Fortifications of Verdun 1874-1917
Publication Date: April 19, 2011
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The Battle of Verdun is one of the most well known and infamous battles in history. While the battle is remembered for acts of horror, bravery, and honor, it is also closely entwined with the ring of fortifications built to defend the key town of Verdun on the Meuse River that lay in the path of the German attack.
When one thinks of Verdun, one also thinks of Douaumont and Vaux, two forts on the far edge of the battlefield that came to symbolize the French struggle to regain their land from the Germans. In the months after its capture, Fort Douaumont's turtle-shaped heights stood as an ultimate objective and driving force for the French Army. The terrible combat that took place in the tunnels of Fort Vaux serves as an example of how the French attempted to hold on to the last inch of land to the last man.
From 1874 to the outbreak of World War I in 1914, construction and improvement of the fortifications of Verdun continued non-stop. It was considered by military engineers to be the strongest place in Europe and indeed it may have been in terms of flanking fire coverage of the battlefield, firepower from its 155mmnn and 75mm guns and howitzers, and its concrete protection. However, none of this came to the mind of General Pétain when, after the unanticipated and successive destruction of the forts of Liège, Namur, Antwerp, and Maubeuge by the German heavy siege guns, he decided that permanent forts were no longer of great value.
As a result, all of Verdun's artillery pieces not in fixed turrets were removed and the fortress garrisons stripped down to maintenance crews. Thus, it was a very different fortress that faced the Germans in 1916. However, as the battle progressed and the value of the forts, not only as patriotic symbols but strategic objectives and powerful strongholds was regained, the tide turned again, affecting not only the outcome of the battle, but future military engineering concepts and ideas that would ultimately produce the Maginot Line.
Clayton Donnell has had a life-long fascination with the Brialmont forts built at Liège and Namur. He spent his early years living in Belgium, and often visited the sites of the forts. Over the years he has amassed a large collection of material relating to this period, and has translated much of it from French to English. He has previously co-written Modern European Military Fortifications, 1870-1950: A Selected Annotated Bibliography (Praeger, 2004), and has created websites on the forts of Liège and Namur, and the Maginot Line.
"Certainly one of the best books in English on the Verdun fortifications... This is one of those books in the series that can be listed as a “must have” for the fortification enthusiast." - J.E. Kaufmann, SITEO