With the success of our excursion to the Maginot Line in June 2000 some of us couldn’t wait to get back to Eastern France for further exploration and discovery. Last year we took a mini-bus but with a smaller party this time we headed for the channel tunnel in two cars, on 16th August. Those taking part were Dan McKenzie, who again organised the excursion, Nick Catford, Richard Challis, Tony Page, Robin Ware, Pete Walker, Mike Clarkson and Jason Green.

Once again our base was at Thionville close to the border of France, Germany and Luxembourg. We made good time driving across France and we had a chance to  recce out our first fort on Thursday evening ready for going underground the next day.



Our destination was the ‘Gros Ouvrage de SOETRICH’ 1.3 km north of the village of Soetrich. As with many of the Maginot Line forts we were able to drive virtually up to the front door along forest tracks and we quickly found the munitions entrance. Earth had been mounded in front of the entrance doorway by the French army to prevent access and although it was still possible to get in by squeezing through a hole at the top of the mound we decided to check the men’s entrance 250 meters to the north. This was wide open and a quick look underground revealed an open lift shaft and the stairway down alongside.

We returned early the following morning kitted up and ready to go. Although  Soetrich is a ‘Gros’ or large fort (housing 605 men) it is also very compact with all the fighting blocks within easy reach. We descended the stairs, approximately 60 feet below ground and immediately came to the workshops and generator room (Usine). All four generators were intactalthough being an open site there has been a lot of vandalism and a lot of pilfering by the many Maginot Line museums in the region eager to gather artifacts, either to display or trade. It is quite common practice for one museum to remove vital parts, for example from the generators, to stop them being of use to a rival.

Having passed the generator room we turned through 90 degrees and immediately came into the caserne or domestic area. This consists of a number of parallel passages linking the various dormitories, washrooms, kitchen etc. Most of the rooms were completely empty although some of the kitchen appliances and preparation surfaces were still intact. Beyond the caserne we turned through 90 degrees again into the main north – south tunnel which runs for approximately 700 meters with various branches to the fighting blocks. We turned south towards the munitions entrance and after 100 meters a tunnel to the right led to the magazine. The layout of the magazine is almost identical in all forts consisting of two parallel
tunnels, each with a tramway loading platform. The magazines are in rooms linking the two tunnels; in this case they were all empty.  At the end of one of the platform tunnels there was a mural on the wall giving the impression that that area had been turned into a chapel. The narrow gauge tramway is still in situ along all the major tunnels, like many forts it was powered by overhead electric cables and although all these cables have been removed as they are heavy duty copper wire, the fittings and supports are all still in place. At various places along the main access tunnel the bore widens to accommodate passing trains and for offloading. Although there are no platforms these are called stations. There were three at Soetrich  ‘Gare B’ between the two magazine tunnels, ‘Gare A’ at the bottom of the lift from the munitions entrance And ‘Gare C’ close to the junctions to the 6 fighting blocks.

Having looked at the magazine we turned north towards the fighting blocks. With limited time it was not possible to go up into all of them as they all involve climbing many stairs, on past experience this can be anything between 60 feet and 200 feet, unfortunately you never know how far up it is until you get to the top. We decided to climb up to blocks 4 and 6 both of which contained observation cupolas and mortar turrets. The layout of the fighting blocks is generally similar.  Near the base of each fighting block the access tunnel goes through two doors forming an airlock, it then splits one way going to the block magazine with overhead gantry rails for transferring the ammunition stillages (containers) to the railway trucks.
The other arm goes to the base of the lift shaft, which will usually have a stairway winding around it. At the top of the stairway/lift there are two levels the lower level contains the sleeping accommodation, filters and ventilation plant and counterbalance for the turret with the upper level containing the turret and the observation cupolas. Both the turrets we saw at Soetrich were generally in good condition but could not be operated as some parts had been removed and it was not possible to engage the hand cranked winding mechanism.

Having photographed everything in sight we made our way back to the men’s entrance and out to daylight. An excellent start to the weekend.




Our next fort was ‘Gros overage du MONT DES WELCHES’ in woods between the
villages of Kemplich and Dalstein. Again we were able to drive up to the front door of the munitions entrance, which at this fort also forms one of the fighting blocks.  Like Soetrich this is another compact ‘Gros’ ouverage, (522 men) of similar length with 7 fighting blocks. The workshops, generators and domestic area are all close to the bottom of the entrance slope shaft between ten parallel linking passages. The four generators were still in place but most of the other rooms had been completely stripped.
Because of its very compact nature, there is no separate magazine with the ammunition being stored in the individual block magazines. We only went up into one block (Block 4), luckily little more than 100 feet above. It had machine gun and mortar turrets and two observation cupolas most of the mechanism was intact and again in good condition.


It was now getting late in the day so we headed back to base via the Maginot Line museum at Hackenburg. Although closed we were able took at the men’s and munitions entrance and then drive up into the hills where we were able to see some of the fighting blocks from the outside.

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Saturday started with a disappointment. The previous year we had visited MOLVANGE and found it locked and inaccessible but the condition of entrances to the Maginot Line forts are forever changing. We had heard that the men’s entrance was now open. This fort is over a mile drive along a dirt track and sure enough the entrance gate was open but beyond it an inner door that was well and truly locked. We moved on to ROCHONVILLIERS. This is a massive fortification, 2,500 metres in length with 9 fighting blocked. It was converted into a Nato bunker by sealing access to all the blocks and just using the tunnels below; it is still retained by the French army. We took a look at it last year and found security cameras and the French flag flying but nobody came out to greet us. On this occasion the flag had gone and although the cameras were still there the site looked derelict. Further investigation is needed here, if the bunker is now disused perhaps an official visit can be arranged.




Our next fort was LATIREMONT 6km south of Longwy. Both the men’s and munitions entrance are alongside a farm road and are not, like the other forts this weekend, hidden in woodland. This is another Gros Ouverage for 600 men, 1200 metres to the furthest point.  Before we could go in another car turned up; it was a Belgian explorer Raoul Goulard, a veteran of many forts along the Maginot Line. He had not been able to gain access to Latiremont and was delighted to join us.

We descended 60 feet to the main north – south tunnel. As soon as we got to the bottom of the stairs we found the terminal station with five or six ammunition trucks still sitting on the narrow gauge track. We split into three parties, the explorers who wanted to see everything and the photographers who wanted to stick to a more gentle pace.  Passing the magazine with its platforms and empty rooms we came to a turning on the right passing through the caserne and workshops to the men’s entrance. As before most of the rooms had been stripped empty in the caserne but one or two rooms were worthy of note in particular the ‘sick bay’ with a folding bed fixed to the wall and a red cross on the door and the fairly complete kitchen. The workshop was particularly well preserved with a lathe still in situ and beyond it a room with an impressive mural depicting the name of the fort. Close by is a long room with electrical cabinets and switchgear and then the generator room. Two of the generators had gone but the other two were still there and appeared in immaculate condition, it wouldn’t have taken much work to get them running.

We decided to look at one of the machine gun blocks, Block 5, but were  disappointed to find that it has been completely stripped out apart from a periscope, which remained intact in one of the observation cupolas.  While the photographers were busy the explorers were determined to see everything and two of the team, Tony Page and Pete Walker managed to climb to the top of all 6 blocks. Their perseverance was rewarded when they found one of the mortar turrets still had its gun virtually intact.




By now it was late afternoon and we had planned to call it a day and finish the weekend with a meal at a nearby restaurant (the previous nights we had been to McDonalds). Raoul however had other ideas. He suggested we might like to visit BREHAIN 12 km south east of Longwy in the Bois du Luxembourg. We followed him for three miles along a forestry road and eventually arrived at the munitions entrance in a woodland clearing. we were able to gain access through the munitions entrance.

Again we found ourselves at the top of a 60 foot lift shaft. We descended the adjacent stairs to find the 1.7 km tunnel in immaculate condition but stripped bear. Even the supports for the overhead cables had been removed. Not everything in the fort was stripped out however; one of the magazines was still stacked with ammunition stillages, the tubular metal cases that housed the ammunition. The caserne was stripped bear but again the generator  rooms and workshops contained much of interest. One of the three generators had been removed but the other three were still in place and ready to go.

It was by now mid evening but we couldn’t leave without seeing at least some of the fighting blocks despite the long walk. Brehain has 8 blocks in total and would have been home to 637 men. We walked to the two nearest blocks 5 and 6 which should have contained mortar turrets but we were disappointed to find that although the turret counter balance was still there, the turret platform and everything above it had been cut off and removed, perhaps by one of the local museums. Although this was something of a disappointment there was still plenty to see in this rarely visited fort.


We were glad to see the light of day or more accurately the stars of the night and 

finally made it back to a kebab take away at Thionville at 11 pm.  after a very exhausting day.

On Sunday morning it was time to leave but the discussion on the way home was about what a good time we had all had and where on the Maginot Line to go next year. Dan McKenzie had already considered a trip to the Maginot Line in the Alps and Raoul had told us that he had been there and there was plenty to see despite inhospitable locations along mountainous tracks so that looks to be next years destination.

Text by Nick Catford edited by Dan McKenzie