Verdun-sur-Meuse Things to Do

  • Looking to fort front -observer's cupola 155mm gun
    Looking to fort front -observer's cupola...
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  • 75mm turret and observer's cupola looking north
    75mm turret and observer's cupola...
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  • Northeast machine gun turret and observer cupola
    Northeast machine gun turret and...
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Most Recent Things to Do in Verdun-sur-Meuse

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    Fort Douaumont

    by Segolily Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    View from the top
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    Having gone through Fort Vaux we chose not to see the insides of this also cave-like fortress. From the top were still visible craters from the battle nearly 90 years earlier. It is hard to capture the feeling you get as you wander these sites and think of the men who fought here, those who died, the scars on their families and villages. Every little village we drove through in this part of France had monuments to their sons who never came home.

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    Ils ne passeront pas

    by Segolily Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    In a famous quote French General Henri-Philippe Petain said about the Germans...Ils ne passeront pas: They shall not pass. And now the statue on Mort Homme,,, Ils nont pas passe: THEY DID NOT PASS. But obviously at such great cost.
    Quoted from the website listed:
    "Mort Homme is a portion of the strategically vital ridge-line that formed the northwest bulwark of the Verdun Salient. It is on that portion of the battlefield west of the Meuse River -- an area not nearly as visited as is the better-known and more memorialized sector east of the river. During the year-long battle, the wooded crest was completely pulverized by artillery fire. And we are talking literally millions of shells. As photos so powerfully reveal, the entire perimeter of the Salient looked like the surface of the Moon. It was impossible to maintain trenches -- shell craters had to suffice for what cover there was. And Mort Homme was one of the most shell-torn and blood-soaked of an unimaginably bloody battle. To call it "Hell on Earth" would be an understatement"

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    MEDIEVAL TOWN

    by mtncorg Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Medieval gate till beckons in Verdun

    An important town of the 9th to 13th century, you can tour the 1000 year old Romanesque cathedral atop the old city. Other glimpses of medieval grandeur can be found in the old gates and vestiges of the old city walls.

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    RIVERFRONT

    by mtncorg Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Meuse River at Verdun

    The Meuse River has always been an important part Verdun. Boats connect the City to seaports in both Holland and Belgium via a canal and lock system. There are two main quays - the London Quay is lined with cafes where you can sit out along the river.

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    MALANCOURT

    by mtncorg Written Jun 27, 2009

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    Memory atop an old blockhouse
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    Atop the ruins of an old blockhouse is a Franco-American memorial remembering six companies of the 69th RI who vanished defending the villages of Haucourt and Malancourt during the initial German assaults on Cote 304 of early April 1916. The area was retaken by men of the US 79th Division in the first days of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September 1918.

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    COTE 304

    by mtncorg Written Jun 27, 2009

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    Memorial to French units seeing action on Cote 304
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    Cote 304 was attacked late in March and early in April after the initial assaults on le Mort Homme had been stopped. The Germans eventually would reach the summit on 29 June 1917, but the French would retake the hill on 24 August. The monument remembers the French units which took part in the actions here as well as the 10,000 who died here. There are a couple of poignant personal memorials here, too. One remembers 2LT Georges Fabre of the 3rd Mixte Regiment of Zouave Riflemen who died here 18 May 1916 at age 40. Another memorial nearby is to Joseph Girard who died in 1940 in another war. Trails take off into the scarred woods from here, as well, for a better picture of the still buckled landscape beneath the trees.

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    LE MORT HOMME

    by mtncorg Written Jun 27, 2009

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    Dramatic memorial to the dead of the 69th Division
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    In March 1916, the Germans enlarged the field of battle from just the right bank of the Meuse to the left, attacking the French first here at Le Mort Homme and later at Cote 304. They were able to take the top of the hill after a month-long battle but were unable to push on from there. The French would eventually retake the hill in August after twelve meters of height was shaved off the crest of the hill. There is a monument to the 40th Infantry Division who left many men here and the very dramatic memorial to the dead of the 69th Infantry Division – a skeleton standing in its grave with the words of General Robert Nivelle changed slightly to “Ils n’ont pas passe” – “They did not pass”. Nivelle had issued an earlier order of the day which read “Ils ne passeron pas” – “They shall not pass”.

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    MONUMENT TO COLONEL DRIANT

    by mtncorg Written Jun 27, 2009

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    The tomb of Colonel Driant and his Chasseurs
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    LTC Emile Driant was a conservative deputy from Nancy. He was a graduate of the French military academy of St Cyr, but since he was married to the daughter of the slightly infamous General Boulanger, he was barred from high command in the Army. As such, he became a writer as well as a politician. Rejoining the Army with the onset of WWI, he was given command of a demibrigade of Chasseurs a Pied and sent to the sector northeast of Verdun. His criticisms of the defenses there made life more difficult for General Joffre, especially when other politicians started asking questions. Some of the guns had been removed from the Verdun-Toul sector to other regions of the Western Front which made the areas around Verdun, at least, that much more perilous. On the day of the initial German attacks at Verdun, 21 February 1916, Driant and his two battalions of Chasseurs were still in the Bois de Caures (Hazelnuts). Stoutly resisting, the Chasseurs were eventually overrun and Driant was killed by a shell burst early that morning. His tomb – dating to 1922 – is erected here along a somewhat busy road deep in the woods. Thirteen unknown Chasseurs of the 56th and 59th BCP are arrayed in a semicircle behind his tomb. A path on the opposite side of the road leads to the site where Driant was mortally wounded and to where he was initially buried.

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    TRANCHEE DES BAIONETTES

    by mtncorg Updated Jun 27, 2009

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    Crosses remember the buried
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    Just to the west of Fort Douaumont and the Ossuary, the Tranchee des Baionettes is to be found. Here waited a group of French poilu - soldiers - in a tench during a particularly heavy German bombardment. When the shelling was over, there was nothing to be found of the soldiers but the bayonettes of their guns poking up through the ground, the soldiers entombed alive in the trench.

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    FORT SOUVILLE

    by mtncorg Written Jun 27, 2009

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    Wartime entrance to Ft Souville hidden in shadows
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    Built between 1875 and 1877 as a masonry fort similar in design to Douaumont, Souville was partially modernized in 1888. This fort was one of the forts making up the inner ring around Verdun – Douaumont and Vaux were on the outer ring. On 11 July 1916, the Germans launched an attack with some 40,000 which took them to the top of the fort, but they were unable to conquer those inside. If they had, then Verdun would have probably fallen. This was the high-water mark of the German advances at Verdun. The fort is very dangerous inside and all you can do is look at the entrance without going in.

    During 1917, three casements - Pamart Casements - were added around Fort Souville to add to the defense of the fort. These casements did not feature turrets as they were too difficult to add during wartime conditions. Each casement offered up a pair of machine guns which made a repeat of 11 July 1916 much more difficult.

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    RELIGIOUS MEMORIALS AT DOUAUMONT

    by mtncorg Written Jun 27, 2009

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    The recently opened Muslim Memorial
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    The main Ossuary building commemorates the Catholic faith. Three other faith memorials were planned for, but only two have been completed. The Jewish Memorial was finished in 1938 and is to the left of the Ossuary parking lot. On the right side is a new – since 2006 – Muslim Memorial which replaces a former smaller one that was erected in 1959. Within the national cemeteries, Jews and Muslims have their own faith-oriented headstones which are different from the crosses of France’s Christian dead. The fourth faith memorial to French Protestants has yet to be built.

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    ANDRE MAGINOT

    by mtncorg Written Jun 27, 2009

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    Monument to Andre Maginot
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    Maginot was a conservative deputy from nearby Bar-le-Duc in 1914 and along with others in the Chamber of Deputies, he volunteered for service with the start of WW1. He served in a regiment – the 44th Territorial Infantry – of which part of made up the garrison at Fort Douaumont. As a sergeant, Maginot was wounded and disabled in November 1914. Returning to the Chamber of Deputies in 1916, he would eventually become the Minister of War in the 1920’s where his efforts would eventually lead to the building of the line of fortifications across the Franco-German and Franco-Italian frontiers which would become known as the Maginot Line. The monument here was erected by friends of his just before the onset of WWII.

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    FORT DOUAUMONT - TOPSIDE

    by mtncorg Written Jun 27, 2009

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    75mm turret and observer's cupola looking north
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    You can visit the interior of the fort, but the two times I have been here, I have not had that opportunity. I was able to walk atop the fort, however, and found the ‘business’ end of the fort to be quite interesting.

    Douaumont was the strongest and most modern of the 28 main forts that made up a double ring around Verdun – Douaumont and its neighbor Vaux were the only two forts in the outer ring to fall to the Germans during the long battle. The fort was originally built in 1885 as one of the new fortifications along the post Franco-German border. The fort was designed by General Raymond Sere de Rivieres who was responsible for France’s new eastern wall which extended from Verdun to Belfort. Originally the fort was built of 1.5 meter thick limestone blocks covered with 3-5 meters of earth, but with the huge developments in the destructiveness of explosives and artillery in the late 19th century, the fort had to be modernized. First, the earth was taken away and the limestone blocks were strengthened by the addition of pillars and then a meter thick layer of sand. Atop this was laid a concrete shell that ranged between 1.5 meters thick on the east side to 2.5 meters on the west. Then, between one and four meters of earth was put back on top of the shell. The fort’s construction can be better understood by looking at the southwestern corner where a French 400mm shell tore the fort open.

    Between 1902 and 1913, the main protected armament was added to the fort in the form of retractable steel turrets which could rotate through a full 360 degrees. Two of the turrets were lighter and housed a pair of machine guns for purposes of close fort defense. These turrets are on the northeast and northwest corners of the fort. On the east side of the fort was a turret with one 155mm gun capable of three rounds per minute and a range of some 7.5 kilometers. On the north side was a turret that housed a pair of 75mm guns which could fire 22 rounds per minute with a range of 5.5 kilometers. The turrets were set in a reinforced concrete unit and coupled with 25cm thick steel domed observation cupolas. A older concrete bunker known as a Bourges casement was stuck onto the southwestern corner of the fort and was armed with two more 75mm guns providing covering fire for the southwestern approaches to the fort. Outside the fort were several other gun installations which added considerably to the overall firepower.

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    FORT DOUAUMONT

    by mtncorg Updated Jun 27, 2009

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    Crater from a 400mm shell at Ft Douaumont
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    At the start of the war, Germany used big siege guns on the Belgian forts at Liege successfully. French command decided that their forts had been made obsolete and some of the guns were taken out and used elsewhere on the front. Troops were also withdrawn and at the time of the battle, there was a garrison of only 56 reservists in Douaumont. The fort fell on 25 Feb, a short time into the battle and briefly the Germans actually had an opportunity to achieve a breakthrough. But German commander von Falkenhayn had never anticipated being able to rupture the French line and the reinforcements needed were not present. Petain brought in reinforcements and many more artillery pieces to stop further German advances. The battle of attrition that the Germans wanted was now on. In nearby fighting, one of the French prisoners was one Charles de Gaulle.

    Fort Douaumont was converted by the Germans into a main forward center. They used it as a command post, ordnance center and hospital. On 22 May, a French counterattack led to 40 French troops getting into the fort, but most were killed in subsequent hand-to-hand fighting. After the German attacks die down, the French brought up huge siege guns of their own. Firing from positions 6 miles behind Verdun, 400 mm guns scored direct hits on the now-German fort. Two hits accounted for the ordnance depot and the second wiped out everyone in the hospital. The destruction was so severe that the Germans evacuated the fort, though a few remained to be captured the next day.

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    FORT VAUX

    by mtncorg Updated Feb 24, 2009

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    Barbed wire still strung on the walls of Fort Vaux

    Following the fall of Fort Douamont and the subsequent failure of the Germans to bust straight through to Verdun, the German High command shifted attention to the French flanks - both at Cote 304 and Mort Homme on the left bank of the Meuse and Fort Vaux, on the French right flank. The initial attacks - 8 March to 11 March - were successfully, though bloodily repulsed. But on the first and second of June, the Germans encircled the 600 men within Fort Vaux. From 2 June - 7 June a horrible siege ensued, German flamethrowers and hand-to-hand combat. No latrines, no water, no reinforcements led the French to surrender on the 7th. French counterattacks failed to retake the fort and it became a German forward operations post. The next target was Fort Souville which was attacked on 23 June in the first gas attack of the war. Serious consideration after the fall of Vaux was given to withdrawing to Verdun itself, but the French decided to hold their ground.

    After Douamont was retaken by the French on 24 October, Fort Vaux was attacked by the French without artillery support. 800-1000 men were shot down by machine gun fire in three seperate attacks. French capture of a nearby forest on the fort's flank caused the Germans to voluntarily withdraw on 2 November.

    You can visit this fort a few miles east of Verdun and see the shattered remains of the fort.

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