The fortified blocks of Guentrange, -die Feste Obergentringen-, situated 4 km
to the north-east of Thionville occupy the summit of a strong hill wich lies
in a south-westerly - north-easterly direction. It thus forms an initial buttress
to the Moselle hills, wich from a height of 318 metres, dominate the wide valley
of the Thionville region of the Moselle.
The Germans undertook these
constructions in April 1899 and the defence works were known to be operational
at the end of 1905. After the annexation of Alsace and part of Lorraine in 1871,
the Germans intended to reinforce their new conquest over France. The Fort of
Guentrange thus became part of this plan of fortifications of the Moselle between
Metz and the Luxembourg frontier ( Moselstellung 1871-1914 ). By prolonging
the enormous fortified works of Metz, and supported by the defence works of
Illange and Koenigsmacker, the intention was to protect Thionville and its large
railway network against any French attack. This mission was part of the Schlieffen-Moltke
plan which foresaw that in the event of a Franco-German war, 5/7ths of the German
army would invade France by passing through Belgium and Luxembourg, and that
any offensive of the powerful right wing of the French army would be at the
same time destined to fail, by coming up against the defence works of Metz and
Although the Fort of Guentrange
did not come under attack during the First World War it did play an important
strategic role. It became French after the Armistice of 1918 and was integrated
in the Maginot Line in the 1930ies. In 1940, the Germans recuperated the Fort
and used it as a depot and workshop without maintaining troops there. The American
army took it over in 1944 and destroyed some guns. After the war, the 25th Artillery
Regiment, stationed in Thionville used the Fort as a munitions store.
Since 1971, the works have
had no military vocation. Thanks to the efforts of the Town Council of Thionville
and to the Friends of The Fortifications of Guentrange, it has become a remarkable
stopping-off place for military tourism in Lorraine.
THE ORGANISATION OF
THE GERMAN DEFENCE BLOCKS: THE "FESTE"
The organisation of the
"Festen" differs completely from the diagrams used until then in France
as well as in Germany. Rejecting the geometrical plan of the compact fort of
1874 enclosed in a polygon-shaped ditch, as it was conceived by the Séré
de Rivière system, the "Feste" is a kind of unintelligible
group composed of armoured gun turrets, of concrete barracks, and shelters widely
spread out over the area, linked by subterranean galleries. A network of barbed
wire and ditches enveloped the whole area. These defence works spread out over
many acres, hardly visible to an observer on foot, as they were well-integrated
in the landscape. The "Feste" had at its command a garrison of 2000
or more men, shielded guns in firing position - as many as twelve altogether,
and it could sit out a siege of three months.
HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION
OF THE CONSTRUCTION
The initial plan of the
Fort (1899-1905) was composed of three barracks; a central one which was the
biggest, and two secondary barracks north and south of it. Between these buildings,
higher up, two armoured guns each equipped with four non-retractable turning
gun turrets, (the Schuman system) armed by a short canon of 105 mm (10 cm T.K.)
with a range of 9700 metres could be found. In addition, each gun possessed
powerfully protected look-out posts. The barracks, partially buried inside the
hill, are of concrete (3 m for the floor surface and 3 to 4 metres thick for
the back walls exposed to attack). Only the facades at the back, those turned
towards Thionville were originally in masonry, 1 m 50 thick, and pierced by
doors and windows. This layout allowed especially for an irreversibility of
the fortifications in giving the Germans artillery the possibility of easily
breaking down these facades and of making occupation impossible in the event
of capture by the enemy. The barracks and guns were surrounded by infantry parapets,
shelter posts and had light observation posts for infantry. There was also a
network of barbed wire 30 m thick, surveyed by sentry-boxes. Deep underground
galleries linked up all the defended localities of the Fort and were in good
working order to defend the interior with iron grids, armoured doors and mines.
Iron grids for defence assured the protection for the nearly area behind the
barracks and guns, while at the back of the Fort, an isolated blockhouse equipped
with grid iron doors surveyed the breach from which the approach road crossed
the barbed wire.
From 1912 onwards, the Germans
undertook a new series of extension works and reinforcements, because of the
political tension and the progress made by the artillery. A second barbed wire
compound was built. It was flanked by six powerful blocks of contra scarp for
machine guns equipped with sheltered infantry look-out posts and electric searchlights.
At the north end of the Fort a new line of infantry trenches was made in reinforced
concrete with three additional picket shelters. The facades at the back of the
barracks and the guns were lined with a layer of reinforced concrete and the
windows were replaced by iron-clad slits for firing. At this period, the Germans
also put the intervals between the forts of the region into sound working order
by fortifying the countryside with numerous shelters, blockhouses and gun positions.
This work continued until 1916, when central heating was installed in the Fort.
In the 1930ies, the French
army made the Fort a part of the Maginot Line (The Fortified Sector of Thionville,
one of the most powerful of the system), as a logistics back-up to the second
line. In order to carry out this new mission, short canons of 105 mm were replaced
by long ones of the same calibre, taken from the forts in Metz. The range of
the artillery had now grown from 9700 m to 12700 m.
THE DIFFERENT GARRISONS
German garrisons: from 1909
to 1910, the 8th Regiment of Foot Artillery (Fussartillerie); from 1913 onwards,
the 16th Regiment of Foot Artillery.
French garrisons: from 1939
to 1940, drafts of the 16th Regiment of the Fortress Infantry and of the 151st
Regiment of the Position Artillery.