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Fort Douaumont (Overlay)

An aerial reconnaissance picture of Fort Douaumont after heaviest bombardment during WWI.

The construction work for Fort de Douaumont started in 1885 and the fort was continually reinforced until 1913. The fort is situated on some of the highest ground in the area. It has a total surface area of 30,000 square metres and is approximately 400 metres long, with two subterranean levels protected by a roof 12 metres thick. The fort was equipped with numerous armed posts, a 155 mm gun turret, a 75 mm gun turret, several other 75 mm guns and numerous machinegun turrets.

The German invasion of Belgium in 1914 forced military planners to radically rethink the utility of fortification in war. Belgium's comparable forts were quickly destroyed by German artillery, and easily overrun. The decision was made in August 1915 to reduce the garrison at Douaumont and to strip the fort of much of its weaponry.

Unfortunately this proved unwise because in February of 1916, Germany launched the Verdun offensive; Douaumont was a key objective; even with a reduced garrison and weaponry, Douaumont presented a formidable obstacle to the German attack.

The French made many attempts to recapture the fort from May 1916, suffering heavy losses. Possibly 100,000 casualties were incurred in these efforts. The fort was an invaluable forward base for the Germans. It provided shelter for troops and served as first aid station and supply center.

On the 8th May, a careless fire detonated grenades and flamethrower fuel. This in turn detonated an ammunitions cache. A firestorm ripped through the fort, killing hundreds of soldiers instantly. The exact casualties are unknown, but over 600 bodies were buried in a portion of the main corridor. This part of the fort is now rightly considered an official German military cemetery.

Douaumont was recaptured on the 24th October 1916 by Moroccan French Colonial troops after the Germans withdrew. Millions of shells had been fired at the fort since its capture by the Germans to little avail, and thousands of men had died in attempts to recapture it.

Verdun and Fort Douaumont are synonyms for the senselessness and cruelness of war.