The Ouvrage La Ferté was a small fort on the Maginot Line that saw heavy fighting during the German blitzkrieg against France in May, 1940. The entire garrison, 104 French soldiers and three officers, were killed in the fighting. The ouvrage has been preserved just as it was after the attack, pockmarked with holes from the German shells.
The fort was part of the “New Front” of the French defensive line, extended to prepare for the increased likelihood that the Germans would attack through Belgium. The Maginot Line was considered impregnable, but these new positions were under-funded, and spaced further apart than the other fortifications, leaving them vulnerable to attack. Due to budget concerns, La Ferté had only two combat blocks instead of the three originally planned (larger forts could have as many as 20).
The La Ferté petit ouvrage—the preferred term for these smaller, less-armed Maginot positions—was attacked by German infantry supported by heavy artillery on May 18, 1940. The bombardment broke through the anti-tank barbed wire that surrounded the fort and created massive shell craters the advancing troops could hide in. A shape charge explosion dislodged the fort’s arms turret, which flew into the air and landed off-kilter, where it remains today.
The French counterattack failed, and both blocks were destroyed by the shellfire. Eventually, the fighting from the French soldiers stopped, and the German soldiers found the entire garrison dead inside the tunnel. Most of the men died from carbon monoxide poisoning, as an explosion had damaged the fume extractor fans and started a fire. Though most of the men were found wearing gas masks, the fumes had exceeded the level of gas the masks could protect against.
The fallen garrison was later awarded the Ordre de l’Armée. Most of the men are buried in the cemetery near the fort, where there is also a memorial.
Know Before You Go
Also known as Ouvrage Villy-La Ferté, the fort is 1.2 kilometers southeast of the village of Villy. The site and the cemetery can be visited at any time. Tours inside the fort are given at scheduled dates and times (some are done with a English speaking guide).