Champs de Bataille, 1914-1916

At the crossroads between Fort de Vaux, Verdun and Ford de Douaumont, the dying Lion marks the spot of the German furthest advancement. It’s just a hundred meters short of Fort de Soueville, Verdun’s last defense.

The German troops were Bavarian. Hence the Bavarian lion.

Two Hotchkiss machine guns fired from this position, providing additional firepower to the 155mm guns in the disappearing turret.

The entrance to the Fort Souville, heavily bombarded by the Germans.

There were no trees in the area, so the turret guns would have a clear view of the ravines below.

This is the top of the disappearing turret that housed two 155 short-barrel guns. With the 80-ton counterweight, the guns were raised to fire. Then the mechanism would lower them to re-load.

The German bombardment lifted a lot of ground to expose the concrete walls of the gun tower.

This is an observation point

The Hotchkiss guns controlled the ravine in the direction of Fort Douaumont. To avoid them, the German attacked from the left.

The German attack was stopped in the trenches below. It came to bayonet combat.

The famous “Trench of the Bayonets” near Fort de Douaumont. The French soldiers lie below with the rifles still in their hands. Unfortunately, all the original bayonets and even the replacement fake ones have been stolen.  The only thing to see are wooden crosses. The story is here http://www.battledetective.com/casefiles17.html

The Verdun Memorial

The Verdun Ossuary and Cemetery.

After the war, the decision was made to plant a few million trees to cover the destruction. Most of these trees started in the 1920s and continue to propagate naturally.

You must be aware that the area contains an estimated 80,000 unburied French and German soldiers as well as the countless unexploded munitions.

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Fort Douaumont

The Fort Douaumont has changed my entire idea of what happened between France and Germany during WW1. Basically, our common idea of “history” is just BS. The pictures are only glimpses that explain nothing. One has to come here, read the topography and the documents. It’s mindboggling.

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The fort Douaumont is around 400 meters long and covers three hectares.  It was designed to be manned by about 800 men.
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In the fall of 1914, only 57 French soldiers defended the fort. On February 25, 1916, a heavy German bombardment drove the small number of French defenders away from their positions.  A small group of 10 German pioneers made their way into the ditch.
French troops in the nearby town of Douaumont believed them to be a returning French patrol and did not fire on them.  Sgt Kunze made his way into the northeast casemate.  (I believe the second from the left in the panorama.)  Fearful of an ambush, his men followed only later.
Then another group under a lieutenant entered the fort.  The two groups advanced underground through the tunnels, taking the garrison prisoner.  The only casualty was a scraped knee.  What was considered the strongest fort in the world had been captured by a small group of Germans in an amazing feat. German schoolchildren were given a day off and all the country was celebrating.
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Near the northern tip of the fort is the 75mm gun turret along with the nearby armored observation post.  The turret held two short barreled 75mm guns and could be rotated 260 degrees and raised or lowered by hand cranks.
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The Germans subjected the fort to fire from 420mm weapons, the massive ‘Big Berthas’ successfully used against the Belgian forts.  Later, the French used their 400mm weapons against the fort.  Incredible amounts of earth were blown off the top.
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Machine Gun Turret and Armored Observation Post
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Armored Observation Post.  German 420mm artillery shells have removed much of the top.
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Incredible amounts of earth were blown off the top of the fort, as can be seen here, in this case exposing the reinforced concrete cylinder that an armored observation post rests on.
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Some direct hits.
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Millions of munitions were fired over the course of the 2 battles of Verdun.   Although much of the fort’s interior can be visited, some sections are unstable from the massive bombardment the place was subjected to.
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They say that there are probably many thousands of unexploded shells in the area. 80,000 dead soldiers are estimated to remain unburied in the fields surrounding Verdun.
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I had to ask about this contraption. The guide said, “Lavabo” (laundry).
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In the course of 100 years, the dripping water created these stalagmites.
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The bunk beds are still there
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The Germans occupying the fort endured an incredible disaster on May 8, 1916 when an accidental explosion in a grenade depot started a fire in the flamethrower depot. Something between 800 and 900 men were killed.  Of those, 679 are buried behind this cross.  Around 1,800 were injured in the incident
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God is on our side, right?
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A German 420mm round made a direct hit on a casemate on December 16, 1916.  All 21 Frenchmen inside were killed as the casemate collapsed.  Seven bodies were not recovered and still lie behind the walled off entrance on the left.

Île de Ré / La Rochelle

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Straight ahead: Le pont Île de Ré connecting the island with the continental France.
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The salt marches where the famous salt is harvested.
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Surprisingly, there are lots of vineyards on the island. It’s not just the potatoes!
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The disappearing locks of Ile de Re. Of the 140 at the beginning of the 20 century, there are only about 12 left.
The old way of fishing, by catching fish in the locks during the low tide, is completely gone now.
Building and maintaining the locks requires thousands of man-hours. The rocks are not cemented in any way so unless constantly repaired the walls disappear into the ocean.
One last look before heading back to St Martin de Re
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Salt for sale, self-service.
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The low tide at Couarde-sur-Mer. The entire island is as flat as a pancake.
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Getting on the 3-mile bridge to La Rochelle. It’s surprisingly easy to cross over. However, navigating in La Rochelle is not so.  To get to the old town you must bike through the vast commercial area.
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Finally, Cafe-au-lait in La Richelle
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Pam sketches the Vieux Port as the beggar pigeon pesters me.
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The campsite at St Martin de Re is located inside the massive Vauban fortress.
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The old port, La Rochelle
The famous Île de Re potatoes are grown here.
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The farmers leave a lot of them on the ground. Gleaning  is easy.
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The ride to the western point of Île de Ré. Salt marshes and bird sanctuaries in the wetlands.
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Ars-en-Re. A stop to take a look at its remarcable church.
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Ars-en-Re. The spire is slightly leaning due to a lightning strike in 1836. The black and white design distinguishes it from miles away.

The last ride south of the Loire

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Roadkill is what cars do. The ultimate killing machine
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Discovering the old Chateau de Res. Whatever is left of it.
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THere used to be a waterway under the chateau. A very smart design, there is a lake nearby. It was easy to connect it to the chateau with a small canal.
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I’ve always used the Marathon tires. Even though they are not as fast as the sleek Kojaks, the Marathons are super strong and super reliable.
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One of the last sunny evenings at Journet
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The View Point at Montmorillon
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‘Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.’

1200-oiling-bromptonThe Brompton must be oiled for the winter. Until the next year it’s going to be stored folded and greased.