Defended open borders of French frontier,
largest Maginot Line fortification built
Story and photos by Kevin S. Abel
In response to the costliest battle in history, the Battle of Verdun, Marshal Joseph Joffre first proposed a line of fortifications be built to defend the open borders of the French frontier bordering Germany.
Stretching out from the Ardennes to the Rhine River, south to the Alps and on the island of Corsica a defensive line of fortifications was to be the answer.
Joffre was opposed by modernists such as Paul Reynaud and Charles de Gaulle who favored investment in modern armor and aircraft, which would have been outdated at the onset of WWII, but had the support of Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain.
This line of fortifications bears the last name of André Maginot, who was known as a brilliant leader in WWI and Minister of War from Nov. 1929 until his death in 1932.
His only noted contribution to the fortification that bears his name is his presentation of the project to parliament in 1929 as an item for funding.
In early 1930, the French parliament approved 2.9 million francs, to be spent over five years for the construction of the “Maginot Line,” which represented only five percent of the defense budget at that time.
Part of the force behind of the Maginot Line was, also a Minister of War, politician and a renowned mathematician Paul Painlevé.
Painlevé was responsible for everything from funding to construction phases. He had to spread the funding out from its start in 1930 to the completion of phase six.
Gros Ouvrage Hackenberg (A19) was in this sixth phase, which was set for completion in 1943.
The frontier was divided into 25 sectors, each sector having a varying degree of defense, with the German/Luxembourg borders being the most heavily defended.
A19, the defensive line’s largest fortress, lies eight miles from the German border near the small town of Veckring,
France just over three hours from Stuttgart. It was really two fortresses connected by a mile-long tunnel, with a total of 17 battle blocks armed with a combination of artillery, mortars and machine guns, and was home to just over a thousand soldiers.
In 1940, the region of France near A19 was defended by French 26th and 42nd Infantry Divisions, along with the British 51st (Highland) Inf. During this time of WWII, no attempt was made by the Germans to directly attack this central portion of the Maginot Line. On June 15, 1940, the German 1st Army broke through at the Saar and pushed west and east along the line, enveloping the French forces and taking most of the fortresses on the Maginot Line from behind.
For a time after the armistice of June 25, 1940, A19 remained under French control until the fortress was evacuated on July 4, 1940.
During the Cold War, Hackenberg had been designated part of the Mòle de Boulay, which consisted of 10 other fortifications in the northeast to defend against Soviet attack.
By the late 1950s, interest in fixed fortifications was waning after France developed a nuclear deterrent, causing most fortifications to fall into disrepair.
Despite the lack of funding, A19 was maintained for use by the French Army until 1968, and finally abandoned in 1970. In the mid 70s, local residents of Veckring and other local villages started to organize sightseeing tours, which led to the founding of the volunteer-driven
AMIFORT association for the preservation of Gros Ouvrage Hackenberg (A19).Today, visitors get a chance to see the ammunition storage area, power generation room, barracks and kitchen, as well as uniforms and weapons in the museum area.
As the tour continues, visitors ride on an electric train, as troops did when the fortress was occupied, to combat Block 9.
After a tour of the inner workings of Block 9 and demonstration of its 163-ton artillery tower, visitors are allowed to walk on top of this block. Visitors are then able to move to Block 8 which still bears the marks of the intense fighting of 1944 between the Wehrmacht and troops from the U.S. 90th Division.
The fortresses’ website advises visitors to ask for the English tour at the entrance, and if one is not available, a booklet in English will be provided.
Temperature inside the fortress is 53 degrees Fahrenheit, so dress appropriately as the tour lasts a little more than two hours.
Prices : 5 euro Adult: 10
2 euro Child: 5 (4-16 years)
Address: 61bis grande rue, 57920 Veckring, France
Tel: +33 3 82 82 30 08
Email : email@example.com
GPS: N 49°20’30.299’’ E 6°21’55.979’’
An additional fortification in the area open for visits is A-10 Ouvrage Immenhof, near Thionville. The A10-Immerhof is a Small Work which was built between 1930 and 1935. More information can be found on their website at http://www.maginot-immerhof.fr/.