The Maginot Line – defensive perimeter built: 1929-1940
At the outset of World War II, France was still recovering from the First One: The Great War, commonly referred to as WWI, was primarily fought with the methods of Trench warfare, a completely inefficient form of slaughtering one another’s army across lines drawn in the sand with tons of casualties and no real change.
Trench warfare was all about fortification, digging in, and not letting up; primarily fought with poisonous gas and machine guns. When Nazi Germany got all hostile, France spent the next decade gearing up for another round of Trench War. The French Minister of Defense, Andre Maginot’s brainchild was implemented. The World’s Greatest Fortification was constructed along the border of France and Germany. The people of France praised the genius of these elaborate defenses.
The problem was that war had changed: that was then, this was now.
Unfortunately for the French, they never got the memo…
In preparation for the inevitable German invasion, France poured all of its military resources into developing an impenetrable fortified position along the border of France, with more accessories than an Optimus Prime Transformer, including anti-tank artillery, and over 150 retractable turrets. This intricate, high-tech, trench base had a labyrinth of underground facilities with everything from mess halls to airlocks.
The Maginot Line was an impressive concrete super-structure that stretched for 943 miles, cost roughly Three BILLION Francs, and took Eleven Years to build.
Unfortunately it took only Five Days for the Germans to circumnavigate it’s defenses with ease.
How did this happen? A couple reasons.
The first variable to consider is that France never really expected Germany to attack, the Maginot Line was simply an insurance policy. France was under a false sense of security. France’s ultimately mistaken strategy was based around the assumption that the Germans would employ the previously failed Schlieffen Plan from WWI. Another aspect to take into consideration is that they didn’t take the ruthless Nazi tactics of Blitzkrieg into account: Nazi Germany’s very own brand of lightning fast warfare based on versatile mobility, and deadly speed.
The Maginot Line would prove to be an irrelevant relic of military history. The French figured if the Nazis invaded the neutral states of either Switzerland or Belgium, their allies would join them in the effort to fight back. However, the Nazis did not give them the chance. The thick reinforced concrete structure along the Maginot Line was quite possibly impassible, but unfortunately it wasn’t too difficult to go around.
In May 1940, under the command of Field Marshal Von Rundstedt, German infantry tore through the Ardennes, a heavily wooded area that remained relatively unguarded, with Panzer tanks clocking 60 mph and drove right through the unprotected portion of the line. When word reached Gamelin, the French commander-in-chief, he decided to suppress reports to avoid widespread panic, under the impression that such a small regiment would be easily taken out by French reserves.
General Gamelin’s eyes remained fixated on the northern border with Belgium, awaiting the REAL invasion. Meanwhile a full-on German invasion commenced with little resistance through a gaping hole in the Maginot Line.
The officers of the French High Command were not prepared to alter its preconceptions in light of new intelligence reports and suffered drastically because of it, by the time they realized what was happening, it was already too late.
It was kinda like the coolest freakin G.I. Joe play-set: The Ultimate Defensive Fortification* (with one major exception), complete with action figures and hidden passageways, except when you rip it open on Christmas / Hanukkah morning you come to find out that it’s missing parts, along with fine print on the box that clearly states: artillery batteries not included, additional accessories sold separately. Seriously, the Maginot Line could give the Death Star a run for its money in the overlooked vulnerabilities department. In this case however, the plasma exhaust port was apparently wide enough to drive several tanks through.
France surrendered to Nazi occupation as Hitler’s forces poured into the back door of France’s perimeter fortress. Within the month, an armistice was signed on June 25th, 1940, in the very same railway carriage in the Compiègne Forest where Germany had previously been forced to do the same in 1918 (which ended WWI), in the ultimate ‘take that’ gesture of revenge.
France was effectively put out of commission for the remainder of the world-wide conflict, and remained under a swastika flag until June 6th, 1944: D-Day, when the Allied Forces came to their rescue and helped bring an end to the Fuhrer’s evil schemes for world domination.
____________ _______Erik Slader
Up Next: The “Battle” of Karansebes!!
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“The Brassey’s Book of Military Blunders” by Geoffrey Regan