An auction bid in a village cafe in the French town of Bitche on Tuesday (16 November) gave a local surveyor part of the Maginot Line, the French fortifications which became one of the most famous failures in military history.
GV PAN... to entrance of Maginot Line underground bunkers as it is today (2 shots)
SV Tank traps
SV 1938 Tank tracks
SV Sign 'Military Terran - photographers prohibited'
SV Barbed wire and tank traps (2 shots)
SV French troops entering bunker and doors closing (2 shots)
SV INTERIOR.. mobile train through underground bunker tunnel ( 3 shots)
SV Men working in kitchen and serving troops with food (3 shots)
SV Unconscious man placed on table and given oxygen
CU Alarm bell
SV Troops leaving their hammocks for action stations (2 shots)
TV Troops up steps to gun turret
SV Artiste drawing of underground stairway and lift to gun turret
SV Gun scanning area
LV 1971 gun turret today
CU Sign at auction "Maginot Line for Sale"
SV Auction official lights candle, signifying start of auction
SV The Mayor of Bitche talking to bidders and taking first bid, he then lights a second candle to signify bid from eventual purchaser Joffrey
ZOOM TO M. Joffrey
CU Frenchman looks on
CU M. Joffrey signs auction papers
GV PAN..over forested Maginot Line terrain to gun turret above ground
Initials ES.2145 ES.2222
Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
Background: An auction bid in a village cafe in the French town of Bitche on Tuesday (16 November) gave a local surveyor part of the Maginot Line, the French fortifications which became one of the most famous failures in military history.
The surveyor, M. Marcel Joffrey, was the only bidder -- he bought an observation tower and bunker on the line for a mere 9,100 francs (707 sterling).
Officials handling the auction arrangements for the French Defence Ministry had been expecting much more interest in the sale. They received hundreds of requests for information on the auction from the United States, Canada and France. The auctioneer in Tuesday's sale refused to be downhearted by the lack of bids. More observation towers and bunkers are scheduled to come under the hammer later this month and in December.
Successive French Governments poured millions of francs and high hopes into the massive fortifications that compromise the Maginot Line, named after the Defence Minister who started its construction along the Franco-German border in 1927.
But Hitler simply ignored the line when the German armies invaded France in 1940. He by-passed the fortifications by attacking through Belgium.
This film, showing Tuesday's auction, is inter-cut with 1938 Visnews library material showing the line in operation.
SYNOPSIS: One of the most famous fortifications in military history went under the auctioneer's hammer in the French town of Bitche on Tuesday. The French Ministry of Defence has startled selling the Maginot Line, named after the country's Minister of Defence in 1927, who began the construction of the line along the Franco-German border.
Modern fortresses in World War One had held out successfully against German artillery, so in 1927 the French were induced to build the Maginot line. It was an ultra-modern defence system for its time, showing traces of the old circular design of fortification although its dominant features was linear. The Maginot Line was, in the view of the troops, a tremendous advance over previous fortifications. Its concrete was thicker than anything previously known and its guns were heavier.
There were air-conditioned areas for the troops, and the line was usually referred to as being more comfortable than a modern city. There were recreation areas, living quarters and supply storehouses, and underground points had been established in depth, capable of being supported by troops moved underground by rail.
But when Germany invaded France in 1940, they ignored the Maginot Line and completely by-passed it by attacking through Belgium. After passing the line, the Germans continued to the rear of the fortifications, making it completely useless. It was one of the most famous military failures in history. The Germans were later to use the same tactics in breaking through the Stalin line on the Eastern front, again employing the Slitzkrieg method of crashing through at one point and then moving in from behind.
And so, on Tuesday, a small crowd of onlookers and officials gathered to see the line -- considered in its time as the greatest fortification ever built in Europe -- go under the auctioneer's hammer. There was a touching ceremony beginning the end of a myth.
In the Bitche village cafe, an observation tower and a bunker went to a local surveyor for a mere 9,100 francs -- he was the only bidder. The French Ministry of Defence had expected wide interest from prospective buyers from as far afield as the United States and Canada. But only a few Frenchmen turned up, accompanied by a crowd of curious Germans and newsmen. The auctioneer, M. Paul Hantz, reflected that people did not seem to be interested in the line any more. For the lucky buyer, the land will be used for a hunting lodge, or perhaps a new holiday home.