Posted by: sommecourt | 22/04/2012

Visiting the Maginot Line

The Maginot Line was a system of defences built along the French border in the 1930s. Much mythology surrounds it, including the belief that it did not work; something the facts completely dispute. It was certainly built to last and more than 70 years after the combat that surrounded it ended, much of it remains – often in a very good state of repair. Having just returned from visiting some Maginot Line sites in the Lorraine and Moselle areas of Eastern France, here a few notes to follow the sort of journey we made.

Where To Stay?

We stayed close to the town of Longwy. This is easily reached in about 4 hours from Calais via Lille, Mons and Namur. A detour to the Ardennes (Bastogne area) could easily be achieved en-route if desired. We found Longwy a good base and stayed in an Ibis just outside the town that had an excellent (and cheap) restaurant. There were Maginot Ouvrages very close to the hotel and all the sites we visited were never more than an hours drive away. Other possibilities for a base would be Thionville or Metz but these are further into Eastern France. Tourism Offices in Lorraine or the Moselle can help with accommodation.

The Top Maginot Forts in the Lorraine and Moselle

On our own visit we went to see four Maginot Line sites: Villy la Ferte, Fermont, Immerhof and Hackenberg. These were all in an easily explored area and you would need two full days to see them all; each location requires around three hours to do them justice. Some of the sites have open days where you can go on a self-guided tour, others operate a guided tour policy only. A fee is charged for each site but all of them are run by Associations and the money goes towards the maintenance and upkeep of the sites, not into a commercial organisations pocket. The four locations offer very different experiences. At Villy La Ferte you see a fort that came under violent attack but only fell when the garrison was asphyxiated. No-one survived here; it is a tragic take. Uniquely Villy retains much of its external defences – barbed wire and anti-tank rails – and we were lucky to be guided by ex-Bundeswehr officer Roger Schmidt who is a very knowledgeable person on the history of the site. Fort Fermont is a much bigger site, has original working lifts and a ride on an ammunition train, along with fighting bunkers fully equipped and a fantastic Maginot Line museum. Here we were guided by Clement, an-English speaking member of the Association who runs it. Ouvrage Immerhof was smaller but a total contrast to all the others; it was, essentially, fully operational; running under its own power, with everything still in place and in almost new condition; all that was missing was the garrison. The president of the Association guided us round, but in French; currently they have no English speakers but they do have a written explanation in English which can be used for a self-guided visit. Finally at Ouvrage Hackenberg we discovered one of the biggest Maginot Line forts, again with a train ride and some working turrets that come up and down and move around; it was also a site that came under attack in 1944 when the Americans liberated the area, so once more it offered a contrast to the other forts. Being a big site there is also a lot to see outside, which can be done in addition to the internal guided tour.

Other Maginot Sites & Useful Websites

Beyond Thionville the Maginot Line continues and the Moselle Maginot Line Tourism website lists many of them as does this site. The Maginot Line At War site is also a suberb resource with much useful information on visiting Maginot sites and the author has also written an Osprey book on the subject. A new guidebook to the Maginot Line has also just been published by Pen & Sword.

 

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