Both these resounding names refer to a national defence system. They are, respectively, German and French. The principal difference between the two is that the former was erected in France by the Germans in World War I; the latter by the French between 1929 and 1934 on their own eastern frontier.
The Siegfried Line was a fortified defensive barrier erected in France from Lens to Rheims. The German army built these defences after they had failed to take Verdun, presumably for reasons of logic, logistics and an apprehensive study of the future. One should not omit to note that the Germans also called it ‘The Hindenburg Line’, after the former Field Marshal, later President of the German Republic Paul von Hindenburg (1847 – 1934).
The defences proved useful for the first time in 1917, making it possible to maintain a front with depleted forces. In 1940 Adolf Hitler applied the term ‘Siegfried Line’ to both old and new fortifications built along Germany’s western frontier. Comedians in London sang a jingoistic song in the music halls called ‘We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line!’
The Maginot takes its name from French Minister for War André Maginot (1877 – 1932). It was built between Longwy near Luxemburg to Switzerland and it was instantly proclaimed impregnable (by the French). But the defences had a fatal flaw, caused by politics: they were not continued along the Franco-Belgian frontier because of Belgian objections; also, a powerful group of French strategists was certain that the Germans could not penetrate the Ardennes. Hitler’s generals simply avoided the Maginot in their blitzkrieg invasion west, by investing Belgium and the Sedan instead. Thus they entered France unopposed.
Would-be historians studying for their examinations should take careful note of the fact that when France gave in and signed her armistice with Germany – symbolically in the same railway carriage in which the 1918 armistice was signed that declared Germany defeated – all the Maginot Line fortresses were untouched, except for a scattering of fortifications near Saarbrücken.
Without being unnecessarily cynical, it is generally accepted that the Maginot Line can be taken as a symbol of the mentality of the French High Command in the 21-year period between the wars. The French simply refused to heed the British prediction that Germany would penetrate or merely go round the fortresses bristling with what turned out to be useless armaments and huge garrisons.