Simserhof Maginot fortress, Bitche, MoselleSimserhof Maginot fortress, Bitche, Moselle

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  • Off the path Explo
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    Score
    3.5 / 5
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    Region famous spot. But still quite off the track.
  • Article Quality
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    • Score
      5 / 5
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      Very good description Fritz!
    • Score
      2.5 / 5
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      Useful info but no plan
    • Score
      5 / 5
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      Many!
    • Score
      5 / 5
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      Yes!
    • Score
      5 / 5
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      Yes!
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The big artillery fort of Simserhof is located 4km west of Bitche. It is the centrepiece of the Maginot line in the sector, between the Saar flood area and the mountainous Northern Vosges.

My experience, Explo description: 

(1) The Maginot line
Despite the victory of 1918, France was destroyed, out of forces, and wished to all costs avoid a new conflict. The design of the Maginot line in the 1920s, and then its realization in the 1930s was aiming to answer that problem.

  • The demographic situation in France (40 million French) against 80 million Germans required him to save men.
  • In 14-18, in addition to the slaughter, France has undergone significant destruction (cities, agricultural land, industries) because the fighting took place entirely on its soil. To avoid this, it was necessary in the event of war, to block the enemy as close as possible from the border.
  • With recovery of Alsace-Lorraine, the "Séré de Rivière" fortresses (Verdun, Toul, Épinal), built at the end of the war of 1870, were too far from the new frontier and were obsolete.
  • The Treaty of Versailles (1918) had not been ratified by the United States Senate and they were also not part of the League of Nations. France could not get the US warranty in case of a new German assault. In addition the French wanted a definitive weakening of Germany and a cutting of their land as for the Austria-Hungary empire. On the contrary, the English wanted a balance of forces on the continent, and did not want France to play a too important role in Europe.

Originally, the defence line was running the North Sea up to the Mediterranean.

Due to budgetary considerations, only a portion will be performed, leaving some important areas without any defence : the Belgium border, who will declare its neutrality as in 1936.

Strategically, the French military staff remained in the design of static defence, like in 14-18. They had not integrated any changes made by the new battle tanks and especially aviation...

Therefore, the Maginot line did not fulfil its mission, even if it was not the only responsible for the may 1940 disaster.

After war, the constitution of the French nuclear strike force decided the Government to abandon the Maginot line in 1965.

(2) The Fort of Simserhof

The fort was built from 1929 to 1938. It costed total 118 million francs (EUR 30 million).

The Simserhof fort was composed as other Maginot line fortresses, with 2 distinct parts : the rear part and the fighting part.

There were 2 entries : one for men (EH) and one for ammunition (EM). At the rear, you could also find barracks, kitchens, the electric plant and ammunition stores.

Fighting blocks were 1800m from the entrance.

Simserhof was occupied by a crew consisting of 876 men. Storage fuel, water and food could take up to 3 months in complete autonomy.

(3) Fightings at Simserhof
War is declared on the 2nd of September 1939. Nothing happen : this is the "funny war" (La frôle de Guerre). It will last until 10 May 1940.

Because of the debacle of the French armies, intervals troops went back to the South of France, weakening the defence of the forts. In these circumstances, it was planned that crews leave their fort sabotaging it. But it was already too late for retreat, and the captain decided to resist on site, including after the signing of armistice on June 22, until June 30. The crew left the fort on the 30 of June, after having fired 15000 shells.

The Germans then hold the fort and use it as a deposit of ammunition.

End November 1944 (7th Army General Alexander Patch) allies faced resistance of the Germans in the region, and attacked the fort on the 15th November.

Block 5 is heavily affected. The Germans abandoned Simserhof by an emergency exit on the night of 19 to 20 November.

In the early days of January 1945, Hitler launched its counter-offensive (operation Nordwind) and Americans were forced to leave the fort, till the liberation of Bitche on the 16th of March.

Leave your car at the large car park. Walk 15 minutes through the forest or take a shuttle. During the low season, the barrier is not closed : it is sometimes possible to go down to the small car park.

Outside, you will see many "tourist installations" (cafeteria, book store, ticket office) : I do not like it, it breaks the ambiance of the site.

At the ammunition entry, some objects have been gathered, like observation bells or guns....

The visit starts in the modern building projection room. A small 15-minute film traces the history of the Maginot line.

The guided tour (approximately 1.5 hours).

A trail in the forest path goes to the men entrance (10mn to walk), located 50m higher.

After a few general explanations, you will enter the fortress and discover its major installations, like the air purification systems (against gas), the power plant, kitchens, mess rooms (and including the amazing frescos of snow white),
the hospital, the dormitories and toilets, the command room, the communication systems...

Unfortunately, you can’t visit during the tour the front (fighting) bunker superstructures, which is a little frustrating.

The train tour (1/2 hour)

After a pause who calculated to encourage the public to use the restaurant ( ;-(...), a little train takes you inside the fort for a tour. It only goes through a small portion of 5000 meters of galleries, including 1700m of rail tracks. 30m deep under the ground level, the train moves automatically, while an audio-visual show takes place. This very "public" show will maybe disappoint the Maginot Line real fans...

Fortunately, at the return, a book store offers a very interesting choice of books dealing with the Maginot line and the WW2.

How getting there: 

The fort is 4km west of Bitche. Follow the signs to Sarreguemines, and then take the D35.

A tip to eat: 

Cafeteria on-site with a fast food

Useful information: 
Open hours: 

15 March 2009 to 15 November 2009 : from 10 a.m. to 6 pm (5 pm except July and August).

Closed on Mondays, except national holidays and July and August.

Visit duration: 

Total duration (film, guided tour, train tour) : 3 hours.

Entry fees: 

12 € per adult
8 € per child from 6 to 16 years (free - 6 years)

Contact: 

Simserhof
Rue André Maginot - Légeret

  • 57410 SIERSTHAL (BITCHE 3 km)

tel : +33 3 87 96 39 40

Access security: 

Temperature is 13° in the galleries. Take warm clothing with you.
Possible access to persons with disabilities