European road trip – day 3 – the Maginot Line, and Verdun

Our third day of the trip landed on a Sunday, which meant most businesses would be closed, so this made it a good day to do most of our driving. Today we would drive from Dunkirk in the north of France, visit the Maginot Line and Verdun in between, and then end in Strasbourg, in eastern France, 600 km away.

Originally, we had planned on visiting Sedan too. This was where the Germans made their initial breakthrough into France that eventually led to the French surrender. We intended to go to the Museum of the Last Cartridge, the local museum there, thinking that it was about the World War II battle, but actually it was about the Battle of Bazeilles during the Franco Prussian War (which I had never heard of before). In the end, we didn’t have time for it anyway so it was okay that we didn’t go.

The Maginot Line

Not far from Sedan, was a preserved portion of the Maginot Line in northeastern France, known as the Ouvrage La Ferté. The Maginot Line was a series of defensive fortifications stretching along the French border from Luxembourg to Italy built after World War I to protect France from a future German invasion. The location at the Ouvrage La Ferté saw the heaviest fighting during the Battle of France in World War II. It eventually was overwhelmed by German forces and its entire garrison was killed.

It’s exterior still shows the damage from the battle and grass has grown over the craters that were once there. It is possible to tour the inside of the bunker, but it is only available to large group tours.

Driving through the area, it’s pretty common to still see bunkers on the side of the road.

The Ouvrage La Ferté is in a pretty remote location, which makes sense considering it’s a defensive fortification, and because of the rain the night before, we ended up driving on some flooded roads, and even narrow farm roads that even Google Maps didn’t have a name for.

Verdun

From Ouvrage La Ferté, we drove to Verdun. Verdun was the site of another major battle in World War I, and to remember the fallen soldiers, a memorial containing their skeletal remains was constructed.

Unbeknownst to us, the ossuary was actually closed when we arrived, so we never got to go inside. We could only peek through the windows and see was a blurry view of stacks of bones. In front of the monument lies a military cemetery.

Nearby the ossuary is the actual fort that played a role in the Battle of Verdun. The fort fell to the Germans without a fight since the French had abandoned the fort thinking that the fort would have been ineffective against the heavy artillery that the Germans were using. Eventually, the fort was recaptured.

The road leading up to the fort was interesting too because some of the old trenches were preserved. The zig zag of the trenches can still be seen. Its purpose was to ensure that shrapnel exploding inside the trench would be contained. A straight trench would have allowed a clear path for the shrapnel to fly through more of the trench.

From there we drove three and a half hours to Strasbourg, where we’d start our fourth day of our road trip. That’s all for now!

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