Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Roads Classic: André Maginot, Verdun, and the Maginot Line

André Maginot, Verdun, and the Maginot Line
by Christina Holstein

The Battle of Verdun was characterized by an intense ten-month bombardment that turned the battlefield into a sea of mud. Trenches, shelters, batteries, and communications were annihilated, yet Fort Douaumont survived. After the war was over, it was calculated that the fort had been battered by a minimum of 120,000 shells, of which at least 2000 were of a calibre greater than 270mm. Only the French 400mm and German 420mm shells succeeded in piercing the concrete carapace. After the war, French military engineers studied the strengths and weaknesses of Fort Douaumont and used their findings in the design of a new chain of concrete-covered underground forts that was specifically designed to prevent the Germans from ever again invading France from the east. This was the Maginot Line, named for the cabinet minister who most helped secure the approvals and financing for the fortifications.

Maginot During the War

In August 1914, André Maginot, after whom the new fortress line would be named, was [already] a member of parliament for Bar-le-Duc. Immediately volunteering for service—despite parliamentary immunity—Maginot took the train to Verdun to join his regiment, the 44th Territorial Infantry, part of which formed the garrison of Fort Douaumont. A few days later the newly mobilized Territorials made camp in a clearing close to the country road from Douaumont village to Bezonvaux, little dreaming that in February 1916 the same road would be crossed by German soldiers on their way to the fort. The Territorials were a cheerful group, and Maginot’s memoir of patrols and ambushes among the villages below the fort is high-spirited and carefree. [Maginot was wounded and eventually demobilized in late 1914.] 

Monument on the Verdun Battlefield
Maginot Is Supported by Fellow Soldier François-Joseph Jolas
Between Maginot and his comrades, going blithely to war in the blue jackets and red trousers of the French Army of 1914, and the filthy and exhausted men on both sides who fought so tenaciously for Fort Douaumont throughout 1916 there are two years of a type of warfare that no one could have imagined. For his service at Verdun and his industrious effort in support of French veterans and to improve the defenses of the nation, a monument to André Maginot was dedicated  in 1966 on the Verdun battlefield near the German high-water mark at Fort Souville.

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