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 Maginot Line fortifications was to give France time to mobilise its army whilst funnelling the invading German forces into open land, the better to be engaged there in a war of movement. For a rather 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 because 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.

 ABOVE  - a machine gun cloche at PO Welschof.

Petite Ouvrage Welschof is located on high ground very close to the village of Gros-Réderching in the Moselle department of France. This area was part of the fortified sector of Rohrbach and is almost directly due west of Karlsruhe in Germany. The ouvrage consists of three fighting blocks, and it is mutually supported by Petit Ouvrage Haut-Poirier and Gros Ouvrage Simserhof.

Welschhof was attacked by German forces during the Battle of France and was eventually forced to surrender after withstanding more than three days of heavy artillery bombardment by both light and heavy calibre artillery. The ouvrage was repaired, re-equipped and modified after the war, as indeed were most of Maginot Line forts, in order to present a serious obstacle to the passage of Soviet forces in the event of an invasion through Germany, but it was eventually abandoned in the 1970s when it was realised that little short of nuclear warfare could stop the Russians if they chose to attack.

In 1939 the ouvrage was manned by 158 men and 3 officers from the 166th. Fortress Infantry Regiment, commanded by Captain Lhuisset. The nearby Casernement de Bining provided peace time barracks above ground together with support services for Welschhof and the other fortifications and positions in the immediate area. As with all Maginot Line ouvrages electrical power was provided by connection to the national grid above ground but in the event of a loss of power during battle two 85 horsepower SNIM diesel engine driven generators within the usine (power house) of the ouvrage delivered sufficient power to run the fort for as long as the fuel held out. Immediately to the south of the fort there remains a concrete building which housed the transformers to reduce the voltage of the grid down to that required by the fort.

Welschhof comprises three combat blocks in very close proximity to each other. The blocks are linked underground by the usual gallery system but unlike the much larger "gros ouvrages" such as Latiremont for example, there was no underground railway. Barracks, a kitchen, workshops and a fully equipped hospital are all located close to the first fighting block of the ouvrage, and there is an ammunition magazine some distance along the gallery which was constructed at an average depth of 18 metres, somewhat shallower than the other forts we have visited in the Line to date.


Block 1: Combined infantry fighting/entrance block. One machine gun (Type JM) combined with a 47mm anti-tank gun embrasure (Type JM/AC47), one machine gun embrasure (Type JM) and one mixed-arms embrasure - this arrangement is unique within the Line. The block is topped with a mixed arms cloche (Type AM) and two automatic rifle cloches (Type GFM-B).
Block 2: Submerged block with no surface construction apparent at all. Retractable mixed-arms turret and a (Type B GFM) cloche.
Block 3: Infantry block adjacent to Block 1, with one Type JM/AC47 embrasure, one Type JM embrasure, two Type B GFM cloches and one Type AM cloche.


RIGHT  - the tactical layout of the Maginot Line in the immediate area of PO Welschof.

On the 21st. June, 1940, the Wehrmacht's 262nd. Infantry Division attacked Welschhof from the south but it was stopped dead in its tracks by the Welschof garrison together with formidable 75mm artillery support from Gros Ouvrage Simserhof's double turret to the east. Welschof's artillery observers provided fire control for Ouvrage Haut-Poirier which was engaged in counter-battery fire against a German 150 mm gun.

During the night of 21st./22nd. June, Ouvrage Haut-Poirier and Casemates Wittring, Grand-Bois and Nord-Est d'Achen, all surrendered to the Germans. During the morning of the 22nd. June, the Germans turned their attention to Welschof which was no longer covered by the positions to the west, however Gros Ouvrage Simserhof to the east continued to offer support with its 75mm turret. The Germans released two 150 mm guns from the attack on the entrance to Simserhof, and began to attack Welschof's Block 1 together with the Casemate Ouest de Singling. One hundred and eleven 150 mm rounds were fired at Block 1, eventually breaching it, but continued support fire from Simserhof prevented the German infantry from storming the ouvrage entrance. Two days later on the morning of 24th. June, Simmserhof was no longer able to support Welschof, and having learned of the fall of the Casemate de Bining, which protected Welschhof's flank, Captain Lhuisset decided to surrender.

The fort did not see action again during the Second World War, unlike some of its counterparts, even when the Americans reached the area in December 1944. The reason for this was because the Germans never occupied the fort unlike so many of the others in the Line. In 1951 repair and conversion work began on Welschhof, which in conjunction with its immediate neighbours was designated the môle de Bitche, (the Bitche fortified strongpoint), however with the creation of the French nuclear strike force, the importance of the Line declined and Welschhof was amongst the first of the forts to be deactivated in 1970.

Petite Ouvrage Welschof today is still in extremely good condition when compared to the other Maginot Line ouvrages we have visited so far - in fact it is possibly the best preserved and the driest of any we have seen. Sadly though metal thieves are stripping out wiring and souvenir hunters are removing light switches and fittings. The diesel engines remain within the usine and the range is still in place in the kitchen. Unusually too, many of the original door markings are still perfectly legible. Access was relatively easy and we were soon in the usine where we were suitably impressed by the ouvrage name set into the tiles high upon the wall above the generator engines. A short way along the corridor into the accommodation area we found the kitchen and the hospital together with the commander's room.

Below is a selection of the photographs we took in and around the Petite Ouvrage Welschof in February 2013.

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Here we go! This is the combined entrance and fighting block.


The strange looking rusty iron thing on the wall is the remains of a searchlight.

We are in! In the far distance you can just about make out our Volvo parked on the road.

This block has a lot of rooms.


A weapons embrasure.


I think that an anti-tank weapon is probably what was deployed from this embrasure.

The route up to the turret on the top of Block 1.

Part of the positive ventilation gas filtration system.

This is the combined personnel/ammo lift.

The way down into the fort proper - some 84 steps or thereabouts, approximately 20 metres.

The lift seen from the bottom.


The lift motor room.

The lift motor itself.
A poisonous gas filter - basically a huge carbon filter,
First view of this fairly unique "usine" or generator room.

This particular generator has been removed leaving only the diesel drive engine.

The second generator is fully intact.


Looking along the usine.

A diesel drive engine - note the way that parts of the engine are accessible for service even when running - the same technique is used on submarine engines.

We have moved on now into the kitchen area - here is the range.


Presumably these dials would have affected the draught and hence the range heat.


On the opposite side of the kitchen is the wash up sinks.


In all the Madge forts a corridor runs along the back of the accommodation blocks in parallel to the main corridor.
This looks like a fuel tank.

This is almost certainly a fuel tank for the generators.


Moving on - the huge number of blast proof doors make you feel like you are in a submarine!

In the medical centre.


Roughly translated we think that this means the doctor's consultation room.

This translates as "undressing" so I assume this was the patient's changing area.

Pissoir, washing or drinking trough? Hard to be sure but normal urinals were encountered later so a pissoir seems unlikely?

Ahhhh... such luxury!
A fairly standard urinal.
This is a mess room.
Some ad hoc wall decoration.
Very thirties. Is the first left Greta Garbo??

Clearly taken out of magazines and pasted to the wall the old paper pictures are now quite "soft focus"

It is not obvious what the poles high up on the walls were for.


The commandant's office.


We have left the accommodation and are heading off towards the other two fighting blocks along the main tunnel now.

This is a small crawl-sized tunnel with double air tight blast doors. Purpose unknown.

The signage translates as "Workshop Magazine"...


The access door to a fighting block.


Another poisonous gas filter.

TJ on the way up to the fighting block.
The fighting block stairwell landing.

This MG embrasure has been welded up - the reason why is not at all obvious!

The associated weapon mount is long gone now.


A bunk bed for the block crew.


More rather cramped duty accommodation. This would have been very cosy!!!

The fort's emergency exit is through this block and out into the bottom of it's moat.

Looking out of the emergency exit and up the block wall. Note the grenade and rifle loopholes which allowed the defenders to deny the enemy ingress via the moat bottom.

The block workshop tool board.

Part of the turret column.
A level higher now and we are in the turret proper.

This turret was clearly armed with two weapons but the embrasures look like they are for machine guns.

The gun's eye view!


A smaller calibre weapon embrasure with associated grenade posting tube to the right.

This large hole was probably part of an anti-tank weapon embrasure.

Moving on - we are going to the third weapons block now.


This block had a twin 75mm turret, the access to which can be clearly seen here.

The turret could be raised and lowered and it's weight is balanced with this see-saw style counterweight beam. The Verdun fort turrets worked in exactly the same fashion and are almost identical.

Electrically driven fume extractors removed the gas vented after firing the guns.


Ascending to the turret's intermediate platform.

TJ brings up the rear!

The turret eclipse mechanism. The hollow centre column was utilised for extraction of the spent shell cases.

Entering the turret fighting compartment.


I think these racks at the rear of the turret may have held the nose fuses for the shells.


Looking out of the gun embrasures the associated observation turret can just about be seen at the centre of the photograph. This embrasure looks like it held a combined weapon which had a light anti-tank gun in the middle and two machine guns with side mounted rotary magazines on either side of the AT weapon barrel.

On the way down again now.


The block filter room. In order to proof the fort against poisonous gas attack air was drawn in from outside through filters and the block was positively pressurised so that air could only flow out of the openings for weapons etc.

Close up of a filter stack with a well preserved carbon filter in place.


Back down to the fort floor level again...


...and off up to the surface!

A fixed turret above one of the fighting blocks.


Block 3 - this is where we found the emergency exit in the moat just to the right of centre of the picture.

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