The fortifications of Seré de Rivières

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The French defeat against the Prussians in 1871 modifies the north-eastern border of France. Some industrial areas are taken away from the country. It loses Alsace and the Moselle. The 284km which form the new border have to be taken care of quickest possible in terms of fortification.

Leader of the Engineers, military specialty dedicated to the building of the fortified installation, General Seré de Rivières launches a program of defensive reorganization for the French borders. This program is put into action in 1874. Two fortification axes in the section Verdun-Toul and Epinal-Belfort are tackled.

The forts of panic

When the building of the forts begins, Verdun is just liberated from the Prussians (13th September 1873). But the enemy still appears to be threatening. Following the French-German crisis of 1875, the building of the first forts in the surroundings of the city is accelerated. These are the forts “of panic”. A second fortified section is added quickly to the first one, doubling the defensive ring of the city.

Modernization and repair work

The technical progress in the materials of armament is staggering at the end of the 19th century. The forts, the installations and the batteries are constantly modernized to try to bear the power of the new weapons. It is the crisis of the “torpedo shells”. Loaded with an explosive called melinite, the shells are able to break through the best concreted structures. The area around the city which is under permanent construction is not the only thing which changes its appearance. The old citadel, built at the beginning of the 17th century, is an integral part of the defensive system of Verdun. A phase of subterranean construction work starts in the 1880s to enable it to accommodate up to 2 000 soldiers. Organized like a small subterranean city, it will play a very important role in the upcoming conflict.

The network designed by General Seré de Rivières proves to be a guide for the modernization building works, even though it has become obsolete very fast in the face of the progress of armament: a well worked out fortified framework dedicated to slow down or disturb the advance of the enemy army’s march.