Sunday, September 5, 2010

Remembering WWII part I

I feel like my generation of Americans, for the most part, is clueless about the world wars. Sure we read duitifully in our history books the timelines, yes we all remember Anne Frank and the horrors that her family, and her people lived (or died) through, but we are utterly separate (with the exception of Pearl Harbor) from the destruction and fear that can still be sensed to this day. We live in the war zone. Well, everywhere in Europe was the war zone but Metz was at the center. Metz was the stronghold of the smack-dab center of Europe that was forced back and forth between France and Germany for centuries, and there is evidence everywhere if you look.

You may vaguely remember a post from over a year ago where I detailed (as best as I could) the phenomenon of the Fort du Queuleu, the once-fort/mysterious concentration camp that has been converted into a training track of sorts. There you have a perfect example of a WWII relic just under our noses. There will be more on that in a future post; in a new French culture class we are taking this semester we will be taking a guided tour of the concentration camp within.

Anyway, back to the direct purpose of this post: many many months ago, during the 20th anniversary of the Georgia Tech campus here in Lorraine, we took a trip with the undergrad students. Well, we took two trips, first to the Hackenberg fort and then to the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial in Saint-Avold. Both destinations were no more than an hour from our humble home in Metz. In the third installment of this blog I'll detail our day trip along the Normandy coast including D-Day beaches and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial



Hackenberg

Ouvrage Hackenberg, one of the largest (a gros ouvrage) of the Maginot Line fortifications, is part of the Fortified Sector of Boulay. It is situated twenty kilometers west of Thionville, in the Moselle d├ępartement, near the village of Veckring, on the Hackenberg (343 meters). It is located between gros ouvrage Billig and petit ouvrage Coucou, facing Germany. The fort occupies the wooded Hackenberg ridge. Before World War II it was considered a showpiece of French fortification technology, and was visited by British King George VI. In 1940 Hackenberg was never directly attacked, providing covering fire to neighboring positions and harassing nearby German forces. Its garrison was one of the last French units to surrender after the June 1940 armistice. In 1944, under German occupation, it was in action against American forces advancing along the Maginot Line. It resisted for three days before artillery bombardment from the rear forced the Germans to evacuate. Following World War II it became part a strongpoint meant to delay a potential advance by Soviet forces into northeastern France. Hackenberg has been preserved and operates as a museum. source

Here we are with half of the undergrad students ready to enter the museum.


Our tour guide first filled us in on the geography of the massive underground fort. 


We walked on the tiny, electric raliroad line through tunnels 


Tunnels that became smaller

And smaller. It was very claustrophobic.


Look at that kitchen; it's HUGE compared to mine! But really, I can't imagine feeding over 1000 men out of this tiny kitchen. 


They had a bike rack (that's Kyle playing Vanna White), although I'm not quite sure what you would use the bikes for in this tunnel. I take that back, this fortification included something like 6 miles of underground passages, and although I'm sure the terrain got tight at times, a bike was probably very helpful in the wider sections.


The tunnel/fort was powered by rooms and rooms of these massive diesel powered generators.

Once a urinal or once a sink? You decide.
 

Within the fort there was a separate museum (with creepy, creepy mannequins) showing how the daily lives of solders in the fortification spent their days; here's one guy doing his work.


Another reading in bed


Could somebody hand me the scalpel? Anybody?


They also threw in a bit of a wake up call. Scary much? This makes me feel like a prissy, spoiled brat.


This here is the turret, the huge gun that was used to shoot across miles in order to protect the other fortifications along the Maginot Line. I believe something like 7 men had to be in this space in order to run the gun.


This is the upper part of the turret, the actual gun that is raised up


All the way to it's highest reaches to be aimed


And fired at the enemy coming across this beautiful countryside. There were no trees back then.

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