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Early French Frontier Fortifications

Napoleon made use of fortifications either as supporting points for offensive maneuvers or as aids in holding important points with a small force. He classified them as barrier forts, for the defense of defiles and passes; frontier forts, for the protection of territory; depot forts, for the storage of supplies; and campaign forts, serving as pivots of maneuver. The last two he considered the most important. As to sea coast forts, he regarded them as purely defensive, for the protection of important harbors. Napoleon did not allow himself to be tied to his own forts nor to be attracted by those of the enemy. He directed his operations toward a predetermined objective and gave to subordinate commanders the task of holding his own forts and observing those of the enemy.

In speaking of the bearing of permanent fortifications in a defensive war, Napoleon himself said: " If fortresses can neither secure a victory, nor arrest the progress of a conquering enemy, they can at least retard it, and thus give to the defence the means of gaining time - a most important advantage in all warfare."

After the downfall of Napoleon came a long period of peace lasting without serious interruption for more than thirty years. At the middle of the century the dominating ideas on the subject of fortifications were, first, the substitution of the polygonal for the bastioned +system, and, second, the creation of intrenched camps composed of a central nucleus surrounded by a ring of detached forts, and capable of containing entire armies.

In the great military states of Continental Europe, the question as to what extent the great centres of population and wealth in the interior should be covered by fortifications, has been submitted to the investigation of the ablest engineers and statesmen, from the time of Vauban down to the present day; but more particularly since the fall of Napoleon, a catastrophe which might not have taken place had Paris been secured by fortifications which would rave prevented a coup-de-main, when the armies of the Allies gained possession of it as the result of a pitched battle. Whatever differences of opinion had been called forth as to the mode of accomplishing this object, as shown in the published views on the proposition to fortify Paris, there seems to have been none among those best qualified to decide upon it as to the great importance of so fortifying this capital and other large places in the interior, as Lyons, etc., which from their position must be of the highest strategical value in the case of a successful invasion by a large army, as not only to prevent their wealth and resources from falling into the possession of the invading force, but to make them safe rallying-points for beaten and dispersed forces, and depots for organizing new armies.

The fortifications of Paris, of 1840, consist of a continuous bastioned enceinte, without outworks, with a revetted scarp of the usual height, to secure it from escalade, and a ditch with a counterscarp of earth. The advanced forts are either quadrangular or pentagonal bastioned works, inclosing all the means of security for their garrisons, as bomb-proofs, etc., their plan being skilfully adapted to the site, and their mutual bearing on the defence.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:57:46 ZULU