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1940s Society Shop >  History >  Articles on the 1940s >  Hackenberg - A Fortress of the Maginot Line

Hackenberg - A Fortress of the Maginot Line

An article and guide to visiting Hackenberg (France) where part of the Maginot Line can be toured.


Hackenberg - A Fortress of The Maginot Line
Written By Neil Barber


Following the experience of the 1914-18 War, the French government decided to look at ways of defending its borders to cover the possibility of Germany ever attacking France again. In 1922 a committee was formed to consider the options. After years of deliberation it was decided to construct a line of underground fortresses which would act as a kind of breakwater against any assault. If the Germans attempted to go around it, they would face the bulk of the French Army, with its right flank anchored to the end of the Line. Construction began in 1929, and gradually became known after the serving Minister of War, Andre Maginot.

The frontier was divided into 25 sectors, each sector having a varying degree of defence, with the German/Luxembourg sectors being the most heavily defended.

Hackenberg Fortress


Hackenberg, the Line's largest fortress, lies about 8 miles from the German border. In effect it was really two fortresses connected by a tunnel of about a mile's length. In total, it contained 17 'Battle Blocks' armed with a combination of artillery, mortars and machine guns, and was home to up to a thousand officers and men.

War History


When the German offensive began, contrary to its own plan, the French Army did not anchor itself to the Line but advanced into Belgium and Holland, leaving only a weak force to cover the Ardennes. It was still a considered decision, as the Ardennes was thought to be impassable for tanks (some Germans were of the same opinion).

The French decided that if German infantry attacked at this point, there would be plenty of time to move reserves into position. When the Germans disproved the tank theory and broke through at that point, they tore into the heart of the country before the French Army could react. This ensured that the Maginot Line would have little or no influence on the battle. Hackenberg's wartime experience was therefore short and relatively uneventful. Its guns opened fire on numerous occasions in support of other forts and whenever any German formations came into range. Around June 15th 1940, when German patrols did advance towards it, they were repelled. Hackenburg remained uncaptured, being handed over after the signing of the armistice.

Visit


You enter at what was once the ammunition entrance where a brief talk (in French) is given on the fortress.


The ammunition entrance (refurbished in 1995) Note the MG cupolas on the roof


After passing through thick steel doors you are standing in the main thoroughfare tunnel. All around, the walls are decorated with lines of original cable, slowly corroding.


The main thoroughfare


After 150 yards the first branch tunnel appears on the left. This contains the magazine compartments, rows of them. Back along the main thoroughfare you reach more steel doors, guarded on either side by machine gun positions built into the wall. A right turn takes you past the fully furnished kitchens and laundry. Further on is an awe inspiring exhibition of '30s engineering, the power house. This contains all the original equipment, of which one generator is up and running. The surrounding noise, power and artistry is very impressive. Returning to the silence of the tunnels, you then pass through one of the long oppressive barrack rooms, where a vast array of uniforms, weaponry and memorabilia is displayed. At the far end, you are left in no doubt that the closeness of the enlisted men's bunks must have ensured tremendous camaraderie! With the acoustics involved the snoring must have been horrendous. Through the next door is a mini-operating theatre, and beyond that, the frightening dentist's studio. You are then led back to a 'station' to await an original narrow gauge train, once used to transport ammunition and men around the labyrinth. The train charges through the tunnels, arriving over a mile later at the defensive position of Block 9. Here, a gun turret containing two 135mm guns, elevates, descends and revolves as if brand new. Beside it, another compartment houses a 135mm howitzer.


The 135mm gun turret of Block 9


After climbing some stairs, you arrive on the roof of the Block, to find yourself surrounded by artillery, machine-gun and observation cupolas. The view east is commanding.


A view from the roof of Block 9


The gun turret is again put through its paces to show its 'in action' and 'closed down' positions.


'Block 9 turret In action'

'Closed down'


The tour concludes with a visit to the facure of Block 8 which was badly damaged by American artillery in 1944, when the guns opened fire on the advancing Allies.


The facure of Block 8

The train then returns to transport you back to the entrance. As the tour progressed, the feeling gradually grew that it was such a terrible shame the Maginot Line wasn't made the most of, and that all the incredible effort and money went to waste. In 1940, for the undefeated soldiers who manned it, it must have been absolutely devastating.

Directions


Hackenberg fortress is situated above the village of Veckring (D60), 10 miles east of Thionville (or around 20 miles north-east of Metz).

Opening Times


April to October - Week-ends from 2pm to 4pm (when the last tour begins).

Tour Advice


The tour lasts about 2 hours and costs around £3 per Adult, £1.50 for children.

The tours only appeared to be conducted in French and German, but I found that this detracted very little from the experience of visiting the fortress.

As you might expect, the tunnels are quite damp and cold (especially on the train !), so wear something warm. There is quite a bit of walking, so you have to be quite mobile. Also, I didn't notice any toilet facilities within the fortress, so before entering, make sure you use the nightmares provided outside.

Additonal Information - Other Sources


Email from Graham Croll 13/06/2000

"Hi Ian,
just a short email to give you some information gleaned by myself and the one workmate who decided that the trip might be O.K. We enquired in the vicinity and the locals were still under the impression that the Simserhof fort was open. Simserhof was closed for renovation and the signs to the fort were blanked off. It seemed when we decided to look for ourselves that the main entrance area (munitions) had been deserted for a long time. No evidence of any work being undertaken!. A large tree had even fallen and crushed an outhouse, no effort had been made to clear this.

Hackenberg is an excellent tour, to be recommended for anyone interested in this history.

The cost of the tour is 25ff and lasts 2 Hours. The tours are unfortunately not given in English only Frech and German. The extent of the renovation and displays are BRILLIANT. To say that we were satisfied would be an understatement especially after visiting Simserhof first to find it closed.

The people at Hackenberg told us that Simserhof would be open for July 1st, but didn't specify which year.

Hope this will help to keep your Web Page up to date.

Regards,
Graham."

(Many thanks to Graham for the additional information - Ian)
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