After 1919 it was clear the looming presence of Germany on France’s Western flank required urgent attention. France would not be able to survive another massive invasion, and three plans were considered to counter a future offensive.
- France should adopt an offensive policy, training a mobile, aggressive army. This plan was backed by Charles de Gaulle but was deemed by many to be too provocative.
- France should focus its military in a small number of heavily fortified bases along the frontier in position to launch a counter-attack.
- France should build a huge, heavily fortified defensive line along the frontier.
The French Government opted for the third.
Geography of the Maginot Line
Andre Maginot, Minister of War between 1922 and 1924, mobilised a strong body of support behind the proposal by emphasising that the Line would impede any German attack long enough to fully mobilise the French army, fighting would be restricted to line (therefore minimising damage in France) and the Ardennes would act as a natural extension of the Line.
Work on the Line ran from 1930 to 1940. It consisted of 50 ouvrages – large forts about 9 miles apart – linked by smaller forts. As can be seen from the diagrams below it was an impressive structure that theoretically could at least halt a large invading force.
However it had two significant faults in its design. First the line was not mobile and second it assumed that the Ardennes was impenetrable.
It was therefore vulnerable to the Blitzkrieg attack by which Germany simply went around the Line. In 1940 German Army Group B, a force of around 1 million men and 1,500 crossed the Ardennes. Subsequently the Line was of minimal military importance, and many of the fortress divisions surrendered without even fighting. Battles on the Western front were little effected by the Line.
After the war the Line fell into general disrepair, although some points were strengthened for a potential nuclear conflict. Ultimately if the Line had covered the France-Belgium border it could have been useful but in the end it was rendered ineffective by a failure in planning.