local populace. 
 
Maginot Line sites open to the public are operated by local volunteer groups.  Because none of the groups have full-time staffs visiting hours can be irregular.  Only the largest Maginot Line museums have regular visitation schedules.  Other sites are typically open only one or two days a month, often only on Sunday afternoon.  It is wise to verify opening times before departing for a visit (Internet websites are a good source of information).  Note: To translate French or German language webpages, consider using Altavista’s Babel Fish translation webpage (http://world.altavista.com).
 
To see the less traveled parts of the Maginot Line, a guide is a wise idea, if not a necessity, since finding the forts and fortresses can be a daunting task.  One of the best places to see the Maginot Line is in the Thionville area which is in the heart of the Line. Within a short distance of the city there are no less than 18 Maginot fortresses and forts; many of which are open to the public.
 
Well Known Sites near Thionville
 
Fortress Hackenberg (http://maginot-hackenberg.com) – The largest of Maginot Line fortress with 17 combat blocks.  Tours of the fortress include the main munitions storage area, engine room, barracks, and kitchen; a museum of Maginot Line uniforms and weapons; an electric train ride to one of the artillery combat blocks (block 9), and a visit inside and outside of block 9 to see how a 135mm howitzer turret operates. 
Fort Immerhof (http://www.maginot-immerhof.info/en) – A four block fort with machine gun and 81mm mortar turrets.  This fort is the site of a re-enactor group that portrays French soldiers of 1940 and host events that include re-enactors of American WWII soldiers.

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Immerhof 1995.  At Immerhof, visitors can see the fort's machine gun turret in the eclipsed and firing positions.  The armored turrets of many Maginot Line forts are still operable to this day. 

   

Cattenom Forest Fortifications (http://forticat.com) – One of the most fortified places in Europe.  Within a short distance, visitors can see Fortress Galgenberg (an artillery ouvrage with six combat blocks), Fort Bois-Karre (a mono-block fort with a machine gun turret), Fort Sentzich (a monoblock fort with a machine gun turret), and Infantry Shelter Bois-de-Cattenom; which are open for public viewing.  It is also possible to walk or drive through the Cattenom Forest to see several other fortified works such as Fortress Kobenbusch, Fort Oberheid, Casemate Sonnenberg, Infantry Shelters Rippert and Bois-de-Cattenom, and Artillery Observatory Cattenom.

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Fort Bois-Karre 1995.  Machine gun turret in firing position.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Galgenberg 2007.  Billboard explaining the various fortifications visitors can see in the Cattenom Forest around Fortress Galgenberg.  This part of the Line is unique because visitors can see all major types of Maginot fortified works within a relatively small area.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Fortress Michelsberg (http://perso.orange.fr/michelsberg) – An artillery fortress with five combat blocks. This fortress was bombarded by the German 95th Infantry Division in June 1940.

Within an Hour’s Drive of Thionville
 
Petit Ouvrage La Ferte – This fort is a memorial to the 105 soldiers of the fort’s crew who were killed in May 1940.

Fortress Fermont (http://www.ligne-maginot-fort-de-fermont.asso.fr) – Site of a failed German attack.  This fort's museum includes turrets that are cut-away to provide full interior views.

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Fermont 1995.  Interior of a 75mm howitzer turret.  This is one of several turrets on display in Fermont's museum.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Fort Bambesch (http://www.kerfent.com/guidesdubambesch.htm) – Site of a successful German attack.  The fort still bears the scars of the combat action.
 
Other Historical Sites near Thionville
 
For those with broader historical interests, the area around Thionville contains several Middle Age castles, sites related to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, several German pre-WWI fortresses such as Fort Guentrange (http://perso.orange.fr/fort-de-guentrange/index.htm), and sites associated with US Army combat operations in 1944 (http://www.moselleriver1944.org/site/en_index.php).
 
Beyond the immediate Thionville area (1-2 hours away) are the WWI battlefields of Verdun and Argonne, several German Westwall museums (http://www.amba.lu/pageshtml/westwall.php), and sites associated with the Battle of the Bulge, including Patton’s grave in Hamm, Luxembourg.
 
For even broader interests, there are cultural sites nearby such as the Saint-Etienne Cathedral in Metz, Luxembourg City (a UNESCO heritage site), and the Moselle wine region.  The “three frontier” region allows visitors to enjoy French, German, and Luxembourg cultures within a relatively compact area.  A search of the Internet will yield ample information about things to see and do in the Moselle Valley region.
 
The Maginot Line in Alsace
 
Frances border with Germany in Northern Alsace was also heavily fortified.  Near the the town of Wissembourg are two interesting Maginot fortifications.  Unfortunately, both are located outside of those areas typically visited by English-speaking tourists.  However, if visiting Strasbourg, Fortresses Schoenenbourg and Four-a-Chaux are about one to two hours away.
 
Fortress Schoenenbourg (http://www.lignemaginot.com/index12.htm).  The survivor of heavy aerial and artillery bombardment, this fortress has been carefully restored.  It also has one best Maginot Line museums.

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Schoenenbourg 1995.  A 47mm antitank cannon and Reibel twin machine gun on display in the munitions entrance block.  These weapons were interchanged in the firing embrasure based on the type of target.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Fortress Four-a-Chaux (http://membres.lycos.fr/fourachaux).  Located near the town of Lembach, this fortress was also bombarded by German aircraft and artillery.
 
Tips for Visiting the Maginot Line
 
Opening Hours.  The opening times of most Maginot Line museums are irregular.  The websites of the various Maginot Line associations have contact information for those wanting a visit.  It is a good idea to verify opening times. Many Maginot Line associations are amiable to special visits; if coordinated in advance.
 
Time of Year.  The Maginot Line associations cut back on visitation hours in the fall and winter.  High season for most associations is from May to September. Otherwise, visits must be arranged in advance.
 
Clothing.  Bring appropriate clothing. Keep in mind that the Maginot Line is still very much a military machine designed for war, not comfort.  Even the most developed Maginot Line tourist sites are somewhat rustic.  Warm clothing is needed for visiting the larger fortresses.  Hiking boots and outdoor clothing are necessary for exploring the less traveled parts of the Line.
 
Rental Car.  A car is needed to visit the various sites.  No Maginot forts are served by public transportation.  Taxis are not suitable either, since many taxi drivers do not know where the forts are located. Nor are taxis likely to wait while you visit the site.
 
Tours.  For visits to multiple sites, consider taking either a specialized tour such as Dan’s Bunkertours (http://www.bunkertours.co.uk), or retaining a local guide. The latter is problematical as those people with knowledgeable of the Maginot Line are amateur historians who work real full-time jobs to support themselves. Yet, this can be a possibility.  Consider contacting Jean-Pascal Speck, owner of the Hotel L’Horizon in Thionville for assistance: http://www.lhorizon.fr