Douaumont – The Divine Mountain

Douaumont is one of nine villages of the department of Meuse, which were completely destroyed during the Battle of Verdun and were never rebuilt.

Douaumont, Village Detruit
Douaumont, Village Detruit – former main street

The origin of the village goes back to the Gallo Roman era; its name evolved from the Latin Dives meaning divine associated to Mons for mountain.

Douaumont, the Divine Mountain, such a beautiful name but such a tragic fate, for this village located some 11km northeast of Verdun.

The villagers lead a peaceful existence until the late 19th century, when the defence forts of Douaumont, Vaux, Souville et Froideterre were built after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71.

An influx of construction workers, followed by the arrival of the garrison staff, suddenly increased the number of inhabitants from 192 to 576 in 1885.

Douaumont, Village Detruit - vestiges
Vestiges of the village

This triggered the opening of small shops and workshops that contributed to the prosperity of the village.

Once the forts built, many of the workers returned to their home regions, but on the eve of the Great War, the village of Douaumont still had 288 inhabitants, among whom many soldiers.

The disarmament of the Fort Douaumont, considered outdated and unsuited to modern fighting methods, was undoubtedly one of the worse decisions taken by the French state in 1915.

The fort remained, indeed, a symbolic target for the Germans during the Battle of Verdun, the great offensive they launched in February 1916!

Douaumont, in the heart of the battlefield

The Fort of Douaumont and the village became a prime target, and the latter was in a total state of ruins, when the Germans took control of the area on March 4.

It is interesting to know that a young captain in charge of the 33rd Infantry Regiment, and named Charles de Gaulle, was wounded during this fighting and taken prisoner in Germany until the end of WWI…

But let’s go back to the Fort of Douaumont and its ruined village.

Douaumont, Village Detruit -Memorial Chapelle Saint-Hilaire
Memorial Chapelle Saint-Hilaire

The counter-offensive, led by the French on May 8, 1916 on the Fort of Douaumont, had tragic consequences for the Germans.

The explosion produced by the French shells that fell on one of their depots of grenades and flamethrowers, killed 800 German soldiers.

It sadly proved impossible to bury all those soldiers outside the fort.

The German commander in charge of the fort decided to place the 679 remaining bodies in an underground gallery and wall them up.

They still are there; the Fort of Douaumont is the only German necropolis in Verdun!

But despite this tragedy, the Germans remained in control of the Fort until October 24, 1916 when the French Colonial Troops of Morocco, under the command of General Mangin, recaptured it.

Douaumont, a village ‘Mort pour la France’ – ‘Died for France’

In 1919 the village was officially declared ‘Mort pour la France’ and added to the list of nine villages of the Meuse that were entirely destroyed (Villages Détruits).

Douaumont, Village Detruit - Memorial chapel's altar
Memorial chapel’s altar

It was declared as Zone Rouge – Red Zone, an area where reconstruction was prohibited because of the permanent damage done to the ground.

Not only the village was not rebuilt, but it was kept in its original war state.

Old shell craters and trenches are now covered with grass, and the site was replanted; everything seems so peaceful!

The Monument to the Dead was erected in 1925, and the Chapelle Saint-Hilaire in 1932 on the site of the old church.

As in Fleury-devant-Douaumont, the current paths follow the lay-out of the old village’s streets, and the bollards mark the location of the houses that bordered them.

The chapel is not open to the public, but as you peek through the grid, you can admire a beautiful Virgin placed on the altar and beneath a superb stained glass window.

Vestiges of fireplace plates and a church capital, which miraculously escaped total destruction, were placed on the porch wall.

Douaumont, Village Detruit - Village memorial stele
Village memorial stele

A handful of stones, recovered from the ruined church, have been piled on the front lawn of the chapel.

But don’t look for anymore vestiges, this is all that remains of the village of Douaumont!

The small cemetery contains the graves of the chaplains of Douaumont and the village’s mayor.

Both graves surround a commemorative monument.

The village was chosen as the site for the construction of the National Cemetery and Ossuary.

Free access

Other sites of the Battle of Verdun
Citadel of VerdunSacred Way – Douaumont Ossuary and National CemeteryAbri 320Bayonet Trench Fort of Douaumont – Fleury-devant-Douaumont “Village Détruit – Maginot Monument in Fleury-devant-Douaumont

Department of Meuse – Lorraine – Grand Est
Coordinates: Lat 49.222692 – Long 5.435674

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