The largest and probably most famous of the Verdun forts.
Clearly sign posted from all directions the two major routes from Verdun are via the D 112 which brings you directly up through the forest to the Memorial Museum or, alternatively by remaining on the D 630 and turning left on to the D 913 (which passes by the route leading to Fort Vaux). From the Memorial Museum follow the signs past the ossuary and on to the fort.
The Fort is situated on a hill 390 m above sea-level (about 200 m higher than the town of Verdun). Considering its later importance it is surprising to discover that it was a latecomer to the system of forts around Verdun.
By the time that the fort had been finished in 1886 it was out of date. The reason for that was because liquid explosives had been invented (by a French scientist) and tests carried out on Fort Malmaison (on the Chemin des Dames near Soissons) had horrified the French — Malmaison had been pulverised with ease.
In order to reinforce the structure a two and half metres thick concrete shell (requiring almost 200,000 cubic metres of material) was created. This, it turned out, would withstand all but the very heaviest calibre weapons.
By 1914 it was one of the most up-to-date and imposing fortifications in France. As the largest of the ring of fortifications around the town of Verdun it was considered to be the key position by the attacking Germans.
The fort was equipped with
The outer defences were also heavily defended with numerous machine-gun posts.
When walking across the roof of the fort today it can be seen that although battered the structure withstood pretty much everything that was fired at it with almost the sole exception of the hammering it received from the French Railway Mounted 400mm Artillery whilst they were trying to recapture it.
However, what appeared to be an imposing concrete edifice standing in the path of the enemy was, by 1916, a rundown and poorly manned outpost. In 1915 the fort had been downgraded following the conquest of fortresses in Belgium and northern France. The new thinking was that having guns and soldiers in fortresses was little less than a waste. By the time the Battle of Verdun opened it was too late to reverse the decision.
When the Germans attacked the fort on 25 February 1916 the garrison’s compliment of men came to a total of 57 territorial soldiers.
This enormous bunker was to be taken without a fight by a company of the 24th Brandenburg Regiment. A handful of them managed to climb inside through a grill and captured the turret operators. Not a shot was fired.
Douaumont Fort remained in the hands of the Germans until 24 October 1916 when men from the Moroccan Colonial Infantry Regiment recaptured it. The structure withstood all of the French bombardments, which included calibres ranging from 155mm up to the heavy 400mm siege gun.
Douaumont would be re-established by the French in 1917 and its guns would fire again in June 1940 before being destroyed and once again occupied by the Germans.
On 8 May the German garrison suffered a serious accident in one of their grenade storage areas. The resulting detonation killed 679 soldiers who are buried within a gallery which has been turned into a chapel.
Major Friedrich Schönlein, who was the Regimental Commander of the Grenadier-Regiment Prinz Karl von Preußen (2. Brandenburgisches) Nr. 12 was killed when part of his bedroom ceiling collapsed on top of him.
His grave can be found in the Soldatenfriedhof at Mangiennes — which was the location of the first battle of the war on French soil.
Last entry times to the museum are one hour before closing time.
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