French design Maginot Line differently

Discussions on alternate history, including events up to 20 years before today. Hosted by Terry Duncan.
User avatar
T. A. Gardner
Member
Posts: 2146
Joined: 02 Feb 2006 00:23
Location: Arizona

French design Maginot Line differently

Post by T. A. Gardner » 14 May 2020 02:25

What if the French decide that because of the cost they will design and build the Maginot Line to a lower standard of protection? That is, they build the line with less concrete, tighten up the individual bunkers and casemates such that there are fewer tunnels and of shorter length, etc. That is, they spend say, half as much per installation as they did. But they still spend just as much overall making the line cover twice the distance. They also make serious reductions in the section in the French Alps facing Italy to further extend the line along the Belgian border.

Let's say the result is the Line now extends to cover most of the Ardennes, including some artillery blocks, some turreted blocks, etc. Yes, these are more vulnerable to heavy artillery or hits from Stuka bombs but even as built are reasonably resistant to most German field weapons and quite capable of carrying out the support function for interval infantry units.

At the same time, with the line extended further, the French Army puts in more interval divisions to support this extended line using the reduction in costs for field units to beef up those that remain in service with better equipment. This means the 'B' divisions are in better material shape, if still the same in terms of training and manpower.

Would it be enough to halt the German advance through the Ardennes and stalemate the front?

Carl Schwamberger
Host - Allied sections
Posts: 7404
Joined: 02 Sep 2006 20:31
Location: USA

Re: French design Maginot Line differently

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 14 May 2020 03:35

No.

In the Sedan area there was a fortified zone much as you describe. A zone of bunkers, entrenchments, mines, wire; occupied by two infantry divisions which were reinforced with extra battalions of fortification soldiers, two light tank battalions, & a extra 86 field artillery cannon totaling 176. Poor training and bad decisions rendered this reinforced infantry corps ineffective. Note that the French 55th & 71st Division Infantrie had spent a average of five days a week improving the forts & entrenchments in the X Corps sector, but only averaged one day a week training.

Further west on the Franco Belgian border there was a similar zone of lighter fortifications much like you describe. Again to many undertrained battalions & division HQ staff & poor decisions pissed away any advantage.

The French had a sizable disadvantage in training. During the 1930s fiscally conservative & prudent legislators had reduced the military budget with the object of mitigating the economy of the Depression. When mobilized the typical French officer had less than three years training, mostly as a reservist. Older reservists had a little more than two years training. The younger ones had less that two years due to military budget reductions. Conversely the German army benefitted from gross deficit spending by the nazi government. Conscript training was expanded from two to three years, NCOs & officers had accumulated four or more years of training.

Building a different fortification system without grossly improving training of the soldiers and command staff is a wasted step sideways or backwards. If the funds spent on the fortifications 1928-1938 had been spent on training at the same scale of the German army 1934-1939 the war of 1939-1940 would have been very different.

User avatar
T. A. Gardner
Member
Posts: 2146
Joined: 02 Feb 2006 00:23
Location: Arizona

Re: French design Maginot Line differently

Post by T. A. Gardner » 14 May 2020 03:47

I think it would have a significant advantage. In the Meuse crossings, the French defenses fell apart in good part from air attack, particularly against the French artillery positions. Here, imagine that the French are supported by 2 or 3 Gros Ouvrage with say, a combined 12 to 20 75mm guns in artillery blocks and turrets, along with say 2 to 4 135mm twin turrets, along with the other defenses these would have. There would be petite ouvrage and interval blocks in the defenses too.
The combination would have made the air attacks almost ineffective even if the Stuka were able to take out a few of the casemates and bunkers with heavy bombs.

All the French need do at the Meuse is stall the German crossing by a few days and the German plan collapses. It wouldn't be a French win per se, but it would likely lead to a stalemate which is really all France needs initially to stay in the war.

TheMarcksPlan
Member
Posts: 1223
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Re: French design Maginot Line differently

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 14 May 2020 17:56

France barely held on with 50 British divisions, against a German army fighting a two-front war.

With just British divisions and against an undivided German army, her defeat was inevitable. At the pace of mechanized warfare, France was never going to survive more than a few months after the shooting started.

The Wallies plan in 1939 was nonsensical. France needed Russia, a UK actually committed to European land war, or it was doomed.

User avatar
Kurt_Steiner
Member
Posts: 3977
Joined: 14 Feb 2004 13:52
Location: Barcelona, Catalunya

Re: French design Maginot Line differently

Post by Kurt_Steiner » 14 May 2020 21:16

A Maginot line, even if a diminished one, would still doom the military thinking of the French army and would put it into a defensive mindset, which ultimately helped the Germans to defeat them.

And, furthermore, the moment they modify the defensive setting of the Maginot, the Germans would begin to study how to defeat it. They would not repeat OTL strategy without modifying to face the new difficulties.

maltesefalcon
Member
Posts: 1845
Joined: 03 Sep 2003 18:15
Location: Canada

Re: French design Maginot Line differently

Post by maltesefalcon » 15 May 2020 21:51

The Maginot line actually performed one of its main purposes. It basically forced the Germans to attack through Belgium.
Thus it (in theory) ensured that France would know the most likely invasion path and have at least Belgian and perhaps British support in the event of war. It's unfair to hold it accountable fiscally or tactically for the fiasco that followed.(Note: added for completion of my own thoughts only. I'm not implying anyone in the above posts has made that argument, but it's been a subject of debate for years.)

Belgium had fortified regions as well, which was hoped would be somewhat of a continuation of the line. None of these strong points were intended to be impregnable, only manned and supplied long enough to delay the enemy and soften them up. The next phase would be the mobile divisions to come to the rescue and turn the tide.

However a few issues combined to spoil the party. First of all Belgium foolishly believed that sticking to a strictly neutral posture would protect them from German invasion. That meant the Dyle line was not ready for action when the time came. The other allies to their discredit would not write Belgium off, focussing on strengthening the Franco Belgian border instead. Belgium is a small country and the Dyle plan almost ensured most of the Belgian countryside would be over run from the very start. It also ensured the fastest divisions would need to be allocated on the border to race to their start positions once the Germans moved west. The trap was almost set from the very beginning.

In any event history of the actual battle showed that extensive fortifications were somewhat obsolete by 1939. I have often wondered what would have happened if the Allies had hunkered down in France and used a heavy force to counterattack the exposed panzer columns on French soil instead. (They would still need better command, communication and control and improvements in tac air however,)

Carl Schwamberger
Host - Allied sections
Posts: 7404
Joined: 02 Sep 2006 20:31
Location: USA

Re: French design Maginot Line differently

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 17 May 2020 14:22

maltesefalcon wrote:
15 May 2020 21:51
... I have often wondered what would have happened if the Allies had hunkered down in France and used a heavy force to counterattack the exposed panzer columns on French soil instead. (They would still need better command, communication and control and improvements in tac air however,)
On the game board it allows the defeat of the Dutch and Belgian armies separate and much more easily. That is they are defeated piecemeal & most of Belgium is overrun at lower cost than OTL. This leaves the French & Brits defending a significantly longer front less the 22 infantry divisions of the Belgian Army. The ability of the French army to conduct counter attacks was uneven. In some cases their local commanders were successful. In other cases they failed. With a thinner front presented to the enemy the counter attack forces become more important & every counter strike must succeed. As noted above there is the problem of the Allies having only four armored or mechanized divisions that were close to fully trained. The other four were weaker in training at the division command level & one was both badly equipped and did not even exist at the start of the battle. The ten armored divisions of the Germans had a strong cadre of operationally experienced leader, including combat experience. So you are depending on a smaller & less experienced/trained to execute a counter attack strategy.

User avatar
T. A. Gardner
Member
Posts: 2146
Joined: 02 Feb 2006 00:23
Location: Arizona

Re: French design Maginot Line differently

Post by T. A. Gardner » 17 May 2020 15:55

I only count 6 French armored divisions: The three DLM''s and three DCR. The 5 existing DLC that operated in the Ardennes really don't count since they are about the size of a reinforced regiment or brigade at best. The British had one armored division forming that was committed later in the campaign, along with the fourth DCR that was scrapped up at the last minute. The British division by their own officer's admission was "a travesty."

That said, if the Belgians had allowed the French and British to move up to the German border as allies prior to the actual invasion, it might have proved a move that made a German victory impossible in 1940. On the other hand, if this did occur and the Allied forces still put only weak units in the Ardennes, the breakthrough there might still happen and the results would be equally disastrous for them.

Carl Schwamberger
Host - Allied sections
Posts: 7404
Joined: 02 Sep 2006 20:31
Location: USA

Re: French design Maginot Line differently

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 18 May 2020 01:41

T. A. Gardner wrote:
17 May 2020 15:55
I only count 6 French armored divisions: ...
I was including the just forming Brit armored division & the planned & hastily formed 4th Div Char.
T. A. Gardner wrote:
17 May 2020 15:55
if this did occur and the Allied forces still put only weak units in the Ardennes, the breakthrough there might still happen and the results would be equally disastrous for them.
If they are deploying into a Allied Belgium the confusion over the defense of Ardennes is unlikely to occur. OTL the Belgians only deployed two mobile divisions in the eastern Ardennes, & immediately early morning 10 May executed a plan to withdraw them from the entrenched border. They thought the French would be sending much stronger ground forces. The French thought the Belgians would be executing a delaying action, not a hasty withdrawal. That they would be aligned with at least two Belgian divisions for at least a few days & two more divisions in reserve at Namur & Huy might be committed. As it was neither side executed the others plan. The Belgians were withdrawing across the delaying line the French were just starting to occupy at noon on the 11th. The French did not expect to see them until the evening of the 12th, or perhaps the 13th. As it was the German advance guards were probing the French forces in the Ardennes as early as mid afternoon of the 11th. No time to deploy, set in artillery, lay mines blow bridges.

A good look at the map shows how its preferable to place a solid defense on the Belgian/Luxembourg border. The Belgians at some point seem to have understood this. They invested in a zone of concrete bunkers, mine fields, barbed wire, and cleared fire lanes all on the passages from the border. Unfortunately they abandoned all that in less than 12 hours.

lahoda
Member
Posts: 10
Joined: 29 May 2020 14:31
Location: Hradec Králové, Czech Republic

Re: French design Maginot Line differently

Post by lahoda » 30 May 2020 20:38

Kurt_Steiner wrote:
14 May 2020 21:16
A Maginot line, even if a diminished one, would still doom the military thinking of the French army and would put it into a defensive mindset, which ultimately helped the Germans to defeat them.

And, furthermore, the moment they modify the defensive setting of the Maginot, the Germans would begin to study how to defeat it. They would not repeat OTL strategy without modifying to face the new difficulties.
Totally agree. The only different outcome would be if Maginot line stopped to be considered as impenetrable catch-all protection, the troops needed to be trained to be agile, mobile (to be able to plug any potential holes) and don't be afraid to attack and even enter enemy territory if needed. All of this was missing in France in that period. They vere really surprised how easy they got through the German lines once they tried to attack, but it was too little too late.

maltesefalcon
Member
Posts: 1845
Joined: 03 Sep 2003 18:15
Location: Canada

Re: French design Maginot Line differently

Post by maltesefalcon » 01 Jun 2020 16:26

If I may add....

Both terrain and existing infrastructure dictated how the Maginot Line would perform its function.

At the time there were very few rail bridges in the upper Rhine area suitable for large scale army use, compared to the lower Rhine.
This would funnel any potential invasion into a small number of crossing points. Fairly easy to counter with explosives at the French end of the spans.

Also the terrain of the Vosges mountains in Alsace would tend to funnel columns into a fairly small numbers of useful roadways. Again the line fortified the most likely routes.

In contrast the borders of mutually friendly nations of France, Belgium, Netherlands were flatter and easier to traverse. Thus most of the commercial roads and rails were concentrated in that area.

Fortifying this area (including somehow blocking the many rivers that traverse it) would be both difficult and an impediment to commercial traffic in peacetime.

Conversely the Germans could and did fortify their border along the upper Rhine, which made it difficult to cross into the Reich along this route. This allowed them to move more troops farther north, to counter any potential Allied incursions eastward. It actually worked in this area, as the Allies flowed into Germany across the lower Rhine for the most part in 1945.

Carl Schwamberger
Host - Allied sections
Posts: 7404
Joined: 02 Sep 2006 20:31
Location: USA

Re: French design Maginot Line differently

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 02 Jun 2020 02:41

A good primer on the CORF system, or Maginot line, is Kemps 'The Maginot Line. Myth and Reality'. Its a short concise review of the origins and construction of the fortress systems built 1928-1939.
maltesefalcon wrote:
01 Jun 2020 16:26
If I may add....

Both terrain and existing infrastructure dictated how the Maginot Line would perform its function.

....

Conversely the Germans could and did fortify their border along the upper Rhine, which made it difficult to cross into the Reich along this route. This allowed them to move more troops farther north, to counter any potential Allied incursions eastward. ...
This is very important to understand. A equally important point is, the French military leaders & knowledgeable politicians never believed for a moment the CORF works were a "impregnable" defense. That was a propaganda sound bite for the newspapers & news reels in the cinema. Henri Maginot a Great War veteran and former military officer never described his proposal as a 'impregnable defense', not were the original and the final plans as constructed described as such. The CORF system & the lesser works built in the 1930s were built for three purposes.

1. Provide a highly protected artillery/MG position to REINFORCE the field force defending the frontier. I can't emphasize the word reinforce enough. The region from Longwy to Strasberg was to be defended first by field forces. Corps of infantry divisions & heavy artillery groupments, tank groupes and engineer brigades, integrated tactical air support. The fortresses were a more refined and stronger version of the timber and sandbagged bunkers of 1915-1918. Better placed and thought out than the trenches and water logged cannon pits.

2. The second purpose or selling point was the fortification system would allow a smaller border security force to stand against a surprise or hasty attack by the old Reichsweher marching straight out of the barracks. There was a fear among some circles in France the German army might seize a few French industrial cities near the border in a surprise attack, giving the French a choice of a bloody & expensive campaign to chase them out, or a embarrassing political settlement. In retrospect there was not much to this one, but in the legislative debates of 1928-29 it sounded good.

3. The fortifications allowed for economy of force in the ground army. The claim was spending X amount on the fortifications allowed Y savings in conventional ground combat corps, which could be spent as Z for cutting edge aircraft, R & D for tanks, or new artillery, ect... This sort of worked, except one can question when the fiscal benefit would accrue and if the R & D funds would be wisely spent.

What was a fourth unintended consequence, not planned by the proponents of the fortifications but very important, is the Deputies would use the forts under construction as a excuse to cut training for the army. Basic conscript training was reduced from 24 to 18 months. specialists training was reduced, follow on training for reservists was reduced. The numbers of long service professionals were reduced. Conversely after 1934 the Wehrmacht increased the numbers of long service cadre, increased initial conscript training, increased reservist training, and extended specialist and cadre training. Both the leftist Popular Front, and the later legislature dominated by fiscal conservatives used the CORF construction project as a excuse to cut training service for the military. The ground army was the worst affected.

lahoda
Member
Posts: 10
Joined: 29 May 2020 14:31
Location: Hradec Králové, Czech Republic

Re: French design Maginot Line differently

Post by lahoda » 02 Jun 2020 20:53

Carl Schwamberger wrote:
02 Jun 2020 02:41
... Conversely after 1934 the Wehrmacht increased the numbers of long service cadre, increased initial conscript training, increased reservist training, and extended specialist and cadre training...
The conscription as well as renaming of Reichswehr to Wehrmacht only happened by passing "Gesetz für den Aufbau der Wehrmacht" law on March 16th, 1935. Technically, yes, it is "after 1934", but until then, there was no consription at all and Reichswer was limited to 100k size.
There were not enough trained troops and 1940 was earliest date the attack against France had a chance for success. Had Germans attacked west instead of Poland in 1939, they'd fail. It would be even worse in 1938 in Munich crisis, and a total disaster during 1936 Rheinland reoccupation. Even if Maginot line was just a reinfrocement of the regular army, it definitely played a role in switching the army thinking into passive mode, which made a defeat in 1940 possible.

User avatar
Sheldrake
Member
Posts: 2538
Joined: 28 Apr 2013 17:14
Location: London

Re: French design Maginot Line differently

Post by Sheldrake » 02 Jun 2020 22:37

Playing around with the |Maginot line would not solve the problem of defending France.

The Maginot line was not intended to be an impenetrable barrier, but a way to hold ground at minimal cost allowing the field armies to manouvre and mass against penetrations. Fixed defences have been much maligned. They could be very effective.

French military doctrine was derived from the successful tactics of WW1, concentrating firepower to save lives. There were several problems with this strategy.
1. The cost of the Maginot Line
2. Adapting their doctrine for the age of motor transport and wireless communications to operate at 10-20 mph compared to the 2-4 mph of horse and foot.
3. Training their conscript army.

The French had a further two problems.

1. Their air force was ill prepared, and the country lacked air defence warning, reporting and communications.

2. The British were a massive PIA as allies. The British were financially and economically stronger. Their adversarial political system led to stronger governments that could take the lead - but the British were reluctant to commit to a continental commitment and did not share their integrated air defence system.

Return to “What if”