The Maginot Line is a bunker line to defend France, that reaches from the Belgian border to the Mediterranean Sea. It was built mainly between 1929 and 1936 and was supposed to secure the weakened France after World War I against attacks by Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium or Italy.
The Alsace which has been part of territorial disputes between Germany and France since the 17th century was the main focus of the builders of the Maginot Line. The Fort Schoenenbourg and the casemate Esch are today publicly open thanks to the Friends of the Maginot Line in Alsace (AALMA). Discover the interesting history and get insights into the construction and function of the Maginot Line in Alsace, the Eastern corner pillar for the defence of France, with FORTE CULTURA.
The Fort Schoenenbourg is a widespread underground bunker and defence facility, which is located between Wissembourg and Haguenau. From the village Schoenenbourg there are signs leading to the entrance blocks.
The Fort was the eastern counter pillar of the Maginot Line and was therefore designed carefully and further developed after finishing. It consists of six battle bunkers with partly turning and expanding tank towers and widespread underground accommodation and supply facilities with command centre, barracks, kitchen, military hospital, stack rooms, power plant and many more. Even an own electrical light railway to transport ammunition to the 1km away battle bunkers was built.
Today tourists are visiting the interesting fortress which reaches up to 30m underground. In guided tours the Friends of the Maginot Line in Alsace inform about the military daily routine of more than 630 soldiers in the Fort Schoenenbourg. Leanr interesting details to difficult battle actions of 1940. Only after he ceasefire, the Germans received the Fort which they could not conquer before. A highlight are the original wall paintings of the former crew. The Fort Schoenenbourg is almost barrier free thanks to ramps and lifts.
Casemate Esch is located near Hatten, around 13km South-East of Fort Schoenenbourg. As a casemate it is also an independent defence facility of the Maginot Line. Built from 1930 to 1931, it offered space for 24 men crew and was designed to defend the near field with loopholes for guns and anti-tank cannons.
The casemate is publicly open for visitors. The outer facilities can be visited and give a good insight into defence strategies of the Maginot Line. Furthermore a museum informs about the former weapon technology and both battles of 1940 between Germany and France and 1844/45 between America and Germany.
Tour Offers and Information
The association Amis de la Ligne Maginot D'Alsace (Friends of the Maginot Line in Alsace) offers tours on a regular basis through Fort Schoenenbourg and the Casemate Esch. Information can be found on the websites oft he association.
Monument and History
The experiences of the First World War prompted France to build its largest defense structure from 1929. Planning for this began as early as 1919, immediately after the First World War. The goal was to hold a surprisingly attacking enemy at the border for 20 days, to have time for mobilization. Originally, it was therefore called fortification to cover (mobilization). The name of the then Minister of War, André Maginot (1877-1932), was only given to her by the press in 1934.
The Maginot line reaches over 1000 km from the Belgian border to the Mediterranean Sea, on Corsica and Tunisia. It consisted of single bunkers (casemates), tank and barb wire barriers, mine fields, artillery and infantry work as well as small battle facilities and dugouts, lined up with a distance of 5-10 km along the French border. All in all, the cost came up to around 2 billion Euros – almost 2000 building alone in Alsace.
However, they still could hardly counter the approaching troops at all, as they marched in further North via Belgium and faster via the Ardennes to France. Many facilities were conquered after a short battle or given to German occupants after the truce. Nevertheless, there were still some commanders of independent forts who refused unwaveringly to acknowledge the surrender of France. They were unsuccessful in the end too.
When alleys moved forward against Germany in 1944, parts of the Maginot Line were used by German and allied troops to support their strategies. Especially in Alsace in the area of Wissembourg this caused bad battles.
After the end of World War II, the Maginot Line was used again by the French military. They built bigger facilities and communication intercept stations as well as command centres. With the beginning of the French nuclear weapons program and the exit of France from the NATO Armed Forces in 1966, allied troops were expelled from France and many locations on the Maginot Line were closed. Many facilities were privatised or abandoned.
Active associations like the Friends of the Maginot Line in Alsace are the reason for buildings like Fort Schoenenbourg to be well-preserved until today and being publicly open as memorials and monuments.
Quelle: public domain Quelle: U.S. Signal Corps Quelle: Philippe Truttmann, La Muraille de France, Gérard Klopp, Thionville, 1985.
Jean-Bernard Wahl, Il était une fois la Ligne Maginot, Jérôme Do Bentzinger Editeur, 1999
The Maginot Line is an elongated defence line from several distinctive single buildings and facilities which complete each other’s defence functions. From barb wire fields to detailed artillery works there are all imaginable defence mechanism of this time.
An innovation was the rotating and retractable gun turrets. Even the almost independent supply of air, water, sewage and electricity of the bigger buildings was an innovation.
Quelle: Association des Amis de la Ligne Maginot d'Alsace Quelle: Association des Amis de la Ligne Maginot Quelle: Association des Amis de la Ligne Maginot d'Alsace
Alsace is known for its rich natural offer. Hilly landscapes, deep forests, cultivated plateaus or vineyards, parks, gardens and nature reserves alternate with if you're on foot, by bike or car. This leaves nothing to be desired for the nature lover, as he moves along the often hidden Maginot line through Alsace.
The wide range of hiking and biking trails in the region touch in many places the Maginot Line, also at Fort Schoenenbourg, in Hatten and the Casemate Esch.
Quelle: AAMLA Quelle: ©Charles Hirlimann Quelle: © Christian Amet