A ring of defensive forts was buit around Verdun to protect it from attack. Of these, Fort Douaumont was the largest; construction started in 1885 and work continued until just before World War I.
The fort consists of two subterranean levels which link barrack rooms and other acommodation to a range of firing positions. These were armed with weapons ranging from machine guns up to 155mm artillery pieces.
Despite the immense cost of construction, the fort was taken by a small force of Germans in February 1916. After the earlier experience of the Belgian forts under bombardment from long range German weapons, the fort’s manning had been reduced to a skeleton staff and much of the weaponry had been removed.
In May 1916 a disastrous fire caused much of the ammunition within to explode which killed an estimated 675 Germans; they were interred in a bricked-off casemate which remains a war grave. Fort Douaumont was finally re-taken by the French in Ocober 1916 after a fierce artillery barrage by 400mm railway guns.