Orchard Dump
Webmatters : The Battle of Verdun 1916 : Fort Souville

The Battlefield

Fort Souville

The easiest way to visit the Fort (which is in a ruined state and not open to the public) is to park at the point known as the Casemate Pamart.

This is situated on the D 913 after reaching the junction for Fort Vaux and before reaching the Memorial Museum. If you have come up the D 112 via the Maginot memorial turn right at the wounded lion crossroads.

Decimal49.189265.44238 Map
Fort Souville - the outer shelter

The battle entrance to Fort Souville

The final obstacle

As can be seen from the maps, Fort Souville is the last of the major forts before the hills commence their descent into Verdun about five kilometres away. Although not one of the larger forts it was used as a military base and had been strengthened to hold a reserve.

Following the fall of Fort Douaumont on 25 February 1916 it became the main obstacle to a final assault on Verdun. Its importance increased on 7th June when Fort Vaux fell to the Germans.

By then though, the German advance had begun to grind to a halt. Despite this, the Crown Prince’s Chief of Staff, General Knobelsdorf was determined to shatter the French lines and break through to Verdun.

Such an assault would require taking the Ouvrage at Thiaumont, the village of Fleury and the Fort at Souville.

The Germans would later state that their intention had been to bleed France to death by constantly threatening to take Verdun. It might be argued that the strategy worked in Germany’s favour up until the point that they thought that they could take Verdun. From that point on, their own casualties mounted to the point of rivalling those of the French.

Douaumont ossuary from Souville

Ossuary at Douaumont from the top of Souville

At the right time of the year you can look through the trees towards the Ossuary at Douaumont. Perhaps a little misleading as Fort of Douaumont is a little further away to the right. Even so, you realise ; it is not very far.

General Knobelsdorf was supremely confident that he could achieve his objective. Colours and regimental bands were brought up to the front, from their bases, in preparation for the triumphal entry into Verdun.

Between the 21st April and the 30th June the German artillery pummelled the fort and by June the French were counting over 1,500 impacts a day. Parts of the structure were collapsing and life within was awful as water and air supplies became ever more difficult to maintain.


The weapon of terror for this attack was going to be gas shells, using a new form of phosgene gas. The French had experimented a bit with the gas, but the German chemical experts believed that they had come up with a variant that was effective against the French gas masks.

On 22 June 1916 the German artillery opened fire on the French artillery positions. At first the French gunners were a bit confused, they could hear the German guns firing but there were no explosions on their side of the lines. Then this green gas started to leak from the shells. The gunners quickly donned their masks, but this time they found that they were not 100% effective against the new gas.

The French Artillery’s counter bombardment began to fall silent as gunners choked and died from the effects of the poisonous gas cloud.

That day Fort Souville was hit more than two thousand times.

At 0500 hours the German Infantry commenced their assault. Thiaumont and the village of Fleury fell to the Germans but the Souville sector continued to hold out.

On 1 July 1916 the Battle of the Somme commenced. Originally planned as the joint Allied big push for 1916 it was now much more than that: a Franco-British attempt at relieving Verdun.

On the 11th and 12th July 1916 the Germans launched yet another attack. Artillery fire caused serious damage to the roof of the fort but the use of the new gas was for the most part neutralised by updated French gas masks.

On the night of the 11th July Lieutenant Kléber Dupuy was leading his 3rd Company (down to sixty men) of the 7e Régiment d’Infanterie up to the front. Finding it impossible to get any further he decided to take shelter in the fort.

The fight for Fort Souville

Based on the French Official History
Modern locations are included to assist with on the ground orientation

There he found that most of the garrison of older men from a territorial unit were wounded, including their commander. There were also a few members of his regiment’s 10th Company and they were all gas victims.

Sending a runner back to Colonel Borius, Dupuy explained that the fort’s garrison was out of action and it’s commander wounded. He was taking command of the fort. Ordering the corridors and entrances cleared, he stationed his soldiers, armed with grenades, ready to counter-attack at the smallest sign of an attempt to take the fort.

At dawn on the 12th July the Germans launched their final assault. The crossroads at the chapel of Sainte Fine was taken (location of the wounded lion memorial) and by 0600 hours they had outflanked the few remaining French defenders and reached Fort Souville.

Dupuy did not hesitate. Using every able-bodied man he had, he launched his counter-attack. Dashing out of the fort the French fought with grenades, machine-guns, bayonets and fists. By 0900 hours the fighting was done and the fort had been saved.

For that fleeting moment German soldiers stood on the roof of Fort Souville. This was to be the first and only time that they would see the town of Verdun.

Dupuy’s problems were not yet over, for thinking that the fort would inevitably fall the French were now shelling it themselves. Rushing to his communications post he managed to get through and stopped that half of the bombardment.

Later that night Dupuy and his men were relieved — the fort and Verdun had been saved.

There is a small monument to him and his men on the D 112, behind the fort, close to that commemorating André Maginot.

The body of the fort is not accessible, but there is an interesting
wooded pathway from the parking area.

The Casemate Pamart

The casemate Pamart

The first thing that you see is this protected machine-gun emplacement. It has nothing to do with the battle of Verdun as it (and two others) were built in 1917.

You will see the term casemate a lot when looking at fortifications. It means a fortified emplacement from which guns are fired. Whilst usually referring to a building it is also used for armoured, gun mounted vehicles which do not have a rotating turret.

Designed by Commandant Léon Pamart they were designed to increase the machine-gun protection of the fort. Three were placed on the outer slope. They weigh about 2.5 tonnes and the armour is 14 cm thick.

They provided a restricted field of fire and you will note that they cannot be lowered. Instead, metal shutters can be placed into the openings — which made them a lot cheaper. Whilst having mobile turrets seemed like a good idea the reality was that the mechanism often got clogged with debris from bombardments which stopped them from functioning properly.

The casemate Pamart firing positions

Inside the casemate were two carriage-mounted Hotchkiss machine-guns (one above the other). The gunner chose the opening he wished to fire from and then used his guns alternately.

If you continue along the track you will come to a second casemate before the path reaches the fort itself. During the battle, access to the fort was obtained by using the outer shelter’s entrance. This fortified shelter, built into the hillside, had been added to the original fort in order to hold up to three hundred soldiers.

All that is left of the entrance

All that remains of the fort’s original entrance

The remains of the fort's walls

Walking around the walls