The Maginot Line, History and Guide

A team of authors has produced a finely researched study of the Maginot line. The level of illustration is excellent and this must be the definitive guide to the history and locations of one of the greatest fixed fortifications ever constructed, a fascinating story – Most Highly Recommended.

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NAME: The Maginot Line, History and Guide
FILE: R2578
AUTHOR: J E Kaufmann, H W Kaufmann, A Jankovi-Potocnik, P Lang
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: soft back
PAGES:  308
PRICE: £16.99
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWI, World War I, World War 1, First World War, The Great 
War, Europe, Western Front, fixed defences, cost saving, WWII, World 
War Two, World War 2, Second World War, military engineering, forts, 
fortifications, reserve forces, France, Belgium, Germany

ISBN: 1-52671-151-6

IMAGE: B2578.jpg
DESCRIPTION: A team of authors has produced a finely researched study 
of the Maginot line.  The level of illustration is excellent and this 
must be the definitive guide to the history and locations of one of 
the greatest fixed fortifications ever constructed, a fascinating 
story – Most Highly Recommended.

WWI left an indelible mark on the minds of military commanders and 
politicians. It fuelled efforts to construct fortifications and 
equipment to allow a future war to be fought more effectively, 
repeating the common error of planning to fight a war which would 
not be fought again. A complex mixture of motives were to fuel the 
construction of the Maginot Line and its German counterpart, the 
Siegfried Line. Neither of these enormously costly lines of 
fortifications were to be used as their builders had envisaged.

French politicians had an understandable fear of future German 
aggression. They also shared the horror with many people of the 
unbearable cost of the trench warfare on the Western Front during 
WWI. Those two motives were justified, even if they produced a 
defensive system that was never to be used effectively and left the 
French military vulnerable.  The French Generals were seeking a 
solution that would both prevent the Germans marching quickly through 
France and which held the potential to save millions of French lives. 
Again, justifiable motives with good intentions. Against these 
potentially positive motives, French politicians were looking to 
save money, a traditional political motivation and always deeply 

As a piece of military engineering the Maginot Line was impressive in 
scale and technology. British officers were seconded to the French to 
observe and assist in the construction. They worked well with their 
French comrades and shared similar views of how the Maginot Line 
should be constructed. These experienced soldiers pointed out the one 
serious flaw in the design of the Maginot Line, that it failed to run 
continuously from Switzerland to the Chanel Coast and therefore also 
neglected depth at both ends of the French border with its 
neighbours. This view was unpopular with the politicians and quickly 
sat on. 

Military concerns were not well-coordinated. Officers, like De Gaulle, 
were developing concepts of blitz kreig, similar to those being 
developed in Germany, but no one of importance took them seriously. 
Similar concerns that aviation and paratroops posed a new threat to 
fixed fortifications were similarly disregarded. A consequence was 
that politicians used the Maginot Line as an excuse to cut down the 
mobile reserve behind the line which actually needed to be expanded 
and equipped with modern armour in volume.

Two factors encouraged the politicians to refuse the continuation of 
the Line to the Chanel Coast. The cost objection was not only very 
dangerous, but it was also stupid because it potentially negated the 
huge cost that was already committed to. The political complications 
of relations with Belgium was rather more tricky. The military 
recognized that the Germans would ignore any Belgian neutrality if it 
suited them. They had already twice demonstrated the vulnerability of 
this section of French defences. In WWI they were only frustrated 
because the tiny British Expeditionary Force fought with such skill, 
determination and professionalism that it blunted the German thrust 
via neutral Belgium, giving time for the French to reposition and 
work with amazingly close cooperation to use the BEF and 
neighbouring French units to strike back. Had the BEF not already 
been exhausted from fighting a vastly more numerous enemy, the 
counter attack would have thrown the Germans back into Germany. As it 
was, the Germans had just enough time to dig in and the resulting 
trench warfare cost all combatants dear. The lesson that should have 
been learned was that a well-equipped mobile force, with effective 
reserves and logistics would have avoided the terrible cost of static 
trench warfare.

The problem was not military understanding and logic, but the 
delicate relationship between France and Belgium. The Belgians very 
quickly bridled at the thought of a French defence line along the 
length of their common border to the coast. The Belgians realized 
that the Germans would once again pour through neutral Belgium and a 
solid French defence line would leave Belgium to German occupation. 
They presented a counter threat to the Germans, Belgium constructed 
some impressive forts at key river crossings and worked on the French 
to cut the Maginot Line short, leaving the pressure on France and 
Britain to march into Belgium to oppose a German advance through that 
country. The result was to ensure a French defeat.

As the authors and their illustrator have graphically set out, the 
Maginot Line was technically brilliant for as far as it extended. It 
was so good potentially that the Germans decided to take the simple 
route of going round it. There were attempts at frontal assault, but 
these only demonstrated the technical quality of the fortification. 
Rather than build a continuous trench line using the best materials, 
the French built a series of forts and a network of tunnels and 
underground railways to link them together. Along the network they 
built well-protected underground facilities to accommodate troops in 
some comfort, ready to be moved rapidly by rail to the parts of the 
line where they would be most needed. It was recognized that the 
enemy might break through the Maginot Line at one or more points, and 
a mobile reserve was established to deal with any enemy spearheads 
that were attempting to fight behind the Maginot Line. 

There was weakness in the concept in two areas. One was that the 
reserve force was inadequate in numbers and equipment, and poorly 
trained, as a result of politicians budget cutting. The other was 
that the Maginot Line was designed with the aircraft of WWI in mind. 
Had the Germans built a strategic bomber force, it would have been 
able to develop heavy bombs as the RAF was to do. Earthquake bombs 
similar to the RAF Tallboy and Grand Slam earthquake bombs would have 
severely disrupted the underground facilities and created the 
breaches necessary to pass through the Line.

Even with all of the potential threats, the Maginot Line is still an 
impressive undertaking to rival even the Great Wall of China. It 
extended South along the Swiss and Italian borders to the 
Mediterranean. Had it followed West along the Belgian border it 
might not only have worked militarily, but deterred the Germans from 
attempting an attack on France. The primary threat was always the 
Germans and not the Swiss or Italians and the potential German 
invasion route was always via Belgium. The primary vulnerability to 
Germany of war with France and Great Britain was speed, or lack of 
it. As in 1914, the Germans could have won had they been able to 
conduct a lightning advance, cutting off French formations and 
forcing a peace treaty. The moment they faltered, the capacity of 
the British Empire, and the threat of the US joining the war, meant 
that Germany would lose the war. The industrial capacity and the 
reservoir of manpower beyond the range of German aircraft meant 
that Germany would just engage in a losing battle of attrition. As 
it was in 1940, Germany stalled on the Chanel Coast and then failed 
to establish air superiority over Southern Britain to allow an 
invasion across the Chanel. Had the Maginot Line extended at full 
strength from the Chanel, German forces would have stalled at the 
Line and the German military planners were well-aware of this huge 
risk to them.