61: The Maginot Line


During the interwar period the French decided to take a bit of concrete and build some fortifications, 5 billion Francs later they had completed an impressive bit of construction.



  • Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II by J.E. Kaufmann and H.W. Kaufmann
  • The Maginot Line 1928-1945 by William Allcorn Illustrated** by Jeff Vanelle and Vincent Boulanger
  • Unusual Aspects of a Unique Fortification: The Maginot Line by J.E. Kaufmann
  • Beyond Left and Right, and the Politics of the Third Republic: A Conversation by William D. Irvine
  • The Comintern and the Origins of the Popular Front 1934-1935 by Jonathan Haslam
  • Democracy and War: Political Regime, Industrial Relations, and Economic Preparations for War in France and Britain up to 1940 by Talbot Imlay
  • European Crisis, Colonial Crisis? Signs of Francture in the French Empire from Munich to the Outbreak of War by Martin Thomas
  • “As far as numbers are concerned, we are beat” Finis Galliae and the Nexus between Fears of Depopulation, Welfare Reform, and the Military in France during the Third Republic, 1870-1940 by Nikolas Dorr
  • Fellow Travellers: Communist Trade Unionism and Industrial Relations on the French Railways by Thomas Beaumont
  • “Fortress France”: Protecting the Nation and its Bodies, 1918-1940 by Roxanne Panchasi
  • A Work That Is Still the Authoritative Study Half a Century Later: On the Fiftieth Anniversary of Piotr S. Wandycz’s Book: France and Her Eastern Allies 1919-1925: French- Czechoslovak-Polish Relations from the Paris Peace Conference to Locarno by Anna M. Cienciała
  • France in the Era of Global War, 1914-1945: Occupation, Politics, Empire and Entanglements Edited by Ludivine Broch and Alison Carrol
  • Money in Wartime: France’s Financial Preparations for Two World Wars by Martin Horn and Talbot Imlay
  • French Economic Affairs and Rearmament: The First Crucial Months, June-September 1936 by Martin Thomas
  • French Empire and Elites and the Politics of Economic Obligation in the Interwar Years by Martin Thomas
  • French Foreign and Defence Policy 1918-1940: The Decline and Fall of a Great Power Edited by Robert Boyce
  • Closing the Door: The French Government and Refugee Policy, 1033-1939 by Timothy P. Maga
  • The French Navy and the Appeasement of Italy, 1937-9 by Reynolds M. Salerno
  • In Command of France: French Foreign Policy and Military Planning, 1933-1940 by Robert J. Young
  • Economic Conditions and the Limits to Mobilization in the French Empire, 1936-1939 by Martin Thomas
  • The Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy, 1934-38 by Julian Jackson
  • The Resignation of the First Popular Front Government of Leon Blum, June 1937 by Irwin M. Wall (1970)
  • Albert Sarraut and Republican Racial Thought by Clifford Rosenberg
  • The Seeds of Disaster: The Development of French Army Doctrine 1919-1939 by Robert Allan Doughty
  • Teaching the French Popular Front by Irwin M. Wall
  • The Fabric of Gender: Working-Class Culture in Third Republic France by Helen Harden Chenut
  • The Hollow Years: France in the 1930s by Eugen Weber
  • The Republic in Danger: General Maurice Gamelin and the politics of French defense, 1933-1940 by Martin S. Alexander
  • The Right in France: From the Third Republic to Vichy by Kevin Passmore
  • The Third Republic in France 1870 - 1940: Conflicts and Continuities by William Forescue
  • The Twilight of French Eastern Alliances, 1926-1936: French-Czechoslovak-Polish Relations from Locarno to the Remilitarization of the Rhineland by Piotr S. Wandycz
  • To the Maginot Line: The Politics of French Military Preparation in the 1920s by Judith H. Hughes


Hello everyone and welcome to History of the Second World War Episode 61 - The Third Republic Part 1 - Name. Over the course of the next 10 episodes we will track the developments of French politics and military thinking during the 1930s, but this first episode is devoted to the Maginot Line. There are few things more criticized in Second World War military history than the Maginot Line. To just pull a few quotes here is Martin S Alexander from French Foreign and Defence Policy 1918-1940: The Decline and Fall of a Great Power “The maginot Line long ago ceased to be merely a matter of historical fact; it acquired the status of an explanatory myth. It has become too, for many, a metaphor for military incompetence.” and William Allcorn from The Maginot Line 1928-1945 “Perhaps the most maligned collection of fortifications ever built, commonly viewed as an abject failure, a disaster for France, a total waste of both money and manpower, and a monument to the folly of static defense.” Within popular culture the typical portrayal of the Maginot Line is one of folly and failure, and of a colossal waste of time, money, and effort. However, as with many such stories and many such popular beliefs, over the years it has lost most of its nuance. Did the Maginot Line prevent the fall of France in 1940? No it did not. Was the Maginot Line by itself supposed to do so? No, it was not. The problems with the French resistance to the German invasion in 1940 went well beyond the line of the defenses that they had constructed in the 1920s and 30s. The line would be named after Andrew Maginot, the Minister of War in 1929. During his tenure as Minister the initial plans for the fortifications would be finalized, funding would be procured from the French Parliament, and construction would begin. 1929 was not the point where the ideas of constructing large fortifications on the Eastern Frontier originated, and the roots of that idea require us to once again dip our toes back into the First World War and its immediate aftermath. It would be during those years, and due to the power that certain military leaders that had made their names during the war would wield, that the push for fortifications would begin and be accepted as the correct course of action. That push was not based completely on misconceptions about the future course of military and technological developments, and in fact there were some very good reasons behind it. We will discuss those reasons, then the planning for the defenses, then the construction of the line, then the legacy of the Maginot Line, before ending on why I think the Maginot Line, and popular opinions on it, are the perfect example of the traps it is easy to fall into when analyzing history.

As with everything in Interwar France, we begin our explanation of the Maginot Line in the trenches of the First World War. The war had simply been catastrophic for the French, with much of the fighting happening on French soil. For most of the war a large swatch of north eastern France had been under German control. Even during the Paris Peace Conference there was the belief among French leaders that it could, and very likely would, happen again. They were confronted with this fear and this possibility, and it quite rightly altered French beliefs about what should be done to prepare. We also have to talk about who was making the decisions in the military in 1920s France. Men like Maginot and Petain, both in leadership positions during the late 1920s, had been heavily involved in the fighting of the First World War, Petain had essentially made his name at Verdun and Maginot had fought there sa well. These experiences bolstered their beliefs that the next war would be very similar to that trench filled hell scape, and because of this they believed that preparations for such a war were required. They, along with it should be said many military leaders from around the world, had the general belief that at least in the 1920s defense had the advantage over offensive operations. This was a pretty realistic evaluation of the events of the First World War, and I would go so far as to say that in the 1920s it was probably a quite realistic assessment of what a war would have involved. It would later be confronted with the technological advances of the mid and late 1930s, but when the idea of the fortifications were planted firmly in French planning those advances were far in the future. The reasons why France should not just prepare to fight a defensive war, but should proactively build fixed defenses are varied. There was their evaluation of the fighting during the First World War, no small amount of fear that they needed to find a way to prevent such a disaster from occurring again, and then two other quite justifiable reasons that we will dig into now. The first was the problem of French manpower, a probably had already been a worry before 1914, and the events of the First World War would simply exacerbate it. The second was the problem of French geography, which really only had two solutions: a complete devotion to the defense and the construction of fixed defenses, or a complete devotion to the offensive and a rapid strike into Germany, a plan that had been tried in 1914 and had not exactly went well for the French Army at that time.

Military manpower was a constant source of concern and discussion within France during the interwar years. There simply were not enough men aging into military service every year to meet the needs of French defense, and the numbers would be even worse in wartime with full mobilization. This was a topic that could be very easily forecast into the future as well, and that forecast was bleak. The estimates were that there would be almost twice as men German men eligible for military service that there were in France by 1940. This was due to the smaller starting population, the number of Frenchmen killed during the war, and the low rate of population replacement after the war was over. While it was very easy to forecast the problem into the future, it was far more difficult to enact a quick fix. For the most part all that could be done was to encourage people to have more children, an effort that would see mixed success, and wait. There were also political events that would reduce active duty soldiers as well. When thinking about the overall strength of any mass conscript army during this period, it was quite a simply bit of math, the size of each years conscript class multiplied by the number of years they were in the service. Before the First World War French military service had increased up to 3 years, but after the war there was a constant pressure to reduce the time each man spent in active service. This pressure was based on completely reasonable economic concerns, with the more men in active service the more it would cost. There was also political pressure simply to reduce the size of the French military. The first reduction was down to 2 years, then to 18 months, and then later down to just 1 year. With men spending such a short time in active service a far greater percentage of that service time was spent just on the most basic skills and training. It also meant that less men were choosing to stay in the army as a career, with an important part of the French military system being the long service professionals that provided leadership and experience. The goal was to have about 100,000 of these professionals in the Army at any given time, but the number always fell drastically short of 100,000. This then had cascading effects on total army planning, efficiency, and training because there simply were not enough officers and staff officers to go around. So just to review, during the 1920s there were serious concerns about the total number of Frenchmen available for military service, there were problems getting them enough training, and this would become critical in the late 1930s as the stunted generations of the war years started to age into military service. With all of these manpower problems, the allure of the strong fixed defenses is an understandable feeling. By providing the French army with strong permanent defensive works, less men could defend more territory, it was pretty much just as simply as that. This would allow the rest of the manpower available to be positioned and structured differently, and instead of having the entire French Army tied up in defending the frontier it provided at least the opportunity for the French to mass troops somewhere for other purposes, like perhaps an attack, or just a proactive move into Belgium.

Next up we need to look at what the men were going to need to do, and how the French military believed it had to fight the next war. In what can justifiably be seen as a massive rejection of the overly optimistic French planning before the First World War, during the interwar years every single piece of French military planning revolved not around quick victory but long struggle. They still generally believed that they could prevail due to their alliances that France had built up, but it would only be after another multi-year war. This mindset had some serious consequences that we will discuss more in a later episode, but when it comes to the defense of France it put some pretty stringent requirements on how the defense should be conducted. One of the major problems that the French had during and after the First World War as the fact that the war took place on French territory. This meant that French territory was destroyed, French homes were occupied, and the French economy was disrupted. To make matters worse, when it came to the exact territory that had been occupied, and which would once again be under serious threat in another war, geography was strongly against the French. Three quarters of all French coal production, a large percentage of French heavy industry, and meaningful percentages of a whole host of other economic categories were all positioned near France’s eastern border. This had been a known problem before the First World War, but at that time nobody had expected a long war, and in fact it was supposed to end quite quickly after the devastating French offensives that would be launched in the wars opening weeks. After the war, as French planning shifted to one of preparations for a long conflict, the necessity of protecting those areas, keeping them under French control, and maintaining their economic productivity became paramount. But how would they do that? Well, that question occupied many man hours of planning during the 1920s as a host of studies, committees, and discussions were had to try and determine the best way to defend the frontier. The Commission on the Defense of the Frontiers was created, which would spend an entire year working on its final report. These studies and committees did not instantly land on the recommendations for the creation of something like the Maginot Line. Various forms of defense were suggested nad studied, from fixed defenses to a far more mobile defense. But in the end it would be the fixed defensive fortification system that would be seen as the only way of providing France with the territorial integrity that was seen as essential to winning the war that they believed France would be called upon to fight in the future.

Before we dive into the details about the fortifications that would be built, we have to talk about their purpose. There an be a tendency to assume that the reason so many resources were thrown into fixed fortifications was because there was the belief that they could be made impenetrable. That was not the case for pretty much all defenses created in the 20th century, including the Maginot Line in France. The purpose of these defenses was not to be impervious to damage or impossible for the enemy to take, but instead just to make it as hard as possible. By making it incredibly difficult it solved three problems for the French. The first was the geographic issues we just talked about, making it harder for the German attack to quickly penetrate deep into French territory. The second was the problem of having a small peace time army on short service times with smaller numbers of professional soldiers, defenses allowed less men to defend more of the border region. The third was that it would provide exactly what the French believed they needed to win the war, time. Time to mobilize the army in the weeks after the war began, time to train up the reserves who were brought back into the army, time for French politicians to organize and coordinate a continent spanning system of alliances, time to bring the French economy onto a proper war footing and proper wartime levels of production, time to essentially lay the groundwork for victory. But there was an understanding that the time that could be provided by fortifications was limited. They could make it incredibly costly, both in terms of time and casualties, for the Germans to push through the fortifications, but they simply could not make it impossible, at least on a large geographic scale. There was a way that the Germans could avoid this cost, beyond just not going to war with France, and this was to go around to the north. This is sometimes used as evidence against the effectiveness of the Maginot Line, but was almost a design feature. Fortifications during the 19th and 20th centuries were seen not as impenetrable bastions that could hold out against enemy attacks indefinitely, but instead as a tool for area and transportation route denial. They were placed and designed to prevent an enemy army from moving through certain pieces of territory so that their movements could be predicted and then could be mat by the appropriate response. If they could make it too costly for the enemy to take Invasion route A, then they would be forced to use Invasion Route b, and on Route B the appropriate response could be prepared. This was essentially the French plan, just as it had been several generations earlier when fortresses like Verdun had been constructed to funnel a German invasion in specific directions. Now of course that also meant that they had to be able to defend against the possible advance of the enemy in other areas, which is a different story for a different day, although it would of course not go well.

One final piece of information before we get into the actual planning for the defenses that would be constructed, and that is the timeline. The timeline for planning and construction of the fortifications is very important because the interwar period was a time when technological innovation, at least in the military sphere, was relatively limited for over a decade before suddenly exploding. This had drastic ramifications on military planning, and is one of the reasons why you see so many criticisms of some pieces of military planning and theory before the war begins. During the 1920s most of the conversations happening in France were around planning and placement of the fortifications to be built. These all had to be determined before any real construction could begin because every decision fed back into the other decisions. What type of fortifications were to be built? Well that was partially dictated by how they would be used and where they would be placed. Where should the fortifications be placed? Well that partially depended on the type of fortifications to be built. It was a confusing web which is why it would not be until 1927 that the French Army War Council would finally agree upon the basic structure of the fortifications. At the same time the geographic positioning of the fortifications were also being determined, most of which was done by the time construction started in 1928, but some of which continued almost until the start of the war as the line continued to expand. All of this is important because the military threats of 1928 and the years prior were VERY different than what they would be a decade later in 1938, which meant that by the time that the defenses were needed the plans from the mid 1920s were starting to show their age, although that did not mean they could not still be effective.

Now that we know why the French were planning on building fortifications, lets talk just briefly about where they wanted to put them. The highest priority area was of course along the shared Franco-German border. This meant placing strong fortification around around some of the that that might seem very familiar to anyone with knowledge of French military history. Metz, to protect the Meuse river valley, Belfort near the Swish frontier, and the area around Lauter which was roughly the middle near the point where the frontier was the furthest east. With these three areas as the anchor points, the line would cover the entire shared border, from Switzerland in the south to Luxembourg in the north. Much of this would run along the river Rhine, which introduced some very special problems. It seems somewhat obvious that a defensive line would be based on a river, which makes a lot of sense. But there were technical problems with making that a reality, because it turns out that the areas close to the river were not a great place to build fortifications like the ones that the French wanted to build, most of which were underground. And so instead the primary line of resistance would be placed several kilometers from the river, where the ground was far more conducive to construction. This left only light defensse and reconnaissance points actually on the river. Moving back from the river was seen as a necessary compromise. Along the river, and really all along the original frontage of the Maginot line there was a continuing disagreement among French military leaders about what specifically they should be building. This disagreement would contineu for much of the 1920s, it came down to how much emphasis should be placed on large fortifications and how much should be placed on small but deep prepared defensive positions. This was important because there were limited funds, and defenses with some amount of depth would be more useful in wartime, but they risked not being strong enough to actually protect the areas they were designed to protect. The compromise which was reached involved large strong points, or ouvrages, and then a network of smaller defensive positions, bunkers, and fighting positions spread throughout the surrounding areas. All of this was then linked by underground tunnels. The idea was that this provided as much geographic reach as possible while also having some larger anchor positions were supplies and reinforcements could be maintained. There were downsides to this arrangement though, because while the underground tunnels provided great protection, it also massively increased the cost of construction, which would be problematic given how much territory the fortifications planned to cover.

The most important part of the fortification system came in the form of the ouvrages, they were in the backbone of the entire system as they were the strong points, where the main line of resistance was anchored. They were placed so that they could control and dominate the areas around them with fire, and all of the other pieces of fortifications were placed to support them. The assumption was that it might still be possible for small units to infiltrate between the ouvrages, but they should be able to limit the size of those infiltrations. But while they each served the same purpose, their design was often very different from one ouvrage to another. There were three main things that had important impacts on the design of each individual ouvrage. The first was the size of the designed garrison, it was felt that some areas were more important or more vulnerable and so they needed a larger garrison. The second was the position of the ouvrage, and its relation to others, a larger ouvrage might be necessary at a position where the distance between ouvrages was large due to the terrain. The third was the terrain itself, the optimal structure and placement in mountains on the Swiss border were very different than what might be required in the Meuse river valley new Metz. All of these considerations made for a wide range of ouvrages. Some were large enough to be armed with artillery, generally of the 75mm variety. Others were smaller, and only had a smaller mortar or some machine guns. Larger artillery pieces were considered at various points during the design phase, but this was dropped under the theory that they would not be necessary. Because of their role as part of the main line of resistance, range was felt to be of less importance, because they would be supported by large artillery further back from the front line. The weapons provided to an ouvrage were placed in either retracting revolving turrets or far simpler casemates. Generally the casemates faced the flanks and rear while the turrets, and the primary armament faced forward. In terms of production, a lot of concrete was required. Much of the structures were also underground. To quote J.E. Kaufmann and H.W. Kaumann in Fortress France: The Maginot Line and French Defenses in World War II “The galleries and interior portions of the ouvrages varied in depth according to the geology of the area. In many mountainous regions, especially the Alps, where the forts were built into hard rock, a depth of twelve meters was considered sufficient. In limestone regions, the standard depth was sixteen meters, while in areas where the subsurface was softer and had consistent layers of average density, the required depths ranged from eighteen to twenty meters. When the subsurface consisted of soft clays, the regulation mandated depths of twenty-five to thirty meters.” One interesting feature of these designs was that from the rear the defenses were much less impressive, a purposeful design decision. This ws due to the French experience in the First World War and the fighting around Verdun. During that fighting the Germans were trying to capture various forts that had been built to be protected from all sides. 360 degree protection was great until the Germans were able to capture the fort, and then the French had serious difficulties getting them back. making the rear of the ouvrages and other positions much weaker than the front was an attempt to get around this problem, because if one were to fall to the enemy it would be far easier to retake. Between the ouvrages was an entire system of smaller interval casemates, which were generally smaller, only 10 to 20 meters in width which were then spaced around 600 to 800 meters apart. Along with the defensive pieces of the ouvrages there were also accommodations for both its defenders as well as additional areas for infantry which would man the areas between the ouvrages. All of these were provided with a food supply, a water supply, air filtration, and electric generators. For the defense of the ouvrage the garrison ranged between 200 and 1,000 men, with about 500 being average.

Now, we all know how the story of the Maginot Line ends, or at least how the story of the defense of France in 1940 ends, so I believe I am legally obligated to discuss not just where the Maginot line proper was built, but also where it was not. The original plans for the line of defenses do end at the point where the French and German borders diverge and Luxembourg gets stuck in between. The next bit of terrain was in and around the Ardennes Forest. This area was discussed at length by the Supreme Council of War, which was the body making the final decisions about where to place the defenses. In general the entire area around the Ardennes was treated as an area that was not of great concern. They believed that any army trying to move through the forest would find it tough going, and very time consuming. The assumption was that it would take at minimum 9 days for a German force to move through the Ardennes, more than enough time for French forces to be positioned to meet them. This assumption was of course perfect and would never prove to be very problematic at all.

The northern frontier with Belgium was a bit more interesting, for both political and geological reasons. During the 1920s France and Belgium were allies, their territory had both born the brunt of the fighting on the Western Front during the war, and they wanted to make sure that it did not happen again. Because they were allies there were some concerns that erecting a bunch of defenses on the border between the two nations would send the wrong kind of message to the Belgians. Putting up a wall between you and your allies is perhaps not the most encouraging of actions. The plan that did develop involved the French army rushing into Belgian territory as soon as possible after a war started and there they would establish fortifications in Belgium. To this end mobile fortification parks, which contained not just construction equipment but also transportation for equipment to move it into Belgium. The nice side benefit to this plan was that the fighting would take place as far away from the French countryside as possible. This was a good plan, until it was no longer a good plan, because there came a point where the Belgians began to reconsider their place as an ally of France, and her position in a possible war with Germany. This would eventually result in Belgium renouncing the French alliance, which meant that in a war between France and Germany the French Army could not longer depend on the ability to rapidly move into Belgium. This reintroduced the possibility that defenses were required on the Belgian border. There was however a problem, it was not just that the military leaders believed that a move into Belgium was the correct move, they also believed that it was impossible to construct the required fortifications on the Belgian frontier. The problem was one of geology. Along much of the border the water table was simply too high to allow for the same kind of fortifications that had been built further south. You just could not dig 10, 15, 30 meters down into the ground in many areas. This meant that any permanent fortifications would have to be of a very different type. There was some reluctance in creating these fortifications, but there was strong political pressure to make something happen. It was difficult for the spending on the southern defenses to be justified if they were not expanded north, and so expand they did. Around the old fortified area of Maubeuge defenses were improved, and the line of small fortifications was extended north. This would all occur in the mid 1930s, at which point funds would begin to be scarce as French rearmament really got underway. There were severe limits on how much time and money was put into these defenses, because many within the army saw it as a waste of time, and it was done mostly to placate French political leadership. Instead the army put its faith in more fortification staging areas, which would be rapidly pushed forward and constructed. They were still working under the assumption that when the time came they would still be moving into Belgium, even if it would happen later than hoped.

Construction of the line began in 1928, with most of the major fortifications originally planned all at least started by 1930. Work also began on all of the supplementary fortifications, including all of the interval positions between the major forts, was also started at roughly the same time. By 1931 much of that work was either done or at least started. What took longer was all of the underground tunneling work to connected all of the various positions. This included the creation of underground depots and barracks for the defenders. In the interim some temporary depots were created behind the lines, and there was even some work done on old German fortifications that had been constructed during the First World War so they could be temporarily used. There were two things that caused construction to be quite slow in some areas. The first was round the economic conditions, with the Great Depression making it challenging for the French government to continue construction. If you remember back to our conversations about the Great Depression, the french government at the time was very concerned with keeping a balanced government budget, and so at time the Maginot construction efforts were hit by reductions to reduce government spending. Another problem was the weather, which was particularly problematic in the far southern efforts, in those areas of the Alps construction had to be halted for months at a time due to the weather during the winter months. This weather impact would cause construction to drag out until 1938 in some areas, and for other forts final work was still not completed when the war started. By the time that the war did begin 55 of the large ouvrages and 68 samller ouvrages had been created. Combined they had 100 kilometers of tunnels and underground galleries. 1.5 million cubic meters of concrete had been used. With all of these construction efforts came a serious cost. The total cost was around 5 billion Francs, which as always is challenging to properly put into perspective due to inflation and currency conversions. There was also the move of the Franc off the Gold Standard during construction which makes any estimates or budgetary comparisons difficult. But it was a lot, of that you can be assured.

Of course the Maginot Line efforts were not just about making a bunch of large concrete structures on the borders of France, it was about defending France from German invasion. Before discussing its performance in this role, lets talk about what the Germans knew about the Maginot Line fortifications, which to summarize, they knew pretty much everything. By 1936 the Germans had almost perfect knowledge of where the fortifications were being built and the general details of how they were armed. Then in 1937 they would obtain accurate plans for many of the ouvrages, which would bre very helpful if they were to launch an attack. Their general evaluation of the defenses south of the Ardennes was exactly what the French wanted them to be, that it would be incredibly costly to try and attack through them. This pushed German offensive operations north, with the original plans for the invasion of France looking a lot like they had in 1914. There would then be a last minute change to move through the Ardennes, with very good results, at least from the German perspective. Withe successful offensive through the Ardennes the Maginot Line became mostly redundant as the primary fighting simply occurred elsewhere. But again, this was not really a problem, this was the purpose of the fortifications, to allow the French army to fight elsewhere and to hopefully fight successfully. The problem was that the French army was anything but successful during that fighting. However, when the French surrender occurred, most of the Maginot Line was still well supplies and completely intact. In some ways it is almost impossible to determine how successful the Maginot Line would have been if attacked, because there simply was not enough data. Those areas that ewre attacked often had those attacks take place after most of the defenders had been evacuated to assist in fighting elsewhere. From the perspective of the Maginot Line it was all a bit anti-climactic really.

I do not always provide an explicit reason that we talk about topics here on the podcast. I am covering a period of history and you can assume I think something is important when I put it in an episode. But I think this topic is worth a bit of discussion about why I think the reasons that the Maginot Line was built, its place within interwar French planning, and its legacy is so important. The Maginot Line, to put it bluntly has become synonymous with failure. I just searched Maginot Line on Google, on August 19, 2021 at 5:08pm. In the “People also ask” box, which displays questions that Google thing relate to “Maginot Line” two of them are just asking what the Maginot Line was and if it still exists but the other two are, and I am quoting here “What was the Maginot Line and why did it fail?” and “What was the problem with the Maginot Line?” The entire project is seen as a failure, and even as kind of a joke. When I first started researching for the podcast the Maginot Line was one of the first things I started reading about, and over the last 18 months or so I think it has crystallized in my mind as the absolute perfect example of the misunderstanding of how to evaluate and discuss events and decisions in history. Evaluations of the Line’s supposed failure and the criticisms of the French for building it in the first place falls into the three great traps of historical analysis: discounting the reasons why decisions are made, falsely representing the goals of those decisions, and results based analysis. We have talked a lot in this episode about why the French believed that Maginot Line was important to their ability to defend against future German aggression. There were serious problems with French demographics and geography that required some way of holding onto as much French territory as possible while waiting for help to arrive from other nations. Attempts to solve this problem in the First World War through a quick and decisive offensive had utterly failed, and so the defense was seen as the answer. This was why the Maginot line was created, it was the best solution to problems that the French could identify as early as 1919. Along with the problems that the Maginot Line was trying to solve were also the goals for the defenses that were created. Most importantly they were not designed to completely prevent an invasion, even when they were expanded onto the French and Belgian border. They were meant to make it very costly and very time consuming for a German attack to push through them. The decision to go around the bulk of the Maginot Line defenses was not just a possible outcome, but was still seen as a favorable situation for the French army. Being able to dictate the route of your enemy’s advance is an important advantage. The failure of the French Army in its mission to mount a defense against the German invasion is not the fault of the Maginot Line. Occasionally you might see the argument that the presence of the Maginot Line altered French military preparations, made it tempting to hide behind the defenses, but this is just mistaking how French military theory and the Maginot Line interacted. The French Army had a defensive mindset from the end of the First World War, a viewpoint that it felt justified in having due to the same manpower and geographic problems that the Maginot Line was designed to solve. In some ways the Maginot Line gave French Army leaders more confidence that they could launch offensive operations in the north, with a charge into Belgium. Knowing alternate paths in history is always challenging, but it is very likely that without the massive spending and construction of the Maginot Line the French Army would have been even more defensive minded, with a much greater portion of army resources dedicated to defense. Finally, as always, we have to talk about the problems of judging decisions in history based on results of those decisions and not the decisions themselves. Yes, we all know that the German invasion of France would go very well, and things would go very poorly for the French. But just because it failed does not mean that the decision to create it in the first place was incorrect. As discussed at the beginning of this episode, there were many reasons for creating the Maginot Line, most of them based around solving very real problems that France was facing. Was it the perfect solution for 1940? Maybe not, and the planning around certain areas would be very problematic, but there were also decisions that would prove to be very good. The basic concept of a static series of defenses all connected together with strong points and a vast number of supporting positions would prove strong enough for the Germans be forced to find a way around. And if you look at how the Wehrmacht faired in other early war campaigns, against far weaker defenses in Poland, it did not go well, so similar disasters would have most likely awaited an attack into the Maginot Line. All of this is to say, I think there are very valid criticisms that can targeted at French defensive preparations during the interwar years, but a blanket condemnation of the entire idea of the Maginot Line is certainly unfair, and ignores the very real problems that the French were trying to solve. Now as we wrap up the episode, a strong focus on the Maginot Line for our first episode about Interwar France has another purpose. During this season of episodes we will make it to the war, Panzers will roll into Poland. That means we will be talking about how that war starts, and all the things that were done along the way to try and prevent it. As we discuss these events, I want to once again reiterate that we have to look at them and think about them without thinking too much about the fact that the war would indeed start in September 1939. From rearmament, to military planning, to appeasement, everything was done under the belief that the chance of war was increasing, but without any idea of when it would actually happen or why it would be triggered. In the same way that to properly judge the Maginot line we have to look at why it was built, what it was trying to accomplish, and not just the outcome, we will apply the same principles to all of the events as Europe lunges from one crisis to another over the next several months of episodes