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.
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.
Fort Bois-Karre 1995. Machine gun turret in firing position.
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.
) – 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.
Fermont 1995. Interior of a 75mm howitzer turret. This is one of several turrets on display in
Other Historical Sites near Thionville
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.
). The survivor of heavy aerial and artillery bombardment, this fortress has been carefully restored. It
also has one best Maginot Line museums.
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.
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.
For visits to multiple sites, consider taking either a specialized tour such as Dan’s
), 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