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IntroductionThe permanent fortresses of 1914 were a continuation of military fortification enigineering that stretched back several centuries. Artillery and shell technology dictated the form of fortress design.
- For maps of the battles on the Western and Eastern Fronts: Campaign Atlas of the Great War
- For information on WW1 artillery: Artillery of the Great War
Starting in 1859, Belgium built permanent fortifications at Antwerp, Liege, and Namur. Called "Brialmont" forts after military engineer General Henri Alexis Brialmont, the last of these forts was built in the late 1890s. The Belgian forts were able to slow, but not stop the German advance. For more information: Belgian Fortifications: 1880-1914
Liege: 8-16 August. The Liege fortification was a ring of 12 forts. Realizing the strategic importance of the Liege position, the German Army of the Meuse attacked the forts in the opening days of the war while the rest of the German Army mobilized. In a nine day battle, German Army attacked the forts with infantry assault and bombardment by 21cm howitzers which had little effect, and then with 28 and 42cm siege howitzers that demolished the forts one by one. The 28cm howitzers bombarded Fort Evegnée into surrender, while the 42cm howitzers bombarded Forts Fleron, Pontisse, and Loncin. The impact of the battle on the future course of the war remains an open question. For more information: The Battle of Liege
Liege's Fort Loncin: The 42cm howitzers' handwork
Fort Loncin: Another view of the destruction
Namur: 21-25 August 1914. Nine forts ringed Namur. Using lessons learned at Liege, both 30.5cm and 42cm howitzers were used to systematically destroy the forts. Six of the nine forts were bombarded.
Austrian-Hungarian 30.5cm Howitzer
German 42cm Howitzer
The bombardment of Antwerp: 15cm howizters in action; 28 Sep 1914 and the following days.
Fort Lierre: The results of German 30.5cm and 42cm artillery. The heavy artillery was accurate enough to consistently hit the armoured turrets
Fort Wavre: Another fort destoryed by 42cm howitzers.
After the Franco-Prussian War, France built an extensive frontier defensive system named after General Séré de Rivières, Chief of Engineers. Most of the forts were organized into defensive areas - Maubeuge, Rheims, Verdun, Toul, Epinal, Belfort, Paris - and "curtains" or barriers - Lille to Maubeuge, Verdun to Toul, and Epinal to Belfort, and La Fere to Rheims. A few isolated forts were built as "spoiling forts" - Hirson, Charlemont, Les Ayvelles, Montmedy, Longwy, and Manonviller - meant to break the momentum of a German offensive. From 1898 onwards some of the forts were upgraded by adding addtional concrete protection; however, at the outbrak of the war, many of the forts were in disrepair or obsolete.
Maubeuge: 25 August-8 September 1914. The first French fortress attacked by the Germans was Maubeuge along the French-Belgian border. The two week siege slowed the German advance into France. For more I\information: Siege of Maubeuge
Bombardment of Maubeuge: Not all artillery bombardment was performed by siege artillery.
Destroyed armored turret of an unidentified fort; probably at Maubeuge
Fort Manonviller: 25-27 August 1914. Located east of Nancy, Fort Manonviller was captured by the German Army after two days of bombardment by 42cm and 30.5cm howitzers during the Battle of the Frontiers.
Fort Manonviller: A modern isolated fort reduced by German heavy artillery
Longwy. After a short siege, the fortress city of Longwy fell to the German Army on 28 August 1914.
Verdun: 21 February 1915 - 18 December 1916. The most famous WWI battle involving permanent fortifications was Verdun. Verdun was France's own battle; forever symbolizing their part of the war. Several forts were heavily bombarded and fought over, but arguably were not decisive to the outcome of the battle. For more information: The Battle of Verdun 1916
Verdun: The quintessential artillery battle (depicted in a questionable artist's rendition of German heavy artillery)
Another artist's rendering of the bombardment of Verdun
Fort Vaux: On the receiving end of German artillery
Fort Venini di Oga (Italian)
Military Fortifications of Northern Italy (Italian)
Latest page update: made by JeffreyLaMonica
, Oct 8 2008, 1:15 PM EDT
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