The Maginot Line, named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, (seen on the background of this page) was a line of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, artillery casemates and machine gun posts which France constructed along its borders with Germany and Italy after World War I, their grand intention being to render their country impregnable against attack for evermore. Those fortifications which face Germany tend to be referred to as 'The Maginot Line' and the fortifications strung out across the Alps facing Italy tend to be known as 'The Alpine Line'.

In brief, the theory behind the construction of the fortifications was to give France time to mobilise whilst funnelling invading German forces into open land, the better to be engaged there in a war of movement. For a somewhat more in depth discussion of the line's raison d'etre please refer to our Gros Ouvrage Latiremont page linked here  - RIGHT. As history records, sadly things did not go to plan and the Germans invaded France through the Ardenne Forest, an area the French high command considered to be impassable to the armoured forces of the day.

Gros Ouvrage Bréhain is located not far from the village of Bréhain-la-Villewhat in the Meurthe-et-Moselle département of France. This area was part of the fortified sector of the Crusnes and faces the Luxembourg border. Bréhain is flanked by the smaller 'petits' ouvrages Mauvais Bois and Aumetz. Gros ouvrages were equipped with long-range artillery and Brehain is particularly well equipped in that area. The ouvrage saw no major action during the invasion of France in 1940 after the phoney war, nor in the hands of the Germans in 1944 when many of the forts significantly held up the allied advance.

The ouvrage is in really quite good condition compared to many of the other abandoned Maginot positions with much less flooding and no evidence of arson attacks.  Nearby up on the main road through the area a flanking casemate has been restored for visitors as a living museum of the line.

Construction on Bréhain, by the contractor Ballot of Paris, began in May 1931, and the initial phase of construction was completed at a total cost of 84 million francs. Compared with its closest neighbours Aumetz, Bois-du-Four and Mauvais-Bois, Brehain is very similar in plan and layout but it is the most complete of the group with only one designated combat block left un-built. There is also a free standing casemate block which has been left disconnected despite the original plans for a link into the fort by a tunnel, which was to have been dug some time after the completion of the first stage of work. The other three forts were built as petits ouvrages, but with plans to develop them into bigger fortifications with a full tunnel network and extra combat blocks at a later date

Bréhain's gallery and railway ('gare') system is in excess of 1500 metres from end to end and is serviced, as is the norm, by 60 cm gauge electric locos running on light rail tracks set into the floor. The separate munitions (EM) and personnel (EH) entrances are located on the reverse slope of a heavily wooded ridge facing Luxembourg. Normally gros ouvrages have three magazine designations - the M1 or main magazine, is located close to the munitions entrance and then a series of M2 magazines sit at fort floor level directly below each combat block, sealed from the gare to minimise the risk of a catastrophic accident by huge blast doors. The smallest of the magazines, the M3, sits immediately beneath the relevant fighting compartment in each of the blocks just a few metres below the surface and is re-supplied by a lift running up from the M2 magazine down at fort floor level. A stairwell usually surrounds the lift shaft to give the personnel in the fort access to the fighting compartments without recourse to the lift.  The underground barracks are situated close to the junction of the two entrance galleries. The fort floor level is some 30 metres below the surface and there are a total of EIGHT combat blocks, or 'blocs' to give them their French nomenclature.

Above - the relative layout of Brehain's two entrances and eight fighting blocks.

Above - fighting bloc 2 as seen at the surface.

Above - the garrison of each fort comprised infantrymen, artillerymen and engineers from the 'genie'. The Maginot Line troops were considered the elite of their day.

Gros Ouvrage Brehain has two entrance blocks and eight combat blocks:

Ammunition entrance:

Shaft access (elevator), two automatic rifle cloche (GFM), one machine gun/47mm anti-tank gun embrasure (JM/AC47).

Personnel entrance:

Shaft access (stairs), two GFM cloches, one JM/AC47 embrasure and one grenade launcher cloche (LG).

Bloc 1: Infantry block with one machine gun turret and one GFM cloche.
Bloc 2: Infantry block with one machine gun turret and one GFM cloche.
Bloc 3: Observation block with one GFM cloche (with emergency exit) and one observation cloche (VDP).
Bloc 4: Artillery block with one 75mm gun turret.
Bloc 5: Artillery block with one 135mm gun turret and one GFM cloche.
Bloc 6: Artillery block with one 75mm gun turret and one grenade launcher cloche.
Bloc 7: Artillery block with one 81mm mortar turret and one GFM cloche.
Bloc 8: Infantry block with one GFM cloche and one Machine gun cloche (JM).

Unbuilt blocks:

Bloc 9: (unbuilt): Artillery block with a twin 135mm gun turret and one GFM cloche.

Casemates -
a series of detached casemates and infantry shelters surround Brehain, including:

Casemate de l'Ouest de Bréhain or Casemate C2: Planned to eventually be linked to the main ouvrage, it is in effect an unconnected combat block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure, one mortar turret and two GFM cloches. The casemate has been restored and functions as a small museum.
Casemate de la Ravin-de-Crusnes: Single block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure, one 81mm mortar cloche and one GFM cloche.
Casemate de Crusnes Ouest: Single block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure, one VDP observation cloche and one GFM cloche.
Casemate de Crusnes Est: Block with one mortar cloche and two GFM cloches.
Casemate de Nouveau-Crusnes Ouest: Single block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure and one GFM cloche.
Casemate de Nouveau-Crusnes Est: Block with one mortar cloche and one GFM cloche.
Casemate du Réservoir: Single block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure, one 81mm mortar cloche and one GFM cloche.
Casemate de la Route d'Ottange Ouest: Single block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure and one GFM cloche.
Casemate de la Route d'Ottange Centre: Block with one mortar cloche and one GFM cloche.
Casemate de la Route d'Ottange Ouest: Single block with one JM/AC47 embrasure, one JM embrasure, one 81mm mortar cloche and one GFM cloche.
Observatiore du Réservoir: Observation block with one VP observation cloche reporting to Ouvrage Rochonvillers

NB: none of these are connected to the ouvrage or to each other.

In 1940 the ouvrage was manned by 615 men and 22 officers from the 128th. Fortress Infantry Regiment and the 152nd. Position Artillery Regiment. The commanding officer was Commandant Vanier. On the 21st. June, 1940 Brehain directly engaged German troops, but it's main effort was in support of the other forts close by. 20,250 75mm artillery rounds, 1,780 81mm rounds and 2,220 135mm rounds were fired between September, 1939, and the armistice on 22nd., June, 1940. This small group of forts did not immediately surrender however and they held out in isolation for a further five days. In 1951 Brehain was repaired and modernised in order to serve as part of the new line designed to hold up a potential advance by Warsaw Pact troops in the event of the Cold War turneing hot, but France's eventual acquisition of its own nuclear deterrent rendered the maintenance of the line pointless and the forts began to be closed down. This particular ouvrage has never been sold off by the army and remains in their hands at this time.

Below is a selection of the photographs we took in and around the Gros Ouvrage Brehain in July 2012.

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How kind of the French army to paint the doors such a lovely shade of green! It makes the entrance stand out like a sore thumb!

The standard warning we have seen so many times around Verdun telling you to sod off 'cos the military own this place...

Here's the lift down to the fort floor almost 30 metres below... guess what? It doesn't work.

Down on the fort floor.


Every "Madge" has a 'usine', an area where standby generators driven by big diesel engines provide power if the fort is dissed from the grind. This is the usine switch room.

Here we can see the end of a generator stator because the end cover and bearing housing have been removed.

There are usually four of these big diesel driven gennys.


Looking through from the adjacent genny space into next door where a similar setup sits in reserve.

The engines are similar to those on a submarine where work can be carried out on individual cylinders without even stopping the engine for more than a few minutes.

TJ taking piccies!


The bearings on each con rod are accessible through inspection covers in the crankcase.

A wider view of an individual engine space.

Fuel to each engine is supplied from top pressure tanks.
An engineer's tool board.
The sanitation leaves a little to be desired!
The main fuel storage tanks.


Here we see one of the transformer which bring down the incoming grid voltage to the level the fort uses.

A 60cm gauge railway truck outside in the 'gare'.

Moving into the garrison accommodation area now, this is an elevated WC block which sits over a large septic tank. Note the air extractors overhead.

We're not sure if this is a urinal or a drinking fountain. My money is on the drinking fountain option because there was a much more recognisable urinal quite close by.

It's unclear why this room had bars over the entrance and a reinforced door.

One of the few pieces of graffiti/art we have seen in a Madge so far.
Another reinforced entrance on what looks otherwise like an accom block?
I wonder what is stopping TJ from coming in?

This lovely but faded mural looks almost religious...


But these two in the same room seem to lean much further towards the universal religion of almost all soldiers!

Look out lucky boy! Mama is home!


I don't know what the message on the bottom says but the theme is pretty easy to see!

It has not taken long for the damp atmosphere down here to rust everything.

Another elevated latrine block.


This room has the feel of a cell, but for how many?
A little more basic and far less artistic!
Moving on.
Back in the gare now.
An interesting choice of mobility for le poilu!
Probably drinking water but possibly fuel.
It's not obvious whether these were heaters or ventilators.

These small doors in the wall gave access to an explosive charge designed to drop the tunnel in conditions of extremis.
We are in the railway workshop here and this is the inspection pit for working under the electric locos.
This cage sits at the exit of the workshop - purpose unclear!

Moving on now, to the left is the entrance to the first combat bloc.


The entrance does not allow the passage of a railway truck so it's fair to assume only small arms munitions went in to this bloc.

A hundred and forty some steps later we are just below the surface of the fighting bloc.

Air tight doors close off the bloc in the case of a gas attack.
The on duty soldier's latrine by the bloc entrance.

This is a hand operated ventilation pump very similar to those seen in the Verdun forts.

This is the bottom control and accom level of the bloc immediately below the actual turrets.

At the end of the corridor is the ladder access up into a cloche.


Looking directly upwards into the cloche. The floor could be raised and lowered to give the soldier on duty the appropriate head room.

We're away from the cloche bloc and moving into an artillery bloc.

The electrical control room for the bloc turret supply.


Here we can see the see-saw beam which counterbalances the heavy reinforced steel turret.

Part of the rotation mechanism.

A level higher now and we see the bottom of the turret.

Part of the turret movement control system.
The crew access ladder to the turret dome.
Looking up into the dome.
More of the drive mechanism.
The associated observation cloche for the artillery turret.
Back down at floor level again and we leave the bloc back for the gare.
Part of the fume ventilation system can be seen here in the gare.


The writing on the wall indicates that this is the magazine end of the gare.

A urinal at a train crossing point near the M1 magazine.

A huge snail shell ventilation fan.
This is the blast door at the M1 magazine end of the gare.
The M1 magazine.
What the devil this is we have no idea!


Just one of the M1 magazine chambers. That's TJ at the far end and I'm not even half way long!

These overhead monorails ran the ammo in and out of the magazines. Here we see a 'points' handle.

Close up of the manufacturer's name.


And outside the chamber of the magazine the same points mechanism is present.

At the end of the magazine end of the fort the lift to the surface entrance bloc is guarded by an MG crenel.

A Hotchkiss strip fed MG or the like would have been mounted in this loop hole.

The interior of the guardroom where the MG was mounted.

The tunnel splits into two here to allow trucks in and out simultaneously to the lifts.
Someone has pinched a couple of wheels off this ammo truck.

Looking up one of the ammo lift shafts.


There are four huge springs on the bottom of the lift shaft to help take the shock of a heavily loaded ammo lift arriving from 30 metres above.

WE are leaving the ammo entrance end of the fort now and heading back up the gare towards the personnel entrance.

Yet another abandoned ammo carriage.


Almost out now, this is the fighting compartment protecting the personnel entrance. The overhead beam allowed an anti-tank gun to be swung into place when the twin MG installation was swung aside.

The delights of fresh air!

The end of a cracking exploration!
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