LEARN THE HISTORY BEHIND FORT BARCHON
FROM CONSTRUCTION TO MUSEUM
Fort Barchon is one of the twelve fortresses built at the end of the 19th century as part of the fortifications in Liège (Luik). The building was constructed between 1881 and 1884 by General Henri Alexis Brialmont. Unlike the French fortresses built during the same period, the fort consists exclusively of concrete rather than masonry. The concrete was a ground-breaking material at that time.
During the Battle of Liège, the fort was heavily damaged by German artillery. The construction was upgraded in the 1930s in an attempt to prevent or slow down an attack from Germany. This provided Liege with a strengthened position. Eventually, German troops captured the fort in 1940 during the Battle of Belgium.
Today, Fort Barchon is preserved as a museum and open to the public. If you want to pay a visit by car, you will find the fort located about nine kilometres northeast of the centre of Liège, just off the E40 highway.
DIMENSIONS OF THE FORT
Fort Barchon is shaped like an isosceles triangle, the base of which is 300 metres long, with sides measuring 235 metres each. The fort is one of the larger fortresses in Liège. A moat of six by eight metres deep surrounds the construction.
The moats were defended in enfilade by 57 mm guns in casemates resembling counterscarp batteries. The batteries fired at shot traps on the other side of the moat. The main armament was concentrated in the central massif.
FORT BARCHON UNDER ATTACK
With the exception of the Fort of Loncin, the Belgian forts made little effort to provide for the daily needs of their wartime garrisons. The latrines, showers, kitchens and morgue were housed in the counterscarp of the fort, a location that was untenable in battle.
This would have profound effects on the forts’ ability to withstand a long attack . The service areas were placed directly opposite the barracks, which opened into the moat in the rear of the fort (i.e., facing towards Liège), with less protection than the two “salient” sides.
The Brialmont forts placed a weaker side to the rear to allow for recapture by Belgian forces from behind and located the barracks and support facilities on that side. The rear side of the moat was used to let in light and to air the living areas. In battle, heavy grenade fire made the rear side of the moat untenable. German troops were able to get between the forts and attack them from behind.
The Brialmont forts were designed to be protected from shell fire of the heaviest calibre: 21 cm. For the top of the central massif, four metres of concrete was used. For the less exposed walls of the barracks, one and a half metres of it were used. Under fire, the forts were damaged by 21 cm fire and could not withstand heavier artillery.
The armament of Fort Barchon included:
Those were all used for distant targets. Four retractable Grüsonwerke turrets (57 mm Ø) were provided for local defence. The fort had an observation tower with a searchlight as well. Nine rapid-fire Grüsonwerk cannons (57 mm Ø) were provided in casemates for the defence of the moats and the fort, as well as two mobile cannons.
The heavy cannons of the fort were German, usually Krupp, while the turret mechanisms were of different origins. The fort was equipped with signal lights to enable communication with the neighbouring Fort de Loncin and Fort de Liers. The cannons were fired using black powder rather than smokeless powder, creating suffocating gas in the confined firing spaces that spread throughout the entire fort.
The fort was manned by 300 artillery troops and 90 infantry regiments, commanded by Captain-Commander Hannefstingels.
ATTACKS THAT THE FORT SURVIVED
Barchon first came under attack on 5 August 1914, a day before the city first came under fire. On 6 August, German troops attempting to infiltrate between Barchon and the Meuse were forced to retreat. Because the Liège fortifications had proved to be unexpectedly stubborn, the Germans brought heavy siege artillery to bomb the forts with grenades far larger than they were designed to resist.
Barchon was heavily bombed starting 8 August with 21 cm artillery. The fort’s surrender was demanded under a ceasefire: after refusal, the bombing was resumed. Much of the fort’s armament was damaged, and the air became unbreathable. Barchon surrendered at 04:00 p.m., the first of the Liège forts to do so. Twenty-two men of the garrison had been killed.
In 1915, the Germans developed an improvement programme for Barchon and other Liège positions, modifying the entrance, adding concrete cover, and installing metal flooring under concrete ceilings. Non-structural improvements consisted of installing forced ventilation and moving latrines, kitchens, and the bakery to the main fort.
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