The Maginot and Mareth Lines

Written by on August 20, 2014 in WW II Research Notes with 1 Comment


The entrance to Ouvrage Schoenenbourg along the Maginot Line in Alsace.

The entrance to Ouvrage Schoenenbourg along the Maginot Line in Alsace.

In The Picardy Alliance reference is made several times to the Maginot Line; in Elephant Mountain it’s the Mareth Line. I’ve found some readers who are unfamiliar with these terms, so I want to clear up any confusion.

After World War I France began building a series of fortifications—including bunkers, casements, and anti-tank defenses—along the border with Germany. By 1939 this line, named
for the French Minister of War, was completed. Additional fortifications extending along the
Belgium border and all the way to the coast were planned but never executed beyond a few
smaller bunkers and pillboxes.

In many cases along the part of the line bordering Germany only the main guns were visible above the surface, with the bunkers underground. The soldiers manning the line lived, worked, and slept entirely beneath the ground and moved around by means of a narrow rail system.

The Maginot Line was intended as a defense against invasion by Germany and to hold off the enemy while armed forces were organized and deployed. It was believed by the French High Command that the Ardennes forest, which is located in Belgium, Luxembourg, and to a small extent France, would be impenetrable by German tanks and heavy equipment and thus didn’t require heavy defenses. Although applauded by military strategists at the time, the Maginot Line proved useless. German tanks came around it through the Ardennes forest, and parachutists landed behind it on French soil. In six weeks France was defeated.

The Mareth Line was a similar series of fortifications built by the French in southeastern Tunisia to defend against the Italians in Libya. At that time Libya was owned by Italy, as North Africa was by the French.

The Mareth Line was seized by Axis forces in the battle for Tunisia and later overrun by the Allies.

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  1. Sandra says:

    This is an example of something I passed over when I read the book, but reading your explanation is very interesting! Thanks for sharing this.

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