PA des Sagnes was constructed as a defensive position by the French Army during the mobilisation for World War Two in 1939 as part of the Alpine Line of the Maginot. PA is French for “Pointe d’Appui” meaning point of support or strongpoint.
PA des Sagnes has two separately positioned machine gun turrets, comprised by dismountable STG mle 35/37 turrets (designated T 606 and T 607), on square concrete structures connected by a trench, two concrete pillboxes and a dugout infantry shelter made of masonry and corrugated curved sheet metal with a double entrance. Further down at the lake there are multiple buildings that supposedly served as barracks for the troops. The position is manned by the first company of the 73rd Alpine Fortress Battalion (BAF).
Located in a meadow on the mountain side of Le Caïre along the valley of the Abriès torrent overlooking the Lake des Sagnes, PA des Sagnes had to prevent an enemy infiltration into this valley through the Petite Cavale and Quartiers d’Août passes. The position is only a few kilometers from the Italian border. To the South of des Sagnes lies Petit Ouvrage des Granges Communes.
Although on February 12, 1929, the French Border Defense Commission originally planned to build an Ouvrage to control the valley of the Abriès torrent, close to the border with Italy, the Maginot project is postponed until it is too late. So, with the fear of an invasion of neighbouring Italy under Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime through the Alps, the French Army rapidly constructs a support point at des Sagnes, during the mobilisation in 1939.
Dismountable STG turret model 35/37
Dismountable STG (Section Technique du Génie – Technical Engineering Section) turrets like the T 606 and T 607 at PA des Sagnes were quite commonly used in the Maginot Line to fill defensive gaps between the different works. The STG turrets of Des Sagnes are of a light version equipped with a Hotchkiss 8mm machine gun model 1914, but there were heavier versions. The turrets were designed to fit into prefabricated concrete bases that were already constructed on location.
The guns were manned by a crew of three. The gunner and the loader worked inside the turret, while the outfitter had to shelter in the concrete structure.
The turrets could be camouflaged by a circular grid covered with foliage that was placed over the turret and followed its movement like you can see in the picture above.
About 600 of these turrets were placed along the Maginot Line at the start of World War Two. Many of these were transferred to a new home on the Atlantic Wall during the German occupation of France.
First Battle of the Alps
From the 16th of June 1940 the Italians try to infiltrate the French sector at Restefond. These troops do not only have to face the difficult mountain terrain covered with a thick layer of snow even in June, but also have to deal with the Alpine Line Maginot defenses of which they have little intelligence. While they expect to find weak and abandoned defences, left in the chaos caused by the German Invasion in the North of France, instead they find a very effective Alpine Line or “Little Maginot Line” waiting for them.
In the afternoon of June 23, the Italian 7th Alpini attack in the direction of the Sagnes, under the cover of the fog and snow. Around 5 p.m., about two companies of the “Feltre” battalion are seen heading towards the PA des Sagnes via the Bosse du Lauzanier and the Pelouse valley, after passing through the Pas de la Petite Cavale. Immediately fixed by two combat groups of the 2nd company of the 73rd BAF and the mortars of the PA de Pelousette, they are harassed by Ouvrage Restefond‘s 75/31 mortar. During the night, the Italians have to break off the attack as the rain and snow increase in torment.
In the morning of the 24th of June the 7th Alpini, reinforced with elements of the border militia (GaF), advanced again on the Sagnes. A column of the “Belluno” battalion coming from Lauzanier via the Quartier d’Août pass is engaged by the machine guns of the PA des Sagnes, after which GO Restefonds artillery finishes the attack.
June 25 – Armistice
The Italians were successfully denied passage time and again, until the Franco-Italian Armistice on June 25th becomes effective and forces the French BAF troops to surrender to the Italian Army.
Block 1 – Pillbox
Block 1 of PA des Sagnes is a small pillbox that could be armed with a light machine gun like the FM 24/29. The block covers the Southwest side of the position.
Block 2 – Pillbox
Block 2 is a small pillbox identical to Block 1, but positioned on the Northwest flank of PA des Sagnes.
Block 3 – STG 35/37 turret T 607
This block was composed of a concrete base fitted with a dismountable STG mle 35/37 turret (designated T 607) equipped with a Hotchkiss 8mm machine gun model 1914. The concrete access corridor is partly covered by a concrete roof. A trench, which is still visible, connects Block 3 to Block 4 further West.
Block 4 – STG 35/37 turret T 606
Block 4 is fairly identical to nearby Block 3. The dismountable STG mle 35/37 turret is designated T 606.
Block 5 – Infantry shelter
This infantry shelter is an earthed shelter built largely of masonry and corrugated metro sheet metal. Both entrances have been partly reinforced by concrete. It is located furthest to the Northwest of PA des Sagnes.
Coming from the town of Jausiers you can follow the Route de Nice up to the Col de Restefond. Quite early after leaving Jausiers you can follow a side road to the L’Hubac locality. This unpaved mountain road will take you to the Lac (Lake) des Sagnes and the Cascade du Pisson. Be advised that this is quite an adventurous ride and not suitable for every vehicle. From the lake you’ll have to proceed further on foot and hike up the mountain.