The Fort of Douaumont, place of history, site of memory

The Fort of Douaumont, place of history, site of memory



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  • Recapture of Fort de Douaumont by the French infantry, 1916.

    CHARTIER Henri Georges Jacques (1859 - 1924)

  • Douaumont, October 25, 1916.

    JONAS Lucien (1880 - 1947)

To close

Title: Recapture of Fort de Douaumont by the French infantry, 1916.

Author : CHARTIER Henri Georges Jacques (1859 - 1924)

Date shown: 1916

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Colored lithograph.

Storage location:

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown website

Picture reference: 06-503068

Recapture of Fort de Douaumont by the French infantry, 1916.

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown

To close

Title: Douaumont, October 25, 1916.

Author : JONAS Lucien (1880 - 1947)

Date shown: October 25, 1916

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Colored lithograph.

Storage location:

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown

Picture reference: 06-502426

Douaumont, October 25, 1916.

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown

Publication date: September 2007

Historical context

Douaumont in 1916, a summary of the battle of Verdun

Douaumont, keystone of the network of fortifications in the Verdun region and an exceptional observation point, was captured by the Germans on February 25, 1916, at the very beginning of their great offensive. On the French side, a problem persists: the fort, which has been in the process of being disarmed since 1915, was taken almost without resistance by a simple German vanguard. But an imperative necessity will consequently emerge: to take back at any cost this fort, which has remained a "bastion" in people's minds. This desire to counter German successes, both from a military and psychological point of view, explains, much more than their operational value, the relentlessness put into recovering these fortifications.

After a first unsuccessful attempt at the end of May, Douaumont was finally reconquered by the French on October 24, 1916, a success followed shortly by the reoccupation of Fort Vaux (November 2), located nearby, and it also fell into German hands after fierce fighting. At this point, the circle is complete, the great battle ends with a return to status quo between the enemy armies, except that each is reduced by hundreds of thousands of men killed or wounded.

Image Analysis

Paintings of the French army in majesty

Chartier's painting plunges us into the heart of the melee, to show the heroes in action close to the walls of the fort. The French soldiers attack bravely, form a bayonet block with the cannon, surrounded by a diamond-shaped frame of smoke. We also fight with grenades, like this wounded man in the center of the painting who, head bandaged and knee on the ground, searches his bag for the precious projectiles. The melee is often required, with butt or bare hands. On the far left, a Frenchman even slaughters a German with a knife. The table thus presents a large panel of war violence in 1914-1918, focusing however on the most marginal: fire affected infinitely more men than daggers in the trenches. The painter also shows us the dead, including a German in the foreground on the left, as well as a red-haired Frenchman who has just been hit (upper left corner), whose helmet jumps under the impact. The second lithograph is an equally romantic depiction of the same attack, but at a different time, that of final victory. The ruins of the fort (the name is written next to the German dead man) serve as a plinth for an exalted flag bearer, whose triumphant pose, rounded torso, prefigures the statues of the most patriotic war memorials. The essential element here is the presence of colonial soldiers, who indeed played a primordial role in these clashes: “in 1916, the Algerian and Senegalese skirmishers were considered as shock troops whose effectiveness was proven on the sum and above all. in Verdun, in the recovery of Fort Douaumont ”(Marc. MICHEL in Encyclopedia of the Great War, 1914-1918 p. 343).

Interpretation

A place in memory

“What a fine spirit this spirit of France is. Yes, it is his sons who are gathered here; for there are men from the Normandy campaigns; sunny skies and orange groves of the Côte d´Azur; hillsides laden with Pyrenean vines; but some come from further afield; for here is Abdallah, from distant Tunis and here is Bamboula, from Senegal ”(Sister S.M. EDWARDS, quoted by Malcolm BROWN, Verdun 1916, p. 193). This testimony from a nurse officiating in the Douaumont sector in the fall of 1916 is enlightening, beyond the racist commonplaces of the time, on the meaning of the Battle of Verdun in the eyes of the French at the time. Due to the continuous rotation of troops put in place by Pétain (the "noria") most of the French army units went to fight there. Verdun was therefore a particularly intense moment of fulfillment of civic duty, and this reason contributed to lastingly settle it in the memory, official as well as family, of the Great War. Defensive victory Verdun is also certainly the moment of the war that is most easily endorsed by the French State, which also explains why it is this name which flourished and still flourishes in political speeches and school books, and not that of the Chemin des Dames or the murderous and useless offensives of 1915. Douaumont, battle in battle, became the site of the famous ossuary after the war, still emblematic of 14-18 today.

  • battles
  • tricolour flag
  • War of 14-18
  • nationalism
  • patriotism
  • propaganda
  • colonial troops
  • Verdun

Bibliography

Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004. Stéphane AUDOIN-ROUZEAU and Jean-Jacques BECKER (eds.)Encyclopedia of the Great War 1914-1918Paris, Bayard, 2004. Malcolm BROWNVerdun 1916Paris, Perrin, 2006.Henri CASTEXVerdun, hellish yearsParis, Imago, 1996. Antoine PROST “Verdun” in Pierre Nora (dir.), Memorial place , volume I "La République" Paris, Gallimard, 1984, reed. "Quarto" collection, 1997. Werner BEUMELBURGGerman fighters in VerdunParis, Payot, 1934.

To cite this article

François BOULOC, "The Fort of Douaumont, place of history, site of memory"


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