Construction of Fort Vaux (“Fort de Vaux” in French) began in 1881; by 1888 it was reinforced by an over 8 feet (2.5m) thick layer of concrete atop the stone and brick structure, separated by a layer of sand. As at Fort Douaumont the top was mostly covered with earth, except for the observation cupolas and gun turret. By 1906 the fort was basically fully armoured, but modernizations were carried out right up until 1914. The fort had two water reservoirs and could sustain a garrison of at least 250 men.
At the start of WW1
, the fort was equipped with a 75mm double retractable gun turret, and casemates with additional single 75mm guns. The latter were removed from August 1915 when the French high command deemed the forts irrelevant and decided to move the guns and ammunition to the front line in the field instead. The same happened at Fort Douaumont
, but unlike there, where only a rump caretaker force was left, Fort Vaux was reoccupied by a full garrison (apparently on the initiative of General Pétain himself) early on in the Battle of Verdun
from 26 February 1916.
In March a German 420mm “Big Bertha” shell destroyed the fort’s 75mm gun turret, so it was left without any artillery.
The fort came under serious German attack in June. The French defended the fort bitterly, but water was running out. The fort’s commander Raynal, who had taken charge of the fort in May, used carrier pigeons to request reinforcements; his last pigeon, named Vaillant, was sent on 4 June. It was wounded by gunfire but reached the citadel
But the French were overpowered at the fort after they had run out of water and ammunition. The Germans entered the fort and severe fighting with hand grenades and bayonets took place inside the fort’s tunnels. Eventually, on 7 June, the French had to surrender and were taken prisoner for the rest of the war. Apparently commander Raynal was presented by the German military with an honorary gift in recognition of his and his men’s bravery.
Like Fort Douaumont
, Fort Vaux provided the Germans with convenient shelter and storage close to the front line for the next few months. Increased shelling by the French, however, made life in the fort untenable eventually, and so the Germans abandoned it at the end of October.
In November, the French recaptured the fort without a fight. Soon after, they set about repairing and modernizing the fort, quadrupling the water storage, rearming the gun positions, adding machine guns and installing electricity. But, as far as I could determine, after the end of the Battle of Verdun
in December 1916 the fort didn’t see action again.
What there is to see: From the car park at the rear of the fort, it looks almost like a rock face, except for the barred window openings. The entrance to the inside is not the original one (that was destroyed in the battle) but was cut into the wall later.
Inside you first come into a vaulted room that has not only the reception desk but also a surprisingly large shop well stocked with books, souvenirs and trinkets of all sorts. There’s also a relatively big gun on display. Glass display cases contain rusty remnants of shells and helmets and the like.
Further into the fort you see long dark and dank corridors, like at Fort Douaumont
, and soldiers’ dormitories with rows of two-tiered beds. Unlike at Fort Douaumont, there are also exhibition parts with text-and-photo panels – unfortunately in French only. Otherwise labels inside the fort are trilingual, in French, English and German.
What also sets Fort Vaux apart from Fort Douaumont are some reconstructions, of a command post with wooden panelling, cables, telephones and a dummy in a French uniform sat at a desk. The adjacent commandant’s room is also reconstructed and looks rather spartan. Another reconstruction is of a dressing station/infirmary room complete with dummy wounded soldiers. Yet another reconstruction is of the “pigeon house” as the label calls it (i.e. ‘dovecot’). A solitary stuffed pigeon is inside – probably supposed to stand for Vaillant (see above
Moving on you pass through yet more narrow corridors, some with gun positions (empty), as well as the fort’s latrines (fortunately also empty) and at one end you come to 75mm gun positions with the guns still in place, barrels poking out of the casemates.
Outside you can explore the exterior and topside of the fort, from those same gun barrels poking out of the fort to a retractable gun turret, the observation position at the top of the fort, which shows clear evidence of shrapnel scratches, and some mangled remnants of thick broken steel, presumably what’s left of the original 75mm gun turret that was destroyed by a German 420mm “Big Bertha “shell (see above
A kind of terrace at the top of the fort by the flagpole overlooks the car park and the surrounding land. The latter also bears evidence of shelling, but isn’t quite as seriously pockmarked as at Fort Douaumont
All in all
, although so similar in nature, the two forts aren’t easy to compare. Fort Vaux features more commodification and military hardware but is smaller, whereas Fort Douaumont
lacks the interior reconstructions and exhibition parts, but has the darker, rawer atmosphere and is much larger. Both are well worth visiting, so I wouldn’t want to put one above the other.
on the easternmost reaches of the hills of the former battlefield of Verdun
, ca. 1.7 miles (2.7 km) east of the Mémorial de Verdun
, as the crow flies, but a bit over three miles by road (5.2 km).
Access and costs: easy and conveniently only by car; reasonably priced.
It was at Fort Vaux that I discovered a bus stop with a schedule sign. I never saw any of those buses in the flesh, as it were, during my long day on the Verdun Battlefield, but apparently there is a shuttle bus service (5-7 EUR) between the main Douaumont
sites as well as the Tranchée des Baïonnettes, departing from the Mémorial de Verdun
hourly from 10.15 a.m., daily between June and September, only at weekends in April/May and October/November. But of course you’d first have to get to the Mémorial. Moreover, this would force you into the service’s hourly intervals, so it is quite inconvenient. This means that, unless you’re on a guided tour that provides transport, you will really need your own vehicle, which would give you the right flexibility and chance to visit other sites not covered by the shuttle service.
To get to Fort Vaux independently, take the main D913 road south, past the “wounded lion” monument and some ruins by the roadside and then turn right on to the D913A (it’s signposted) which ends at the fort. There’s a large free car park right by the fort.
The outside and topside of the fort are freely accessible at all times.
The inside has the following opening times: in July and August daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., in May and June only to 6.30 p.m., in April and September only to 5.30 p.m., and February, March and October, November to 5 p.m., December to 4.30 p.m.; closed all of January.
to the interior: 4 EUR (children half price). Note that you can get combination tickets with Fort Douaumont
which saves you 1.50 EUR. You can also get a “battlefield pass” covering not only both forts but also the ossuary of Douaumont
, the Mémorial de Verdun
and the citadelle souterraine
, offering a saving of 6 EUR vis-à-vis the total for individual tickets for all these sites.
Time required: about 45 minutes, or maybe a little longer if you can read French and want to take in everything on the panels.
- Fort de Vaux 01 - outside
- Fort de Vaux 02 - inside
- Fort de Vaux 03 - shop
- Fort de Vaux 04 - long corridor
- Fort de Vaux 05 - old dorm
- Fort de Vaux 06 - furnished reconstruction with dummy and flags
- Fort de Vaux 07 - communications cables
- Fort de Vaux 08 - medical station
- Fort de Vaux 09 - carrier pigeon
- Fort de Vaux 10 - toilets
- Fort de Vaux 11 - more dark corridors
- Fort de Vaux 12 - guard post
- Fort de Vaux 13 - plan
- Fort de Vaux 14 - gun position
- Fort de Vaux 15 - gun barrel pointing out
- Fort de Vaux 16 - gun positions from the outside
- Fort de Vaux 17 - on top of the fort
- Fort de Vaux 18 - remnants of fortifications and turrets
- Fort de Vaux 19 - bent and broken