A great adventure
The Association de Sauvegarde des Petits Ouvrages de Laudrefang et Téting (ASPOLT) was created in 2007 by two enthusiasts of the history of the Maginot line, Sébastien RAO and Michaël FRANCOIS.
The aim was to take charge of and restore the Petit Ouvrage de Téting, one of the 53 forts of the Maginot Line in northeastern France, where Michaël’s grandfather fought in 1940. A way of paying tribute to him and all his companions of the time. It is therefore under the name of Association du Petit Ouvrage de Téting (APOT) that this adventure begins.
Immediately joined by other enthusiasts, the Association took off and became known. It presented her project to the municipality of Téting-sur-Nied and to the Ministry of Defence, the owner of the land. The steps are going well but the enthusiasts are eating their way; it is decided that the Association will undertake restoration work not far from Téting, in Block 3 of the Petit Ouvrage de Laudrefang. Owned by the municipality of Laudrefang, Block 3 has relatively easy access, interesting technical features (not connected by underground gallery to the rest of the structure, still owned by the Ministry of the Armed Forces) and a very rich history.
In June 2008, the Association started work there. One year later, in 2009, the Association’s statutes were amended: APOT became the Association de Sauvegarde des Petits Ouvrages de Laudrefang et Téting and signed a 99-year lease with the municipality of Laudrefang to develop Block 3 and its 2 hectares of land.
In January 2019, the ASPOLT, led by 30 volunteers and with 11 years of experience, finally signed another 99-year agreement with the municipality of Téting-sur-Nied to develop the 26 hectares on which the Petit Ouvrage de Téting is located.
Laudrefang’s fort seen from the sky during the Heritage Days in 2017
The objective of ASPOLT is to make known to as many people as possible the unknown and yet strong history of these two structures of the Maginot Line, whose crews, surrounded from 16 June 1940, attacked from 18 June, fought fiercely for their lives and freedom and remained undefeated when the Armistice came into force on 25 June 1940.
Thus, most of ASPOLT’s efforts since 2008 have focused on the restoration of Block 3 of the Petit Ouvrage de Laudrefang, a fort with 500m2 of rooms spread over 3 levels and reinforced in 1939-1940 by 68 men.
It is a question of restoring the appearance it had in 1940 by re-equipping it with original equipment and opening its doors to visitors, on request or during events such as Heritage Days. These visits are an opportunity to tell the story of what the crew experienced there at the beginning of the Second World War.
As for Petit Ouvrage de Téting, the aim is to enhance the value of its exteriors via a memory path.
In 2008, Block 3 of the fort of Laudrefang was abandoned, overgrown with vegetation and used as a wild waste disposal site. The interior was looted and scraped from the 1980s onwards. It’s an empty shell.
The first efforts are focused on external revaluation. Long brushing sessions are carried out, brambles are torn off, the immediate surroundings are secured. The field, deformed by the spillage of surplus land from the neighbouring football field created in the 1970s, is levelled in 2010 and 2019.
Inside, volunteers work to scrape away rust and faded paint. Block 3 is connected to the power grid in 2010. A temporary ventilation system and dehumidifiers are installed. Gradually, the pieces regain their authentic appearance. The walls are repainted according to the original colours. Period lighting is reinstalled and wired to current standards. Then, Block 3 gradually finds period equipment recovered according to various and complementary methods: exchanges with other associations, purchases on the Internet, flea markets, donations from private individuals, loans from the Ministry of Defence, collection in abandoned structures with the agreement of the municipalities concerned. From 2010, the 96-ton turret of major machine gun equipment and technological jewel is back in operation after 15 months of work.
In 2011, an 81mm mortar of more than 2 tonnes is on loan, for a renewable period of 3 years, from the Draguignan Artillery Museum in agreement with the Ministry of Defence. In 2017, a second identical mortar is made available under the same conditions in the mortar room.
In 2015, the Association benefits from the Lorraine Pact scheme and is allocated funds to restore the Block 3 power plant, located in the 2nd basement. Two vintage Renault engines are reinstalled. In 2018, the Association celebrates the 10th anniversary of the start of work with a specially dedicated weekend.
In 2019, a 99-year lease was signed with the municipality of Téting-sur-Nied, dedicated to the development by the Association of the 24 hectares of land on which the Petit Ouvrage de Téting is located. ASPOLT is leading several days of brushing around the structure, which will not be restored inside but enhanced outside with a memory path.
In parallel with the restoration work, ASPOLT carries out historical research in order to know and make known the history of the sector to as many people as possible.
In 2010, contact was made with Jean VINDEVOGEL’s son, a soldier mobilized in Block 3 in 1939-1940 and who, during his captivity in Germany, wrote the story of his daily life among the crew at that time. He published the book after the war.
This contact led to the reissue of the book, “Un Observateur raconte – 1939-1940 on the Maginot line”. Sold by the Association, the book provides a precious testimony to the daily life of these French soldiers who lived through the war until their departure for captivity in Germany on July 2, 1940.
The Association also carries out extensive historical research. Conducted by one of its founding members, the research focuses mainly on the fort of Laudrefang in 1939-1940. Based on military archival documents held by the Service Historique de la Défense, it was possible to identify and contact, throughout France, more than twenty families of former soldiers of the structure. Several of them had an ancestor assigned to Block 3, and this research provides period photographs and testimonies, while establishing an important link between the Association and families.
The adventure continues!