Douaumont

From Academic Kids

Douaumont is a village and a commune in the Meuse département in France, near Verdun. Population (1999): 6.

The village was destroyed during WWI. Now there is the Douaumont ossuary that contains the remains of thousands of soldiers killed in the Battle of Verdun.

Contents

Douaumont Fort

Construction

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.

Fort Douaumont had the reputation of being the strongest fort in Europe and virtually impregnable.

Capture

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.

In the event, Douaumont fell with without a shot being fired. As elements of the German 24th Brandenburg Division approached on February 25th, most of the garrison had gone to the lower levels of the fort to escape the incessant German shelling with large-calibre guns. A battery of very heavy 420 mm German howitzers were also pounding the fort, damaging the 75 mm gun turret. The French occupants had been without communication with the outside world for some time. The observation cupolas were unoccupied. Only a gunnery team were at their post in the 155 mm gun turret. A squad of about 10 combat engineers led by Pioneer-Sergeant Kunze managed to approach the fort. Visibility was poor due to bad weather. The battlefield was often covered in snow, sleet and fog. French machine gunners in the village of Douaumont held the German column for French colonial troops returning from a patrol and did not risk opening fire on friendly forces. Kunze and his party could thus lower themselves in the moat surrounding the fort. The pillboxes defending the moat were unoccupied. Kunze managed to climb inside and opened an access door. Most of his men however refused to go inside. They felt it was all going too easy and feared an ambush. Kunze found himself inside Douaumont, and wandered around until he found the artillery team. After he captured them he found the main garrison and locked them in their rooms. Douaumont had been given up without a fight.

This constituted a terrible blow to French pride, and furthermore was costly in military terms also: Douaumont proved to be a near invulnerable shelter and operations base to German forces just behind the front line. The Germans came to refer to the place as "Old Uncle Douaumont".

German occupation

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.

Recapture

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.

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