We first visited Bitche with its large citadel, which had been constructed by Vauban on the site of an old castle after the capture of Bitche by the French in 1624. The fortress is noted for its resistance during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Bitche is near the Maginot Line, into which the citadel was later integrated.
While driving along the German border, we noticed many bunker like structures, so we wondered if there would be a part of the Maginot Line we could visit. When we stopped at Fort Casso, we just arrived before a guided tour started and we could join it. For 2 hours we mostly explored the inside of this very expansive structure, as from the outside, you would never guess what lies underneath.
The Maginot Line, named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, is a line of concrete fortifications, obstacles and weapon installations built by France in the 1930s to deter invasion by Germany and force them to move around the fortifications.
Fort Casso, the Ouvrage of Rohrbach, was part of that defence line, called a “Petit ouvrage”, a small fortress made up of three infantry bunkers, connected by a tunnel network up to 30 metres under ground. The underground facilities include barracks, electric generators, ventilation systems, mess hall, infirmary and kitchen. Their crew consisted of between 100 and 200 men, which could stay underground for 2 months without any need to leave the bunkers (besides of sunlight and fresh air).
80% of Fort Casso is still in working order thanks to a group of volunteers like Dylan, who not only show the bunker to interested people but also restore every part of the huge structure in their free time. Our tour took us into the combat block number 3, then down the endless stairs until we were 30 metres underground and from there through long tunnels until we reached the central unit with all the facilities for the men.
We were fascinated, when our guide not only showed us how the 135 ton turret gets lifted, but also climbed into it and showed us how it gets turned by pedals in every direction.
The visit of Fort Casso and some of the other bunkers along the Maginot Line gave us a good impression of how the French border was secured after WWI.
Our last stop in France for now will be at Metz at the river Moselle, before we continue our route to Belgium. More on our next post!