Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II

Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II

Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II

Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II


The Maginot Line was the last great gun-bearing line of subterranean forts built before World War II. Although it acquired an unjustified reputation as a white elephant, the Maginot Line fulfilled the role for which it was built, allowing the French High Command the opportunity to mass its forces and counter the German invasion. Unfortunately, the French leadership failed to make the most of its assets, with the resulting disastrous outcome.

During the 1920s, the French High Command formulated a number of offensive plans to strike at Germany, but by the end of the decade, it switched to defensive plans because of a lack of manpower. Work thus began on the Maginot Line and on other fortifications such as the French Mareth Line in North Africa and the heavy naval coastal defense batteries in Bizerte (Tunisia) and Toulon (France). The authors conclude that the Maginot Line offered the French High Command many opportunities from September 1939 until May 1940. They blame a failed French military doctrine for taking the initiative away from subordinates, laying the groundwork for the disastrous events of 1940 that left the French High Command paralyzed while German forces broke through the weakly held Ardennes.


The Maginot Line, sometimes known as the Great Wall of France, was the last of the great gun-bearing fortifications and was both praised and criticized for its role in history. It was conceived in the 1920s to shield the French frontier against an anticipated threat from a resurgent Germany in the 1930s. the goal of the Maginot Line was to prevent a German offensive from reaching the French heartland and conducting another destructive war that would last for years on French soil. Furthermore, in the event of war, the Maginot Line was to protect the newly returned provinces of Alsace and Lorraine and their industrial resources while the French army mobilized behind it.

The Maginot Line consisted of specific types of fortifications developed by the military during the 1920s. These defenses extended to cover the Alpine front with Italy in response to the bellicose Mussolini, who had designs on France. During the interwar period, according to some historians, the French developed a [Maginot mentality] that led the military establishment and the public to believe that the new fortifications would provide adequate protection and that there would be no need to prepare for an immediate counteroffensive.

This work examines the background and development not only of the Maginot Line between the wars, but also of coastal defenses developed to provide additional security to the French nation. the coast and land defenses eventually extended to cover Corsica and even Tunisia due to the growing Italian threat. the French Génie (army engineers) was heavily involved in these projects from their conception in the late 1920s right into the first year of the war.

In addition to examining these defenses, this work also describes the role of the French air force and navy in the overall scheme of defenses. Indeed, the French fortifications were built at the time of the birth of mechanized and armored divisions, which are also covered in the present volume.

The final two chapters analyze the role the Maginot fortifications played during the first year of the war, their effect on strategy, and their performance during the campaign. This project does not detail the battle tactics and experiences of individual soldiers and units in the French campaign of 1940, and it is not a detailed history of that campaign or the American operations against a few of the forts in 1944· For such information, we recommend a variety of books in French (listed in the bibliography). a few books in English cover the campaign, including our Hitler's Blitzkrieg Campaigns.

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