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Thread: Verdun again - the Ouvrage de Froideterre - VERY image intensive!!!

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    Default Verdun again - the Ouvrage de Froideterre - VERY image intensive!!!


    Hi again. We were over in France on the way to a week's skiing in Austria two weeks ago. On the way we stopped off at Verdun again and had another mooch around the many battlefield fortifications. There are so many forts here it is simply unreal, and almost everyone can be entered very easily. Now I know I'm not supposed to give you details of the "way in" in the open forum but frankly all I can say is, even though the French do make an effort of sorts to keep you out on the grounds of safety their idea of responsibility starts with a sign saying, "Entree Interdite" and ends with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders! Suffice it to say we were able to enter two forts, an ouvrage (minor fort) and more blockhouses than you could shake a rather knotty pine stick at!

    The ridges around Verdun were so comprehensively fortified between the Franco-Prussian war and the outbreak of WWI that it is hard to go more than a few hundred yards through the woods which now cloak the destruction of the totally abandoned battlefield, without almost literally stumbling on another mess of dark grey concrete comprehensively blasted in turn by both German and French heavy artillery. The woods are so dense it is very difficult to gain much idea of where the opposing armies stood to fight apart from when you stand on the top of a fort such as Douamont, however there's little doubt what is going on when you peer out through the an observation slit from the inside of an artillery or machine gun turret. And hard to believe as it may be, some of the machine gun turrets still rotate smoothly on their bearings with nothing more than man power almost a century after the war! The artillery turrets still have their guns in place, albeit minus breach blocks, including heavy 155s and lighter, quick firing twin 75s.

    My first report covers the Ouvrage de Froideterre, a somewhat smaller fortification which was sited on the ridge running away from the left flank of Fort Douamont. Douamont was the key stone of the Verdun defences and was designed along with it's flanking fortifications to break the tide of any invasion by the Germans, however it fell almost without a shot being fired to a handful of enterprising German infantry and pioneers led by Lt. Eugen Radtke who stumbled into the fort almost by accident only to find the skeleton garrison sheltering from the bombardment (unneccesarily) in the bowels of the fort. It took the French months to recapture Douamont at an immense cost in troop lives.

    Not so the Froideterre however. After two days of continuous bombardment with heavy artillery the Germans threw the best part of 19 battalions of infantry at the line comprising Forts Souville, Thiamount and the Froideterre and they actually overan the outside and rear of the Froideterre on the 23rd June 1916, but were unable to penetrate and evict the French garrison fighting from within despite the fact that there are no interconnecting communication tunnels between the seperate strong points of the fort. After spirited counter attacks the fort was soon safely back completely under French control and it marked part of the furthest line of penetration during the German thrust to capture Verdun.



    The exterior rear of the Ouvrage de Froidterre...





    Carved in stone, the name of the fort, blasted by heavy artillery, still just about hangs on almost a century after the battle...





    The entrance to the block containing the turret for the twin quick firing 75 mm guns.





    The twin 75 turret, now parked above ground in the firing postion. These turrets were carefully counterbalanced in order to allow them to sink down into the concrete reinforced roof of the emplacement when not firing. In WW2 the gun turrets of the much vaunted Maginot Line, were almost identical to this design. Andre Maginot, the instigator of those later defences, served in the Verdun forts in WW1 and lifted many of the earlier design ideas wholesale for use almost 20 years later...





    Inside the turret building the gun platform is reached via a rusting staircase which requires some care to climb. Once on the platform a similar amount of care is required because the metal grid one walks upon is very rotten in places and is threatening to give way beneath one's feet. To the rear of the platform column the turret's heavy counterbalance beam and weight can just be seen.





    Up on the platform which is situated directly beneath the turret. To the rear of the platform there is a small entrance to a circular corridor around the base of the turret which is reached by means of a ladder in order to access the turret bearings for maintenance. The platform itself is where the ammunition handling crew worked to feed the 75 mm shells up to the turret via two powered ammunition lifts. Once the shells reached the turret, gun layers loaded them into the weapon breachs. Spent shell cases were dropped through a chute on the upper platform.





    One of the 75mm ammuntion lifts...





    Looking up from the floor of the turret the breachs of the twin 75 mm short barreled guns can just be seen here. They are minus their breach blocks now. This weapon was regarded as possibly the best light artillery piece of all the armies of the Great War and was known as the "Soixante Quinze". It had a very flat trajectory and a relatively high muzzle velocity giving it great accuracy. It was also capable of a very rapid rate of fire.





    Within the turret now looking between the barrels of the twin 75s at the recoil mechanism.





    The gun cupola commander's peep hole. The guns were NOT aimed via this tiny observation slit, rather an artillery officer sat in a seperate 5 inch thick armoured steel turret and gave fire control orders to the gun cupola commander via a speaking tube or telephone. In the case of this particular turret communication was via a steel conduit speaking tube which is still in place within the turret. Behind the guns there is an electric fume extractor fan.





    Looking straight down the barrel at the enemy! On this gun a part of the breach block mechanism is still in place but the firing mechanism is jammed. The right hand gun of the pair has all of it's breach block mechanism removed.







    The turret counter balance beam and weight on the ground floor behind the turret assembly. The turret is so well balanced it was wound up and down very easily considering it's massive weight but it will no longer move with man power!





    The thick, armoured steel flank of the 75 mm turret was hit repeatedly by German artillery rounds but sustained no significant damage and continued to work properly for the duration of the war. But situated a short distance to the right flank of the Froideterre, one of Fort Thiamount's heavily armoured observation cupolas was literally blasted out of the ground by 400 mm German "Krupps" heavy howitzer rounds and lay on it's side on the remains of the top of the fort!





    The scarp of the Froideterre is very deeply pock marked by the impact of countless heavy artillery rounds. The dense forest and undergrowth on the fortification's glacis beyond the ditch has grown up since the war and apart from the removal for internment of the thousands of unidentified bodies, many of which lie now in the Ossuaire De Douamont close by, the ground has not been touched since the armistice in 1918. It is still possible to see much of the barbed wire entanglements and anti-personel obstacles which were built in the ditch at the bottom of the scarp slope and on the glacis beyond.





    The interior corridor of the barrack block.





    Latrine facilities within the barrack block. There is also an exterior latrine building which is not connected to the barrack block, presumably for use when the fort was not under attack in order to keep the air a little cleaner in the fort proper. I was suprpised to find that the exterior latrine windows are constructed in such a way as to be used as firing points for machine guns in the event of the fort being attacked from the rear, though quite how a soldier was supposed to man a machine gun standing astride a squatting plate I shudder to think! One slip and he would literally be in the sh*t in more ways than one!





    Alll the forts we have visited in the Verdun area have barrack accomodation rooms with bunk beds sleeping three soldiers side by side both under and over! Whilst undoubtedly cosy in the extreme it must have been appallingly difficult to sleep under such circumstances, even without a bombardment going on 24/7!





    The results of a seemingly endless bombardment for almost six months with gigantic 400 mm artillery rounds weighing over a ton apiece and almost as tall as my wife - the reinforced concrete roof of the communication corridor running behind the barrack rooms down to the central machine gun cuppola. It is barely held up by the rebar and is precarious in the extreme.




    At the base of the central machine gun turret. This turret contained TWO machine guns mounted in under/over format - but they were NOT both fired at the same time, rather they were fired/loaded sequentially in order to keep barrel overheating to a minimum and in order to enable continuous fire without the need to pause for reload. The guns had an ejection hopper on a swivel situated to the right of their breach mechanisms which is still in situ and perfectly operational after almost a century! Once the crew were in the turret a wooden floor was dropped in place over the access hatch. Fume extraction was by electric fan and fire control orders again came from an adjacent observation turret working in tandem with this weapon emplacement, though a host of observation slits in the cupola walls (again still working perfectly!) meant that if needs be the turret could work independantly of the observation cupola. The turret was manually swivelled by the gunner leaning his weight left or right against metal stirrups at waist level. To my delight I found that the bearings of this turret are still in such good condition it swivels easily by the application of one "man power" (much less than 1HP!). The turret was manned by two men, a gunner and a loader. It is likely that it was armed with Hotchkiss 6.5 mm calibre strip fed machine guns.





    The entire and not inconsiderable might of the Imperial German Army's heavy artillery was quite unable to penetrate this turret and put it out of action however one rather aggresive wasp entering through an open observation slit was able to make me duck down, smack my head and take a photo of nothing much in particular apart from the roof! Make a note Herr General Von Falkenhaym, using heavy artillery is clearly where you went wrong!





    Has the nasty little b*gger gone yet? The view from one of the turrets observation slits post wasp...





    As with the artillery turrets the machine gun turrets will also sink down into the reinforced carapace of the fort when not firing. The mechanism is quite different to that used on the much heavier artillery turrets - it appears to work on the basis of a large, weight filled bucket suspended on chains below the turret and acting via pulleys against the turret's weight in much the same way that a modern elevator counter weight operates today.





    The independant entrance to the so called "Bourges Casemate". Several of the forts and ouvrages at Verdun had these strong points built on as an after thought. They contained two 75mm "Soixante-Quinze" artillery pieces in independant rooms, each supplied by an overhead ammunition rail from an in situ underground magazine.





    Situated by the gun embrasure in the front wall of the Bourges Casemate a swivel point can be seen in the floor and the base of the gun ran on wheels on curved metal "railway" lines on the floor to enable rapid traversing. The combination of rapid fire plus rapid movement into the aim meant these cheaply made, "add on as an after-thought" gun emplacements were actually quite formidable.





    The Bourges Casemate overhead ammunition supply railway...





    The stairway down to the Bourges Casemate magazine and gunner's shelter. I do find it rather odd that despite the efficient overhead railway for ammo supply to the guns it appears the shells had still to be "hand-balled" up the stairs from the magazine!





    The Bouges Casemate gunner's shelter.





    Within the second double machine gun turret emplacement. On all the Verdun forts we have visited so far (that is those WITH turret armourment - the forts further back relied on more conventional deployment of weaponry without the protection of mechanised turrets) these particular turrets appear to have been built in mutually supporting pairs, each with a corresponding observation cupola.





    Looking out of the turret across the field of fire via the gun opening. There would have been none of this undergrowth there at the time of the war.





    ...and looking back into the same turret through the same embrasure - you meet some odd people in these forts! ;-)




    I hope you enjoyed viewing these piccies as much as we did taking them. I shall post a report on Fort Belleville shortly.
    Last edited by TeeJF; 11th May 11 at 19:16. Reason: Typos and layout errors...
    Veni, Vidi suum custos canis admorsus meus culus...

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    Like other Military history enthusiasts on here I have a good understanding of this type of site. Have to say you've made a substantial effort in terms of your presentation and photos. A bloody good read! Thanks for posting. :)
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    Cracking report there TeeJF really enjoyed it thanks for posting

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    Cheers both... I hadn't actually finished the report when you commented, sorry about that but I still get my knickers in a twist when I'm doing one of these so I was saving and then editting as I went along so that I wouldn't lose it all with one mouse click as has hapened before! Anyway the report is done now, I hope you catch the remaining pcitures. Thanks again for your kind comments.
    Veni, Vidi suum custos canis admorsus meus culus...

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    Really great :)

    Really recommend seeing Forts Vaux and Douamont when you're next there but avoid the Verdun Citadel experience like the plague

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    I love reading about these old sites and have such an interest in the old WW sites and technology, I just wish there were more local to me. I love the writeup and the description to each image was superb. Makes me wish I had the time and money to travel and view places like this. Franch would be my first destination. Fantastic images and report. Thanks for sharing!

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    Many thanks thats a great read :)

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    Quote Originally Posted by TeeJF View Post
    Cheers both... I hadn't actually finished the report when you commented, sorry about that but I still get my knickers in a twist when I'm doing one of these so I was saving and then editting as I went along so that I wouldn't lose it all with one mouse click as has hapened before! Anyway the report is done now, I hope you catch the remaining pcitures. Thanks again for your kind comments.
    I just logged in and caught some more of your pics. Excellent work. :)

    A little tip. Compose your reports in MS Word (text and image links) then simply copy and paste here. Works for me and you don't lose all your hard work. ;)
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    .................................................. ............................................
    Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen

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    Fantastic report and pics almost enough to make me want to go to France! Thanks for posting.
    It'll all turn to dust and we'll all fall down

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    Talking Douamont...


    Quote Originally Posted by chris View Post
    Really great :)

    Really recommend seeing Forts Vaux and Douamont when you're next there but avoid the Verdun Citadel experience like the plague
    Yes you're right on that one. I've done both forts several times in the past but as they are "pay for guided tours" I didn't think I should post pictures of them. Douamont is a shadow of the adventure it used to be sadly - how well I remember the last time we were there when we were climbing up and down between levels on the metal rungs set in the walls the minute no one was about! But now, not only are they difficult to access but half the fort that was previously open is barred off most comprehensively! The only thing we saw in Douamont this time worth the look was the deep pit that was dug to connect all the fighting areas of the fort later in the war, though of course at 30 plus meters deep (as a guess!) with only metal rungs set into the wall again they weren't letting anyone down it! Anyway we did at least manage to get into the eastern counterscarp gallery, which can no longer be accessed from inside the fort due to flooding of the connecting passageway. We entered through a small door down in the moat not far from where Radtke gained access to the scarp prior to his entering the fort through the Rue Du Rempart.



    Counterscarp gallery in Douamont moat...





    Inside the counterscarp gallery...





    The defenders' view into the moat from inside the counterscarp gallery...



    As to the Verdun Citadel Experience... blooargh! I loved how one of the general staff had been voiced in English with a broad scouse accent! Only le French could create a soap opera from such a dramatic period of history... zut alors!
    Veni, Vidi suum custos canis admorsus meus culus...

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