Churchill's Tour of the Maginot Line
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseThe Maginot Line was conceived by French Minister of Defense André Maginot, and was built between 1928 and 1935 at a cost of 3 billion French Francs. The line was consisted of a series of strong points along the Rhine River, complete with anti-tank obstacles, camouflaged machine gunner/grenadier positions made of cement, heavy artillery trained on major road junctions, underground railroads, underground cement-and-steel barracks and storage rooms, ventilation system to filter poison gas, mobile field artillery teams, plus many other intricate systems of defense to ensure no German could cross the French border. The primary purpose of it was to secure the eastern border of France so that in event of German aggression, the line of fortifications would hold the enemy advances while French mobile forces could counterattack through Belgium. It was designed to be the pivot of a bold offensive.
ww2dbaseOn 16 Aug 1939, Winston Churchill and a London Times journalist toured the front lines. Churchill was "amazed" to see a duel of political-slogans billboards on the two sides of the Rhine. "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer", said the east bank; the French responded with "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité". When he looked closer, he was also shocked by the presence of the German garrisons. "The trip tore to shreds any illusion that it was not Germany's intention to wage war and to wage it soon." Despite nearing the age of 65, Churchill climbed in and out of every anti-tank ditch and every pillbox he passed by during his tour, commenting on the construction and placement. After this second trip of his to the Maginot Line, he later noted his belief that it was a strong fortification, but there was one major weakness; France called it its "shield", but Churchill noted a shield can be moved to cover any part of a soldier's body, while the Maginot Line was immovable. Additionally, while the French boasted that the line protected their nation from Switzerland to the sea, the portion of the line on the Belgium border was extremely weak and the stretch along the "impénétrable" Ardennes Forest was nearly undefended. Instead, troops were diverted to the Metz, Lauter, and Alsace regions to protect France's heavy industries.
ww2dbaseOn the opposite side of the Rhine, the Germans were already planning strategies to put French defense to the test.
ww2dbaseSources: the Last Lion, Wikipedia.
Last Major Update: Aug 2006
Churchill's Tour of the Maginot Line Interactive Map
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939