Visiting the Pont-Saint-Louis Casemate, Menton, France: remembering some World War Two history

Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Small bunker, Pont-Saint-Louis, Menton; part of the Maginot Line
Small bunker, Pont-Saint-Louis, Menton; part of the Maginot Line | Source
André Maginot
André Maginot | Source
Map of the Côte d'Azur, France
Map of the Côte d'Azur, France | Source

Part of ill-fated fortifications which were the brainchild of André Maginot

This casemate or casement, built between World Wars One and Two, was an extension of the Maginot Line: the series of fortifications intended to defend France from German (and, in the south, Italian) invasion. The Alpine portion of the Maginot Line is sometimes referred to as the Alpine Line.

Thus, the casemate at Pont-Saint-Louis, Menton, together with fortifications at nearby Cap-Martin with which it was linked in military administration, was the southernmost part of the Maginot Line, which, with breaks at intervals, stretched for hundreds of kilometres. The Maginot Line was the brainchild of André Maginot (1877-1932)(1),

This casement, which up to World War Two was armed with a 37mm anti-tank gun and machine guns, was opened to the public a number of years ago. I was privileged to have the opportunity to be given a brief, guided tour of the facility as the sole visitor. Here into the sheer rock of the Alpine cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean at Menton, France, narrow tunnelling led to storage and accommodation facilities; the Casemate seemed to my unlearned eye to be very solid and almost impregnable.

In essence, this is what it proved to be in 1940. On June 24, 1940, Italian forces attacked, but French troops dug into the Pont-Saint-Louis Casemate held position, being thoroughly well fortified. Rather than expend costly munitions at an overwhelming level, the Italian invaders chose to wait for the Armistice with France, which occurred on June 25; only after the Armistice did French troops dug into the Pont-Saint-Louis Casement voluntarily relinquish their stronghold.

So: success or failure for the Pont-Saint-Louis Casemate? Certainly its defences held, but there is no military weapon against political capitulation.

The Pont-Saint-Louis Casemate is situated at Esplanade Jojo Arnaldi , Menton, in France's Alpes-Maritimes department, on the French Côte d'Azur (see map), very close to the Italian border.

November 6, 2012

Note

(1) André Maginot was successively a French civil servant, decorated soldier, Parliamentary deputy and, later, French Minister of War in the Inter-war years. Following the costly German invasion in World War One which decimated — though did not defeat — France, conceived of fortifications which would run along France's eastern borders in order to ward of any such future invasion. He died in 1932, and thus never learned of the eventual fate of the defence Line which was named for him.

Also worth seeing

At Pont-Saint-Louis , what is now known as the Esplanade Jojo Arnaldi was also the scene of conflict in 1944, commemorated by an historical plaque.

In Menton itself, visitor attractions include the 17th century Archangel Michael Basilica (French: Basilique Saint-Michel-Archange ), the Palais Carnolès , which used to be the property of the Prince of Monaco (the town's former ruler), the Jean Cocteau museum in the Bastion , and many others.

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How to get there:

The nearest sizable international airport to Pont-Saint-Louis is Nice, France (Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur ). Delta Airlines flies direct from New York to Nice. The French railroad company SNCF serves stations between Nice and Menton-Garavan, which is withing walking distance of Pont-Saint-Louis. Enquire also at Nice Airport for bus links to Menton. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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