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What is the Maginot Line?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Maginot Line was a series of defensive fortifications built by the French after WWI to guard against invasion by Germany or Italy. It is considered by many to be one of the great military mistakes of all time, since it ultimately made little difference in WWII, and was fairly easily bypassed by the Germans, who conquered France by 1942. Today some may use the term in reference to actions or objects that do not sufficiently protect. One might say, “Failing to provide US soldiers with body armor is a Maginot Line.”

The Maginot Line was composed of gun posts, obstructions like tanks, and forts. The weakest point of the line was the border between France and Belgium. Belgium and France were allied prior to WWII, but Belgium declared neutrality in 1936. This resulted in a flurry of activity to extend the line across Belgium.

Unfortunately, the sections that were to protect France from invaders failed terribly. This is where France actually met its downfall. Germany had stationed a dummy army outside the strongest part of the Maginot Line and then used ground troops to invade through Belgium. They were able to cut off the rest of the line from within France, and cut off France’s access to its own soldiers. This forced the French to sign an armistice and allow German occupation of their country.

The Germans then held the Maginot Line but this made little difference when allied troops were able to liberate France. Instead the Allies went around the line, and thus didn’t have to work on defeating the many fortifications and obstacles now held by the Germans.

Both the French and the Germans overestimated the importance of the Maginot Line. In fact, many military historians believe that France’s dependence upon the Line for protection was its downfall. Since most of their military power was concentrated on the line, France was barely able to defend itself from invaders inside its borders. Initially line was meant to be just one means for defense from invaders, but it quickly provided the French with a false feeling of security.

It should be noted that the Maginot Line did succeed at its strongest points. It did keep Italian troops from invading France, and forced the Germans to invade through Belgium. However, that mattered little when France was forced to sign the armistice.

Today, there are a few remnants of this border. Most of the land it occupied is now privately owned, or simply has not been maintained and is in a pronounced state of decay.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By AnswerMan — On Dec 25, 2014

I believe the French had the same basic problem as the Chinese and the British had with protective walls. If you build a 15 foot wall to defend yourself, the enemy can still bring 16 feet tall ladders and breach it. The Maginot line was a great idea on paper, but ultimately not very practical in reality.

I'm sure the enemies of France all had a map of the Maginot line and years to find its weakest points. That project was doomed from the start.

By Inaventu — On Dec 24, 2014

I thought I read somewhere that a few sections of the Maginot line were sold off to private citizens and converted into unusual houses, the way some people renovate old lighthouses or abandoned subway terminals. There were some command nodes along the entire Maginot line, and they were equipped with electricity and sewer lines and other essential utilities.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia...
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