Verdun is surrounded by a line, in the shape of a horse shoe, strengthened with 12 fortresses and several strong points.
We do now concentrate on Fort de Douaumont.
As we reached the main entrance of Fort Douaumont,
the sight of destruction was overwhelming.
The wartime entrance to Fort de Douaumont.
The main entrance used to look like this.
The other side of the gate in the former dry moat.
We walk from the south-west corner to the east.
Next and above the entrance to the fort,
hangs a series of bronze panels,
commemorating some important events.
"24 OCTOBER 1916, WHEN THE R.I.C.M. (Colonial Infantry Regiment of Maroc) DID SET FOOT ON THE FORT DE DOUAUMONT, THE 321ST REGIMENT ON IT'S RIGHT SIDE, ATTACKED THE EAST FRONT OF THE STRONGHOLD, AND THE 4TH REGIMENT MIXTE DE ZOUAVES AND TIRAILLEURS (mixed regiment of Zouaves and Riflemen) AT IT'S LEFT, PENETRATED IN THE WEST MOAT. THESE THREE REGIMENTS, TOGETHER IN THEIR STRUGGLE, SHARE NOW THE HONOUR TO SEE WRITTEN ON THEIR BANNERS THE GLORIOUS NAME: VERDUN- DOUAUMONT."
"ON 24 OCTOBER 1916, THE COLONIAL INFANTRY REGIMENT OF MAROC (R.I.C.M.), AUXILIATED BY THE 43RD SENEGALESE BATTALION AND TWO SOMALI COMPANIES,
HAS CONQUERED WITH AN ADMIRABLE COURAGE THE FIRST GERMAN LINES, NEXT IT HAS PROGRESSED UNDER THE ENERGETIC COMMAND OF LIEUTENANT COLONEL REGNIER, BREAKING THE FOLLOWING RESISTANCES OF THE ENEMY OVER A DEPTH OF TWO KILOMETRES, HAS WRITTEN A GLORIOUS PAGE IN IT'S HISTORY, OVERPOWERING IN AN IRRESISTABLE ATTACK ON FORT DE DOUAUMONT AND HOLDING IT'S CONQUEST IN SPITE OF THE REPETITIVE COUNTER ATTACKS FROM THE ENEMY."
"ON 24 OCTOBER 1916 THE 38TH INFANTRY DIVISION HAS HAD THE GLORY AND THE MERIT OF RETAKING THE FORT DE DOUAUMONT FROM THE ENEMY. THE R.I.C.M., THE 4TH REGIMENT MIXTE DE ZOUAVES AND TIRAILLEURS, THE 4TH MARCH REGIMENT DE ZOUAVES, THE 8TH MARCH REGIMENT OF TUNISIAN RIFLEMEN, AND THE 32ND FIELD ARTILLERY REGIMENT, TOGETHER FORMING THE 38TH DIVISION, THE 133RD AND 74TH INFANTRY DIVISIONS HAVE TAKEN PART IN THE BATTLE, IN PARTICULAR THE 11TH AND 321ST REGIMENTS."
Later I will return to these events in some more detail.
"IN THIS FORTRESS REST 679 GERMAN SOLDIERS WHO WERE KILLED IN THE NIGHT OF 7 TO 8 MAY 1916 BY AN EXPLOSION IN THE MUNITION DEPOT."
A view at the south-east front of the fortress.
Before we explore more of the exterior of the fortress,
and more of the impressive top of this construction ...
... we first visit ...
The Interior of Fort de Douaumont.
We go from here to the left and follow the corridor
on the ground floor, from east to west.
We pass the bakery.
Life in Fort Douaumont must have been dark, ...
... humidous, and deafening by the sound
of the constant bombardments.
We pass the room of the Lazaret.
A dormitory for the soldiers.
Notice in the corridor these chicane-shaped walls
with the square openings.
Behind these walls, covered with sandbags, the defenders could operate rifles, machine guns, or throw handgrenades.
A Memorial for
6 Chasseurs of the 46th Bataillon Chasseurs à Pied.,
killed on this spot on 14 december 1916 by a 420 mm. grenade.
Soldiers, eating soup in the corridors of the Fort.
A side tunnel to the 155 mm. gun turret,
from this corridor closed for the public.
On the other, southern side of the main corridor,
a room where an explosion of
a French 400 mm. grenade killed 30 German soldiers at once.
We walk on through the corridor,
where the light is much weaker, than my photo's do suggest.
The German Operation Gericht 21-25 February 1916.
How Sgt. Kunze "conquered" Fort de Douaumont.
The French had decided to withdraw the main part of their cannons and 500 troops from the Fort, to strengthen the forces on the Somme. The French kept only one Howitzer Gun working.
When the German attack started on Fort de Douaumont itself, on 25 February, there were only 56 French, Territorial artillerists and officers in the fort, listening to a lecture.
The Germans attacked from the north, as always from the most difficult and steepest slope of the hills.
After conquering the trenches surrounding the fort, only a Sergeant Kunze and 9 Pioneers, and later followed by 3 German officers, Lt. Radtke, Capt. von Haupt, and Lt. von Brandis with about 90 men of the 24th Brandenburger Regiment overtook the fortress.
The loss of Fort Douaumont was a disaster for the French with a large psychological impact.
The Germans immediately took advantage of the possession of the Fort, and deployed many attacks from the fort in the period May-August 1916. The fort was the centre of many fightings until 24 October, but the Germans would first face an unexpected fate ...
Germans on bed bunks in the fort.
We continue our exploration of the fortress.
The officers dormitory.
The interior of the small room of an officer.
Another soldiers dormitory.
On the right in this room stands this stove.
The ceilings of the corridors and rooms are scattered
with stalactites of chalk.
The kitchen of the fortress.
A German cook at work.
In the south-west of the fortress we near the location
of the explosion disaster.
The Explosion Disaster of 8 May 1916.
"IN MEMORY OF 679 GERMAN SOLDIERS OF THE 4TH (Btn.) BRANDENBURGER LEIB REGIMENT NR. 8, OF THE 2ND BRANDENBURGER GRENADEER REGIMENT NR. 12, OF THE 4TH BRANDENBURGER INFANTRY REGIMENT NR. 24, OF THE 6TH BRANDENBURGER INFANTRY REGIMENT NR. 52. THEY WERE KILLED HERE ON 8 MAY 1916 BY THE EXPLOSION OF AN AMMUNITION DEPOT. DUE TO UNCEASING ARTILLERY FIRE ONLY A PART COULD HAVE BEEN BURIED OUTSIDE THE FORTRESS. MOST OF THEM FOUND THEIR GRAVE ON THIS LOCATION."
The Germans seemed to have settled themselves quite comfortably in the Fort. But in reality life in the fort was harsh. They were also under constant, heavy, French artillery fire, including gas grenades.
On 8 May 1916, around four o'clock in the morning, panic broke out under the German occupiers. "The Blacks are coming!", some soldiers shouted in confusion. They wrongly supposed they were attacked by Maroccan fierceless forces of the R.I.C.M.. A direct artillery hit reached some ammunition in a corridor and some ready to use grenades.
On the same time soldiers were using flame-thrower oil for cooking near the oil depot. The oil caught fire. Everyone was covered with soot, and the corridors were filled with a thick smoke. These factors explain their fear for an attack of "the blacks". In this state of alarm some soldiers throwed in panic hand grenades at the alleged intruders.
These grenades caused the explosions of ammunition and grenades, some filled with poisonous gas. As a result finally the main gunpowder room exploded. The bodies could not be buried, due to the fires that broke out. The bodies are therefore piled up in this empty ammunition depot: a pile of 679 bodies.
Incidentally, before 24 October 1916 the French never found out about this catastrophe.
The ammunition depot is quickly sealed up and, to this day, remains as a mass grave within the fort. Nowadays there is a chapel to commemorate the more than 700 German deads, caused by this one explosion disaster. 679 Deceased of them are buried behind the wall in the back.
(Dutch readers, read my more detailed reconstruction of this event, based on the witness report of the German Stabarzt Dr. B. Hallauer, else on this website in:
Trench map of 17 May 1916,
during the German occupation of the fortress.
We go down to the underground floor.
The climate in the cellars is cool but very soggy.
We follow this corridor from west to east.
The workshop and room for the electricity generator.
The desinfection room.
A gunpowder depot and ...
Some soldier's art:
A head of Christ, carved out in the stones.
Nearby another piece of soldiers art: a ship with sails.
We leave the cellar and climb the stairs up again ...
... to find our way to the 155 m. gun turret
on the east side of the fortress.
We pass these 1917 latrines, ...
... and in the next corridor this object,
which I alas could not identify, ...
... to enter the room at the base of the 155 mm. gun turret.
A lift for the shells.
Machinery to lift the cupola, to rotate and direct the gun.
The gun turret of the 155 mm. is a good reason
to leave the fortress now, and examine it at the outside;
On top of Fort de Douaumont.
The cupola of the 155 mm. gun turret.
From the centre of the roof:
the horizon from which the Germans attacked.
Back to the east side.
A bell shaped, steel observation post, directed to the north.
View from the east side over the roof of the fortress.
The north eastern point of the dry moat.
A machine gun turret at the east.
Teleview from this machine gun turret
at the north-east point of the moat.
Notice the rifle holes of the inner gate,
meant to control invaders in the moat.
Same machine gun turret, closer up.
View over the "glacis" from east to west.
Observation post near the centre of the top.
The French counterattacks.
Pétain and Joffre
on 25 February 1916,
4 days after the beginning of the battle.
General Joffre appointed
General Pétain as Chief in Command
for the defense of the sector
of Verdun and to reconquer
the Fort and it's surroundings.
On August 8, 1916, Petain launched a a huge attack with airplanes,
railroad-cannons, howitzers, and 3 infantry armies.
Later on 24 October Pétain launched new offensives.
At 24 October, Pétain succeeded to reconquer Fort Douaumont. As we have been reading on the bronze panels above the entrance, thanks to a large and decisive contribution of colonial troops, from Maroc, Somalia, Senegal, Tunesia, and Algeria.
The operation in the whole sector ended on 15 December 1916.
The trenches in the vicinity of Fort de Douaumont,
barbed wire, and water filled craters.
French soldiers take position.
"Poilu's " are preparing their grenades.
Explosion of an obus; soldiers try to hide themselves for the explosion.
German gas attack with fosgen gas.
From 24 October French soldiers were defending the Fort with a confiscated German
MG 08-machine gun.
View of south-east side of Fort de Douaumont after the battle.
The main entrance.
An aerial view of the bomb craters.
The centre of the fort and highest point
on the roof of the fortress: an observation post,
added after the Great War.
View from the top northward to the former German lines.
The 75 mm. gun turret at the centre of the roof.
Nowadays the grounds in the horizon are military terrain,
still in use every Monday and Tuesday exercising with modern,
also dangerous explosives!
View from the centre eastward.
View up southward.
Again a view northward from the central observation bell.
Machine gun turret at the west side.
View to the west.
Teleview from this machine gun turret
to the west point of the moat.
Again an inner gate to guard the dry moat.
We leave the roof at the west side,
to inspect the west side on ground level.
Opposite the west corner lies the "Casemate de Bourges".
At the flanks of all fortresses,
designed by General Séré de Rivières (1815-1895),
the French army constructed a "Casemate de Bourges".
The Casemate de Bourges is armed with two 75 mm canons
to defend the fortress at the flanks.
Again: the west corner of the Fortress.
These renovations are of later date.
Now we have been around this tour around Fort de Douaumont.
Outside the fort we follow a foot path
along former trenches and shellholes to ...
The artillery position, gun turret Batterie 3212,
lies at the east of the fort.
On the location of the gun turret stands this Memorial
for the French 35th Battalion of the 74me R.I.
This concise inscription tells a horrific event about the period of the German occupation of Fort de Douaumont and it's near surroundings from 25 February until 24 October 1916:
"THE 3rd BATALLION OF THE 74TH INFANTRY REGIMENT ATTACKED THIS POSITION ON 22 MAY 1916 AND THEY KNEW TO MAINTAIN IT DURING 25 HOURS, HAVING LOST 72.2% OF THEIR TOTAL FORCES. HONOUR TO OUR COMRADES! ERECTED ON 22 AUGUST 1929."
View from the Memorial at the base of the gun turret
of Batterie 3212.
This is all that is left of the gun turret.
We continue to the Nécropole Nationale de Douaumont.
In between an explanation about the final results of the Battle.
Continue to the next chapter: