Located on flat land near the Rhine, Neuf-Brisach was a built from scratch town and fortress, created solely for defense - designed by Vauban late in his career.  It was constructed in 1699.  The fortress incorporates his most advanced thinking on fort design.  Instead of the standard diamond shaped bastions commonly used, Vauban instead indented the curtain wall halfway through its length to provide flanking fire.  At the end of the curtain wall, where a normal bastion would usually be placed, he instead used a relatively small tower bastion with casemated guns which could fire along the ditch, and in front of this tower, separated by the ditch, was a detached bastion.  Between these detached bastions, and in front of the curtain wall, was a false bray, lower than, and protecting, the curtain wall.  In front of this false bray was a demi-lune, or ravelin.  Several of these had a redoubt at their center so that if the enemy succeeded in capturing the demi-lune, they would still need to capture the redoubt, which dominated the demi-lune.  In front of all this was the conventional counterscarp, with a covered way for infantry to fight from.  Traverses protected the covered way from enfilade fire, and the slight slope, or glacis, in front of the covered way provided a good field of fire.  This was a layered defense, designed so that the enemy capturing outworks would not result in the capture of the entire fortress.

The model of Neuf Brisach at Vauban's home, Chateau de Bazoches, should help you understand the three dimensional aspect of the fort.  Note the drainage ditch, or cuvette, the ramps with the outworks, and the steps to their rear.  Also note that the covered way is not straight but rather angled around the chicanes which pass around the traverses.

From Atop a Tower Bastion

The tower bastion, or parapeted tower, was well built, with walls up to three meters thick and a casemate that can hold 300 men.  Cannon were on the parapet, like on a more conventional fortres, but there were also guns in casemates aimed  along the ditch.  Defenders on the tower bastion could dominate the detached bastion if it were captured by the enemy.  Sentry posts were placed at the tip of each tower.  Casemated towers like these were considerably more expensive than conventional bastions but well worth the cost in Vauban's mind.   Here you can see the construction materials -
red Vosges sandstone on the nine meter high curtain walls, and also brick, which seems to be used in places that would have less exposure to enemy fire.

This is the rear of the defenses.  Casemated bombproofs provided protection from mortars, which a enemy could fire over the ramparts.

From a Gate

In this 180 degree view, the curtain wall is visible on both the left and right.  The detached bastion is also known as a counter-guard.  



A fortress's gate was intended not only for defense, but also to impress the visitor with the wealth and good taste of the king, just like the uniforms and decorations on cannon and warships.  There is a guardroom, a room for the officer of the watch, and a prison on the gound floor.  Above are officers' quarters.

Embasure for Gun Enfilading the Ditch

From an indentation in the Curtain Wall

In this 180 degree view, the curtain wall is visible on both the left and right.  The curtain walls were designed to be smooth, which discouraged attempts at desertion as well as to hinder an enemy scaling the walls.  In the middle of the false bray, near the left indicator line for the false bray, is the opening to a tunnel, pictured below, used by troops to move to the demi-lune protected from enemy fire.  

From Atop a Detached Bastion

From the Ditch

This view is, admittedly, confusing, but consider yourself fortunate that you aren't attacking the place!  Nevertheless, here you can see the slight V-shape of the false bray as well as the ditch between it and a detached bastion.  You can also see the ditch between a demi-lune and its redoubt.

From a Demi-lune

Here, you can get a good idea of the layered nature of the defense.  At the inner angles of the covered way were more spacious areas called places of arms.  Here, infantry could mass for a sortie, or counterattck.  To capture the fortress, an attacker has to deal with: 1) the covered way, 2) the demi-lune, 3) the redoubt of the demi-lune, 4) the detached bastion, 5) the false bray, and 6) the curtain wall with its tower bastions.   An attacker would dig siege lines, advance them forward, erect artillery batteries to destroy the fort's guns, then use artillery to batter the walls enough to storm the fort.  One method an attacker could use, to supplement the use of artillery and infantry, would be to dig tunnels underneath the fort, to either emerge from behind the lines, or more likely, to explode a mine to collapse a wall.  The photo below appears to be the opening to a countermine.  In most cases, a fort would surrender before it was stormed to avoid the customary rape and pillage that a city captured by storm would be subjected to.  

Town Square

The Governor's Palace is the prominent pink/red building on the right.  It was also used as a recruiting office.  Vauban was also a town planner, and here he adopted the grid pattern that would become popular in America.

Copyright 2010 by John Hamill

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