Wednesday 11th September
After yesterdays near disaster of running out of beer and having to resort to the chemical cocktail whisky our first stop had to be Lidls, and it had to be a German Lidls as well.
This nearly made it to being voted “Beer of the Day”. Unfortunately the trolley wasn’t big enough to get it all in. 29¢ a can, not your puny little 440ml cans we get in the UK but big tough 500ml monsters and 4.9% proof. Not the best beer in the world but it’s wet and it does the job. You can get it in the UK (69p) or Spain (59¢). There is only one slight downside, you have to pay 25¢ deposit on each can but even then, it’s still cheaper than anything anywhere else.
How about Wodka at €4.99 a bottle.
When you’ve finished with your cans and plastic bottles (no deposit on glass spirit bottles) you turn up at one of these machines outside every supermarket and start feeding them in. At the end you get a voucher for money off in that supermarket.
After filling up with booze and food we headed north to our next spot on the map that we missed last time.
You can probably guess how excited Lucy was! This is the back entrance to the Schoenenbourg Fortress, part of the Maginot Line. Truth be told, it is the only entrance. The railway line is where ammunition was delivered into the structure.
The Fortress was one of 58 big forts built along the Franco German border between 1930 and 1935. This fort contained 630 men underground and remained unconquered until a week after the armistice when the fort was ordered to surrender by the French High Command.
We arrived at 12.30 but the fort doesn’t open until 2pm so seeing the circular walk signs decided to go for a stroll.
Our stroll was over a mile and we ended up by large concrete strong points. The “lumps” on the left contained machine guns and periscopes, the mushroom to the right will be explained later.
Heres another, there will be a map later, there are six of these gunpoints giving wide arcs of fire over the valleys below. These concrete combat blocks are made entirely from reinforced concrete, 3.5m which and weighing in excess of 6,700 tons.
Another strongpoint containing large guns and machine guns.
Another mile of walking bought us back to the entrance just in time. At 2pm the doors opened and in we flooded. Things started well, all the signs are multilingual, everything is clearly marked and within 20 yards we are getting into a lift which takes us down 30 m into well lit tunnels.
The wagon to the right would have transported ammunition, food, and supplies. The wagons would have been pushed into the lifts, bought down 1 or 2 at a time and then reassembled into trains. Underground electric locos would then move them to the front. Note the overhead elecric wires which gave the trains power.
Built into the tunnels are strongpoints, just incase the tunnel defences were breached. This one consisted of two machine guns at the end of a long tunnel.
Our first branch off to the right. Ahead lie 800m of tunnels to get to the guns at the front.
One of the displays shows adverts from 1940, this one is for our daughter Emma, La Vache qui Rit. Laughing Cow as we call it.
Large kitchen to feed the NCO’s and privates. Officers get their own kitchen. The diary is at the back left and meat store back right. Not much cooling is required down here, average temperature is 12ºC, luckily we remembered to bring jumpers after having been to the secret nuclear bunker in Brentwood.
The wine cellar. Basically everything needed to keep 630 men fed, entertained and healthy was kept in this fort which was able to survive for three months without any outside help.
Part of one of the generator rooms. During normal operations electricity would be fed in from outside but in times of need the fort could easily go self sufficient. One of the nice things was that this generator was running and generating electricity, making a noise and making the fort seem alive.
The French were very concerned about gas attacks so large air filtration systems were necessary.
A bunk bed for 36 men, cosy. And the little one said, “Roll over, roll over…”
OK, you’re going to have to use your imagination here, just a little bit. This is a counterbalanced arm, pivot is by the sheel post. At the far end is a 120 ton counterweight and this end is just visible, part of a 500mm diameter column. Sorry, space was a bit limited and then I got awestruck with the mechanicals so forgot to take the decisive explaining photo.
On top of the counter balance system is a gun like this one topped off by a steel mushroom cap, like the ones we saw earlier. The counterweight system can lift the mushroom by 60cm in an attempt to keep the guns safe from enemy fire, they couldn’t be repaired with the enemy banging on the door. The mechanism allows for the turret to be rotated 360º.
Two men operated this part of the gun, the bomb loaders. They took a shell from the right hand side, put it into the breech, the gun would fire, and the empty shell would be fed back into the chute next to the shell delivery device. What you can’t see is the second barrel obscured by the nearest barrel, so there were two guns here in one. That means that there are two gun loaders, one left handed, the other right handed. The shells are 75mm diameter and weigh 20kg. At maximum fire rate they could load a shell every two seconds. The guns got hot, very hot and had to be cooled by throwing water over them, the gun exhaust contains lethal gases so huge air extraction systems had to be in place and the noise must have been excruciating. Add in the fact that the gun loaders had to be 160cm or shorter to fit in the space available.
Empty shells end up at the bottom of a large chute.
This is a map of the fortress.Over a kilometre from front to back. Above ground the woods were laid with trenches, mines, barbed wire and other defensive measures. The Germans did attack this part of the Maginot line and managed to kill one occupant whilst thousands of Germans died attempting to gain access. In the end the Germans changed tactics, marched through Belgium and basically surrounded the whole line. The Germans never got closer that 3km to the Maginot line so in some ways it was a huge success.
This is a fantastic museum and I highly recommend you visit. We spent nearly three hours in there, most of the signage was multi-lingual, and there was additional information such as an area of one of the walls was allowing oil to seep through. There are large oil deposits in the area and it was extracted in the past, over 300,000,000 tons (if I remember correctly). It’s no longer financially viable to extract it but it was little things like this that added to the experience. Take a jumper and be prepared for lots of walking.
Lucy now has blisters on top of blisters and has assumed her usual position, sitting/laying down. Meanwhile, tough old me has been driving across mountains and rivers, avoiding some odd driving behaviours and pushing my way through traffic despite horns blowing. We’ve retired to one of our previous stops – photos and location tomorrow.
This is “Beer of the Day”, only 69¢ a can. I’m not sure about the one on the right, I’m sure Radler is shandy so will let Lucy try that and if it is OK will nick it off her. She won’t mind, she’s invented a new drink – Baileys, Amerretto and Red Stag (Whisky with cherry liqueur).