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.
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.