History of the Simserhof
Constructed between 1929 and 1936, Simserhof is one of the major fortresses along the Maginot Line. An authentic and somewhat unsuspected underground town, it has tunnels that spread over a 5km radius as well as eight blocks of combat. An artillery fortress equipped with substantial weaponry resulting in an impressive and a devastating firepower, Simserhof accommodated a team of 876 men who formed the fortress troops.
Despite the Treaty of Versailles signed on 28 June 1919, the issue of national territory defence arose following the First World War. Existing fortifications were no longer able to cope with the advancement of weaponry and borders had evolved with the return of Alsace-Moselle The construction of new fortifications was the subject of debate at the very top of the military hierarchy between the followers of a national territory defensive approach and those who advocated a more aggressive strategy. In 1925, the Supreme War Council, headed by Paul Painlevé, Minister of War, approved the project for a defensive system based on the fortified regions. This system moved away from the project envisaging a continuous line of defence. From 1927 onwards, the onus was on the Fortified Regions Organising Committee (CORF in French) to take care of the design and construction of these fortifications The future « wall of France » was based on a combination of different fortifications dominated by strong artillery. Built on a 20-25 km deep foundation, the Line consisted of fortifications intended to function as a warning system, to resist attackers or even for combat itself.
Appointed Minister of War in 1929, André Maginot voted for the defensive organization plan for French borders and the corresponding appropriations. The Line would be known as « Maginot Line ». Most of the work was carried out between 1930 and 1936.
The Simserhof fortification took its name from a nearby farm. The project was modified many times before being finally approved in 1930. The fortification forms part of the walled area of the Lauter and the fortified sector of Rohrbach. Construction began in the summer of 1930, reaching completion five years later. The construction of the fortification, entrusted to the Parisian company « Ossude », required more than 175,000 m3 of earthwork and nearly 45,000 m3 of reinforced concrete. The construction was punctuated by several accidents including some fatalities. Simserhof has 8 combat blocks to the front, whose 3.50 m thick walls were able to withstand the attacks from enemy artillery. At the rear, we find the soldiers and ammunition entrance. A railway track from Saint-Louis-Lès-Bitche served as a supply network to the fortification.
The Battle of France commenced on 10 May 1940, and Simserhof found itself under attack two days later. While Paris was already occupied, the fortified sector of Rohrbach came under intense attack from 15 June. On 22 June 1940, Marshal Pétain signed the armistice. Pending the orders of the Chief of Staff, the Commander of Simserhof, Lieutenant-Colonel Bonlarron refused any negotiation. It was not until 30 June that an order was given to hand over the fortification to the German army. In December 1944, the fortification again came under attack, this time from American. Troops to drive out the occupants.
Presentation of what’s on offer during the visit of Simserhof
A visit to Simserhof involves submerging yourself in this singular universe, an underground barracks capable of withstanding the most vicious attacks. Visitors will discover the history of the Maginot Line and its fortification over the course of this fascinating tour of nearly 3 hours duration. This impressive fortification is the fourth largest of the Maginot Line and the second owing to its firepower. It covers the galleries of ammunition magazines which are accessible via a « ride », an electric vehicle specifically designed for the site. The tour of the barracks is given by a guide, involving a walk through the kitchens, foyer, infirmary, barracks room or the electric plant, all of which 35 meters underground!
Exploring Simserhof involves roaming hundreds of meters underground galleries. Anyone who has never visited such a fortification will find it hard to imagine what lies behind the ammunition entrance concrete facade or the soldiers’ entrance. This is where the 876 fortress troops used to bustle about. However, until the outbreak of war, soldiers occupied a barracks located on the top of the Légeret Casement..
A full visit is divided into three parts:
- Presentation of a 20 minute film from the archives on the period from the end of the First World War in 1940. This film allows us to understand the history of the Maginot Line and Simserhof in the context of the time.
- The visit to the ammunition magazine is accessed by a ride that can accommodate up to twenty guests. Having set the scene, we discover the life of the fortifications and its story which is recounted by an imaginary soldier, giving a testimony of the past.
From the soldiers’ entrance, we descend 149 steps to reach the barracks located 30 meters underground. You will discover the four air filter stations that were used to protect against gas attacks. Regularly engaged, each station made a deafening noise, as you will have the opportunity to find out! A little further on, we find the electric plant and workshops. In the machine room, we find generators capable of providing the electrical power for the fortification. Once again, the visitor will hear the noise that emits from one of these groups! We also come across kitchens which were particularly well equipped for the time, with electric ovens, coffee urns,, pots, autoclaves ,etc. The hospital, consisting of several rooms, including a treatment room, operating room and dental office. All the equipment is still in place! The visitor can also find the foyer with original murals evoking Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or the chamber and cells.