Introduction : The “Maginot Line”, conquered from the rear in June 1940, symbol of static or even passive defence in the eyes of many observers, is in no way a reflection of the life of André Maginot, who died in 1932, just at the very beginning of the construction of this fortification, which he neither conceived nor executed, even though his ministry was the first to reap credits thereof.
Regrettably, an ill-informed public opinion have continued to associate the setbacks of the Maginot Line, a project which was poorly completed due to the lack of clairvoyance on the part of some senior leaders at the beginning of the Second World War, and the opposition of our Benelux allies for it to extend up to the North Sea, with the memory of Minister André Maginot who certainly did not merit it.
On the contrary, André Maginot was a great volunteer combatant, pioneer of the distinctive fighting style of Corps Francs, Commandos and other specialized units, which fight in small groups, operate in isolation and without any protection, in order to execute risky and delicate intelligence, sabotage or guerrilla missions.
André Maginot was born of Lorraine parents on February 17, 1877 , at Paris .
He had a very brilliant academic profile. He attended Lycée Condorcet, Paris , obtained a law degree and a diploma from Ecole libre des sciences politiques (Independent School of Political Science) where he was the best student of his batch at 20.
Integrated into the Council of State, he was elected parliamentarian for the Meuse in 1910. Member of the Army Commission in the parliament, he became under-secretary of state in charge of war in 1913.
On August 1, 1914 , there was general mobilization in France . André Maginot, then 37 and father of two, lost his wife. His status as a parliamentarian exempted him from serving under the flag.
He joined the 44th Territorial Infantry Regiment in the Verdun sector as a private and three days later, war was declared. André Maginot found himself in the vanguard, with two other volunteer parliamentarians, and had to go to the front as early as August 13.
Private Maginot participated in several intelligence missions aimed at gathering information on German positions for the command. General Montey then decided to set up a permanent intelligence group, made up of volunteers. The twenty-man unit so formed had Caporal André Maginot as its leader. In its first mission, this group of patrol soldiers recorded its first success. André Maginot was promoted to sergeant on September 2, 1914 , and was mentioned in dispatches. The missions became more frequent and, on October 7, 1914 , he was commended in the division order. Every night, Sergeant Maginot and his group of volunteers braved the dangers (many of them went and never returned alive) of enemy fire to bring back precious information to the command on the state of advancement of the Germans. On November 8, 1914 , Sergeant Maginot was decorated with the military medal on the Souville plateau, with a commendation in the regiment order:
“Commander of a group of volunteer scouts, has led over fifty patrols, constantly furnishing, amid dangers untold, the command with the most precious intelligence information on the enemy’s position. On November 6, thanks to his excellent knowledge of the terrain, he guided, through a thick fog, the battalions that carried out abductions in several villages and contributed immensely to the success of this surprise operation which apart from three men who suffered injuries was price-free. Outstanding non-commissioned officer judging by his personal gallantry and the respect he commands from his men”.
On the following day, November 9, 1914 , charged with an intelligence mission, André Maginot set out as early as 7 a.m. with his small twenty-six-man group. At the edge of a forest, they fell into an ambushed set by some sixty German soldiers. He sustained two bullet wounds on his left leg. After defending for several hours under a hail of bullets, his men succeeded to carry him across to the French side. Eight of them were killed or wounded while trying to save him.
His left leg having been destroyed, André Maginot became disabled. On return to Paris , he was transported to Val de Grâce where he underwent several operations before being able to resume his functions as Member of Parliament, and Chairman of the General Council of the Meuse .
On January 11, 1917 , André Maginot was elected chairman of the Army Commission to take over from General Pedoya. He became Minister in charge of Colonies and North Africa , and member of the War Committee.
On March 12, 1919 , President Raymond Poincaré awarded André Maginot the Knight Cross of the Legion of Honour, accompanied by the following commendation :
“Former under-secretary of state in charge of war, transferred on his request to the mobilisation as a private in the 44th Territorial Infantry Regiment, organised in the vicinity of Verdun a section of volunteer scouts for which he wasn’t only the leader but the soul itself . During over fifty patrols on enemy-occupied territory, he set an example of the most admired courage and was decorated on November 6, 1914 . Seriously wounded on November 9, he resisted all daylong, despite his injuries, with a handful of men against an enemy far greater in number, on whom he inflicted great losses. Five commendations, military medal, for exploits of war. Two injuries.” Signed: Pétain.
From 1922 to 1924, President Poincaré appointed him War Minister, while maintaining him at the head of the pension ministry ( ministère des pensions) . The years that followed witness the consolidation of André Maginot’s political career as he successively became the president of Office National des Mutilés (National Board of Disabled War Veterans), and Office National des Combattants (National Board of Combatants), and conferred on these bodies their characteristic impetus of human solidarity.
André Maginot died of typhoid on January 6, 1932 .
As an expression of the gratitude of the entire nation, the government honoured this illustrious son of France with a state funeral, and he was laid to rest, leaving behind the entire family of French combatants in distress.
Since January 11, 1932 , André Maginot has been resting in peace in the family grave at the Revigny cemetery.
Excerpt drawn from “la Charte” of May-June 2005, and translated freely.