The original fort of Le Barbonnet stands on a mountain top overlooking Sospel.(2752 feet above sea level) It was built between 1883 and 1886 as part of the Séré de Rivières defences. The fort was renovated and rearmed in 1932 and in 1940 the Gros Ouvrage of Le Barbonnet (with a linking tunnel to the old fort) was built at a slightly lower level alongside. The main fighting block (B2) is just below the ramparts of the original fort while the entrance, Block 1, is adjacent to the winding access road 80 feet below.
The forts main claim to fame is the part it played in the Battle of the Alps in June 1940. It is still permanently occupied by the French army. The main armaments were 2 pairs of 155mm cannons mounted in hydraulically operated raising and rotating turrets known as ‘Mougins’. They were installed in 1877 and weighed 150 tons each. Both turrets still remain in place although the guns from the southern Mougin have been removed. The northern turret, named ‘Joan of Arc’ is one of only two surviving complete examples in France. Between the two turrets there were 4 open emplacements but all the guns mounted in these have now been removed.
The Gros Ouvrage of Le Barbonnet consists of two blocks, B1 the entrance and B2 the fighting block below the ramparts of the fort, this ouvrage housed 304 troops.
Le Barbonnet is still owned by the army and maintained by a preservation society. It is not open to the public but occasional visits can be arranged for interested parties.
The entrance blockhouse is on a hairpin bend with little parking available. The layout is fairly standard with all the forts we saw, once inside the entrance there is a long corridor with the generator room on the left and the filter room on the right. There are two marine diesel generators, compressors, compressed air tanks and racks of electrical switch gear, all in good working order.
Beyond these on the right of the main corridor is the caserne with another well equipped work shop, water tanks, washing area, telephone exchange, the artillery commanders room with a floor standing telephone switchboard, situation boards and two telephone booths, infirmary, dormitories etc.
At the end of the corridor stairs lead up to block 2 which has two upper levels. The lift was still in place but not working so we had to leg it 80’ up the stairs.
The lower level houses two 81mm mortars. The mortars are fixed at 45 degrees as they are shooting out of the fosse, but they can be moved from side to side. On the upper level there are two 75mm canons, one original and the other a recent replacement obtained from another fort