Fort de Loncin
August 4-25, 1914
With the start of the Great War in the summer of
1914, Germany faced enemies on two fronts - the Russians and
The Russians would be slower to mobilize, so Germany decided to
strike the French, knocking them out of the war, then turning on
Russia. This plan, the Schieffen Plan, sought to avoid French
the French-German border by violating Belgian neutrality, swinging
through the small country and into France. Doing this had a
serious drawback as the Germans would face
Belgian fortifications, especially the twelve forts around Liege
but also around Namur and Antwerp.
Designed by Henri Brialmont, the fortifications were
revolutionary for their time and well respected. Designed to be
used along with troops positioned between the forts, the
guns within the forts were to support these infantrymen and suppress
enemy artillery. Unfortunately, there were gaps between the forts
not covered by the forts' artillery. In addition, when forward
observation posts were captured, targeting the forts' artillery became
difficult. Although the Brialmont forts
would prove to be inadequate and deeply flawed, the Germans would
losses attacking them and lose valuable time in reducing them.
crossed the Belgian border on August 4th and began probing the Liege
forts the next day. With the loss of some of the forts, the
comander of Liege, General Leman moved to Fort Loncin. The
Germans still needed to capture them all to secure their advance, so
they now began using their heavy artillery, up to 420mm in caliber with
around 1,600 pounds. On August 15th, the magazine of Fort de
Loncin was hit,
setting off 24,000 pounds of explosives and destroying much of the fort
while killing 350 men of the survivors of the original garrison of
550. The explosion rendered the fort indefensible, and surrender
Fort Loncin is an
excellent example of the Brialmont forts, and it is now a museum that is well worth a visit.
This model gives a good idea of the fort's design, a
triangle with a
300 meter base and 235 meter sides. We are looking at the fort
from its front. Like older forts, there is a ditch and a cleared
field of fire - the glacis. Barbed wire on the glacis was a
barrier to attacking enemy infantry. At each corner of the fort
casemates with weapons positioned to fire along the ditch. On top
of the fort there are fighting positions for the infantry, but the
infantry had no overhead protection. Unlike older forts, the
artillery was larger in size and fewer in number. The guns
were concentrated in the fort's central massif, and they were protected
by concrete. Brialmont hoped that enemy artillery projectiles
would bounce off the concrete. In reality, however, because the
been poured in layers, the concrete in Brialmont forts tended to flake
off. The concrete was not covered with earth, something which
could have provided additional protection. Concrete with metal
reinforcing, much stronger than the concrete used here, had not yet
been invented when the fort was built.
Although tests had been done that showed the forts' concrete was
vulnerable to artillery even of 150mm size, no improvements were made.
1880s technology would have to do.
This is the fort's rear entrance. The entrance is covered by a
firing position on its flank, and it also featured a rolling bridge which could be
withdrawn, leaving a pit. The fort is designed with few defenses
to its rear so that it would be easier to recapture if the enemy captured the
fort. Next, we will enter the fort.
We entered the fort through the entrance at left. Any attacker
who managed to enter the fort here would face the gorge front - the
wall to their front with the central massif behind - and be faced with enfilade fire from both
sides. The men lived
underground inside the gorge front. Since the Germans
penetrated between the forts and into Liege, they bombarded
some Brialmont forts from the rear, damaging the gorge front
enough to drive the garrison deep into the fort. Fort de Loncin
would suffer another fate entirely.
The entrance to the central massif, the modern steps in the center of
the panorama, was offset from the fort's entrance in order to protect it from direct fire through the entrance. The
central massif looks much different now compared to when the fort was
new. Knowing that the Brialmont forts were designed against 200mm
rounds, the Germans brought 420mm howitzers into Belgium. A lucky
round penetrated the fort, setting off the magazine and wrecking
the central massif.
A little later we will climb the modern bright white steps and take the
path through the ruins of the fort. There we will see
a panorama from the white steps visible above and to the
right of the statue in the middle of the panorama. This is the location of the searchlight. First, though,
let's go inside the gorge front section of the central massif.
This is an example of a casemate within the central massif. Note
the crack at right, likely a result of the magazine explosion.
This is a 180 degree view of a corridor within the central massif.
The stairs at right lead up to fort's left 57mm turret.
Later on we will see the outside of the right 57mm turret, but
first let's cross the gorge ditch and go inside to see the bathroom.
So you weren't expecting to see the toilette? Some of the
Brialmont forts had a serious flaw regarding the bathroom. In
these forts the bathroom facilities were
located separate from the men in the central massif, forcing them to go
outside under enemy fire to reach the sanitary facilities.
Instead many of the men relieved themselves where they
were, which created serious sanitation and health problems. The
smell of their
own waste, combined with smoke from firing artillery, contributed
to the surrender of some Brialmont
|In this 360 degree view, you can see where we entered the
the right side. On the left side of the panorama you can see the
ruins of a stairway passage through the concrete leading to the powered
searchlight turret. This armored turret was able to move 360
degrees and housed a light like the one pictured in the photo at
electric one that could illuminate enemy infantry at distances of 2-3
km. A steam engine turned a dynamo that furnished the power to
Although the addition of a searchlight was a great advance in its
time, use of a single light per fort meant that a fort's night fighting
ability was gone if the light was destroyed.
To the right of the searchlight in the panorama are the ruins of a
turret. Between our location and 5.7cm turret on the right side
of the fort is the massive crater from the explosion of the
magazine. Next we will continue toward the top of the central
This is the 15cm turret in the center of the fort, leaning into a chasm
opened up by the explosion inside the fort. Next we continue up
the stairs at right.
Atop the Central Massif
|From atop the central massif you can see not only some of the
massive damage to the fort, you can also get an idea of what an intact
fort looks like. The 5.7cm turrets are on either flank of the
fort. At right is the chasm that the 15cm turret in the center of
the fort is now leaning into. The 12cm turret looks reasonably
intact, but the 21cm turret near the front of the fort was blown
skyward by the explosion and landed upside down. See photo at
Below is a panorama of the other 21cm turret on the fort's right
side. Next we continue to the stairs that lead down to the ditch in
fort's front salient.
of the three salients had fighting positions designed so that
could fire along the ditch. As you can see in the model at
fighting area was connected to the central massif by a tunnel.
These casemates were positioned so that they were hidden from
enemy artillery fire from in front of the fort. In the event that the enemy was able to
cross the ditch, barbed wire or thorn bushes faced any enemy climbing
the earthen scarp on their way to the top of the fort. This area is now wooded.
The panorama at left is the inside of the front salient.
5.7cm rapid fire guns like the one in the photo at right were
mounted in the two story casemate and dominated the ditch.
Next, we climb the steps and walk toward the right 57mm turret.
We are now at the infantry fighting position on top
of the fort. At center and right of the panorama you can see
the damage to the central massif. Now we will continue walking to just beyond
the 57mm turret.
|Here on the right side of the fort can be seen the 57mm
turret, which was meant for close-in defense against enemy infantry.
Unseen below this exterior is the mechanism to raise, lower, and
rotate the turret. See model at right.
The turrets in the Brialmont forts featured steel armor
that extended into the concrete. This prevented the
turret from being moved
significantly off center if the concrete was destroyed.
|Around 300 of the 550 man garrison died during the
battle. Invited by the Germans to see the damage at Fort Loncin,
defenders of the other of the two remaining Liege forts also surrendered.
Brialmont forts were flawed in many ways and fell to the German
many historians believe that the delay that the Germans incurred while
reducing the Belgian forts gave the Allies vitally important time
necessary to respond to the German invasion of France. With the
Germans approaching Paris, the French shifted troops, including with
Paris taxi cabs like the one at right. The British had time to
cross the Channel and prepare for battle. In the Battle of the Marne, the
counterattacked an overextended German army, halting their advance and
saving France, and perhaps democracy itself, from catastrophic defeat.
Sadly France took the wrong lessons from the Brialmont forts.
Instead of seeing that forts needed to be well designed and technologically up to
date, the French concluded that permanent fortifications were obsolete.
They stripped their forts at Verdun of weapons and men, an error that they would pay dearly for.
Copyright 2012 by John Hamill