The Maginot line

The Maginot line

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  • The King of Great Britain Georges VI visits the fortifications of the Maginot Line.


  • André Maginot in the uniform of a sergeant of the 44th Territorial Infantry Regiment, circa 1919.

    MANUEL Henri (1874 - 1947)

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Title: The King of Great Britain George VI visits the fortifications of the Maginot Line.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : 1939

Date shown: November 1939

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Georges VI accompanied by French General Gamelin, Commander-in-Chief of the Franco-British forces on the Western Front.

Storage place: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin) website

Contact copyright: © BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown

Picture reference: 04-505556

The King of Great Britain Georges VI visits the fortifications of the Maginot Line.

© BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown

To close

Title: André Maginot in the uniform of a sergeant of the 44th Territorial Infantry Regiment, circa 1919.

Author : MANUEL Henri (1874 - 1947)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 39.2 - Width 29.1

Technique and other indications: Gelatin-silver print on paper.

Storage place: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Picture reference: 06-515208 / 2006.3.135

André Maginot in the uniform of a sergeant of the 44th Territorial Infantry Regiment, circa 1919.

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Publication date: February 2009

Historical context

The Franco-British alliance at the start of the war.

On September 3, 1939, France and Great Britain jointly declared war on Germany, under agreements binding them to Poland, which had been invaded by Nazi armies. Gamelin is confident in the defensive strategy centered around the Maginot Line, a gigantic system of fortifications that stretches from the Alps to the Ardennes and which owes its name to André Maginot (1877-1932), Minister of War from 1929 to 1932, photographed here in 1919.
Built mainly from 1929 to 1936, it consists of an elaborate set of galleries and underground casemates equipped with heavy artillery (shells, cannons, mortar in particular). This is the "funny war". On December 9, 1939, the day the photograph was taken, King George VI (1895-1952), ascended to the throne after the abdication of Edward VII in 1936 and chief of the armies of the Commonwealth countries, visited the work Hackenberg, the most important fort of the line, located in Veckring (fortified sector of Boulay), in Moselle.

Image Analysis

Official visit to Hackenberg.

The photograph, anonymous, was taken at the end of the visit, when the king, recognizable by his British uniform lighter than those of the French, leaves through the ammunition entrance, level entrance, with refueling by rail (elsewhere there is a more massive entry for men). His young face is serious and focused. He is surrounded, among others, by General Gamelin (to his left, in the first row) and by the squadron leader Henri Ébrard, commander of the fortified work (the man in the beret in the second row to his left). Other men come out after them, giving the impression of a small beehive. In the foreground on the left of the image, a small detachment of the 164th Line Infantry Regiment honors him. On the ground appear the rails that allow trains to access the galleries of the work, dug thirty meters deep and ten kilometers long. A black rectangle stands out clearly: the entrance to an underground world, lit by lamps (a small luminous circle allows one to be distinguished). On each side of this entrance, four flags (two French and two British) as well as the arms of the army. The concrete structure of this part of Hackenberg is imposing (even partially cut off), and the men emerging from it appear almost small. Their movement, even frozen in the photograph, contrasts with the immobile work.

The second photograph is a portrait of André Maginot, with a slightly melancholy look, in the uniform of a sergeant of the 44th Territorial Infantry Regiment (number on the collar). It dates from 1919 and was produced by Manuel Henri (1874-1947), official photographer of the French government from 1914 to 1944. On the jacket, the medals rewarding the conduct of Maginot: Under-Secretary of State for War in 1913 , he joined the front where he was wounded in 1914.


Defensive strategy, a legacy of 14-18

The cliché is "official," that is, intended and authorized, both to immortalize the king's visit to Hackenberg and to deliver a political message. It appears both in the archives of the fort and in many newspapers the next day. He evokes the Franco-British alliance: the mixed flags, like the fact that the king is surrounded by French officers, remind us that the fate of the two armies is now linked in a common fight. The solemnity of the serious and determined faces, the military order (the uniforms, the line of soldiers saluting), give the impression that everything is perfectly in order. France and Great Britain are ready and determined to fight. It is around the Maginot Line that this will have to be organized. The imposing nature of the structure must give an impression of security: the position is impregnable. The king and General Gamelin can therefore come there without risk, make sure that everything is working well, and thus reassure the opinions and the staffs of their countries. The organization of the line is modern (the railway ensures rapid transport of troops and men) and as well regulated as the course of the visit and the behavior of its actors. The darkness of the galleries hides from the view of the spectators what must remain the military secret of the precise device of the Maginot defense. But far from worrying, this only reinforces the reassuring idea of ​​a high-performance fortress, where trained soldiers use the most modern means to fight.

The construction of the line was influenced by Maginot's participation in the conflict of 1914-1918: it was a question, in a pacifist will, of ensuring lasting peace. The melancholy air may be due to the memory of the atrocities of the war, which should not be repeated. Maginot, on the other hand, was able to impose his views because of his soldier's background: the uniform he wears here, as well as his decorations, helped to establish his authority and legitimacy. Likewise, Gamelin was still marked by the previous conflict and he envisioned a war of position rather than a war of movement. The defensive strategy he advocated stems from a certain inability of the general staff to shed the (glorious) past and turn to military modernity.

  • Maginot line
  • War of 39-45
  • propaganda
  • United Kingdom
  • military strategy


Martin S. ALEXANDER, The Republic in Danger: General Maurice Gamelin and the Politics of French Defense, 1933-1940 Cambridge University Press 1992. Marc BLOCH, The strange defeat. Testimony written in 1940, Paris, Société des Éditions Franc-Tireur, 1946.Yves DURAND, France in World War II, 1939-1945, A. Colin, 1993. Jean-Bernard WAHL, Once upon a time there was the Maginot Line, Jérôme Do Betzinger Publisher, 1999.

To cite this article

Alban SUMPF, "The Maginot Line"

Video: The Maginot Line Explained


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