Maginot Line - La Ferte
May 18, 1940
|On the far left of the Maginot Line, the Ouvrage La Ferte was not as
strong as many other forts along the Maginot Line. Built as part of a
later extension of the Maginot Line to deal with a potential German
attack through Belgium, budgetary considerations meant that La Ferte
was a Petit Ouvrage rather than a Gros Ouvrage. La Ferte had only two
combat blocks, down from the three originally planned, compared to twenty in some larger forts like Hackenberg.
budgetary concerns, La Ferte and the forts of the extension were
further away from each other and could not support each other
as well as the stronger forts along the center of the Maginot
Line. The 75mm guns at neighboring Fortress Chesnois, for
example, could reach La Ferte but not the open ground to the west of La
was also dead ground not covered by the the La Ferte work's weapons.
knew of some of these weaknesses and saw the morale advantages of a
successful attack on the Maginot Line, which many people believed was
impregnable. As German troops advanced through Belgium protecting
flank of the panzer thrust, they also moved south to widen the
penetration. La Ferte was 12 miles from the Sedan bridgehead.
By May 13th, the La Ferte ouvrage was faced by the German
71st Infantry Division with attached combat engineers equipped
kind of shaped charges first used a few days earlier with great
success at Eben Emael. A diversionary attack on the Maginot Line might
lure French troops away from the panzer thrust, making their task
easier. By May 18th, the Germans advance had gotten around the flank
of the ouvrage, which was now isolated, and they were ready to attack.
|Like other Maginot Line works, La Ferte was surrounded by barbed wire and anti-tank obstacles made from railroad rails.
A preliminary bombardment created gaps in the wire and created shell
holes that the advancing German
troops used for cover. Some of the craters were 30 feet across
and 12 feet deep. Smoke shells shielded the fort from the view of
neighboring French positions. The anti-tank obstacles also
cover to the advancing infantry.
The ouvrage was attacked from front, the direction of Villy, and from flank, the direction of the post war cemetery.
Cupolas were the target of 88mm rounds, but only a lucky hit caused
three casualties. This cupola on Block 2 was disabled by German
engineers using explosives. A cupola of this sort would be
equipped with machine guns and 25mm guns. With the cupolas out of
action, the engineers went after the AM turret.
This turret, an AM turret, was equipped with mixed weapons. The
preliminary bombardment had disabled the turret, sticking it in the up
position unable to turn. A German shaped charge opened a
hole in the weapons embrasure that you can see on the left. The Germans then dropped a charge into the turret.
The resulting explosion blew the turret into the air, and it
dropped down, falling off center.
Block 2 was now disabled and on fire.
Block 1 was attacked next and soon caught on fire. The
garrison of 107 men from both blocks withdrew to the tunnel that
connected the two
blocks, and the commander, Lt Maurice Bourguignon, contacted his
superior to ask permission to
surrender. Told that a Maginot Line fort was like a submarine and
did not surrender, the men remained in the tunnel with gas masks on,
victims of the ignorance of distant officers who had little idea of the
The masks were not designed to deal with the level of carbon
monoxide present, however, and several days later the Germans found the
whole garrison dead in the tunnel.
Many of the dead are buried nearby, and the ouvrage is preserved as a museum and war memorial.
The successful German attack stripped the Maginot Line of its
reputation for invincibility. The action here had also
diverted French troops from Stonne, thusly helping
protect the bridgehead at Sedan.
Copyright 2012 by John Hamill