Destinations History Travel & vacations War

#Verdun2016 : Fort Douaumont

Fort Douaumont is a symbol of the bloody battle of Verdun that took place from February 1916 to December of the same year during the First World War.

A small part of the outside fortifications
A small part of the outside fortifications

After the French defeat against the German states in the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian Wars, France fortified the region around Verdun near the border with the newly formed German Empire. A series of forts, such as Vaux and Douaumont were built to garrison troops and artillery. Fort Douaumont consisted of battlements, underground galleries, caserns, kitchens, command posts, artillery turrets,…Etc It was built so that around 800 men could live inside the fort day and night but during times of crisis, like during the battle, 3,000 soldiers and officers lived inside. One of the key defensive element is the turret known as Galopin. From inside the fort, soldiers could fire shells of a size of 155 milometers up to 7 kilometers. The turret could be retracted inside the fort when needed. All the mechanism of the Galopin turret can be seen when visiting the fort.

Douaumont is not the largest of these forts, but the fighting that took place built its legend and legacy, making it one of the best known.

Located near the tiny village of Douaumont ( 8 inhabitants as of today ) in the Meuse, the fort is a testimony of WW1 worth visiting both the outside and the museum inside.

By the time fighting started around Verdun, many of the forts were unprepared to withstand an attack by the German army because of France’s strategy to favour attacking instead of defending.

On top of Fort Vaux, near Fort Douaumont

When the offensive of Verdun was launched in February 1916, the German soldiers found only 57 men guarding Fort Douaumont, who were unable to oppose their enemy. Then the fort, a symbol of France’s defence against the Germans, became an important strategic point of Germany’s advance to Verdun.

In the following months, taking back Douaumont was one of the main French objectives for the battle of Verdun. On the 24th of October 1916, several French regiments managed to capture the fort, drive out or capture the German soldiers who remained to defend it. Tens of thousands of soldiers died taking it back and defending it.

” To our dead comrades ” .There is a cemetery inside the fort. Behind this wall are the bodies of 800 German soldiers who died accidentally because of an ammunition explosion.

Today the fort is one of the most visited monuments related to the Verdun battlefields. For a cheap price ( around 4€ ) you can visit parts of the inside fortifications with information and explanations as you go along. A shop with souvenirs, books and other related objects is available. It is recommended to wear good clothes even if it is warm outside since you go below the ground level in old and humid galleries.

Fort Douaumont remains partly as it was during WW1 and WW2, as such, it is one of the best ways to grasp a sight of what the men who fought during the First World War lived.

Pictures by A.Aldridge and Q.Vannier 2016

By Alister

Studying at the University of Besaçon, Burgundy Franche-Comté, France