During the early stages of the 1940 Battle for France, the German invaders avoided the main line Maginot forts. A few Maginot petit ouvrage, the weaker, unconnected glorified blockhouses, were attacked. The Germans overpowered them quickly. German propaganda flowed from these victories at the small forts, at places like La Ferte. The story would be far different against the gros ouvages.
"Operation Tiger” marked a change in strategy toward the Maginot. Now a direct offensive, employing the full might of the German army, targeted the main Maginot line. German military power reached it's zenith in June 1940. Undefeated, fighting only on one front, Britain kicked out of France in defeat, Germany was the master of the Continent. The French army lay shattered. Germany, above all else, was capable to take on major fortifications. The Germans prevailed against powerful world class fortifications, at Fort Eban Emanuel in Belgium earlier and later, in 1942, at Sevastopol.
Hitler was directly involved. Hitler suffered failure poorly. On June 14, 1940, the day Paris fell, the German 1st Army went over to the offensive in "Operation Tiger” and attacked the Maginot Line between St. Avoid and Saarbrücken achieving penetrations in several locations. Three divisions advance through the Maginot Line into the Vosges.
Like the Americans in 1944, the Wehrmacht employed a three prong strategy:
1- Weaken the forts defensive capability through concentrated heavy artillery and bombing. 2- Move in close and blind the defenders by destroying apertures with line of site fire from high velocity 88 cannons. 3- Direct combined arms assault
At each main line fort, all German assaults failed. Despite superior heavy weapons, the Maginot forts went unscathed. Intense barrages by siege cannon and Stukas accurately placed 2,000lb armor piercing bombs did no damage. The German assault teams were unable to get close. The French pounded their every move with accurate deadly barrages.
At Simserhof soldiers from the German 257th Division tried and failed to get close to the fort. German officers "felt like rabbits trying to run from shotguns" as almost 15,000 artillery shells accurate targeted their every move. Vehicles, lucky enough to get close, were blasted. Every fort at the Ensemble de Bitche lay within supporting cannon fire of the other.
They worked together in unison. Every fort held out, not even a single French artillery piece was neutralized.
After the armistice, these magnificent forts were handed over to the Germans, untouched and unassailable.
Source: "The Maginot Line" by Ralph Chelminski.
The Germans carefully arrayed powerful howitzers, heavy mortars, 88 AA guns, Stukas with 2,000 bombs, and assault engineers against the Maginot. As the battle raged over one Maginot fort, Lembach, on June 19, a German 420-mm howitzer (next two photographs) placed several well-placed rounds on Schoenenbourg, hitting the concrete surface of a combat block and gouging a 70-cm deep crater, which represented the greatest damage inflicted by any heavy-artillery piece with a single round against the Maginot forts. Video footage of this particular shot is popular in Maginot television documentaries.
Other shells bored as much as 20 meters deep into the loamy soil surrounding the ouvrage and detonated as close as five meters from the underground galleries of the combat blocks. According to the French, the shock was perceived merely as a harmless tremor in the passageway. "
On June 19 and 20, Stuka dive bombers also dropped 500 kg (1,100 lb) bombs on the fort, placing forty percent on or near the target. In the course of the following days some bombers also dropped 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) bombs. The Luftwaffe continued its attacks on Schoenenbourg until June 22. Schoenenbourg absorbed all this punishment but gamely fulfilled its supporting missions during the bombardment. The big 420-mm howitzer returned to bombard Schoenenbourg on June 21, adding fourteen more rounds that morning to the effects of the air attacks."
Source: Kaufmann, J.E. and H.W. Kaufmann. The Maginot Line: None Shall Pass. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997
German attack in June 1940, France.