Fort d' Ecrouves...

 

LOCATION:

  4841'25.11"N - 549'53.68"E

FIND ME:

Click to view this location in Google Earth...

BUILT: 1874 - 1877.
MODIFIED: 1893, 1900, 1908, 1914.
ACCESS:

Prohibited - this is very clearly a French military site - we had to play cat and mouse with a soldier when we visited! The main entrance was in the process of being very securely barred with a steel plate door and all the man-size openings into the fort from the moat are plated or bricked up. 

GARRISON:

22 officers, 42 NCOs and 982 other ranks.

ARMAMENTS:

1 x armoured double MG turret, 1 x Bourges Casemate, 1 x armoured double 75mm artillery turret and 2 armoured observatories.

NOTES:

The fort interior is in fairly good condition but access to the upper levels of the barracks blocks is extremely difficult. We found no evidence of "Travaux 17" works.

 

 

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.

ABOVE  is a translated version of the plan of Fort d'Ecrouves, shown here by kind permission of Cedric and Julie Vaubourg. I would strongly recommend a visit to their excellent site where incredibly comprehensive information and absolutely masses of superb photographs document this and many other French forts throughout the whole of France. The sheer amount of work they have done absolutely beggars belief and they must input practically every minute of their spare time into documenting the French fortresses. It is very much a "must see" site and there is a picture link to it here  RIGHT .

Our visit to 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 gruelling 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 of any sort fitted! Hardly believing our luck we slid the bolt and the door swung open silently on well oiled hinges. We doubled up a couple of short flights of stairs and found 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 be began our exploration only to hear a vehicle pull up about 20 minutes later. 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! It appears that 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 within no more than a few more days at most of our visit.

 


Here is a selection taken from the photographs we took at Fort d' Ecrouves in February 2013.

 
 
 


 


To view any of the photographs in a larger format click the small photo and a large version will open in another window.
 

 

The photographs on this website MAY NOT BE USED WITHOUT THE EXPRESS PERMISSION of the website author...

 

 

 

Hmm.... my French really isn't too good so I couldn't figure out what this sign was telling us....
 

Inside Fort d'Ecrouves now.

 

To the left is the bricked up main entrance and the remains of the drawbridge, dead ahead is the moat level entrance access stairwell.
 

Inside the fort entrance block.

 
Ahead of us is the officer's mess and accommodation.

 

Looking back towards the entrance block from just inside the officer's accom block...
 

...ahead up the tunnel is the courtyard in front of the main peace time accommodation block.
 

We have walked out on to the Rue du Rempart immediately in front of the main peace time accommodation block.
 

This is the first triple level accommodation block we have ever seen on a French fort from this period.
 

Looking along the block towards the northern corner.


 

In the main hall the three landings can be seen to our front...


 

..and looking back from behind the landings. It's a great shame the staircases are gone because there are some interesting murals painted on a wall on an upper floor here.
 

Endless corridors and doors part 1!

 

Endless corridors and doors part 2!

 

The old magazine which was used prior to the construction of the armoured magazine.
 

The remains of the bread ovens in the boulangerie.
 

A stairwell at the end of the block - sadly the stairs are missing here too!
 

Light at the end of the tunnel - literally! This is one of the access routes to the artillery emplacements and the ramparts infantry positions.
 

Looking out on the heavily overgrown Rue du Rempart.
 

Further into the fort now the circular opening above our heads is most likely where the optical signalling post was located.
 
There were two of these openings, one circular and one oval a little further on and closer to the old magazine.
 

The magazine. These openings were accessible from outside and were glazed so that a lamp could illuminate the magazine without the naked flame being inside the room.
 

Looking back to where we have just come from - we have gone down beneath the moat on the way to a counterscarp gallery.

 

Inside the counterscarp galley, the weapon embrasure ahead looks back at the fort walls along the length of the moat.

 

The remains of the twin MG emplacement. The retractable armoured turret itself has been removed or demolished leaving only the surrounding concrete collar.
 

On the way back up from the turret.
.

 

TJ puffing and panting after our ascent to the infantry exits!


 

Ablutions block within the peace time accommodation.

 

On our way out again now via the gorge caponniere.

 

And lower still we move back to our original way in wondering if the door will be locked!
 

Thanks for looking!

A little wander around the moat brings us to the double caponnier protecting the west face of the fort against infantry ingress.
 

A deep secondary moat prevents infantry from getting close enough to the gun embrasures to throw in a grenade.
 

Click above to return to our urbex site main page...