Fort du Regret

 

LOCATION:

  49 8'20.06"N -  520'19.89"E

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BUILT: 1875
MODIFIED: 1906 - 1909
ACCESS:

Prohibited - the fort and adjacent woodland are signposted with army "keep out" signs but the fort itself is bricked up completely and totally overgrown suggesting it is not used. The same cannot be said for the woods... beware!

GARRISON:

132 men

ARMAMENTS:

2 x Hotchkiss double machine gun turrets, 2 x 75mm turrets, 4 armoured observatories, Bourge casemate mounting 2 x 75mm QF guns.

NOTES:

Access really is a bitch at this fort however the interior is so complete and unspoilt that it makes the effort of searching for a way in completely worthwhile!

 

 

Fort du Regret is stuck on the top of a hill at the end of a narrow track up past farmer's fields, and right slap bang alongside a transmitter of some sort. It is unusual in that it has many features common to the earliest of the Verdun forts, but due to the extensive modernisation that was carried out after the turn of the century it also has a lot of the features which evolved and were built into the later forts as the arms race between France and Germany progressively escalated. For example, the moat at Regret is not set below the ground level of the fort, rather the fort itself is built in the bottom of the moat and high walls then surround the moat. In that sense it follows closely the design of Fort Belleville rather than that of Fort Douamont - Douamont's moat is dug at the bottom of a scarp slope and the slope then continues past the moat to form the glacis - the advantage of this design being that the fort's guns are capable of firing down into the moat if required. But Regret then changes radically from the earlier design - Belleville has scarp fighting galleries along much of the front of it's moat inner wall; not so Regret which has a three counterscarp blockhouses reached by tunnels running under the moat. These counterscarp blockhouses work together to give devastating enfilade fire along the length of the moat with both machine guns and rapid firing "revolver" canons designed by Hotchkiss.

Regret is heavily armed in it's own right irrespective of what artillery happened to be located on site at any given time - just like it's big brother the mighty Douamont. There are TWO retractable armoured artillery turrets of a type referred to as Galopin. These turrets carry - and all of the turrets of this type we have seen still have their guns in place - twin 75mm quick firing artillery pieces. Surrounded by a thick ring of reinforced concrete, an elegant counter-balanced lever beam system raises and lowers the turret and crew so that in the event of being heavily shelled the whole turret could retract totally into the ground with man power alone! In close support to protect against enemy infantry there are TWO GF4 Model 1899 machine gun turrets, each carrying TWO Hotchkiss 8mm machine guns in an under and over configuration. This enabled each machine gun to be fired on it's own, and whilst it was being re-loaded or allowed to cool the other gun of the pair could continue to fire. To control each of these four fighting installations a heavily armoured observation dome was built close by, within which the officer commanding the corresponding turret would give fire control orders by way of speaking tubes. Finally a "Bourges Casemate" was built on the right of the fort. These casemates were a fast and highly cost effective means of dramatically increasing a fort's fire power. A reinforced concrete emplacement houses two more quick firing 75mm guns, both controlled by a single armoured observation turret. Although these emplacements were not as strong as the self contained, retractable turrets they were still immune to anything except a direct hit on the gun embrasure. Finally there are routes up on to the top of the fort for the infantry so that they could man the ramparts.

There are two sets of accommodation within Regret, one was built in the open centre of the fort and housed the infantry, gunners and support troops in relative comfort during peace time.  This light and airy barrack block is fairly unusual in that it is two floors, not one. Most, though not all, of the other forts have single story exterior accommodation blocks. Within the reinforced concrete core further barrack blocks to the left of the centre line of the fort housed the soldiers when the fort was closed down against bombardment. Each room within the fort is marked for it's purpose with stencilled French lettering over the doorways, almost all of which is still perfectly legible! Red painted lines on the walls show at a glance the armoured state of any section of the fort - red line = bombardment proof, no line = not safe! Most of the red line signage and the existing wall paint is still not only present but in many instances perfectly serviceable after nearly a century. There are also workshops, bakeries and kitchens within the core of the fort, and deepest and most secure of all is the ammunition magazine.  All that appears to have been done to the fort over the years since the Great War and it's subsequent abandonment is the partial removal of cable etc. presumably as salvage; and of any items of removable equipment, presumably for use elsewhere, perhaps in the later Maginot Line forts. We were however really surprised to find a rather rusty Hotchkiss machine gun WITH a strip of ammunition still in place in one of the MG turrets!

Following the Battle of Verdun which continued throughout most of the year 1916, and particularly after the experience of the soldiers fighting for Fort Vaux, several further flaws were identified in the construction of the forts, chief amongst these being the fact that in the event of a fighting compartment being cut off from the other sectors of the fort by enemy penetration, then the soldiers manning the affected area would eventually have no option but to surrender for want of food, ammunition and water. Consequently in 1917 work began to connect all fighting areas with deep underground tunnels, and emergency exits from the fort to the outside world were also to be constructed and linked into these so called "Travaux 17" tunnels. In many of the Verdun forts the tunnels are little more than mine shafts precariously cut through the chalky ground, the essential pit props having long since rotted away. But in Regret a substantial part of the Travaux 17 system was completed in the form of reinforced concrete tunnels.

So all in all, Regret was an amazing experience and perhaps the highlight of our June 2011 trip to Verdun! Here then are some photographs taken at the fort. To view any of the photographs in a larger format just click the small photograph of your choice and a larger version will open in a secondary window.

First sight of Fort du Regret - entering through the gates in the moat...

 

The uppermost date above the main entrance was when the fort was begun and finished, the second date below is the date of the modifications/improvements...
 
Looking suitably smug after a knackering hack through a well overgrown moat followed by a ladder entry in through a counterscarp gallery firing port!
 

Gaining entry to an abandoned fort is very satisfying!


 

The firing port we came in through...


 

A concrete lined tunnel leads down under the moat and into the fort proper from the counterscarp gallery, going past a machine gun turret en route. Almost certainly one of the 1905-08 improvements...

Looking up into the first of the GF4 Model 1899 machine gun turrets. There are no guns in place here but the bottom mount can be clearly seen...
 

The roller system upon which the turret slides up or down the central mounting shaft...

 

Each turret is issued fire control orders from an adjacent observation turret. This is the view up in to the observation turret from the corridor below...
 

Sally port through the garrison infantry could access the ramparts to repel enemy or to engage at distance...



 

The route down from the machine gun turret continues from the counterscarp and on into the fort proper...



 

Coming out from the underground tunnels we entered the inner courtyard. Ahead and to the left is a double story barrack block constructed of beautifully dressed masonry and used as the garrison accommodation during peace time...
 

Within the reinforced concrete area at the front of the fort. In the distance light spills in around the gate. Note the red painted band which denotes the fact that the area is safe for shelter under bombardment...
 

Looking in the opposite direction now along the front of the war time accommodation blocks within the fort...


 

The signage on the wall indicates the "Caserne Betonnee", a fighting compartment, to the right together with the officer's quarters, and the men's accommodation (hommes) to the left...
 

 

 

 

 

 

Barrack room 38 housing forty men...
 

Block 32 - catering...
 
Block 39 - Sous Officiers -  NCO's accommodation.
 

Within an infantry "other ranks" accommodation block...



 

Latrines - not urinals but the ubiquitous French squatting blocks. Very little privacy here!


 

You know you are well and truly inside when you have worked your way round to the firing point covering the main gate through which you walked seemingly an absolute age ago!
 

Armour plate loop hole at a sentry point guarding access through the moat gates...



 

A moat protection gallery. Weapons such as the Hotchkiss fast firing pom pom gun or machine guns would be sited here to give flanking fire into the moat. This is a ventilation shaft to which a hand operated ventilator would have been connected.
 

Electricity cables ran on porcelain insulators along the walls. One would assume then that the electricity cables were un-insulated!


 

The walls still have the remains of the steel supports for carrying signal cabling and services to the individual compartments of the fort...
 

A moat protection gallery where weapons were sighted to fire in enfilade along the moat creating a beaten zone in case of close quarters assault by enemy infantry...
 

Within the gun galleries of the Bourges casemate. Here two 75 mm artillery pieces were mounted on tracks and could swivel to fire through their arcs...
 

Detail of a 75 mm emplacement within the Bourges casemate...

 

Ammunition for the 75s was stored underneath the gun emplacements and raised to the guns through a vertical feed tunnel...
 

Massively overgrown now, this is the view from one of the Bourges casemate firing ports out across the top of the fort...
 

 

 

 

 

At the far corner of the Bourges Casemate the tunnel leads to the fire control cupola compartment from which an observer would direct fire for the guns...

 
A ladder takes you up to the observation officer's platform. Once in position the officer would hook the iron bar into a socket on the wall to stop himself falling backwards down the shaft...
 
Again the view is impeded totally by massively overgrown woodland which has thrived here undisturbed for many a year!

 

TJ doesn't much like ladders!



 

Ivy and brambles are actually creeping in to the fort through observation cupolas and firing ports! This is the observation cupola for the nearby Hotchkiss double MG turret.
 

The second of the fort's two Hotchkiss MG turrets. Now look closely and see if you can spot what is unusual here...


 

A close up reveals what looks like a single Hotchkiss MG still in it's mounts with a very rusty ammunition clip in situ. We were unable to climb up to be absolutely sure but this turret is different around the gun mount area...
 

As we left the MG turret compartment we found these rather odd little buckets and chain mechanism on the ground. It is covered in white dust from the chalky soil the fort is built in...
 

Purpose unknown!



 

Back on the front corridor of the fort and heading down underground through another tunnel to the twin 75mm armoured gun turret.
~
 

The crew worked at three levels on these guns, the top level is the firing compartment, below is the loaders station, and at the bottom the support crew worked the turret elevation and fed the ammo lift...
 

Ammo lift and turret manual traverse...



 

Close up of the turret traverse gear mechanism...

 

The gun turret's current occupant!

 

Beneath the turret compartment stairs lead into the misty Travaux 17 tunnels...
 

 

A metal hatch covers the descending communication shaft...

 
From here it was possible to descend to a deep warren of corridors connecting all the fort's fighting compartments and an escape tunnel to the outside world...
 
I didn't measure it but by the length of time it took me to climb down the steel ladder on the wall I'd say this was about a 30 foot deep drop...
 

In one direction the tunnel was complete and concrete lined...
 

...but it had clearly never been finished...

 

Re-bar and unfinished concrete at the excavation end of the tunnel...
 

Going back up. This shot was taken with the camera zoomed in to the max and you can just about make out TJ at the top of the shaft.
 

Outside the fort on the ramparts in the vicinity of the artillery turret...

 

The observation cupola for the 75mm artillery turret. the steel is 7 inches thick but I imagine you'd still get a bad headache if much hit it!
 

The retractable, armoured, twin 75 mm artillery turret. This design was so good it did not change when it was used 25 years later on the Maginot Line installations...
 

The short barrelled 75 mm guns are still in situ...


 

Back within the middle of the fort, this is the corridor running along the back of the peace time accommodation block...
 

The undergrowth within the courtyards and upon the carapace of the fort is so dense it almost completely blocks out natural light in some places!
 

Purpose unknown! The ornamental the brickwork we thought is typical of the French attitude - it doesn't have to want for aesthetics just because it's built for war!
 

The peace time accommodation block has a bakery in addition to the one within the "red zone" of the fort proper...
 

 
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