Suomen Simulaatiopelaajat ry

Ligne Maginot Maginot "On ne passe pas - Do not enter"

In Deutsch

The Maginot Line in Wargames and in Reality
Ville Hurmalainen

The World War I, especially the Battle of Verdun, had a great effect on future history. A repeat of anything like this was totally out of the question. The Germans initiated the developement of their "Blitzkrieg" tactics. In France the development took another direction. In 1929, under the leadership of André Maginot, the Minister of War, they started the greatest construction work in Europe. This was to be a permanent mark in the pages of history which would secure France from any further wars.

This line certainly became a permanent mark in history. But merely as an unsuccessful oddity, a useless line that was to be passed-by. It is not right to judge the whole original plan, it simply was much too ambitious and everyone expected too much from it. After all the money was spent there was no more funds for building fortresses along the Belgian border, and the French military leaders held firm in their belief of the impenetrability of the Ardennes Forest. In 1940 the Germans took advantage and actually came through the Forest bypassing the Maginot Line.

In books and also in simulation games the Maginot Line is often described as a continuous, massive and impassable fortification. The heavy gun turrets, underground passages, crew barracks with kitchens and infirmaries, ammunition storage and even the subway trains have been mentioned in all literature concerning this subject. The reality was much more modest and perhaps more realistic than one could expect.

In strategic level wargames like, for instance, Avalon Hill's Hitler's War, the Maginot Line is continuous and most difficult to destroy. The Line has a certain value and the enemy may proceed to that hex only after the Line has been destroyed. This same goes also to the older Avalon Hill game France 40, where much artillery, infantry and maybe also parachutists are needed to break this line. On the other hand, World in Flames observes the Line with a simple rule: DEFENDER TRIPLED.

The fortified borders of France are best described in Fall of France of the GDW's Europe- series. Here it is expected that the great fortresses, in French "ouvrages", form only one part of the Line. The rest has been fortified "only" with the conventional bunkers, land-mines and tank obstacles. Against general belief the entire Maginot Line was not a continuous, heavy line of fortifications.

In Fall of France the "ouvrage" of the Maginot Line quadruples the effect of the defense, minus 1 to the die, no tank advantages and makes the retreat unnecessary. Besides that, a permanent defense base will not be destroyed when it is occupied by the enemy. How does this compare with the truth? In 1940 along the French-German border there were 22 big fortresses (=ouvrages), 35 minor fortresses (=petit ouvrages), 300 bunkers and pillboxes, 14 armoured observation posts and 70 armoured barracks. The defense was based on bunkers occupied by the infantry and in important places about every 30 kilometres (19 miles) there were firm permanent defense bases or the actual Maginot-line.

Immerhof in summer 1991

As examples of single fortresses I mention Immerhof and Four a Chaux, which I have visited myself. The latter, with its tunnels and passages deep beneath the earth and with its armoured turrets, is a typical large fortress. The subway train has, however, been replaced by a windlass and haulable ammunition rail wagons.

Four a Chaux is a good example of the fact that protecting the crew was the most important aspect. The barracks are as far as 500 metres (1/3 mile) away from the main gun turrets so that the sounds of the battle would not bother those in the rest shift. The attacking power is not exactly in balance with these huge constructions, as the fortress only has eight guns, six of which are in three turrets, and besides that 20 machine guns.

The defense and the protection is almost overmeasured as if they were planned to stand an enormous shelling like in Verdun. The turrets and the whole front side of the fortress is reinforced to stand 420mm shells direct firing, and even the entrance of the fortress can stand firing by 160mm guns. The tunnels inside the rock can stand even a minor atomic bomb. Part of the line has in 1950s been reconstructed against the nuclear war.

The only remarkable weaknesses were the vulnerability of the observation posts and the insufficient air defense. Indeed there was an anti-aircraft battery on the roof of the fortress so that the most arrogant air-attacks and parachute operations were out of the question. If an enemy had started to invade the fortress, the only way to do this would have been a commando attack supported by the artillery and airforce. For this reason the Germans had trained a special TAIFUN-group. The artillery and the airforce would have blinded the observation points and the commandoes penetrated into the fortress area. With adjusted hollow charge they would have blasted a hole into the wall, not to get in through it, but after this the TAIFUN-group would have advanced to the hole and started pumping explosive gas into the fortress. The pressure waves would have been able to destroy the fortress badly and, most of all, eliminate the men of the fighting unit.

Even the French themselves didn't expect the Line would be totally unconquered, but they thought a determined enemy would need up to three months to come through the Line. The resulting main edge of the attack would be beatable. If the Line had continued as far as the seacoast, the Germans would have to had to attack through the Line. And then the war would not have been this kind of Blitzkrieg, but the moral and the will to fight would have counted. Yes, this would be certainly an interesting "What If-scenario..."

Translation of the article published in our club's magazine "Insignia Imperatoria" 2/1991

If you are interested in Strategic and Simulation Games,
please contact Suomen Simulaatiopelaajat/Finnish Simulation Game Players
or the chairman of the club Eero Hurmalainen.

Game evenings every Wednesday starting at 5:30pm
at Liesikuja 7 A 3.kerros
Oy Finnrock Ab, VANTAA 01600 (Myyrmäki)
. (Attention: front door from the street is 3rd floor)

Sivu suomeksi

Our game club's own web.pages (most of them in Finnish only, sorry!):
Diplomacy SM 1996
Empires in Arms
Empires in Arms (English version)
Empires in Arms and Lady Fortune
Empires in Arms and Lady Fortune (English version)
Europa Universalis
EURODIPCON III 1995 Cirencester
FLAT TOP -Korallimeren taistelu
Keskeneräiset peliprojektit
Ligne Maginot
Ligne Maginot (English version)
Ligne Maginot (In Deutsch)
Machiavelli-turnaus 11/96
Machiavelli-turnaus 1997
Pax Britannica
Suomen Simulaatiopelaajat ry

Games are sold by Fantasiapelit, Helsinki

Updated March 6, 2001 Eero Hurmalainen


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