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Title: In the Maginot line.
Author : SOULAS Louis-Joseph (1905 - 1954)
Dimensions: Height 38.8 - Width 47.4
Technique and other indications: Wire wood, stencil.
Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website
Contact copyright: © ADAGP © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Emilie Cambier
Picture reference: 08-502868 / DEP 3640, Eb 1453
© ADAGP Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Emilie Cambier
Publication date: February 2009
The end of the "funny war".
On September 3, 1939, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, which assaulted and then invaded allied Poland. Apart from a timid French incursion into the Saar that was quickly interrupted (September 1939), there was little land fighting: it was the "funny war", to use the expression used by Roland Dorgelès in Le Figaro in January 1940. It owes its name to André Maginot, Minister of War from 1929 to 1932.
Built mainly from 1929 to 1936 and facing the German Siegfried defense line, it consists of an elaborate system of underground galleries serving, among other things, barracks and concrete casemates equipped with heavy artillery (shells, cannons, mortar in particular). In April 1940, date of printing of the print In the Maginot line, things are accelerating, especially in the North Sea, a strategic issue for the supply of raw materials. The area, where sporadic clashes between German submarines and French and English fleets (air and sea) had been taking place since September 1939, became the site of more significant fighting at the beginning of April: the Allies attempted to defend Norway (battles of Trondheim and Bergen on the 10th) finally taken by the Nazis as well as Denmark. The war is really on, here as, it is believed, near the Maginot Line.
The war from the inside.
The print In the Maginot line was produced by Louis-Joseph Soulas (1905-1954), French painter-engraver and illustrator mobilized in 1939 in the Vosges. While fulfilling his duties as a private soldier, he engraved on wood, at the request of the generals of the army of Alsace, plates which would be published in the form of posters. These are hand-colored patriotic images, in the style of the images of Épinal. Printed in Strasbourg, it soon covered some walls in Alsace, then it was reproduced elsewhere in France. It is therefore a soldier who thus portrays the war "from the inside", with an explicitly mobilizing aim, both for other soldiers and for civilians.
The brightly colored, simple-line image shows five men in a casemate, a concrete block, buried in the ground, where the turret-mounted artillery and observation pieces are housed. A remarkable point of view, since from the outside, the Maginot Line reveals nothing of its operation (all the main structures are underground). The spectator is thus immersed in the heart of the action and the combat: on the Alsace front, "in the Maginot line". The men wear clothes reminiscent of soldiers as well as those of skilled workers: overalls and saddlebags are even reminiscent of the latter; military helmets which could also be those of minors; beret for one of the men, valid for both universes. They perform coordinated, precise teamwork with controlled movements. On the left, three of them, focused and diligent, charge and aim a shell. On the right, the other two seem to be observing (or aiming?) Using a periscope or binoculars, a task that could complement that of the other three. The room is neat and clean, like the weapons (we can even distinguish the instrument intended to clean the barrel) which are shown in detail of their cogs and equipment (cranks, hunting) and whose operation is thus represented in action. A text captions the image, possibly written by the writer André Chamson, then Captain of Soulas.
A real and modern war, which requires collective mobilization.
The generals order these posters from Soulas to show the action of the Ve army in Alsace: it is about combating the demobilizing and dangerous idea of a "funny war". Men at the front load shells that kill, and die, like others at sea, fighting. The war is neither distant nor reserved for the coasts of Norway: it also concerns Alsace, so symbolic. Besides, the representation could be that of a submarine. It is the same war that is being fought everywhere, with the same urgency and the same men, and in particular the "sons of Alsace" who know that the defense of the fatherland is everywhere and always at stake.
This war is no longer that of the muddy trenches: it is meticulous and specialized, almost skilled technical work, carried out neatly in clean places where everything is regulated in detail and where everything is in its place. In this, the image is reminiscent of the many positive representations of the work of the worker in the 1930s. It is a modern war, but which is part of a tradition of know-how and national mobilization. : the imagery of Épinal thus comes to recall the military posters of the Great War.
Perhaps it is a question of mobilizing the soldiers by valuing their role and insisting on the fact that they will not be in the same conditions as those of 1914. We can also think that the poster is addressed to civilians , and in particular to the workers, to encourage them to maintain the effort: all are, in their own way, on the Alsace front (especially since the poster will be displayed above all in this region), which symbolizes and dramatizes all other. They wear the same clothes, master modern, powerful and sophisticated machines in the same way, and, like "sons of Alsace", they must fight. The mobilization and the war effort are therefore carried out in teams and in coordinated units: the three men among themselves; then with the group of two; then with the North Sea sailors; then with the workers in the back; then with all the civilians.
- Maginot line
- War of 39-45
- military strategy
Jean-Pierre AZEMA, From Munich to Liberation 1938-1944, Le Seuil, 1979. Marc BLOCH, L’étrange Défaite. Testimony written in 1940, Paris, Société des Éditions Franc-Tireur, 1946.Yves DURAND, France in the Second World War, 1939-1945, A. Colin, 1993. Jean-Bernard WAHL, Once upon a time there was the Maginot Line, Jérôme Do Betzinger Publisher, 1999.
To cite this article
Alban SUMPF, "In the Maginot Line"