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Report - - How To Keep The Hun Out Of France, Sort Of - FR 03.2012 | European and International Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - How To Keep The Hun Out Of France, Sort Of - FR 03.2012



johnsalomon

Germany is the "wurst"
Regular User
#1
Six fruitless hours slogging around farmers' fields all over the Northeastern French countryside, getting caught on barbed wire, stomping in vast expanses of cowshit, climbing down 50 meter winding, crumbling staircases, crawling through ripped-open cannon barbettes, finding nothing but flooding and collapsed tunnels and stripped mangey infantry bunkers full of rusting fixtures.

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And then finally, a large looming shape at the end of the nth bumpy forest track. Probably nothing, supposedly blocked up and welded shut and hello, what's this? Some friendly civic-minded individuals with a blowtorch appear to have taken a dislike to the fact that this particular installation was closed with a heavy steel door, fronted with 2" steel bars, and backed by a thick wall of concrete blocks?

No matter, when French cavers / cable-thieving-gypsies / history enthusiasts want in, they want in NOW and that's the end of the story. So in the hole we squeezed, and

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Oh

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My

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Fucking

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God

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Motherlode.

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We've hit the goddamned motherlode.

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Miles upon miles of delicious rusting abandoned French military hardware dating back to the 1930s.

Almost no graffiti, and aside from some cable-thieving gypsy vandalism (just go into full cognitive dissonance mode and pretend it's because of German shelling) and a bit of post-German-invasion oh-merde-they're-behind-us rage-quit sabotage aside, a fully intact bunker.

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And what a bunker. We'd stumbled on one of the fabled, albeit well-documented and thoroughly explored and photographed, "gros ouvrages" that anchored the Maginot Line against direct German assault in a vain effort to avoid a repeat of the WW1 slaughter around Verdun.

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One of the massive diesel generators

Massive, kilometers-long galleries traversing a small city worth of crew quarters, ammunition storage bunkers, cargo hoists, infirmaries, repair shops, and anything else you'd conceivably ever need to keep a siege going for months, with a narrow-gauge railway connecting the lot.

At the extremes of this were around ten massive fortifications of varying sizes, reached by long-derelict elevators or, in our case, long foot-slogging ascents up dripping stairs.

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Cautionary picture on the wall of the radio shack

Murals and workplace safety posters were still present throughout, they'd even left the gardening implements and repair supplies when they abandoned this installation after the Germans flanked the entire line through the Netherlands and Belgium.

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The bogs - "take this paper"

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Detail of the mural in the crew chapel

R. and I spent a while clearing out a few hundred meters worth of railway tracks, then tear-assing down a small fraction of the colossal expanse of track on a commandeered ammunition cart:

http://youtu.be/bprxKKbfhNw

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One of several side-out stations along the way

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The sheer complexity of the installation was mind-boggling. Over 50 meters below ground were myriad overhead hoists for heavy 75mm and 135mm shell pallets, serving dual-barreled turrets capable of loosing dozens of shells per minute. Interlocking fields of fire among the large fortresses' many bunkers, and between forts, combined with heavy machine gun turrets, mortar pits, observation posts, barbed wire, trenches, and other deadly bits and bobs, were meant to ensure that nobody ever got close enough to bother.

Even after the heavy railway guns, tanks, and air support originally planned as mobile secondary defensive units to support the Maginot forts were smashed by the German blitzkrieg, these monstrous works still held out against the sort of combined-arms assaults that easily put paid to equally imposing fortresses such as Eben-Emael in Belgium.

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Logo of one of the heavy twin turrets

Elaborate cartridge slides, running down dozens of meters alongside the stairwells, brought massive amounts of discarded brass down to the base level for disposal from the combat floors up top.

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The turrets of the heavy guns themselves took up four floors each, and the mechanisms to lower them back down into the ground were still intact. Shell storage closets and complex machine cannon cartridge feeding arrays stood scattered around the battle stations.

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The whole shebang was in varying states of corrosion; some of the inches-thick steel gun cupolas' seals having finally rusted through and let water into the corridors down below. One enterprising farmer who'd bought a smaller bunker network that we found along the way was tremendously proud of the pumps he'd installed to feed his fields.

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One of the overhead ammo hoist systems that went on for many corridors, including into one of the heavy shell elevators. Note the rails down below for transport from the main magazines.

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I can haz spare parts

To wit, none of these emplacements, at least not the major ones, was ever taken by German assault. No surprise there, and the next person to make a crack about French engineering gets his face rubbed in a nice fat load of Dunkirk.

More, as usual, at kosmograd dot net.

Please also check out the usual crop of excellent pictures on Defender's page, who was gracious enough to let me have this one despite the fact that he spent all day working on his pictures. Thanks to his usual outstanding planning, we managed to pull this one off despite half a day's worth of mucking around mosquito-infested tunnels with water up the wazoo.
 

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