When one speaks about genesis of the Maginot Line, certain initials, with the often obscure significance, are evoked: CSG, CDT, CDF, CORF…
The object of this document is to try to clarify their respective significance and their roles.
The CSG (Superior council of the War)
General Ernest Courtot de Cissey. He is Minister for the war during the creation of the CSG (Superior council of the War) on July 27, 1872.
The CSG is always consulted
The CSG is obligatorily consulted for each project concerning the army. He is thus quite naturally consulted, on May 22, 1922, when the question arises of defining a new strategy of defense. The subject is so extreme that the President of the Republic (Millerand) there sits in person.
This May 22, 1922, the first put question is significant:
Does the Council consider it convenient to undertake as of the time of peace of the defensive organizations in order to ensure the inviolability of the national territory?
Subject with polemic if it is!
Without going already into the details, let us say that the verbal exchanges, during this meeting, clearly clarify the divergent points of view of some of the participants.
The put question raises two debates: one on the inviolability of the territory and the other, more implicit, on the type of fortification to be considered. The divergences of the ideas which appear then during the meeting, are the balls which will trail the French Army and the Maginot Line, particularly of 1935 to 1940.
It is what makes extremely interesting this CSG of May 22, 1922.
CSG of 22-5-1922
Participants in the CSG of 22-5-1922
President of the Republic Alexandre Millerand
Minister for the War Andre Maginot
Marshal Philippe Pétain
Marshal Ferdinand Foch
Marshal Joseph Joffre
General Henri Berthelot
General Edmond Buat
General Eugene Debeney
General Louis Guillaumat
General Frederic Hellot
It is during this meeting that they all will try to speak about inviolability and fortifications.
Inviolability of the national territory
Inviolability? Before 1914, and since centuries, the warlike doctrines selected are relatively simple and constant: in times of peace the Armies prepare with the war. In the event of attack they go on the battle field (with weapons and luggage), are defended, against attack…, and the best gains. The localization of the engagements, although desirable apart from the national territory, has however only little importance, the whole is to gain the victory.
However, during the war which has just finished, one noted (bitterly in the industrialized north of France) that the modern conflict is not any more one simple quarrel between armies, that it can last and thus mobilize all the lifeblood of the belligerents, soldiers and industrial. Like these forces, especially those industrial sensitive, are established on sites geologically located at the borders north and the North-East of France, it is thus appropriate from now on to prevent that a battle field does not crystallize in the vicinity of these areas. And the Pétain Marshal reveals his thought:
All Council is undoubtedly of agreement on this point and there is not the question. That which installation is to know if, to ensure this inviolability, one must only count on the Armies, the possibility for those of being always in measurement, on the basis of all the points of the border, of carrying the war at the enemy or if it is necessary, in any event and as insurance, to undertake as of the time of peace of the defensive organizations allowing the Armies to fight with advantage on the borders, if they are driven back there.
After the Pétain Marshal recalled what precedes, the debate becomes animated, particularly between the President of the Republic and the Minister for the War, around the form of work which this defensive organization must cover.
But after several minutes of discussion, the Foch Marshal, who did not deliver his opinion yet, speaks then. Its remark is shingling:
To ensure the inviolability of the national territory! A new dogma there is posed… Up to now the defense of the territory was ensured by the operation of the armies. Today one wants to ensure [either defense but] the inviolability of the territory… one speaks to organize trenches [in times of peace]… The inviolability of the territory is not the goal paramount to assign with the armies. It is a perilous dogma; if one imposes it like first duty on the armies, they will be able to succumb to it.
On this, the Joffre Marshal approves:
It would be to dedicate itself to the defeat to want to establish a new wall of China!
And the Guillaumat General precise:
It would be dangerous to release in the public the idea of the inviolability of the territory… I believe that it should initially be wondered whether the Armies still need to be helped by the permanent fortification.
This stage of the discussion the policies note the reserve, even the opposition of the soldiers [with share of Pétain] to this idea of inviolability. Also the President of the Republic reformulates it the initial question in terms which can only be consensual:
Does the Superior council of the War consider it convenient to approach the study of the defensive organization of the national territory?
Who would answer not? He thus collects the unanimous opinion and favorable participants!
The continuation of the debates, even more surging, becomes almost stormy because the abrupt Pétain Marshal the things and raises the question of the nature of work to realize. Obviously he already chose a precise solution since as a conclusion he adds, not with conditional but with the future:
There will be permanent fortification where we will be held on the defensive [and] on the other points, there will be fortification of countryside or simple equipment of the face.
This assertion more political than military makes leap the Joffre Marshal who cannot admit that the system of fortification depends only on the Plan of operation because, recalls it, the Plan can change with the situation. Rétorque Pétain although in the actual position of the things one can almost indicate in advance the points on which armies will be on the defensive, like that of Longwy for example, but the Joffre Marshal in démord not:
In this moment, the Belgians are our allies, Switzerland is neutral, but one should not any less envisage all the possibilities… One cannot admit that the strengthened system is function of the Plan of operation [current. And to quote Séré de Rivières whose strengthened system answered the various probable assumptions well that it could not be concluded its, for lack of appropriations.]
The Pétain Marshal can only yield to these arguments, just like the President of the Republic which then requires the opinion of the Council on the need or not for completing work of permanent fortification.
To strengthen how?
To strengthen how? Part in an act of the CSG
To answer the question, about the need or not for completing work of fortification [permanent] it is important to agree on what is a fortification. Also the debate which seemed to be calmed is again animated, particularly on the distinction between permanent fortification and fortification of countryside. And the part played around the politicians, who seem exceeded by the terminology, can be interpreted as follows:
The President of the Republic:
Fortification of countryside?
The Hellot General:
At the end of the war, the face presented many places where defense left something to be desired… With the mobilization we cannot hope to do in a few weeks what we could not do in 4 years [war]
The President of the Republic:
According to the Hellot General, it seems that it is necessary to make in time peace of the fortification of countryside!
The Debeney General:
One cannot count, to support the defense of the territory, on organizations made at the last time; we thus need permanent fortification!
The President of the Republic:
Does one owe as of time peace to undertake work of fortification of countryside at the same time as of work of permanent fortification?
The Pétain Marshal:
Any fortification of the time of peace can be regarded as permanent fortification.
The Buat General is not of this opinion:
The permanent fortification is characterized by the fact that it employs special materials, concrete, armourings…
The Pétain Marshal:
Perhaps it is necessary to change the old terminology!
The Guillaumat General approves:
Permanent fortification does not want to say exclusively strong concreted or armoured!
The President of the Republic in cost to its question:
Does one have to start as of the time of peace of work of fortification of countryside… and of work of permanent fortification?
The Guillaumat General:
The distinction is not clear between the fortification of countryside and the permanent fortification.
The President of the Republic:
Sometimes on the face I saw permanent fortification, as in Verdun, sometimes of the fortification of countryside, on the remainder of the face.
The Buat General:
Apart from Verdun, there can be bodies of permanent fortification: casemates, PC, observatories out of concrete.
The Debeney General is not agreement with his counterpart:
The permanent fortification applies to an organization overall, time of peace, likely to resist by itself… Fortified town, fortified camp, strengthened area… The difficulty of the problem arising comes from what we do not know the current type of the permanent fortification.
Since step badly of minutes the Minister for the War seems to be put except play by the specialists who discuss and, become simple spectator, it does not go more so far as to emit any opinion. Only the President of the Republic tries to reformulate his question regularly, but in vain since he pronounces the fateful words of permanent or of countryside! Also, in fine policy, it by modifying finishes the terms of its question:
Does the defensive organization of the time of peace have to comprise work of fortification?
The debate is then centred. But like the Marshals Joffre and Pétain exchange again, and lengthily, their divergent points of view on the question of continuous line or not along the border, the Foch Marshal cross short estimating that:
The discussion can lead to nothing because it is agitated in the abstract. [Then he adds] At the beginning of the meeting we affirmed the interest that there is to study the defensive organization of the territory. It thus should be studied. What will it be? Continuous face? … discontinuous face? Are the strengthened Areas out-of-date? Difficult to solve theoretically, dogmatically; it is necessary to examine the concrete case of the current border.
The Berthelot General divides this opinion; the Pétain Marshal then proposes to entrust the study of the relative questions to the defensive organization of the territory at a Commission to create. This proposal is voted on by the President of the Republic; it is adopted and the meeting is raised.
In the paperboards of the CSG, the CDT (Commission of Defense of the Territory) comes to be conceived and, according to any probability, a new fortification is profiled at the horizon!
CSG with the CORF
CSG with the CORF, while passing by the CDT and the CDF
CDT (Commission of Defense of the Territory)
The CDT is thus created this May 22, 1922, during the meeting of CSG, and its presidency is entrusted to the Joffre Marshal by it.
Immediately the same discussions and oppositions are resumed: is it necessary to strengthen and, if so, where and how? After the resignation of Joffre, under the presidency of the Guillaumat general one directs oneself little by little (in three years all the same) towards an idea of fortification in certain border zones.
CDF (Commission of Defense of the Borders)
Then, the 31-12-1925, at the request of the CDT, the CDF is created, chaired, like the CDT, by the Guillaumat General. Its work was largely prepared by the CDT and, less than one year later (6-11-1926) it leaves his report/ratio which will constitute the framework (still theoretical) of the future Maginot Line. The governing idea is, schematically, the following one:
The war will be gained only by the operation of the armies and walk ahead on the adversary. But, to avoid the surprised attack, one will strengthen the zones of invasion strongly, namely:
The area of Metz
The Lauter-Vosges area
The area of Belfort
Outlets of the alpine collars: Holy borough Maurice, Modane, Briançon and Nice
The littoral leading to Nice
CORF (Commission of Organization of the Strengthened Areas)
Finally, with the request of the CDF, the 30-9-1927 CORF is created, under the control of the CDF. The presidency is taken by it by the Fillonneau General.
Its role is to apply the directives of the CDF; in a word, to concretize on the ground the ideas papers of the CDF.
In fact the CORF is charged to implement the organization envisaged by the CDF. I.e. that it draws the plans of the fortifications, makes study the new materials which must equip them, and proceeds to the realization of the unit. This is why we give the qualifier of “works CORF” to these fortifications, in opposition to constructions not CORF, light and nonhomogeneous, built after 1935 starting from other plans.
General terminology on the fortifications
As in all the specialized fields, each definition can be declined ad infinitum or reduced with its strict minimum. That of the fortification does not escape the rule. Without going to seek very far in time, if one refers during fortification of the captain of the Genious Bailly (1875) one notes that it defines 3 types of fortification: the permanent one, the momentary one and the provisional one (called also mixed or half-permanent). It does not give an explicit a report on the fortification of countryside.
Without wanting to play the specialists we will schematize the problem to clarify it, more especially as the contents of the definitions had a considerable incidence on construction, and especially the evolution, of the Maginot Line.
Fortifications, according to the captain of the Genious Bailly (1875)
The permanent fortification has the aim of reinforcing military positions of a permanent interest, by means of solid works, built in advance in times of peace, and carefully maintained in good state.
The momentary fortification has the aim of reinforcing military positions of a momentary interest, by means of works built at the time of the need, during time often extremely short and with the very weak resources often one has.
Provisional fortification (mixes or half-permanent)
The provisional fortification has the aim of reinforcing military positions of a provisional interest, by means of works built throughout war, in preparation for future events, and using resources relatively more considerable than those which one has in the momentary fortification.
In a diagrammatic way, according to the Bailly captain, one can say that the fortification is momentary or provisional when it is built in time of war (it is what during the CSG of May 2, 1922, one names fortification of countryside) and which it is permanent when it is built in times of peace (and supposed the being with large means).
And if, in times of peace, one makes fortification with very limited resources, how calls it one? And if, as in Verdun in 1916, one makes fortification with large means? And if…
Like says it the Marshal Pétain, on May 2, 1922: perhaps should one change the definitions!
Terminology according to the armament, according to the Lt-colonel of the Genious Philippe Truttmann
In its book entitled: The Wall of France, Lt-colonel Philippe Truttmann gives us a key of interpretation of the new terminology:
During the Great War, the appearance of prefabricated materials (curved sheets, shields, stakes, artificial brambles, etc) and processes of fast concreting caused hitherto a41dernier $c-b1, e,10 $c-b26 ce $c-b16 $c-b43, bn,84 to bring closer these concepts paradoxical [permanent fortification: powerful; fortification of countryside: rapid and light]. The war of position of the years 1916-1917 has, under the influence of the evolution of the technical processes, makes emerge a kind of compromise solution: the fortification of reinforced countryside, or into hard.
This new phenomenon did not fail to allure many big bosses resulting from the war: this quickly built fortification, thanks to the abundance of mobilized labour, appears adapted better to realities since a permanent fortification established a priori, according to assumptions which can not be checked, and whose appropriations of construction are to be required of the Parliament, always raising storms.
In addition, the increasing complexity of the permanent works requires more and more a particular armament - unemployed elsewhere and garrisons of specialists. On the other hand the fortification of countryside, even if its output is not the same one, can be occupied or evacuated at will by standardized units, with their armament of equipment.
In 1927, the controversy between permanent, expensive but powerful fortification, and fortification of countryside, easy to implement at low costs [but often of poor yield], takes temporarily fine. The politicians slice. One will build a permanent fortification in three precise areas (Metz, Lauter, Belfort) and on the level of the collars of the Alps; in addition, one will set up a fortification of countryside, through which the army will operate.
The project of the future Maginot Line is thus stopped and construction starts.
But it was without taking into account holding of the fortification only of countryside which will return to the load regularly, inter alia with each budgetary reduction and each delay of construction. So that as from 1935, gaining the part, the latter will direct the Maginot Line towards the “whole countryside”, making it rock towards a fortification camelote (like Lt-colonel Philippe Truttmann writes it).
The acute fever “bétonite” seized France then where one built, instead of a mobile armament, heterogeneous hundreds of blockhouse whose often only appearance gave the illusion of the power of initial productions CORF of the Maginot Line.