Fortresses and the First World War

Fortresses were defence points armed with heavy artillery. Forts were used in Belgium and France and to protect important towns or cities. Some of the most important forts such as Douaumont at Verdun, were considered to be impregnable. Douaumont Fort was protected by two layers of concrete 1.2 metres thick with 5.4 metres of earth on top. The fort was also defended by a seven-metre deep moat and 30 metres of barbed-wire.

In August 1914, German heavy artillery reduced the best fortresses in Belgium to rubble. The same happened in France and several of these forts were stripped of their heavy artillery in order to provide reinforcements for the French Army.

During the German Verdun Offensive in 1916 over 22 million shells were fired on the 15 forts defending the city. The French were horrified when Douaumont was taken on 25th February. In July, 1916, the Germans were forced to transfer troops to defend their front-line at the Somme. The French now counter-attacked and General Charles Mangin became a national hero when Douaumont was recaptured on 2nd November, 1916.

Defeating the “Impossible” – 5 Impregnable Fortresses the Russians Conquered

There is an old anecdote about the Russian army historically – Give them an ordinary task and they will fail. Give them an “impossible” task and guarantee it’s success.

Throughout history, the Russian army has shown itself to be one of the most interestingly inconsistent in world history. This is illustrated in the number of strongholds they captured, some of which were considered impregnable until the Russian troops laid siege to them.

The attacks were never easy, but the Russian troops demonstrated themselves to be one of the most determined armies in the world.

The modern military history of the Russian Empire began when it was redesigned by Peter the Great, who became Tsar in May 1682. The Empire lasted up to 1917 when, after the Russian Revolution, the Soviet Union was established. However, the military tradition of overcoming incredible odds didn’t stop.

Here are 5 Fortresses, Strongholds, and Defensive Lines that the Russian/Soviet forces have taken through a variety of methods.

Siege of Nöteborg

The storm of Swedish fortress of Nöteborg by Russian troops. Czar Peter I is shown in the center.

In 1702, during the Great Northern War, the Swedish fortress of Nöteborg was overcome by the Russian forces. The assault on Nöteborg was made possible by the leadership of Peter the Great.

The stronghold was initially defended by a small garrison of 220 men and 142 canons of small caliber. Those numbers were increased due to the efforts of Colonel Gustav Wilhelm von Schlippenbach. But ultimately, they were powerless against the 20,000 men that Peter the Great assembled against them.

The First Siege Was Launched

An engraving of the siege by A Zubov, 1713.

12,000 of the 20,000 Russian forces were positioned on the banks of the Neva River before they moved toward Nöteborg. When Schlippenbach refused to give up the fort immediately, the Russians started bombarding it.

5,000 Russian soldiers launched the first assault but were repulsed by the Swedish grenadiers. The second and third assaults opened fissures in the fortress wall and created choke points. Any attempts to scale the fortress walls resulted in heavy casualties for the Russian troops.

Missed Communication

Upon receiving the news of these setbacks, Peter the Great called off the assault but the order did not reach the front lines. Russian field marshal Mikhail Golitsyn continued the attacks. Some say the order did reach its destination, but Golitsyn chose to ignore it.

Mikhail Mikhailovitch Golitsyn.

Despite the relatively fruitless assault on the fort, the unrelenting attack by the Russian forces resulted in the Swedish surrender of the fort on 22 October 1702. Peter renamed Nöteborg to Shlisselburg after he took control of it and reconstructed the fort for his own purposes.

The siege of Nöteborg cost the Russians over 500 casualties and the Swedish garrison 200 men.

When the Bender Fortress Fell

Courtyard of Bender Fortress. Photo: Ivo Kruusamägi / CC BY-SA 3.0

Tighina was a city in Moldavia that was renamed Bender when it was conquered by the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, in 1538. Bender’s fortifications were upgraded to a full and daunting fortress. Because of the strategic location of the Bender Fortress on the high bank of the Dniester River, this defensive position became one of the strongholds of the Ottoman Empire during the Russo-Turkish War.

Called the “strong castle on the Ottoman territories”, there were many attempts to seize Bender but they were mostly unsuccessful. However, the fortress’ strength finally succumbed against the Russians and fell three times during the second half of the 18 th century.

Bender Falls for the First Time

Northern wall of Bender Fortress. Photo: Ivo Kruusamägi / CC BY-SA 3.0

On 16 September 1770, General Petr Panin of the Russian Army led a 33,000-strong force in an attack against Ottoman garrison, which held 12,500 men. Overnight, the Russian Army overpowered the garrison and the stronghold surrendered.

Petr Ivanovich Panin

The fight cost the Ottomans more than 7,000 people, which was four times the number of casualties on the Russian side. However, the 1,700 casualties were the highest that Russia had suffered during the Russo-Turkish War and were the result of some tactical miscalculations on Panin’s part. He was later forced to retire.

Siege of Izmail

In March 1790, during the Russo-Turkish War, the Russians started besieging Izmail, in the region of Budjak, which was under the leadership of Alexander Suvorov. Izmail had a garrison of 40,000 soldiers while the Russian commander, Suvorov, had only 31,000 troops.

‘Siege of Izmail, December 22, 1790’ painted version.

This discrepancy did not deter the Russians from attacking the city on the morning of December 22, 1790. Suvorov had the advantage of the Black Sea flotilla which was commanded by José de Ribas, a Spanish Admiral.

Alexander Suvorov

The walls to the north, east, and west were weaker. By eight in the morning, the Russian troops had entered the city. After the whole garrison had been captured, killed, or wounded, more than 26,000 of the Ottoman forces were dead. This number was six times higher than the casualties the Russian forces suffered.

Siege of Przemyśl

The infamous siege of Przemyśl is World War One’s longest continuous military blockade of a city. It started on 16 September 1914 and lasted until 22 March 1915 when the Austro-Hungarian garrison surrendered.

Siege of Przemyśl, Russian war poster 1915.

Located in today’s Poland, Przemyśl is nestled between mountains and was also surrounded by fertile lowlands with the navigable San River nearby. It has always been an important location from a military standpoint.

As a primary Austro-Hungarian stronghold, the city was heavily fortified in 1914. In early September, following the Battle of Galacia, the city was surrounded by Russian forces. But they were not strong enough to launch an attack.

Failed First Attempt

Map showing forts of Przemysl and surroundings, 1914 – 1915.

The Russians took until the end of September to draw up attacking forces of nearly 300,000 men. General Radko Dimitriev, Commander of the Russian Third Army, launched the first siege on 24 September 1914. Russian forces attacked the fortress for three continuous days but failed to make any progress due to insufficient field artillery. They suffered some 40,000 casualties.

Having been unsuccessful, Dimitriev lifted the siege and withdrew across the San River on 11 October.

When Hunger Strikes

General Andrei Nikolaevich Selivanov of the Russian Eleventh Army resumed siege operations against Przemyśl on 9 November 1914, but relief efforts kept Przemyśl from falling into Russia’s hands.

Andrei Nikolayevich Selivanov

It wasn’t until all relief efforts had been exhausted and Russian troops were given sufficient artillery that the Russians overran the northern defenses. The remaining garrison of 117,000 surrendered on 22 March 1915.

Siege of Erzurum

A heavily fortified stronghold, Erzurum was the Ottoman’s best defended town. But the fortress was under threat by the Russians from the north and the east.

The Russians soldiers in front of captured Turkish guns.

253 pieces of artillery defended the fortress. The fortifications covered the city in two rings on a 180-degree arc. The central area was covered by 11 forts and batteries and the flanks were guarded by a group of 2 forts each. Unfortunately, there were not enough soldiers in the Ottoman 3rd Army to adequately man the perimeter.

On the 11 February 1916, the Russians launched an attack on Erzurum.

Russian Cunning Over a Frontal Attack

Due to the location of the fortifications in unreachable mountains, the Russian troops had to resort to cunning strategies instead of a direct assault. They attacked in winter, camouflaged under the cover of a hard snowstorm.

Russian soldiers (Don Cossacks) with the nine Ottoman banners captured during the battle at Erzerum.

With 1,000 Russian men against the 350 men of the Turkish battalions, the Turks realized that the stronghold was lost to them. The Turkish Third Army began retreating from the fortified zones.

The Russians continued their attack until they entered the city on 16 February 1916. By then, the Ottomans had lost over 66,000 soldiers.

Siege of Königsberg

Winston Churchill called Königsberg “a modernized heavily defended fortress” that made an assault difficult for any army. In 1888, impressive defensive positions were already built, including forts that were interconnected by tunnels. They were built to withstand the bombardment of railway guns and also provided accommodation for the troops.

Volkssturm troops with Panzerfausts in a trench during the Battle of Königsberg.

During the Königsberg Offensive on 6 April 1945, a total of 130,000 troops in five full-strength divisions were garrisoned inside the city, creating a fully fortified stronghold. The Soviets had to prepare carefully in order to face such defensive power.

Relying heavily on aviation and artillery support, the Soviets launched their first assault at dawn. The first wave attack lasted for three hours with intense artillery bombing.

Of Smoke and Flame

Soviet troops during the Siege of Königsberg.

On 7 April 1945, the Soviets launched a second assault at Fort Eight, which was surrounded by a moat. To cross the moat successfully, the Soviets used smoke screens to hide their movements. They then used flamethrowers and managed to enter the fortress. This started fierce close combat.

The defense coordination of the German defenders fell apart on 9 April 1945. General Otto Lasch of the German army sent emissaries to negotiate the surrender. The Soviet troops only lost 3,700 men while the Germans lost over 42,000 men.

Fall of Berlin

Battle damage in Berlin 1945. Bundesarchiv, CC-BY SA 3.0

Berlin was the most important stronghold ever captured in the history of the Russian or Soviet army. It was also the Second World War’s final major offensive.

Under Operation Clausewitz, Germany established a defense plan for Berlin with the first defensive preparations made at the outskirts of the city.

Heavy Preparation on Both Sides

General Gotthard Heinrici, one of the German army’s best defensive tacticians, was responsible for fortifying the Seelow Heights that overlook the Oder River and for turning the Oder’s floodplain into a swamp. Three belts of defensive emplacements were built behind the plateau and towards the outskirts of Berlin. An extensive network of trenches and bunkers were also added.

Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge (left) and Gotthard Heinrici.

But the Soviets came prepared to lay siege to the fortified stronghold. A total of 2.5 million men made up the three Soviet fronts and were armed with thousands of artillery pieces and mortars, aircraft, tanks, Katyusha rocket launchers mounted on trucks, and motor vehicles.

On the 23 April 1945, the 5th Shock Army and the 1st Guards Tank Army of the Soviet attacked Berlin. They did so from the south-east, which then resulted in them reaching the Berlin S-Bahn ring railway. This was after they overcame the German troops’ counter-attack.

Soviet soldiers advance through the streets of Jelgava summer 1944.

Alongside the 8th Guards Army, the 1st Guards Tank Army battled to reach the southern suburbs on 26 April. With attacks coming from other Soviet forces, the Russians managed to advance to the city center from the south-east.

The heaviest fighting, which included hand-to-hand and house-to-house combat, happened in Alexanderplatz, the Reichstag, the Moltke bridge, and the Havel bridges.

Il-2 Shturmovik aircraft in flight over Berlin, Germany, April-May 1945. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R85077.

During the early hours of 30 April, Adolf Hitler gave permission for defenders to attempt a breakout through the Red Army lines. He later committed suicide with longtime companion, Eva Braun.

Unconditional Surrender Turned Bloody

On 1 May 1945, General Hans Krebs negotiated a citywide surrender with General Chuikov, the commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army. But it wasn’t until the death of Joseph Goebbels, who was the new Chancellor of Germany, when the terms of the unconditional surrender of the garrison were accepted.

General Hans Krebs. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Unfortunately, Krebs delayed the surrender so the planned breakout could take place.

Soviet soldiers celebrating the surrender of the German forces in Berlin, 2 May 1945. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-E0406-0022-018 / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

What remained of the Berlin garrison made the attempt to escape the city under the cloak of darkness. Out of the three different directions that the garrison took, only a handful breached Soviet lines. Most of them were either killed or captured by the Red Army.

This resulted in the German troops suffering about 75,000 casualties. But with a loss of over 100,000, it was the Soviet troops who ultimately lost more men.


When Belgium gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1830, it inherited four lines of Napoleonic forts called the Wellington Barrier that the state could not and did not want to maintain. The forts faced France, a nation that Belgium had fought for its independence alongside. The dismantling of the Wellington Barrier forts began in 1839, but after the Revolutions of 1848 and the establishment of the Second French Empire in 1851, Belgium faced the possibility of invasion by France. Belgian leaders sought a new defensive strategy and struggled with popular anti-military sentiment or opposing commercial interests regarding existing forts, but settled by 1859 on a plan championed by Belgian general Pierre Emmanuel Félix Chazal [fr] . Beginning in 1847, Chazal called for Antwerp to be fortified and expanded into the National Redoubt as a fallback stronghold for the Belgian Army. The task of constructing the National Redoubt was given to a protégé of Chazal, Captain Henri Alexis Brialmont. Brialmont completed the National Redoubt in 1868, but technological advancements in artillery and another change in the geopolitical landscape of Europe again rendered Belgium's defensive strategy inadequate. [1]

The Franco–Prussian War of 1870–71 had enormous geopolitical consequences for Belgium. A now-united Germany in the German Empire had annexed Alsace-Lorraine from France and thus ensured another war between the two nations. [2] The new path for French or German soldiers into each other's nations was through the lightly defended Meuse river valley – through lightly defended southern Belgium and the unfortified French border. According to Chazal's doctrine, the forts of the Meuse were to be the fulcrum and crossing points for the army at Antwerp. At that moment, those fortresses numbered two: the citadels of Liège and Namur, which together controlled 18 out of 26 crossing over the Meuse. [3] Within Liège alone were seventeen roads with twelve bridges over the Meuse and three train stations linking seven rail lines. The heights near the city commanded not only the nearby Herve and Hesbaye plains, but a 16-kilometre (9.9 mi) gap between Liège and the Dutch border. [4] For over a decade following the Franco–Prussian War, several Belgian Ministers of War and even Otto von Bismarck urged the fortification of the Meuse. In 1882, Prime Minister Walthère Frère-Orban finally commissioned draft plans for fortresses to be built at Liège and Namur, and the strategically important crossings at Visé and Huy. [5]

Brialmont was tasked with those drafts, but again political debate slowed the militarization of the Meuse until 31 December 1886, when Brialmont was invited to conduct another study. He finished and presented his report on 15 January 1887, calling for a system of military installations around Liège and Namur similar to the one he built around Antwerp. [6] His plans were approved on 1 February 1887, [7] but political squabbling delayed the passing of a budget for Brialmont to June 1887. [8] [9]

By the 1870s, technological advances in artillery such as rifling, melinite, and delayed fuzes, had given it greater range, accuracy, and destructive power. Bastion forts – the tradition in European military architecture for a century – had become obsolete. In response to artillery's increased reach, military architects began in the 1850s to build detached polygonal forts farther away from cities to protect them from bombardment. To counter its new destructive power, architects began making those forts more durable. [10] [11]

In 1887, French military engineer Henri-Louis-Philippe Mougin produced plans for a "fort of the future" (Fort de l'Avenir) that would be mostly underground, be built of concrete, and be armed with artillery in retractable steel gun turrets. [12] Concrete, invented early in the 19th century, was found to be much more resistant to new artillery shells and following its use in the upgrading of the Séré de Rivières system in 1887 [13] it became the standard building material for fortresses. The success of ironclad warships in the Crimean War inspired the other innovations of Mougin's design: gun turrets and metal armour. [12] The initial strides in this field were made by Germans Hermann Gruson and Maximilian Schumann [de] , but Frenchmen like Mougin himself perfected fort gun turrets and made them retractable using counterweights. The Swiss built a prototype of Mougin's fort at Airolo [de] , [14] as did the French at Froideterre [fr] , near Verdun. [12] Mougin's plan was never adopted by the French military, but Brialmont was likely familiar with it. [15]

At Liège, 12 forts – six small and six large – were to be placed in a ring 7–9 kilometres (4.3–5.6 mi) from the city. [16] The circumference of the city's fortress ring was about 46 kilometres (29 mi), with a gap of around 3.8 kilometres (2.4 mi) between some of the forts, [17] held by intermediate works. The ring forts were placed away from ravines or depressions that could conceal attackers. There was also to be a fort at Visé to guard its ford over the Meuse, and at Huy, half-way between Liège and Namur. [18] Construction of the Meuse forts was first estimated to cost 24 million francs, [16] and this was the sum given to Brialmont on 1 June 1887 even before his geological surveys were complete. To his consternation, no funds were allotted for Visé or Huy, [9] [16] and Brialmont had to economize his plans for the forts he could build. His forts had two traces, a triangular or a trapezoidal shape, depending on the terrain, and their structures were similarly regimented. There were three plans for the gorges and two for the central bunker, its casemates, and connecting galleries. The Meuse fortresses would be the first to be built entirely of concrete. The 'base' of a fort faced Liège, as did its entry ramp. During the battle of Liège, the fortress ring was bolstered with the addition of 31 redoubts and 63 trenches, behind and in front of the forts and surrounded by barbed wire. [19]

The Belgian government awarded the contract to build the forts on 1 July 1888 to the French firm Hallier, Letellier Brothers, and Jules Barratoux. Construction began on 28 July 1888 with the clearing and excavation of the sites and building of storage and work structures. Work was finished three years later, on 29 October 1891, [20] and cost ₣71,600,000. [7] [21] Around Liège, workers excavated 1,480,000 m 3 (52,000,000 cu ft) of earth, poured 601,140 m 3 (21,229,000 cu ft) of concrete, and laid 12,720 m 3 (449,000 cu ft) of brick. [22]

Protection Edit

Brialmont designed the Meuse forts to withstand the power of the heaviest artillery of his day: 21-centimetre (8.3 in) pieces whose shells put out 240 metric tons (240 long tons 260 short tons) of force. As a response to the 1886 melinite tests, he covered the masonry in the walls with a thick layer of concrete which itself was then covered with 3 metres (9.8 ft) of soil. [23] The mixtures of concrete used, of which there were two, [9] [a] were determined by testing at the Fort de Brasschaat [nl] . [13] Concrete was poured into wooden frames and left in place for over two weeks. Once dry, mortar would be brushed over the concrete until smoothed on the interior, and covered in soil on the exterior. The vulnerability of a structure determined the thickness of the concrete protecting it the gorge wall of a barrack was 1.5 m (4.9 ft) thick, while the exposed top of the massif was 4 m (13 ft) thick. Protection against infantry was offered by a sea of barbed wire on the glacis around the ditch and the casemates of the gorge, housing 5.7 cm cannons and garrison infantry. These troops were also to be mustered in the massif for a sortie in case of a hostile infantry assault. [25]

The German siege artillery that engaged the Meuse forts in World War I generated an excess of 3,600 metric tons (3,500 long tons 4,000 short tons) of force. Compounding the deficit between modern artillery and the Meuse forts was that concrete could not be poured at night because of a lack of illumination equipment. [26] Left to dry overnight, concrete poured the day before would not fully bond with the concrete of the next day. The consequences of this were severe. The explosion that annihilated the Fort de Loncin in August 1914 dislocated many different layers of concrete, resulting in immense damage to the entire fort. The relative thinness of the gorge front concrete would allow the Belgian Army to, in the event of a fort's capture, shell it from the city—from behind. The concrete and armour around the windows would be thus eroded until shells were exploding inside the barracks, forcing the garrison deeper within. The Imperial German Army, by entering Liège and Namur while attacking their forts, were able to do exactly this and to devastating effect. [27]

Armament Edit

The Meuse forts were armed with a total of 171 gun turrets, [21] [28] whose manufacture, transportation, and installation cost ₣24,210,775 in total. [21] [b] They were made of steel and placed in a concrete well in the massif or main redoubt. A turret itself sat on top a set of rollers, allowing it to turn 360°, and moved up and down its well with tracks running the length of the well. While smaller turrets could completely retract into the fortress, larger-calibre guns could not because of the length of their barrels. A steel collar protected the lip of the turret well and to prevent the displacement of the turret in case the nearby concrete was damaged. [29] In October 1912, however, a cycle of artillery tests held in Russia and attended by Belgian officials showed that collar to be ineffective. 15 cm shells could jam a turret in place, while 28 cm shells could entirely dislodge them. [17]

The turret and the guns within were moved, aimed, and fired from within the turret. This was done either by an observer within the turret directly, or indirectly with the use of a graduated ring that showed 1/20ths of a degree. According to Brialmont's specifications, a gun turret should make a complete rotation in 1.5 minutes, and three rotations in five minutes. Once the right angle and elevation was found, a brake was engaged to hold the turret in place. Ordinance was hoisted in a basket with a manual elevator to the gun, which was fitted with a hydraulic recoil brake containing a solution that was 80% glycerine and 20% water. The turret was kept under negative pressure using a manual ventilator to expel fumes from the gun and to keep fumes from incoming shells out of the fort. In case of a malfunction, a gun could be removed and replaced within a few hours. Munitions were held beneath the turrets in separate form, and without cartridge casings for larger-calibre guns and in a complete shell for 5.7 cm guns. Every one of the Meuse forts' guns used black powder and were never modified to use a smokeless alternative. [30]

The smallest artillery employed in the Meuse forts was the 5.7-centimetre (2.2 in) Nordenfelt cannon, used against attacking infantry at close range. These were usually mounted on a wheeled triangular carriage but sometimes also in turret form. In large forts, there were nine 5.7 cm guns in casemates – two in each gorge casemate, four in the head casemate, and one in the casemate guarding the entry ramp. In small forts, there were also nine 5.7 cm guns. Four were placed in gorge ditch casemates near the entrance, while another defended the ramp. Every trapezoidal fort had two of their nine 5.7 cm guns in the casemaste defending the fourth angle of the fort. Large forts had four 5.7 cm turrets, while small forts had three. These all contained a singe gun, crewed by six men, and exclusively fired grapeshot. The casemate guns were produced by Cockerill and Krupp, while the turret versions were manufactured by Gruson. [31]

The rest of a fort's armament was contained in turrets and its makeup depended on its size. Large forts received a single two-gun 15 cm turret, two two-gun 12 cm turrets, and two one-gun 21 cm turrets. Small forts had two one-gun 12 cm turrets and a one-gun 21 cm turret. These were produced by Gruson, Creusot, Saint-Chamond, Ateliers de la Meuse [fr] , and Chatillon-Commentry. Additional guns were supplied by Marcinelle-Couillet, but only at the Fort de Boncelles and the large forts at Namur, and by Vanderkerhove, but only for Liège's large forts. All of the forts possessed a 60 cm searchlight in a turret produced by Ateliers de la Meuse. [32]

Garrison and utilities Edit

The Meuse forts were garrisoned by a mix of infantry, artillerymen, engineers, and support staff. During peacetime, they lived in temporary wooden barracks. During hostilities, the garrison dismantled those barracks and moved into the gorge caserne, eight to twelve men to a room. Power was supplied by a steam engine apparatus in the lower levels of a fort's massif, although petrol lamps lit most of a fort. About 80 metric tons (79 long tons 88 short tons) of coal and 3,500 litres (770 imp gal 920 US gal) of petroleum were stored within a fort. The primary means of communication between the forts were above-ground telegraph or telephone fires operated by civilians. Latrines were poorly planned and ventilation nonexistent, except at the Fort de Loncin. The drainage system was also poorly designed. Water was pulled from underground wells or collected during and after rains in a cistern to be used by the fort. During the battle of Liège, shell fire created debris that blocked the water pipes to the engine room, or flooded the munitions rooms and living areas. [33]

War came in 1914, and Liège became the early focus of German attack on the way to France. The forts were known to have shortcomings in their ability to resist heavy artillery, and had never been modernised. [34] During the battle of Liège the forts were pounded by heavy German artillery of 21 cm, 28 cm and 42 cm. The forts had never been designed to resist such heavy artillery. The bombardment exposed the forts' shortcomings in living arrangements, sanitation, ventilation, construction and protection, culminating with the explosion of the Fort de Loncin under bombardment. Even before this the forts had begun to surrender one by one as they became uninhabitable and unable to respond to attack. German forces defeated the troops assigned to defend the intervals between forts, penetrating to Liège and taking it before the first fort had surrendered. [35]

The forts' mission was to delay the progress of an enemy for the time required for the Belgian Army to mobilise. Left to themselves, the forts were planned to resist a siege for about a month, based on estimates made in 1888. In 1914 the forts were completely outclassed by the much more powerful German artillery, which included the enormous Big Bertha 42 cm howitzer. It was therefore a surprise that the forts resisted as long and as successfully as they did. However, the forts' poor ability to deal with powder gases, pulverized dust and the stench from inadequate sanitary facilities became a determining factor in the endurance of the forts' garrisons. None of the forts, apart from the Fort de Loncin, possessed forced ventilation. [36]

The Belgian forts made little provision for the daily needs of their wartime garrisons, locating latrines, showers, kitchens and the morgue in the fort's counterscarp, a location that would be untenable in combat. This had profound effects on the forts' ability to endure a long assault. These service areas were placed directly opposite the barracks, which opened into the ditch in the rear of the fort (i.e. in the face towards Liège), with lesser protection than the two "salient" sides. This arrangement was calculated to place a weaker side to the rear to allow for recapture by Belgian forces from the rear, and in an age where mechanical ventilation was in its infancy, allowed natural ventilation of living quarters and support areas. However, the concept proved disastrous in practice. Heavy shellfire made the rear ditch untenable, and German forces were able to get between the forts and attack them from the rear. The massive German bombardments drove men into the central massif, where there were insufficient sanitary facilities for 500 men, rendering the air unbreathable, while the German artillery destroyed the forts from above and from the rear. [37]

Battle of Liège Edit

The Liège fortifications fulfilled their role, stopping the German Army long enough to allow the Belgian and French Armies to mobilize. The battle revealed shortcomings in the performance of the forts and in the Belgian strategy. The forts themselves suffered from inherent weakness of construction through poor understanding of concrete technology, as well as overall inadequate protection for the garrison and ammunition stores from heavy-caliber artillery bombardment. Unbreathable air from bombardment, the fort's own gun gases and from human waste compelled the surrender of most of the positions. [38]

The Fortified Position of Liège was conceived by a commission charged with recommending options for the rebuilding of Belgium's defences. The 1927 report recommended the construction of a line of new fortifications to the east of the Meuse. Work was seriously delayed by budget crises, forcing work on all fortifications but Eben-Emael to be delayed. Work finally began on the forts at Battice, Aubin-Neufchâteau and Tancrémont in 1933. Two other planned positions were never pursued, with Aubin-Neufchâteau taking over the role of forts planned at Mauhin and Les Waides. [39] There were five layers to the system:

  • Positions avancées: 66 small bunkers positioned close to the border as a delaying position.
  • PFL I: Four modern forts supported by 178 bunkers.
  • PFL II: The southern and eastern portions of the Brialmont fortress ring around Liège, modernized and provided with interval bunkers and anti-tank obstacles. There were 62 infantry shelters and 6 forts in this section.
  • PFL III: Small fortifications defending three crossings of the Meuse, comprising 42 bunkers on the eastern side of the river.
  • PFL IV: Three layers of defences on the west side of the Meuse, comprising a line on the Meuse with 31 bunkers, a line on the Albert Canal with nine bunkers, and ten bunkers with the Forts de Pontisse and Flémalle. [40]


The Belgians initially rebuilt eight forts of the ring to the south and east of Liège, with later work on the west side of the fortress ring. It was not possible to repair the Fort de Loncin, which had been completely destroyed. The improvements addressed the shortcomings revealed by the battle of Liège, allowing the fortress ring to be a backstop to the primary line of fortifications farther east. The Liège ring was designated PFL II, [41] although the forts on the west side of the river were part of PFL IV. [40]

Improvements included replacing 21 cm howitzers with longer-range 15 cm guns, 150mm howitzers with 120mm guns, and adding machine guns. Generating plants, ventilation, sanitation and troop accommodations were improved, as well as communications. The work incorporated alterations that had already been made by the Germans during their occupation of the forts in World War I. Most notably, the upgraded forts received defended air intake towers, intended to look like water towers, that could function as observation posts and emergency exits. [41]

PFL I Edit

Four new forts were built about 20 kilometres (12 mi) to the east of Liège, of a planned six. In contrast to the ring of forts protecting Liège, the new fortification line was similar in concept to the French Maginot Line: a series of positions in a line along the frontier, intended to prevent an enemy advance into Belgian territory, rather than to defend a specific strong point. [42] [43] This new line was designated PFL I, the primary defence line against an advance from Germany, as well as a German advance through Dutch territory at Maastricht. Fort Eben-Emael was positioned to defend the water obstacle of the Albert Canal and to anchor the northern end of the line, with a field of fire all the way north to Maastricht. The Fort de Battice occupied the second strategic point on the main road and rail lines from Aachen. The forts de Tancrémont and Aubin-Neufchâteau filled in the intervals. The cancelled Fort de Sougné-Remouchamps was to be similar to the smaller forts, while plans for two small forts at Comblain-du-Pont and Les Waides were abandoned early in the planning process. The big forts had as many as 2000 men, the smaller 600. [44]

While the organization of the overall defensive line mimicked the Maginot Line, the design of the individual forts was conservative. In contrast to the French fortifications, distributed along a single main gallery in the fort palmé concept, the Belgian forts remained a set of powerfully-armed, tightly grouped combat blocks surrounded by a defended ditch. Eben-Emael and Battice featured 120mm gun turrets with a range of 18 kilometres (11 mi), and all four forts were equipped with 75mm gun turrets (10 kilometres (6.2 mi)) and French 81mm mortars in pit emplacements. [45] Eben-Emael, with its site along the artificial cliff of the Albert Canal cutting, was the only fort to be equipped with artillery casemates. The sheer face also provided a naturally-defended location for the fort's air intakes. The new forts featured extreme levels of concrete and armour protection, with between 3.5 metres (11 ft) and 4.5 metres (15 ft) of concrete cover and up to 450 millimetres (18 in) of armour on turrets. Learning from World War I, the intervals between forts were liberally supplied with observation positions and infantry shelters. [46]

The Belgian command was counting on Eben-Emael to be the key defense of the northern frontier at Liège. It naturally attracted the first German attacks. Its enormous dimensions dictated an unconventional attack strategy, using airborne troops. The fort was attacked on 10 May 1940 and rendered ineffective in a few hours by a team of 75 men armed with new shaped-charge explosives. Ineffective Belgian defense of the fort's surface allowed the German assault team to use their explosive charges to destroy or render the fort's gun turrets and machine gun cloches uninhabitable. [47]

With Eben-Emael out of action, the Germans could attack the other new forts with more conventional means, continuing attacks from 10 May. The forts of both PFL I and II attempted to support each other with covering fire, but to little effect. The PFL I forts quickly fell, with Battice and Aubin-Neufchâteau surrendering on 22 May. Tancrémont was bypassed. [48]

The PFL II forts were assaulted starting 12 May after Belgian field forces retreated from Liège. Isolated, the forts fought on. Fort de Flémalle came under air attack on 15 May, surrendering the next day. On 18 May Fort de Barchon was assaulted by the same infantry battalion that had attacked Eben-Emael, supported by a 420mm howitzer. The fort surrendered the same day, as did Fléron and Pontisse. Evengnée surrendered on 20 May. The other forts to the south were bypassed and surrendered on 28 May, part of the general Belgian surrender. Tancrémont held out until the next day, the last fort to surrender. [47]

During the Second World War Eben-Emael was abandoned, apart from use for propaganda films and weapons effects experiments, including armor-piercing shells. Battice and Aubin-Neufchâteau were also used for these experiments.

The World's 30 Most Impressive Fortresses

Mighty military strongholds from ancient castles to modern innovations.

A fortress protects and gives military personnel a safe harbor from the enemy. But not all fortresses were created equal. And they certainly weren't all created the same. We look over time and distance to find the 30 most impressive fortresses from around the world and throughout history.

Built by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem from 1142 to 1271, the Crusader castle in Syria&mdashand a UNESCO World Heritage site&mdashstands as one of the most preserved examples of fortification from the era. Perched on a high ridge, the fortress has both a defensive and attacking mindset that helped keep it safe from would-be pursuers.

On an atoll about 1,000 miles from India, this joint operation between the U.S. and U.K. handles logistical support for troops in the Middle East. The remote location gives it the ability to track satellites and run a Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance system. Plus, just managing work on an atoll 34 miles long end to end, but with only 11 square miles provides for an interesting effort.

More known for the equipment that is housed and tested at the site, Edwards Air Force Base debuted America&rsquos first jet, the Bell P-59, in 1942. The first time an aircraft broke the sound barrier was at Edwards. Now home to the Air Force Flight Test Center and NASA&rsquos Dryden Flight Research Center, the base&rsquos sheer size and location to a large salt flat that can naturally extend runways offer help that has lasted throughout decades.

With over 200 buildings and nearly four miles of wall over six different islands, the fortress was originally built in the second half of the 18th century by Sweden on islands at the entrance to Helsinki&rsquos harbor. Having protected Sweden, Russia and now Finland, the fortress uses local rock and a system of bastions over the varied terrain. Serving as a garrison and a harbor, the site was used by the military until 1973. Now it houses private and public apartments and workspaces.

The towering walls of the Fortress of the Orsini further accentuates the fact that the fort uses a cliff as its main protector. Constructed in the 14th Century and renovated a century later, the site has five underground levels to help Italians move through the site undetected and secured. With cisterns to collect rainwater and its own windmill, the fortress withstood multiple attempts on its destruction.

Located on a plateau overlooking the Dead Sea on the edge of the Judean desert, the strategic location created an isolated outpost that Herod the Great built around 31 BC. Constructed as a safe haven in case of revolt, the site also included two palaces. While a fortress for centuries, the last known use of the site was that of a church.

Don&rsquot mind the volcanic hill that houses a castle in western Ukraine. Also known as the Palanok Castle, the site was birthed in the 14th Century and took on many forms over time, including serving as a key prison. With three distinct sections&mdashknown as the high, middle and low castle&mdashthe 130-plus rooms that once featured over 150 cannons also has a web of underground passages to give it additional intrigue.

Australia and the U.S. combined on Pine Gap&rsquos research facility in the center of Australia, outside of Alice Springs. Opened in 1970, the intensely remote location not only made construction difficult, but allows the facility to monitor the region in near-complete anonymity due to the desolation that surrounds it.

Built under Raven Rock Mountain near the border of Pennsylvania and Maryland, the Cold War gave rise to a site that has been dubbed Site R. Secrecy often clouded the location, meant to facilitate the Continuity of Operations Plan to keep the government moving forward amidst major catastrophe. With that, the secrecy and location give Site R its own aura.

Located within 800 miles of the Arctic Circle, major supplies must get shipped to the U.S.&rsquos northernmost installation during a three-month summer window. While not only hard to get to, the base operates the 12th Space Warning Squadron, an early warning system for Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Thule also handles space surveillance.

The legendary geography at the Rock of Gibraltar includes its sheer cliff face, difficult western slope, and location at the southern tip of Europe adjacent to the Strait of Gibraltar. Britain took advantage of this by enhancing medieval structures here, arming and fortifying the top of the rock in the 16th century. Centuries of improvements, including carving tunnels into the rock for armaments, troop movement, and storage, helped Britain to withstand siege attempts. Today the land is still technically a British overseas territory.

Home of NORAD, which monitors pretty much everything in North American airspace, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex uses the mountains around Colorado Springs as fortification. Sitting inside a hollowed-out space in the mountains, the air defense system reached the height of its mystique during the Cold War when it opened in 1967. Its 25-ton blast doors are embedded within the 1,700 feet of granite. After a complete remodel, the buried site reopened for business in 2008.

The largest fort in India covered 700 acres atop a 590-foot-tall hill, complete with towers and walls that have stood since the Maurya Empire built it near the Indian city of Udaipur in the 7th century. Fort Chittorgarh, also dubbed the Fort of Chittor, has a one-mile-long twisty road leading to it with seven gateways guarded by a watch tower and iron-spiked doors. While only 22 of the original 84 bodies of water within the fort still exist, 40 percent of the fort's space was covered by water at one time&mdashenough of a reservoir to hold about one billion gallons of water and, with rainfall, enough to maintain an army of 50,000 for four years without fear of thirst.

The oldest and largest still-inhabited castle in the world, Windsor Castle has been home to British royalty for almost 1,000 years. Now the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II, the castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1070 as a strategic stronghold along the River Thames, guarding the western approach to London high above the river. The stone fortifications were added along the way, allowing the castle, which became a military headquarters building, to withstand multiple battles. Windsor remains a working royal palace, made popular as a royal hunting ground that's close to the capital.

One of America's largest masonry-built buildings was designed in the mid-1800s to ward off pirates from the Gulf of Mexico shipping lanes. Located on Garden Key way out in the Florida Keys, past Key West, Fort Jefferson is made of more than 16 million bricks. It was a massive upgrade from the lighthouse that originally stood on this spot. The fort was in active use through the Civil War, mainly to house prisoners, but its thick walls weren't as impressive by the late 1800s and it was abandoned as a fort. The structure was never fully finished, but the six-sided fort covers 11 of the 16 acres of land on the key and remains a tourist destination.

Built around 880 by Prince Borivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty, Prague Castle stands as the "largest coherent castle complex in the world" at more than 753,000 square feet. Among its structures you'll find palaces and buildings from the Romanesque-style of the 10th century and Gothic architecture from the 14th century. Inside the castle, the St. Vitus Cathedral and St. George's Basilica give this massive fortress extra cultural appeal. Prague Castle has earned its status as an iconic fortress, as wars in the 1600s inflicted major damage upon the structure.

We just couldn't ignore something with "flying fortress" as the nickname, could we? The Boeing-created four-engine heavy bomber debuted with the U.S. Army Air Corp in 1935 as a new plane loaded with machine-gun mounts and bombing capabilities. The B-17 was designed as a low-wing monoplane with aerodynamic features derived from the XB-15, and the amount of guns, bombs, and heft it carried increased with each model. Stories exist from World War II of pilots flying the plane home with up to 600 flak holes.

The Teutonic Order, a Catholic religious group founded as a military order, constructed the world's largest brick castle in Poland on the bank of the river Nogat in 1406. Now designated a UNESCO world heritage site, the fortified monastery, following multiple conservation efforts, stands as the world's largest castle measured by surface area. The Gothic-style brick walls surrounding the castle do little to hide the magnificent visual appeal of the castle's rising interior.

Deployed in 1975, the USS Nimitz&mdashwhich would become the namesake for an entire class of aircraft carriers&mdashran 1,092 feet long, with a flight deck of 252 feet. The supercarrier could cruise at more than 30 knots (just over 34 miles per hour). With the ability to hold more than 5,000 servicemembers and 60 aircraft, the nuclear-powered floating fortress soon became the hallmark for the U.S. Navy, with a total of 10 Nimitz-class carriers that are still in service as the Navy's largest vessels.

The U.S. effort to build new military installations after WWI led to the start of Ft. Knox in 1918. Over years, the security and fortification has continued to increase, especially as the fort became home to the United State Bullion Depository, home of the largest portion of the country's official gold reserves. That security starts with an open field and includes layers of granite, concrete, and steel barriers, and that's before you even get to a safe that was built to withstand atomic bombs. Add in the presence of the U.S. Army, digital and visual surveillance, and the potential for every high-tech form of defense imaginable (there are fun rumors of flooding tunnels) and you get America's most secure safe. Of course, nobody really knows how much gold&mdashor valuables of all sorts&mdashis located within the bowels of Fort Knox.

Following the War of 1812, the U.S. Army decided that the port city of Charleston, South Carolina, needed a stronger defense against the threat of naval attack, leading to the 1830 construction of Fort Sumter. Located on a small, rocky island in the center of Charleston Harbor, the 70,000-ton granite fort included a multi-tiered battery of artillery. Later, Ft. Sumter would earn iconic status as the site of the first shots of the American Civil War. Confederates gained control of the fort early on, and after rebuilding it for their own uses, were able to fend off the Union Army here throughout the war.

Let's be clear: The Alamo was built as a Roman Catholic mission, not a fort. But the limestone structure became a fortification, and a legend in the mind of Texans, when it became a defensive structure during an attack by Santa Anna and his army in 1836. While the chapel stands as the largest structure on site, this four-acre complex includes limestone and adobe structures used by the Texans when the Mexican Army bombarded them, giving us the "Remember the Alamo" battle cry.

Perched on a rocky tabletop hill near Dresden, the Konigstein Fortress (or the Saxon Bastille) in Saxon Switzerland, Germany, overlooks the River Elbe. It's one of the largest fortresses in Europe, and entails four centuries of history built up over 50 buildings, including Germany's oldest preserved barracks. Along with the sandstone walls up to 137 feet tall and a rampart of nearly 6,000 feet, the Saxon Basille also has a 500-foot well in the center.

It is fitting that the oldest continually occupied European-established city in the United States&mdashSt. Augustine, Florida&mdashalso has one of the nation's oldest and most unique forts. After attacks on the Spanish-settled community endangered the residents, a star-shaped stone fort was built, the oldest masonry fort in the U.S. A moat that used a series of floodgates surrounded the walls, and an artificial slope added another touch to the 1600s-built fortification. Now located in downtown St. Augustine, the 2.5-acre fort remains a popular tourist destination.

Sure, there are fences to keep you out. But this infamous stretch of Nevada wasteland isn't a fort in the sense of walls or moats. It's about psychological military fortification, and how desperately lots of people what to know what really happened here. The outlying test site associated with California's Edwards Air Force Base has been tied to all sorts of obscure experimentation and research, mostly about space aliens, leading to a powerful mental barrier and mystique surrounding Area 51.

When Europeans spotted what would be named Boston Harbor, the strategic military value was immediately obvious. First constructed in 1643, Fort Independence was constructed in granite on Castle Island in a star shape full of cannons to protect the mainland. While multiple rebuilds reshaped the fort over the years, the allure of Fort Independence remains today. It is the oldest continually fortified site by the English in the United States.

Built on a rock island in the Arabian Sea near the coastal village of Murud, Fort Murud-Janjira is reachable only via the sea. With 21 bastions, the Indian fort was originally built in the 15th century, but enlarged over time. The main gate remains hidden until those approaching the fort come within less than 50 feet of the island. Another gate stands on the opposite side of the island.

One of the largest underground structures in Europe, the Zeljava Airbase is tucked underground along the border between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. While monitoring airspace in Europe and offering an early warning system, the facility also served as a potential respite for nuclear attack. The Yugoslav wars ravaged the site, though, and it was booby-trapped with land mines to prevent its potential future use.

Scheduled for delivery to the U.S. Navy in 2016, the Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier will replace both the Enterprise and Nimitz-class carriers with its ability to operate with nearly 700 fewer crew. Technology upgrades include the first all-electric utilities on a carrier, eliminating steam service lines, a new reactor style, an updated aircraft launch system, fresh radar, and more. The Gerald R. Ford class will get planes into the air faster, run more efficiently, and strike more quickly.

These fortified towers poking up in the Thames and Mersey estuaries were built to protect England from German submarines. The forts also watched for submarines and housed antiaircraft guns used throughout World War II. The small towers, grouped in six forts, were decommissioned in the 1950s but many still remain, today rising above the water level with rusted power and impressive intrigue.

The Military History of the First World War: An Overview and Analysis

This lecture will analyse the reasons for the failure in 1914-15 of the initial war of movement and the factors underlying the trench stalemate that characterised the middle years of the conflict, before examining the return to more mobile campaigning in 1917-18.

It will include the war at sea as well as the war on land, and refer particularly to technology, tactics and logistics. 

Professor David Stevenson is a British historian specialising in the First World War. He is Stevenson Professor of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).


The Military History of the First World War: An Overview and Analysis
Professor David Stevenson

The Military History of the First World War: an Overview and Analysis

Professor David Stevenson

This is a vast and sombre topic. To provide a summary in fifty minutes is like viewing it from Mars, and it is only through focus on the detail that the reality of the military experience can best be communicated. In Carl von Clausewitz’s definition, war ‘is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will’: its essence is the destruction of property and the killing, maiming and capture of human beings. Between 1914 and 1918 these things happened on an unprecedented scale, and an exceptionally eloquent body of art and literature remains as testimony to the consequences. But what I can attempt to do this evening is to survey the broader trends and underlying developments, in order to provide a framework for considering why the fighting took the forms it did, in the light of the intensive new research conducted in the last three decades. I will talk primarily with reference to the Western Front, but deal more briefly with the other theatres and the war at sea. And I will divide the lecture into three parts: the bankrupting of the initial strategic plans in the relatively mobile campaigning of 1914 the much longer and apparently more static middle period between 1915 and 1917 and the return to more fluid, semi-mobile, warfare in 1918, which was also the year of Allied victory. Why the Allies eventually won, and how the pattern of warfare evolved from mobile to static and back to mobile again are the two big questions I will grapple with.

Older members of the audience will recall A. J. P. Taylor’s insistence on the inflexibility of railway timetables. Peacetime strategic planning was relatively new in Europe (in the Crimean War the British and French had first declared war and then decided how to fight it). It had started in Prussia, and after Bismarck’s victories in 1866 and 1870 it was copied elsewhere. Recent research has shown the war plans were more adaptable than Taylor suggested and were subject to regular revision: the French in 1914 implemented their Plan XVII and the Russians Plan XIX Altered, while the German plan was a rolling document amended every year. We now also know that many military chiefs envisaged a conflict that so far from being over by Christmas would last at least eighteen months. Even so, in the summer and autumn of 1914 the belligerents’ war plans almost uniformly failed.

The German plan (best referred to as the Schlieffen-Moltke Plan) entailed moving the bulk of the field army westwards to defeat France quickly by wheeling through Belgium and outflanking the modern fortresses the French had built along the Franco-German border. The more archaic Belgian fortresses round Liège and Namur could be overcome quickly by mobile heavy artillery, and the French had left their northern frontier largely unfortified. During August the French advanced into Alsace, Lorraine and the Ardennes, but were driven back with enormous losses. Both they and the small British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were forced to retreat. The French commander, Joseph Joffre, however, used the interval to transfer forces from the east to the centre of his line, and in September counter-attacked at the First Battle of the Marne. The Germans in turn now withdrew, and across Northern France and Belgium over the next two months the Western Front took on the characteristics that have since remained notorious. 

The German plan miscarried in part through mistakes at the top. The German commander, Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, unnecessarily diverted two corps from his right flank to fight against the Russians. He delegated the decision to retreat from the Marne to a staff officer, Colonel Richard Hentsch, who authorized it prematurely. Yet even if the Germans did not need to pull back, they were on the verge neither of capturing Paris nor of forcing France to surrender. In contrast to 1870, the French army had been mobilized swiftly, and was almost as big as the German one. In contrast to Moltke, Joffre kept his nerve and successfully implemented a fall-back plan after the repulse of his opening attacks. The French had invested heavily in their railways, and whereas Joffre employed them for his lateral manoeuvres the leading German armies by September were up to a hundred miles beyond their railheads. They had only 4,000 lorries, most of which broke down, and could neither feed nor provide veterinary care for their horses. Hence they faced a supply and also a communications crisis, as unlike the French they lacked access to a telegraph network, and such wireless messages as they sent were liable to interception. More fundamentally, both sides when defending profited from the nineteenth-century revolution in firepower. This meant magazine rifles using smokeless powder, which concealed infantry could fire fifteen times a minute from up to half a mile machine guns that could play across an ellipse 2,500 yards long and 500 wide and above all quick-firing field guns, the French 75mm delivering, with a practised crew, up to twenty rounds a minute. Whereas German light field howitzers did terrible damage to the French in the Ardennes, 75 mms firing almost all their reserves of ammunition were critical to French success on the Marne.

If we turn to the other belligerents we see similar patterns. In the east the Russians faced a much smaller Austro-Hungarian force and about a tenth of the German field army. They diluted their numerical advantage by attacking both. They further diluted it by subdividing the forces invading East Prussia with the result that the defending German VIII Army could defeat them sequentially at the Battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. Here it was the Germans who exploited interior rail links and intact telegraph networks, whereas the invading Russians blundered forward along forest tracks and broadcast unencrypted radio messages. Against Austria-Hungary, in contrast, the Russians not only defeated an Austrian incursion into Russian territory but also overran much of Austrian Galicia, partly because the Austrians divided their efforts between the Russian front and a spectacularly unsuccessful incursion into Serbia. In Galicia the Russians demonstrated that territory could still be conquered, but a far greater numerical advantage than previously was needed, and even then, once the Germans came to Austria-Hungary’s aid, the Russian advance was halted.

When the fighting fronts stabilized, none the less, the Germans held most of Belgium and 4.5% of metropolitan France, including key industrial areas in Lorraine and French Flanders. To end the war on favourable terms the Allies must expel the Germans from these territories, which proved forbiddingly difficult. But outside Europe, by 1915 the Allies had destroyed most of the German warships operating outside the North Sea, severed the Central Powers’ overseas trade links, and could bring in reserves from all over the globe. Troops from India held one third of the British Western Front sector in the winter of 1914-15. If the Allies could mobilize their resources, they held a longer-term advantage but whether this would suffice against the Germans’ stronger territorial position and greater operational effectiveness remained unresolved.

By the end of 1914 both sides had already suffered hundreds of thousand of casualties. It was during the initial phase of open warfare that daily losses were greatest, the French army suffering 27,000 fatalities on 23 August alone - more even than the British dead on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. It was unsurprising that troops exposed to shrapnel bursts responded by digging, and trenches, whatever their evil subsequent reputation, saved lives. Men felt safer in them. The outstanding new feature of the war in 1915 was the 475 miles of opposing trench systems extending from the North Sea to Switzerland. The earthworks before Sebastopol in 1855, Richmond in 1864-65, Plevna in 1877, and Port Arthur in 1904-05 to some extent foreshadowed them, but nothing remotely matched their scale. The Germans dug in first, to tighten their grip on their gains and to release troops for a drive into Russia. Their engineers selected crests of ridges that afforded good artillery observation, so that repeatedly the Allies would be attacking uphill. It was no accident that the trench lines extended between two great railway systems, the German one stretching from the coast via Lille towards the Ardennes and their fortress complex at Metz the Allied from the Channel ports via Amiens towards Paris and then east to Nancy and Lorraine. Hence both sides could shuttle reinforcements to points of danger, and faster than attackers could pick their way forward. By 1916, as defences grew more elaborate, they typically comprised three lines, each consisting of a forward, a main, and a support trench, with interconnecting communication trenches, and field gun batteries in the rear as well as machine guns and barbed wire further forward. In chalk areas like the Somme, the defenders could shelter in dugouts thirty feet deep in areas with a high water table such as Flanders they built hundreds of concrete pillboxes. Taken together, as was shown repeatedly, the attacking infantry found these obstacles too strong.

A precondition for trench warfare was enormous numbers of men: typically 5,000 combatants per mile of front. But the French, German, and (by 1916) British armies were many times bigger than in previous wars, and their losses from disease far fewer, while advances in medicine meant most of the wounded would eventually return to duty. The French and British brought in labourers from all over the world to build railways and move munitions and stores the Germans used prisoners and both sides imposed unremitting labour duties on the soldiers themselves. Every army ran into shell shortages, mostly in the winter of 1914-15, but all (including Russia) accomplished production miracles that satisfied their armies’ voracious demands and did so all the year round, as unlike in earlier conflicts the trench garrisons continued in post without withdrawing to winter barracks or bivouacs.

New technologies did not, at least at first, offer a way out. The Germans introduced poison gas at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915, and the British at the Battle of Loos in September. Initially it was released from canisters and needed a favourable wind. By 1916 chlorine had given way to phosgene, which was six times more lethal and delivered in artillery shells, but in the meantime both sides had developed reasonably effective gas masks. Gas warfare added further horror to the fighting and slowed it down still more, but gave the attacker no outstanding advantage. Tanks too, although explicitly designed to help the infantry traverse trench barriers, remained a nascent technology. They were used by the British on the Somme in September 1916 and by the French on the Chemin des Dames in April 1917, but still in very small numbers, and the early models, crawling forward at barely walking pace, were all too vulnerable to shellfire and to mechanical breakdown. Much better prospects for overcoming the defences lay with enhancing the performance of artillery, and especially heavy artillery (six-inch calibres or more) directed by aerial reconnaissance and photography. This improvement was slow, and required the manufacture of thousands of heavy guns and millions of shells and the training of hundreds of crews, although by 1917 the French, Germans, and British all possessed many more guns and were more proficient at using them. They could also lay down a 𠆌reeping barrage’, a curtain of field-gun and machine-gun fire that in principle moved just ahead of the advancing infantry until they stormed their target. But if the attackers’ armies were moving up what some historians have dubbed a ‘learning curve’, so too were the defenders. From 1916 the Germans typically kept only small numbers in the forward line, where they were most vulnerable to bombardment, and concentrated units in the rear, positioned to counter-attack once the attack had lost momentum. For most of 1917 such tactics had considerable success. It is therefore untrue that the middle period of war witnessed simply the interminable repetition of an unvarying script, and despite the Western Front’s static appearance military technology and tactics were evolving rapidly, although a fundamental equilibrium persisted. The German army throughout this period deployed up to a third of its strength in the east, so lacking numerical superiority in the west, but the Allied armies’ greater numbers were still too few for the conquered territories to be liberated. 

The Western Front must be situated in a broader context. From spring 1915 the Allies attempted to impose a total blockade on the Central Powers but this was slow to bite, partly because Germany continued importing from its neutral neighbours. Conversely, the German High Seas Fleet avoided an engagement with the larger British Grand Fleet, not least because the German Government wanted to preserve its navy as a means of pressure on the British in the peace negotiations. The May 1916 Battle of Jutland, in which the Germans inflicted twice as much damage as they incurred, was interpreted by the High Seas Fleet command as a narrow escape, and convinced them not to run such risks again. Germany’s U-Boats were too few to inflict serious losses on Allied shipping until 1916, and they were hobbled by American objections to ‘unrestricted’ submarine warfare (i.e. torpedoing anything afloat and without warning). Only in February 1917 did the Germans judge they had sufficient submarines and were pessimistic enough about the war on land to defy Washington by launching a no-holds-barred campaign.

Trenches were characteristic not just of France and Flanders but also of almost every other campaigning theatre. They formed in the Gallipoli peninsula, where after Turkey entered the war Allied forces tried unavailingly during 1915 to break through to Constantinople in the Trentino and on the Isonzo, where Italian forces were on the offensive against Austria-Hungary after Italy joined the Allies in May 1915 in Macedonia, after Allied forces advanced inland from Salonika in the autumn and in Poland (although the Eastern Front had half the density of manpower and was less rigid than its Western counterpart). In these theatres force-to-space ratios and quantities of heavy weaponry were generally lower than in the west, but here too the firepower revolution gave the defender the tactical edge. Fully to understand the 1915-17 pattern of fighting, however, it is necessary to step up from tactics to strategy.

For most of 1915 the big strategic story unfolded in the east, where the Germans reinforced the beleaguered Austrians and drove Russia out of Poland, before joining with Bulgaria in over-running Serbia and Montenegro. They hoped, though failed, to drive Russia into a separate peace. Allied strategy, in contrast, lacked co-ordination, the British concentrating their efforts on Gallipoli while the French delivered a succession of fruitless Western Front attacks. At the Chantilly Conference in December, the Allies agreed to stage synchronized offensives in summer 1916, only to be pre-empted in February when Moltke’s successor as German commander, Erich von Falkenhayn, attacked at Verdun. If the big innovation of 1915 was trench warfare, that of 1916 was months-long battles of attrition, and Verdun was the prototype. Falkenhayn hoped to lure the French into such costly counter-attacks against the German artillery that he would break Paris’s will to carry on, but Verdun became almost as damaging for Germany as for France, and had failed in its objectives even before the Allies regained the initiative. 

The Chantilly offensives started with the Russian 𠆋rusilov offensive’ in June, brought forward to help the Italians withstand an Austrian advance in the Trentino. General Alexei Brusilov used innovative tactics, and surprised his enemies, about half the Austro-Hungarian army in Poland becoming casualties or prisoners. The Germans were obliged to call off operations at Verdun in order, once again, to assist their ally. But further blows followed rapidly: the beginning on 1 July of the Anglo-French offensive on the Somme Romania’s war entry in August and Italy’s capture of the town of Gorizia. Summer 1916 was the tensest moment for the Central Powers since the Battle of the Marne, and in the face of it the Army High Command (Oberste Heeresleitung, or OHL) changed hands again, Falkenhayn being replaced by Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff. The new team managed to stabilize the situation by over-running Romania and halting the Russians, while holding the Allied advance on the Somme to six miles. The OHL feared, none the less, that in spring 1917 the Allies would renew their synchronized offensives, and it urged a crash acceleration of arms production as well as backing the navy’s demand for an unrestricted submarine campaign that it was hoped would starve out Britain within five months, thus making it irrelevant if the US entered the war.

In fact the Allies at another Chantilly conference in November 1916 had indeed decided to renew their synchronized offensives, but the February Revolution in Russia, which overthrew Tsar Nicholas II and shattered army discipline, derailed the combined strategy. When the French attacked regardless on the Chemin des Dames in April, their assault was halted in its tracks, triggering mutinies that for several months rendered their army incapable of major offensives. Although at the insistence of the BEF commander, Sir Douglas Haig, the British went ahead with the Third Battle of Ypres in July-November, this failed to reach its targets of the German trunk lateral railway and the U-Boat bases on the Flanders coast, and arguably damaged the British army more than it did the German one. While Third Ypres proceeded, German forces drove back the Russians in the Baltic and helped the Austrians to pierce the Italian defences at Caporetto and advance a hundred miles. In the Middle East, in contrast, the Turkish army had been weakened by campaigns against the Russians in the Caucasus. British offensives in 1917 secured Baghdad and Jerusalem, though did little for the broader Allied war effort. Despite America’s entry into the war in April (which brought indispensable financial, economic, and naval assistance), the Allies’ strategic co-ordination had again broken down, and they seemed no nearer to resolving the fundamental problem of how to expel the Germans from France and Belgium without a completely ruinous cost.  

The 1918 Western Front map looks very different from that of 1915-17. Between March and July the German launched five great (‘Ludendorff’) offensives, twice advancing almost fifty miles and threatening the key British railway junctions at Amiens and Hazebrouck before advancing almost half way to Paris. Between July and November, in contrast, the Allies first reconquered the captured territories and then liberated French soil almost completely, as well as much of Belgium. Both sides had learned how to break through trenches (and photographs of the 1918 fighting often show soldiers in foxholes or in open fields, as in 1914 or during the Second World War), but the Allied advance, if slower, was more sustained and went further.

The Russian October Revolution, followed by a ceasefire in December 1917 enabled the Germans to move some half a million men from east to west (although hundreds of thousands remained behind). This gave them a numerical majority on the Western Front where they had an incentive to use it before American troops arrived in strength, the latter’s numbers in France as of March 1918 still totalling only 284,000. Ludendorff and Hindenburg knew the operation was a gamble, but they believed it worth trying in part because of new artillery and infantry tactics. The artillery revolution is associated with the names of Colonel Georg Bruchmüller and Captain Erich Pulkowski. Through painstaking trials with each gun, the Germans had learned to dispense with ranging shots, and could deliver without warning an intense and accurate bombardment, lasting hours rather than days and designed not to destroy their enemies’ positions but to silence their batteries (drenching them with poison gas shells), paralyse their command centres, and suppress front-line resistance. The accompanying ‘Stormtroop’ or ‘infiltration’ infantry tactics entailed assaults by specialist squads equipped with portable machine guns, grenades, and flamethrowers, which would bypass the opposing strong points and drive on as far and fast as possible. Aircraft would direct the artillery and carry out ground strafing, but the Germans had virtually no tanks and their lorries (only a tenth of the numbers the Allies possessed) suffered from petrol and rubber shortages and were fitted only with steel tyres. As the Germans were also desperately short of horses, they could break the Allied lines but lacked the logistical capability to support their advances, which supply shortages repeatedly halted. By the summer their troops were weary and demoralized, and took less care to conceal their preparations, with the result that the final two offensives forfeited surprise and the French could prepare counterstrokes.

The Ludendorff offensives cost the German field army more than a million casualties, and it dwindled from 5.1 million to 4.2 million men. Though the French and British armies, now on the defensive, also suffered hundreds of thousands of losses, the Americans accelerated their troop shipments. During the summer over 250,000 American personnel reached France each month, and by November they numbered nearly two million. From July the Allies and Americans again outnumbered their enemies, and they used similar artillery tactics to the Germans, with the addition that they had many more heavy guns and could now launch major attacks in rapid succession or even simultaneously. They were assisted by superior logistics, as although the French railways (like the German ones) were suffering from years of neglect, they were kept functioning by injections of British and American rolling stock and personnel, and supplemented by tens of thousands of lorries, largely fuelled by American petrol. The Allies also had tanks, which they could now deploy in hundreds rather than dozens, although the massed assaults staged at the Second Battle of the Marne on 18 July and at the Battle of Amiens on 8 August were exceptional. Generally tanks were used in smaller batches, as infantry support weapons rather than an independent arm, but they saved lives and made it easier to attain surprise. Finally, and again in response to the spring emergency, the Allied and American governments had appointed Ferdinand Foch as General-in-Chief of their Western Front armies and he devised and implemented a co-ordinated strategy. During July and August the Allies cleared their lateral railways and coalfields, before in late September unleashing four major attacks from Flanders to the Argonne that targeted the German trunk line. In the face of this multiple challenge the Germans could not transport their reserves quickly enough, and on 28 September Ludendorff suffered a nervous breakdown. He agreed with Hindenburg that they must seek an immediate ceasefire.

Ludendorff also broke down because of news from the Balkans, where the Allies attacked in mid-September and forced Bulgaria to sue for a ceasefire. This crisis arose in parallel with that in the west. It threatened to split the Central Powers in two, and to cut off their principal source of oil, in occupied Romania. In late September also, British Empire forces (using tactics similar to those on the Western Front) destroyed the Turkish armies in Northern Palestine and drove north into Syria, as well as advancing on Mosul. Finally, the Italians, who with British and French assistance had repelled a final Austro-Hungarian offensive in the June 1918 Battle of the Piave, went on to the attack in October at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, in the midst of which Austria-Hungary disintegrated as a political entity and hundreds of thousands of its troops surrendered.

The Allied victories rested on adequate manpower (although the British and French armies were both experiencing serious shortages), and troop morale, which the German onslaught and the Americans’ arrival buttressed. It also demanded abundant weapons and munitions, manufactured primarily in Britain and France, although American war loans and raw materials (particularly oil and steel) were indispensable to the production effort. A further precondition was command of the seas, the U-Boat menace being at its deadliest in April 1917 but thereafter subsiding. The convoy system (introduced from summer 1917) was the most important single factor in defeating the submarines, but the Allies also used the surviving ships more efficiently, reducing turnaround times and concentrating them on the North Atlantic. In many ways theirs was a triumph for superior organization, but also for the political leadership of Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, and Vittorio Orlando, in what had become a contest between autocracies and democracies. Historical commentary on the 1918 campaigning has become markedly patriotic, with different writers highlighting the British, American, and Canadian roles. Actually the British Empire, France, and the United States all made vital contributions to the outcome, albeit in different ways, and it would be wrong to single out any one factor as decisive for Germany’s defeat. None the less, by 1918 the character of warfare had been transformed, and particularly the all-arms aspect of Allied operations, combining armour, artillery, airpower, and infantry, is recognizable to servicemen in today’s armed forces to whom the military world of 1914 seems remote. The question remains of whether (as Haig argued in his final despatch) victory emanated logically from the prior attrition process, or whether the Allies won at the time and in the manner that they did only through their opponents’ errors. And although by 1918 the Allies and Americans were fighting a more mobile, less costly, style of campaign, and in 1919 their advantages would most likely have become overwhelming, at the time the armistice was signed their leaders were very conscious of how close-fought the struggle had been and how unexpected their salvation. This encouraged them to halt the fighting before they ventured onto German territory, and helps explain their hesitation in the hour of triumph.


The B-17 was the Army Air Forces’ relative oldtimer, first flying in 1935 as Boeing’s Model 299. The last production version, the G, carried 13 .50-caliber machine guns and had a crew of 10. It formed the backbone of Curtis LeMay’s daytime strategic bombing campaign against the Reich.

Over North Africa, a Bf 109 collided with a B-17F named All American . The fighter tore through the rear fuselage of the bomber and tumbled to Earth ensnared in the wreckage of the B-17’s left horizontal stabilizer. Crewmen in nearby aircraft were shocked to see All American pitch up, recover, and miraculously fly on. Lieutenant Charles Cutforth, in the Flying Flint Gun , snapped an image of the stricken bomber that would become famous: All American cruising over the desert landscape, with a ragged slice through its fuselage.

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Covering one of the most catastrophic events in human history, Making History: The First World War offers a strategic level experience in a turn-based global game of conflict. It’s a war between the Great Powers of the age, each straddling to one degree or another, the old world and the new.

This is the moment when the industrialization of warfare became fully realized and the Great Powers mobilized their entire nations for total war. The introduction of new weapons with massive destructive power driven by machine era technology and mass production led to the death of many millions and the collapse of several storied empires.

Making History: The First World War is a game of conquest and economic management. Players make all the governing decisions for their nation. Historic events are there to direct the game along a WWI timeline providing the historical context and drama associated with the era. However as with any Making History game, it’s players who make history and create brand new worlds.

As the leader of France, fight to survive the continental ambitions of the German Empire. Play Germany and instigate Russian social unrest that might knock them out of the war early. Can you keep the Ottoman Empire from being partitioned? Will simmering ethnic nationalism cause Austria-Hungary to collapse and usher forth new nations in Central Europe? Use the most powerful navy on earth to maintain your vast colonial empire as the leader of the United Kingdom. Each nation you choose to play comes with a different set of strategic challenges.

Strategic Level Gameplay
The game map is divided up into over 2000 land and water regions covering all the continents and seas. Play as any independent nation of the WWI era and control your nation’s economy, military and domestic policies.

Empire Management
Govern and establish colonies, protectorates and puppet states. Liberate and give independence to conquered nations.

Infrastructure Expansion
Prospect, expand and exploit the strategic resources needed to feed an industrialized economy. Build railroads to move commodities and speed the movement of troops to the frontlines. Construct Fortresses, Trenches and Coastal Batteries to defend your nation from attack.

City Development
Your cities are key industrial assets that can simultaneously produce multiple output types. They generate wealth for your government, supplies for your people and steel for your military. Order your city to establish new factories, centers of research and health and a variety of manufacturing facilities.

Prepare for war by training manpower resources in times of peace. Mobilize your trained reserves at the right moment to get an advantage on your enemies. When the fighting ends, demobilize your units to a lower strength allowing manpower to return to work.

World War I Combat
Bombard your enemies from afar, then invade with Infantry and armor. Use observation balloons and aircraft to increase artillery accuracy. Deploy submarines and naval mines to sink and harass the enemies navy. Dig deep trench networks and defend your ground with machine gun units.

Regional Demographics
Each region has a defined identity representing nationality, culture, religion and multiple ethnicities. Governing support is tied to policies and the ideology of the population. High levels of radicalism can lead to unrest and revolutions.

Global Trade
Use the World Market to trade for needed supplies and sell your commodities to increase your income. Initiate a policy of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare against your enemies trade paths to interdict and sink their merchant fleets.

Historical Events
Hundreds of scripted events associated with the important moments and events during the war. Alternative historical paths are also covered that allow players to explore many what-if outcomes.

Technology Race
Expand your nation’s knowledge in Science, industry and military production skills with a detailed Research Tree spanning Pre-Industrial to Machine Age technology.

Establish relations with new nations, provide financial aid and sign treaties to increase your diplomatic influence.

National Units
Each nation has a unique set of units that closely represent the uniforms and equipment of in the first decades of the 20th century.

The Story of the Legendary Urartian Civilization

The Urartians were blessed to live in an area that provided for all their needs and guaranteed their prosperity.

Living in a rocky and mountainous region, they built their farms and settlements on a fertile high plateau, which was irrigated naturally by river water. Here they grew a broad variety of vegetables and fruits, and took their cattle, horses, and sheep to graze on nearby green mountain pastures. The Urartians were pioneers in the art of winemaking and may have been the first to introduce it to the region. Rich deposits of precious metals like gold, silver, copper, lead, and iron could be found close by, and the Urartians mined these substances for their own use and for their value in exchange.

The lands of the Kingdom of Urartu were in close proximity to ancient trade routes that ran from the Mediterranean region going east into Anatolia and Asia. With attractive products of all types to trade, the Urartians became even wealthier and more prosperous as time passed.

But throughout the 270 years the Kingdom of Urartu endured, there were always storm clouds forming just over the horizon. While the surrounding mountains gave them some protection, there were always external threats to worry about. The kingdom’s great wealth attracted invaders and would-be conquerors, forcing the Urartians to always be ready for battle.

Just to the southwest, the Neo-Assyrian empire posed a constant threat to the safety and security of the Urartians. In fact, the Urartian kingdom was originally founded by smaller states that feared the Assyrians and decided to pool their political and military resources to defend against this dangerous adversary.

The Urartians were involved in many conflicts throughout their kingdom’s existence, as they struggled to protect their borders. Therefore, they had to stay on alert at all times and make security a top priority.

This was one reason why they built so many castles and fortifications on the tops of mountain peaks. From these high altitudes, they could survey the surrounding countryside and spot invading forces while they were still far away. Once the invaders arrived, they would find it extremely difficult to make it up the mountains without being destroyed by the well-prepared Urartian forces who had a significant strategic advantage.

These mountaintop locations could also be kept safe if civil war were to break out. This may have been a concern to the kingdom’s leaders since armed revolts were fairly common in military-oriented societies.

Unfortunately, their perpetual struggle for survival ultimately doomed the Urartian civilization. Their cities were attacked and destroyed by unknown conquerors around 590 BC.

Their capacity for self-defense may have been weakened by more than 250 years of warfare, which may have drained their economy and caused their population numbers to drop. Or perhaps they’d spread themselves too thin by becoming involved in too many conflicts at the same time, leaving them vulnerable to attack from a particularly strong enemy.

Whatever the reasons for its demise, the Kingdom of Urartu left behind many physical signs of its greatness, mainly in the form of its formidable mountaintop fortresses.

A Urartian cauldron from the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey. (EvgenyGenkin / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Strategic Considerations ↑

European nations, to varying degrees, relied on fortifications to “protect … lines of communications and prevent bridgeheads” and secure their borders. [1] Belgium built its fortifications around Namur and Liège to protect its frontier so the army could position itself in the center of the country and delay any invaders. France’s defense, focused on an attack from the new German state, depended on 166 fortifications built between Verdun and Toul. By 1900, Italy viewed France as its most probable opponent and concentrated its fortifications against that country, leaving bare its border with Austria-Hungary for much of the prewar period, only beginning to modernize fortresses there in 1904. Austria-Hungary was strengthening its fortresses just as Italy began to drift from the Triple Alliance. After beating France in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), Germany began building the fortifications around Metz to secure its newly won western territories.

Central European nations did not ignore Eastern Europe. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia all studied ways to improve their strategic positions. Russia learned from its defeat in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) that “tactical offensive[s]” during engagements led to victory and thus questioned the use of fortifications. [2] In preparation for a conflict with Germany, Russia upgraded its field army, while also adding improvements to some of its Polish fortifications. The outcome was the worst possible: Weak offense and weak defense. Germany focused its upgrades on the Alsace-Lorraine region until 1912, when the general staff realized it could no longer ignore Russia. Germany therefore allocated more than 210 million marks to upgrade fortifications on its eastern borders, such as in Graudenz and Posen. Renovations began in 1913, but had not been completed by the time the war broke out.

Austria-Hungary, pre-occupied with Italy, paid little attention to the Balkans until 1904. Along the Austria-Russian border, the fortress city at Przemyśl was updated late in the 19 th century, but by 1914, half of its fortifications were outdated. After “Austria-Hungary risked war against Serbia, Montenegro and Russia” during the First Balkan War (1912-1913), it subsequently spent 55 million crowns on fortifications in the Balkans and Galicia. [3] With the exception of its Italian border, Austria’s fortifications were generally outdated. Each nation, therefore, looked toward its fortresses according to perceived threats.

Fortresses and the First World War - History

Mexico City was defended by a series of fortresses that guarded the road to the city. American forces succeeded in approaching the first of the forces by stealth. One by one the American forces managed to capture each of the fortresses. Finally, On September 13 1847, Mexico City was in American hands, and the war came to a swift end.

Along the road to Mexico city, Scott encountered no further significant resistance. Santa Ana however was relying on the powerful fortification of the city to defeat Scott. President Polk wanted one last chance to reach a peace agreement with the Mexicans, but his overture was turned down. Santa Ana however claimed that if he received $10,000 now and $1,000,000 after the surrender he would do so. He was given the $10,000, but that was the last heard from him on the subject.

The way to Mexico City was through a group of causeways through marches to the east of the city. Santa Ana had heavily fortified these approaches. Once again Captain Lee’s reconnaissance was invaluable. He found an unguarded way through the marches which was partially under water, and the American army made its way through there. The Americans thus moved closer to the city. Santa Ana shorter lines of communication allowed Santa Ana to move men to block the American advance. General Valencia without orders from Santa Ana decided not to wait for the Americans and instead moved out with a force of 4,000 men to outflank the American forces. American forces then moved up on Valencia forces once again on a path discovered by Lee. The American engaged Valencia forces who fought fiercely. Santa Ana then appeared with 9,000 men. The Americans feared they would be attacked on two sides, but a sudden downpour convinced Santa Ana to withdraw. That night the American forces made their way towards Valencia’s lines at Conreras. In the morning they had reached the rear of his lines and assaulted there. The Americans routed the Mexicans. Those who were not killed or wounded withdrew quickly. The American followed the Mexicans to the next fortress- Churubusco, which they attacked without proper reconnaissance. The American forces made three costly and unsuccessful assaults on the fortress. Finally, American reinforcements arrived, and in a final assault managed to carry to fortifications. American forces followed the Mexican withdrawal to the wall of Mexico City itself. In two days of fighting Americans lost 139 dead and 876 wounded. The Mexican lost 4,000 killed and wounded plus 3,000 captured.

There were two more Mexican fortresses, The first Molino del Rey and it was quickly taken. The final fortress was Chapultepec. It was a well defended castle with outlying fortifications. The Americans made an all out assault on the fortress. Despite heavy losses the Americans carried the fortress. The next day the city surrendered.

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