Verdun - Fort Vaux

The fall of Fort Douaumont was extremely discouraging to the French, so much so that charges were placed in neighboring Fort Vaux to destroy it so the Germans could make no use of it.  The Germans concentrated their 420mm guns on Fort Vaux, and a lucky shot on the 75mm gun turret set off the self-destruct charge, blowing the turret up.  From then on, the fort would have only machine guns and casemate guns.  Then, Petain took command of the defense of Verdun, and the orders to destroy Fort Vaux were countermanded.  The Fort would be defended, and Major Raynal was put in command.  Although the fort was designed for 250 men, around 600 were in the fort.

On June 1st, the German attacked.  When guns in the northwest casemate jammed, Germans crossed the ditch and reached the top of the fort, where they were pinned down by fire from the northwest casemate and from neighboring French positions until June 3rd.  In the ditch, however, there was success.  Lowering bags of grenades in front of the northeast casemate, the pioneers were able to enter the casemate.   Breaching a sandbag barrier and tossing grenades into the northwest casemate, the Germans were able to enter the fort there also.  By the next day, the fort was surrounded, and fighting continued inside the fort.  On June 4th, a French counterattack was repulsed, and the Germans began using flame throwers on any available opening.  The same day Raynal was informed that the cistern was cracked and there was not enough water.  On June 5th, the Germans blew a hole in the southwest casemate, but using the flame thrower through the hole resulted in the flame being blown back at the Germans.  Running out of water and with German rounds destroying a gallery, the French surrendered on June 7th.  Although French counterattacks had suffered heavily, the French in the fort had lost only about 20 killed and 80 wounded compared to German losses of around 2,700.

The French recaptured the fort in November.

June 1, 1916 Trench Map From George C. Marshall Library

Although linked by underground wire to the outside world, these wires were cut early during the bombardment.  Visual semaphore communications broke down also, leaving runners and carrier pigeons as the only remaining methods of communication.  The last pigeon, "Valliant", was mortally wounded carrying a message to the Verdun citadel.

Lime was ordinarily used to clean the lavatory, but with access to the outside blocked, it was also used to dispose of bodies.


This domitory was designed to accommodate between 40 and 50 men.

Structural Damage

Raynal's Office



Modifications For Interior Defense


Bourges Casemate on Southwest Corner

This casemate was designed to hold two 75mm guns, but these guns had been removed before the battle.  The casemate was subject to a failed attack by flamethrowers on June 5th.  Metal shutters protected the embrasures.


Some of the men killed from the fight are buried behind this chapel.

A counterscarp casemate is at left, then at the end of the ditch another can be seen.  To the right of the ditch is a Bourges casemate.  Below is a slightly different angle looking at the Bourges casemate, clearly showing its enfilade protection.

These panoramas from the top of the fort show the enormous damage from the bombardment


Remains of 75mm Gun Turret

After the German capture of Fort Douaumont, charges were placed around the fort in order to demolish it.  A lucky German hit on February 26th set off the charges in the 75mm turret, blowing it into pieces.  Pieces of the turret still litter the top of the fort.

Armored Observation Post

Bourges Casemate on Southwest Side

Designed to hold two 75mm guns, the guns had been removed from the Bourges casemate before the battle.  The wall tapering off from the casemate toward the right provided protection from enfilade fire.  On the right of the ditch, the counterscarp has been completely destroyed.  The casemate at the end of the ditch was entered by attacking German troops.

Taken just to the left of the previous panorama, this image helps illustrate the extent of the damage as this portion of the wall has been destroyed and this part of the fort as been literally blown away.

The ridge clearly dominates the land below.

Casemate Firing Port

This aerial photo from October 1916 gives a good idea of the extent of the bombardment.

Copyright 2010-11 by John Hamill

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