Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Fort de Leveau and the Siege of Maubeuge

In 1914 Fort de Leveau in Feignies was one of 11 fortified positions that constituted perimeter defenses of the fortified town of Maubeuge, a key defensive position on the Franco-Belgian border. Maubeuge was also of strategic importance because it was at the intersection of the Brussels and Liège railways that ran to Paris. The surrounding forts were designed by the military engineer General Séré de Rivières after the war of 1870–1871. Mauberge was originally built within the walls of a Vauban-designed citadel but by 1914 had expanded beyond them.

The Partly Restored Fort Today

On 27 August 1914 60,000 German troops besieged Maubeuge. The following day their artillery began bombarding the various fortified outworks which one by one were flattened by the explosive shells fired from long-range German guns. Fort de Leveau would be the last to hold out.

Equipped with outdated weapons, the French defenders had no real hope of resistance, and slowly but surely the German troops closed their grip on Maubeuge. On 7 September, Fort de Leveau was bombarded by 25 42cm projectiles and a number of 30.5cm rounds, heavily damaging the fort, with one shot hitting the barracks and killing up to 120. At 1400 hrs. on the 7th, French forces evacuated the fort, shortly before the general surrender of the Maubeuge fortress. General Fournier, the governor of the fort, announced the surrender of the French troops, which was completed by the following day. After occupying the fort, the Germans blew up an unfinished 75mm gun turret and other portions of the fort.

The Siege of Maubeuge lasted two weeks, the longest of its kind in the First World War, and provided the Germans with 45,000 prisoners; however, it did slow the invading troops in their advance towards the French capital. It also prevented them from taking part in the Battle of the Marne, which opened on 5 September.

Post-World War I Photo: Compare to the Image Above

In the 1930s France invested in the construction of the Maginot Line, which covered the eastern frontiers of the country. The frontier with Belgium was regarded as a lesser priority because France's war plan called for the French Army to advance into Belgium and conduct an offensive there. Belatedly, France began construction of a limited series of defenses around Maubeuge in the mid-1930s. These fortifications were individually assaulted and captured in the opening phases of World War II. The Leveau fortifications were attacked on 18 May 1940 and subdued that afternoon, with one defender dead. In 1944 the fort saw fighting between Resistance and German forces.

Sources: Bibliotheque nationale de France, Fort de Leveau and Remembrance Trails Websites.

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