Because of its strategic position on the Sambre and Meuse Rivers, the Belgian city of Namur has been the victim of nine sieges since the Hundred Years War. Four of the sieges have been by French forces. As a consequence, it has been repeatedly fortified and strengthened to resist invading armies. between 1888 and 1892The great Belgian military engineer général Henri Alexis Brialmont constructed a ring of nine forts around the city at an average distance of 7 km from the city center. They utilized standardize plans of triangular, unreinforced concrete fortifications covered by earth and surrounded by a ditch whoich was 8 meters wide and 3.5 meters deep. While the construction was performed by a French company, the heavy weapons, 120-mm, 150-mm, and 210-mm gun was manufactured by the German arms maker, Krupp. They were placed in armored retractable turrets. Turrets also held shorter range 57-mm guns and the ditches were defended by 57-mm guns in casemates in the corners.
With the fall of Liege, the German Second and Third Armies moved on Namur, which, like Liege suffered from incomplete linking fortifications, low morale, and lack of training. The strongpoint provided the Belgian 4th Division with a firm right flank. They intended to hold until the arrival of the French Fifth Army.
A French Battlefields “Virtual Battlefield Tour” [This battlefield is not included in Fields of War.]
Probing attacks started on 20 August as General Karl von Bulow’s Second Army moved into position. Units of the 6th Guards Division were able to infiltrate between Fort de Marchovelette and Fort de Cognelee to the northwest of Namur. Without delay, the Germans moved their super-heavy artillery forward, including the 420-mm howitzer ‘Big Bertha’ and Austrian 305-mm howitzers. No infantry assaults were necessary as the siege artillery pounded the forts from a distance beyond the Belgian guns. After two days of punishing explosions, the city was evacuated and the forts surrendered.
With the fall of Namur, général de corps d’armée Charles Lanrezac ordered the abandonment of the Sambre River line and withdrew the French Fifth Army to [where].
Note: Unfortunately the locations of the Namur fortifications are of only historical interest. Unlike the forts at Liege, all of the Namur fortifications are on private or military land and none are open to the public. The fortifications around Liege provide a more interesting touring experience. (See: http://frenchbattlefields.com/blog/?p=579 )
Citadel of Namur (50.460899,4.866364)
A fortress has sat upon the cliffs above the confluence of the Meuse and Sambre Rivers since Roman times as defense against invading Germanic tribes. Julius Caesar is thought to have fought there. The current structure dates from 937 and was lastly redesigned by the great French military engineer, Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban after the French siege of 1692. Although long obsolete by the advent of the 20th century, the citadel’s tunnels and casemates made excellent headquarters and arms storage facilities during the attack on the city.
The citadelle is now a major tourist attraction with its collection of towers, donjon, and panoramic views over the rivers, the city, and the stone arched Pont de Jambes across the Meuse. Guided tours of the underground facilities are available. A wonderful drive around the forested citadel terrain can be had by following Route Merveilleuse / Av Jean 1er, although stopping places are limited.
Citadelle de Namur
64 5000 Namur, Belgium
Tel: +32 (0)81 65 45 00
The Fort d’Orange de la Citadelle (50.458488,4.851065) was built by the Dutch in 1690 to protect the landward approaches to the citadel. It was rebuilt in the early 1800s with stone and masonry materials into its present configuration. The central mastiff is surrounded by a large ditch that is cross by a walk bridge. The site is now a leisure park and open to the public; some of the interior casemates can be visited.
Fort d’Orange de la Citadelle
Route des Panoramas
Champion Belgian Military Cemetery (50.505389,4.916714) holds 487 burials of which 178 are unidentified. One additional burial is from Second World War fighting. The cemetery also holds thirty-two French burials from troops who moved to assist in the defense of the city just before it fell. The structure is very formal with each short line of graves backed by shrubs or the perimeter wall.
Fort de Marchovelette (50.506539,4.937405) was attacked on 21 August, although some preliminary bombardment occurred the day before. On 23 August a large explosion occurred in the fort, severely wounding the fort’s commander and killing 20. The heavily damaged air tower (50.504113,4.934326) can be seen along the edge of the forest from rue de Maquelette. The site is military terrain and used to test explosives.
Fort de Cognelée (50.524631,4.888723) was one of the last to fall despite German infantry swirling around its position. Much of the internal structure remains, but none of the weaponry or equipment. The fort is on private land.
Although Fort d’Emines (50.506825,4.850142) was struck by over 2000 shells during the one-day German bombardment, the garrison suffered only one fatality. Its surrender was forced by the abominable conditions within the fort; the smoke and dust from Belgian black powder or German shells and the lack of sanitary facilities for the 400-man garrison made the air unbreathable. Food and water were in short supply. These conditions were the result of the fort’s design in which barracks and supplies were located in the counterscarp. German bombardment made these unavailable to the men in the central mastiff. German reconstruction during the war made the environment more livable. The fort’s tunnels were used as a munitions depot during the Second World War. Although much of the structure remains undamaged, it is on private property and only rarely open to the public.
Fort de Suarlée (50.486388,4.801406) suffered through three days of bombardment until German guns were able to bring the more vulnerable rear counterscarp under the fire of their super heavy guns. After over 3000 shells strikes, the fort capitulated on 25 August. The site is private and portions of the tunnels are flooded.
Fort de Malonne (50.444224,4.807903) was abandoned by its garrison of 24 August after the evacuation of the city. Attacks during the Second World War, salvaging of recyclable metal, explosive experiments, and general neglect have severely damaged portions of the fort’s structure although the air tower remains intact. The fort is now reserved as a nature preserve and protected habitat for bats. It is not open to the public.
Fort de St-Héribert (50.411225,4.831147) was stubbornly defended by 480 garrison troops under the command of Captain-Commandant Derzellez. The German bombardment started of 21 August, but it was not until after a failed infantry attack on 24 August that a resumption of heavy bombardment caused its surrender. The site is on private property and it has been made completely inaccessible.
Fort de Dave (50.421774,4.889866) was under attacks for five days before forced to surrender by violent bombardments on 24 and 25 August. The fort is now property of the state. It has been badly damages by salvage operations and testing of explosives. The fort is located in the Bois du Duva and sections can be seen from the surrounding forest trails. A massive Second World War blockhouse can be found in the forest along the rue de la Fort de Dave.
Fort d’Andoy (50.44119,4.941723) exchanged artillery fire with German troops as early as 14 August, but the real bombardments started on 21 August. That day the kitchen and magazine were damaged, but the fort continued its resistance until 23 August. A German infantry assault was repelled with help from supporting Belgian infantry. The bombardment resumed and, with more of the fort’s structure badly damaged, the 215-man garrison surrendered. A small memorial stone stands along the roadside near the access road to the fort’s entrance dedicated to the approximately fourteen men who died in its defense. The fort is on private property and badly deteriorated.
Fort de Maizeret's (50.463644,4.987471) garrison suffered one day of bombardment before abandoning the fort. The fort is on private property and sits upon the edge of a large quarry, making it an exceptionally dangerous site.