Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fort Fermont on the Maginot Line

Fort Fermont was the westernmost major fort on the Maginot line.  It had a garrison of 600 men, with 7 fighting blockhouses connected underground to a support base, with the entrance protected by 2 more blockhouses.  It's about 50km north of Verdun & being well signposted is easy to find.

In 1940, the Germans tried to take it by pounding the crap out of it with artillery & an 88 then sending in the storm troopers.  They failed, losing 80 casualties.  The French lost only Pvt Piton who was in a cupola that took a direct hit from something big.

The fort was taken over as a flooded wreck by volunteers in 1977.  They have substantially restored the infrastructure of lifts & railways and conduct guided tours in groups of up to about 50 every afternoon in the high season.  The commentary is only in French, though you can buy a photocopied English guide that eventually makes some sense if you work on it.

The tour starts at the ammo supply entrance bunker.  The ammo lift drops the group 30m down to the main level.  After a walk around the ammo store, you pile onto a train (original ammo train, but with seats & safety cages welded on top).  You then rattle along endless tunnels to the base of a main turret & are shuffled up a lift to the turret.  From there they take you out on top to see what the Germans could see.  Then back down the lift & on the train back to the accomodation area.  After a tour of the amenities it's back up the lift to the entrance.  It takes about 2.5 hours, it's cold and exhausing, but fascinating. 

Driving to & from the fort, smaller bunkers were to be seen in the fields beside the road at regular intervals - still there after all these years, though you have to look hard for them - they tend to merge into the landscape among the windfarms. 

The perceived wisdom is that the Maginot line was a white elephant because the Germans went round it.  But the Germans went round it because they feared it.  Where they tried to break through it they failed.  (Only one minor fort was taken - the one at the end of the line they could surround).  The problem wasn't the Maginot line, it was the French command's failure to recognise its strength and to use it as a shield freeing troops for the rest of the line.  In 1940 much of the French army was left unused in reserve behind the Maginot line when it should have been supporting the Ardenne & Belgian fronts.  The French were all set up to fight WW1.2, while the Germans had upgraded to WW2.1

The pics are pretty self explanatory.  The first pic is one of the main encasements viewed from a distance.  The last is one of the little infill forts I saw beside the road.  There's an 88 the Germans abandoned in 1944 out the front of the entry bunker - relevant because one of them almost got through a bunker by firing at one spot for a morning.  They gave up only a few cm short.

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