Groupe Fortifie Verdun, Feste Graf Haeseler, France
After the Franco-Prussion war of 1870, the Alsace-Lorraine region was annexed into the newly formed German Empire, with the city of Metz forming an important German Garrison Town within the newly created German Empire. Metz played an important strategic military role within the German Empire due to its proximity to France, lead the Germans to build a fortified lines around Metz to supplement the original line of forts that had been constructed by the French before the Franco-Prussian war. The fortifications of Metz formed part of a wider program of fortifications called “Moselstellung”, encompassing fortresses scattered between Thionville and Metz in the valley Moselle. Germany’s aim was to protect against a French attack to take back Alsace-Lorraine and Moselle from the German Empire. The fortification system was designed to accommodate the growing advances in artillery since seen at the start of the 20th century. Based on new defensive concepts, such as dispersal and concealment, the fortified group was to form an impassable barrier for French forces. Throughout the annexation, the garrison around Metz consisted of between 15,000 and 20,000 soldiers, which exceeded 25,000 men at the start of the First World War, gradually becoming the first stronghold of German Reich. The Second fortified belt of Metz composed of Festen Wagner (1904-1912), Crown Prince (1899 – 1905), Leipzig (1907–1912), Empress (1899-1905), Lorraine (1899-1905), Freiherr von der Goltz (1907–1916), Haeseler (1899-1905), Prince Regent Luitpold (1907-1914) and Infantry-Werk Belle-Croix (1908-1914).
Originally built between 1899-1905 by the German Army during the Annexation of the Alsace-Lorraine Region, the Fortification was originally called Feste Graf Haeseler in honour of Count Gottlieb von Haeseler, Commander XVIth Army Corps Metz. The site was comprised of a pair of Forts, Fort Sommy (to the south) and Fort Saint-Blaise (to the north) built on top of two hills on the bank of the Moselle, to the south of Metz. Fort Sommy was the slightly smaller fort of the two housing 200men, with Fort Saint-Blaise hosing 500men. The entire fortification covered 75 hectares and was equipped with four 150mm howitzers, six 100mm short guns. There was also space for a further two infantry companies (approximately 300men) to provide local defence. Fort Saint Blaise has 10 observation domes and 12 lookout posts and was equipped with four 25hp diesel engines for power. Fort Sommy has 6 observation domes, and 8 lookouts and three 20hp diesel engines. From 1914 to 1918 the forts served as a relay for German soldiers at the front. At this time its equipment, and weapons were considered the forefront of military technology. In 1919 after the defeat of the German Army and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles the Germans surrendered the Alsace-Lorraine area, and the forts were occupied by the French Army, who renamed it Group Fortification Verdun. The forts once again changed hands, returning to the German Army in 1940 after the occupation of Alsace-Lorraine and its incorporation into the Greater German Reich. During the Battle of Metz in 1944 the forts saw fierce fighting, and the fortification (along with many other Metz Forts) finally surrendered to the advancing Americans in November 1944, with the region falling back under French control.
Currently the forts are abandoned and derelict, but lots of signage inside survives from the German occupation years.