by Marc Halter, illustrated by Brian B. Chin
Florange, Fr.: Association Moselle River 1944 / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2011. Pp. ii, 50.
Illus., maps, tables. $18.95. ISBN: 2952309256
A Graphic History of the “Great Wall” of France
In a work originally published in French, fortification historian Halter, with the assistance of fortification artist Chin, offers an innovative, informative, and very well done pictorial history of the Maginot Line. The work opens with a an account of the impact of World War I on France, which is followed by a look at the post-war debate over securing France from further invasion and the decision to develop an elaborate system of frontier defenses by the early 1930s. There follows a discussion of how the increasing militarism of Fascist Italy, and particularly the rise of Nazism in Germany, which not only confirmed the French decision to fortify their frontiers buy led to even more elaborate works. The book has a rather detailed account of how the defenses were planned and built, including short, but good explanations for various design decisions, all carefully illustrated, and accompanied by several tables with statistical data on the defenses. A long section covers the life and work of the troops serving in the defenses, a very different form of military duty than common at the time.
Naturally, the events of 1939-1940 are dealt with at some length. The book covers the disastrous shift of French forces into Belgium that left the Ardennes virtually undefended, allowing the Germans to make a hard-fought breakthrough at Sedan, and them undertake their famous drive to the Channel cost. During this operation, and the subsequent German offensive that overran much of the rest of France, virtually every post on the Maginot Line held out until the armistice particularly on the Alpine Front, despite German and Italian efforts to reduce some installations.
The book ends with a short section discussing the state of the defenses during the occupation, postwar uses of the defenses, including NATO plans for them in the event of a Soviet offensive into Western Europe, and their current state, with some portions of the defenses serving as a tourist attraction and other housing often unusual businesses.
Although the graphic format may not appeal to some, this is actually a useful treatment of the Maginot Line, and would be particular good for a young person interested in learning more about the war.