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How the Nazis Broke France's Fortress Line

Discussion in 'History of France during World War II' started by Jim, Oct 29, 2006.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    From time immemorial Man has sheltered in fortresses designed to withstand a long siege and to resist the strongest weapons of the age. Though every Great War in Europe for generations past has shown up the futility of the fortress against heavy artillery, skilfully handled, military engineers continued to construct such systems. Here is the story from German sources of the taking of Maubeuge. ​


    ONE of the major surprises of the German advance through France and Flanders was the comparative ease with which the enemy subdued or isolated some of the huge fortresses constructed by the French and Belgians especially to halt-if not to hold up the Nazi advance. Profiting, presumably, from the lessons of the First Great War, the military engineers took steps to render these strongholds "impregnable." The latest resources of the civil engineers were employed immensely strong steel and concrete construction, deep underground chambers for the personnel, ventilated and air-conditioned so that men might live safely in them for weeks; all the most advanced mechanical equipment for working the armament and feeding the guns. The fortress systems were planned so that by cross-fire one fort could aid its neighbour, and in fact all that science could do was done to strengthen these works.

    The fortress idea was extended to Use entire frontier between France and Germany. France constructed her Maginot Line, and Germany in emulation built the Westwall. Along the Franco Belgian frontier extended a lighter zone of defences that had been called the semi-Maginot Line. Here, then, were the fortifications that should have rendered France safe against the Nazis.

    Along the Maginot Line were individual fortresses that had existed for many years, and had been specially modernized. One of these was Maubeuge, which in the First Great War had been invested on August 25, 1914, and had capitulated on September 7; during this period it had immobilized the German VII Reserve Corps, but after its surrender only two battalions had been needed to act as garrison, and the rest of the corps was freed for the attack on the French army. It might well have been expected that the modernized Maubeuge would put up a better show.

    The Onslaught on Maubeuge

    After the Nazis secured passage over the Maastricht bridges, across the Meuse and the Albert Canal (May 11), they pushed on and isolated Liege (May 13), subduing a number of the forts and continuing their advance southward. Namur was reached and isolated by May 15, and the enemy was able to cross the Upper Meuse in several places. A salient was forced in the Allied line near Sedan (May 16) and quickly widened out until it extended as far as Maubeuge (by May 18), its loop running near Rethel, Laon, St. Quentin, Le Cateau and Landrecies. The enemy then turned westward, after breaking through, and there ensued the "Battle of the Bulge." Maubeuge, then, played a vital part in these events. Had the fortress been able to offer a prolonged resistance the course of history might have been different? The town of Maubeuge was taken by storm troops on May 21. German airplanes destroyed numbers of tanks with which the French had hoped to stay the enemy onrush.

    A terrific artillery bombardment was directed at the forts, and airplane dropped large-calibre bombs. Under cover of the artillery support the German storm troops crept nearer. Taking advantage of natural cover afforded by trees and the undulating nature of the ground the artillery, both heavy and light, was able to get within less than a mile of the perimeter of the defensive, system, and eventually the main fort were silenced. Most of the barbed wire had been broken down by the bombardment and the infantry, with "pioneers" or field engineers, thus approached the forts.

    A terrible scene of destruction met their gaze. The massive concrete walls had cracked like nutshells, and the steel reinforcing bars protruded. The cupola of the fort formed of 11-inch plate was gouged out as if it had been a piece of cheese, and was twisted and torn under the impact of the giant shells.

    Forts or posts that continued to resist were attacked by the infantry. Unless the defenders promptly surrendered they were next dealt with by the field engineers who piled sandbags to block up the entrance, laid a heavy charge of explosive, and fired it. If this did not suffice, holes were bored in the walls and dynamite exploded to shatter the structure. Systematically all the outlying posts were reduced, and by May 24th this giant fortress of the Maginot system had capitulated.

    This Photo was taken by the Germans which shows the defenders of Maubeuge being marched off as prisoners of war after the capture of the town. The Germans stated that not only the fortress but the whole town was fiercely defended. ​


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    In effect, two days earlier, Maubeuge had ceased to impede the German onrush. So fell this modern wonder of ferro-concrete, on whose staying power and that of others so much hope had been based. It seems that the French people had been afflicted with what has been called "Maginot folly," and were lulled into a false security. Borrowing from the terminology of A.R.P, we might almost say that "deep-shelter mentality" was responsible for bringing about the collapse of the French defence.
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    [​IMG]

    This photograph, (Above) like others in this page depicting scenes in the capture of Maubeuge, is from a German source. It shows the post known as Des Sarts, one of the outlying forts that continued to offer a determined resistance after the fall of the main fortress at Maubeuge. However, its heroic garrison had to surrender.

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    Above is seen the devastating effect of artillery fire and or the explosion of demolition charges laid by the German field engineers who accompanied the storm troops in the assault on Maubeuge. When isolated machine-gun posts refused to surrender they were destroyed by explosives that cracked the Concrete structures as if they were nutshells!

    [​IMG]

    This Picture (Above) shows the cupola of one of the forts at Maubeuge, after the building had been destroyed by German artillery fire. According to the German account it was crippled by two direct hits, while other shots tore huge pieces from the 11" thick metal. This massive steel dome could be rotated so as to bring the guns to bear, and it also had a rise-and-fall movement.

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    Beaten down by overwhelming force, the brave defenders of Des Sarts hoist the white flag or surrender (Above). With most of its turrets put out of action and its guns silenced by the terrific hail of shell fire, the garrison had then to meet the frenzied onrush of the storm troops, and the field engineers were making ready to blow up the structure when at last the fort gave in.
     
  3. Junkie88

    Junkie88 New Member

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    nice work Jim,where do you get those pics?

    some of those individual fortresses (who survived the Blitzkrieg) were used by the Germans as work camps or transistion camps for Jews. Like Breendonk and some others.
    They used to welcome you with the words: Take a good look at the entrance, because you'll never see it again.
     
  4. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The majority of pictures that you see from me Junkie will be from magazines (War Illustrated) that were issued during the War first on a weekly basis then they were sold monthly due to the paper shortage, they are very informative.

    Those welcoming words that you mention sound very chilling..
     
  5. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

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    It's a very good article Jim, but confusing to me in one particular place. I mean where the talk is of the German invasion of France in May 1940, and then "....and there ensued the 'Battle of the Bulge.'" :confused:
    Surely "The Battle of the Bulge" was Hitler's counteroffensive in Winter 1944 through the Ardennes...
     
  6. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    You are correct Dave, but it is how it is laid out that it looks as thou the Battle of the Bulge mentioned was at that time, how it is meant to read is:
    After these encounters the next battles to which Maubeuge was to be involved was "The Battle of the Bulge" It is not clearly written so i do apologies for the confusion.. ;)
     

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