Fort d'Ecrouves, St. Mihiel, France. *IMAGE INTENSIVE*

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TeeJF

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We were getting itchy feet having not had the pleasure of a 'splore since last September, and add to which we were due to go over to France to carry out a recce for the forthcoming forum trip in May to Verdun. What better time to grab the opportunity to visit a couple of forts in the Saint Mihiel sector of the western front! :p

:) So... here we go again! :)

L' histoire...

Fort d' Ecrouves is located some 60 miles south, south-east of Verdun and is yet one more link in the massive chain of fortifications built to defend France against German invasion in the immediate aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 - 1871. Although very similar in design, construction, and later modifications to the Verdun forts, it differs in that it had a very large garrison with a consequential requirement for triple level barrack blocks. This is quite unusual in the forts we have visited so far and is, as yet, the only instance of this style which we have encountered to date.

At an altitude of 1251 feet above sea level, Fort d' Ecrouves sits on the top of a hill just north of the D400 Rue d' Paris. Together with Fort Domgerman and the enormous artillery battery at Fort St. Michel immediately to the south, it defends the town of Ecrouves, and more importantly, the valley of the Canal de la Marne au Rhin alongside which the road runs directly towards what was then the German border. Both the road and the canal had great strategic importance, not least the canal which connected the River Rhine in Germany to the River Marne in France. It is immediately obvious then why the defence of this waterway and road was crucial, and it does not take a genius to work out why Fort d'Ecrouves is so big and why it had such a large garrison. During the Franco-Prussian war a few years before the fort's construction Germany had annexed a huge area of France's Lorraine Department and the border ran much, much closer to Ecrouves almost immediately to the east. This area was not returned to France until after the Great War of 1914-18 when the border was moved back again much further east into the Vosges mountains around Strasbourg.

The initial construction phase began on this fort in 1874 and took just three years to complete. Modifications were carried out in several phases afterwards right up until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 however it does not appear that the fort was subject to the Travaux 17 programme - literally translated as "1917 works" - so common in and around Verdun.

In 1893 the west side of the moat was made secure against the potential of enemy infantry infiltration by the construction of three caponnieres - two single gallery versions at the north and south corners of the moat, and a double at the western apex with fighting compartments covering both faces of the moat at that point in order to support the single gallery caponnieres. In this format the three caponnieres were able to provide enfilade fire on any enemy simultaneously from opposite directions. As heavy German siege artillery and munitions improved in quantum leaps caponnieres became increasingly vulnerable to plunging fire so less than seven years later in 1900 the original caponnieres were replaced with fighting galleries set into the moat walls. These so called counterscarp galleries are much more proof against plunging artillery fire, both from the point of view of presenting less of a target and because they are covered over with earth on top to the full height of the moat walls. The semicircular gorge caponniere at the entrance to the fort, built during the initial construction phase, remained unaltered but acetylene search lights were installed in the counterscarp galleries to illuminate the moat. At the same time as this set of modifications was underway the ammunition magazine was reinforced with special armoured concrete and a bombardment proof underground accommodation block was built. Communication with the adjacent forts and the overall command was augmented with an electrical telegraph system and backed up with an optical signalling post. A retractable armoured double machine gun turret and a twin 75mm retractable artillery turret were also built together with their associated armoured observation turrets, and finally a 75mm Bourges casemate packing two QF 75mm canons was added to further beef up the fort's fixed artillery. With no less than 11 open air reinforced gun emplacements for moveable artillery built within the fort's inner walls - the so called Rue du Rempart - the artillery which could be brought to bear on the enemy from Fort d'Ecrouves was truly formidable.

Our visit...

Fort d'Ecrouves was interesting to say the least! A snowy February Sunday in 2013 and one failed attempt to drive up a forest track later in a very low slung Volvo estate, followed by a somewhat grueling hike uphill through snow and mud instead, saw us approaching a very new and extremely sturdy, grey painted steel door. My spirits fell when I saw it but we need not have worried because it had no lock! Now normally I would not dream of putting access info into a posting however the fact is that this door is clearly "work in progress" and by the time you read this said access will assuredly be very firmly "Ils ne passeront pais".

Hardly believing our luck we slid the bolt and doubled up a couple of short flights of stairs to find ourselves standing in the entrance corridor immediately behind where the original gates and drawbridge had been before the fort was sealed. Fresh boot prints in the snow leading into the depths of the fort put us on edge so we waited around in the shadows for a while just listening and watching. After a suitable period had elapsed we began our exploration only to hear a vehicle pull up after about 20 minutes. We crept back towards the entrance and as I rounded a corner deep within the main barrack block I spotted a French soldier in uniform standing in the open looking straight at me. I immediately froze and then slowly melted back into the shadows to wait for the hand of authority to descend upon us! But t'was not to be because nothing happened - clearly he hadn't seen me! So we crept off into the darker recesses of the fort to wait for his departure which mercifully was not too long coming. After our shock we were able to continue our exploration uninterrupted though we half expected to find the door locked shut behind us! As I have already mentioned, work is well underway to bar ingress to both this and nearby Fort Lucey and I strongly suspect from what we saw at both forts that they will be firmly fermee already.


Le photographie...


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We are standing within the main entrance block having just come up the stairs straight ahead. To the left is the fort main gate and the remains of the drawbridge assembly, now completely bricked up.​



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We are now looking towards the officer's mess directly across the open area beyond the entrance block.​




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the officer's mess and accommodation.​




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Looking up the tunnel through the officer's block towards the second open area immediately in front of the main peace time barrack block now.​




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The front elevation of the unusual three story soldier's peace time accommodation block.​




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We entered the block only to find that the stairs have been removed. This is the remains of the landings serving the three floors.​




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A view of the same landings from behind.​




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Endless corridors and doors part 1 :p




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Endless corridors and doors part 2 :p




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the original magazine was not proof against plunging artillery so it was abandoned in favour of better. This is the old magazine.​




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The remains of the wood fired ovens in the boulangerie.​




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Sadly still no stairs. :(




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Light at the end of the tunnel - literally. This was one of the main exits on to the ramparts for the infantry garrison.​




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]

This is almost certainly where the optical signalling post was.​




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Oculus :exclaim:




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Naked flames were not permitted within a magazine for obvious reasons so these windows through the magazine walls allowed oil lamps to be used behind a glass window to light the magazine interior.​




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Off we go under the moat.​




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The fighting compartment of a moat counterscarp gallery. Hotchkiss revolver cannons, a sort of large calibre Gatling gun, were used to shoot along the moat at enemy infantry together with conventional machine guns, whilst hand grenades were posted down tubes into the moat.​




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Sadly the twin armoured MG turret has been removed leaving only the concrete collar behind.​




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On the way back now.​




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TJ looking suitably puffed out is about to leave the body of the fort onto the ramparts through an infantry sally port adjacent to the MG turret.​




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Latrines :sick:




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Time to go see if we can get back out again. :lol:




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A brief wander through the moat to find the same counterscarp gallery we had visited earlier but from the outside.​



And that's your lot for now. I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for looking.




For our Verdun site go to:

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chris

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Fantastic - Must have been a heart stopping moment when the soldier looked your way though :mrgreen:
 

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