Fort National stands on l'Îlette rock. This was originally the site of a beacon that was lit at night to act as a lighthouse. Îlette was also a place of public executions for the seigniory of Saint Malo, which burnt criminals there. Latter a gallows occupied the site. A model in Saint-Malo's history museum suggests that a battery may have occupied the site before the subsequent erection of the Vauban fort.
The engineer Siméon Garangeau built the fort following Vauban's plans, and on the orders of King Louis XIV. Construction seems to have taken from 1689 to 1693. The fort augmented the defences of the city, and was part of a chain of fortifications that stretched from Fort-la-Latte to Pointe de la Varde. The original fort was a rectangle, built of granite, with two half bastions at the south, protecting the gate. A drawbridge gave access across a dry moat. Inside the fort there is a long building that contained quarters for the officer and troops, and equipment rooms.
On 26 November 1693, a fleet of 30 English and Dutch ships appeared off Cap Fréhel. They cannonaded Fort-la-Latte and Ébihens island, and then sailed towards Saint Malo. Three days later, the Anglo-Dutch force captured Fort de la Conchée and Cézembre island. For their attack on Saint Malo the English had brought a vessel packed with gunpowder to use as a floating mine against the city's defences, but it ran aground short of its target. The crew of the vessel were able to set off their bomb, but it was too far from its target to do any harm.
At the time, the fort was armed with 14 guns on marine carriages and three mortars. The fort contains an underground cistern with a capacity of 50,000 liters, fed by gutters, and accessible both by a trapdoor and a well. The garrison held its ammunition in a underground bomb-proof magazine with a vaulted ceiling. Angled apertures provided light and air.
In 1848 the government added a wall pierced for small arms that encircled about three-quarters of the fort. The wall was intended to protect the fort against infantry attack from the land or by troops landed on the rocks on which the fort stands. The engineers also added a small bastion in front of the gate. This gave the fort a total area of about 4000 square metres. In 1927 the government sold the fort to a private buyer.
The German army took control of the French coast from Cap Frehel to Saint-Malo by the end of June 1940. In 1942 work on fortifying Saint-Malo sped up as Hitler's Atlantic Wall project took form.
On 6 August 1944, the allies bombed Saint-Malo, which was still under German occupation. The next day the German commander imprisoned 380 men from St. Malo in the fort to prevent an uprising. The prisoners remained there for six days, where allied shellfire killed 18 of them on the night of 9 to 10 August. Food ran out on 11 August, and on 13 August 150 old men and women joined the existing prisoners. However, that evening, the Germans permit all the prisoners to leave during an hour-long truce.
The allied shellfire damaged the fort, which was later restored in accordance with Vauban's original plans. The American 83rd Infantry Division was responsible for the liberation of Saint Malo, including Fort National. The fort itself was liberated on 16 August.References:
Les Invalides is a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building"s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l"Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d"Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the burial site for some of France"s war heroes, notably Napoleon Bonaparte.
Louis XIV initiated the project in 1670, as a home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers: the name is a shortened form of hôpital des invalides. The architect of Les Invalides was Libéral Bruant. The enlarged project was completed in 1676, the river front measured 196 metres and the complex had fifteen courtyards. Jules Hardouin Mansart assisted the aged Bruant, and the chapel was finished in 1679 to Bruant"s designs after the elder architect"s death.
Shortly after the veterans" chapel was completed, Louis XIV commissioned Mansart to construct a separate private royal chapel referred to as the Église du Dôme from its most striking feature. Inspired by St. Peter"s Basilica in Rome, the original for all Baroque domes, it is one of the triumphs of French Baroque architecture. The domed chapel is centrally placed to dominate the court of honour. It was finished in 1708.
Because of its location and significance, the Invalides served as the scene for several key events in French history. On 14 July 1789 it was stormed by Parisian rioters who seized the cannons and muskets stored in its cellars to use against the Bastille later the same day. Napoleon was entombed under the dome of the Invalides with great ceremony in 1840. In December 1894 the degradation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus was held before the main building, while his subsequent rehabilitation ceremony took place in a courtyard of the complex in 1906.
The building retained its primary function of a retirement home and hospital for military veterans until the early twentieth century. In 1872 the musée d"artillerie (Artillery Museum) was located within the building to be joined by the Historical Museum of the Armies in 1896. The two institutions were merged to form the present musée de l"armée in 1905. At the same time the veterans in residence were dispersed to smaller centres outside Paris. The reason was that the adoption of a mainly conscript army, after 1872, meant a substantial reduction in the numbers of veterans having the twenty or more years of military service formerly required to enter the Hôpital des Invalides. The building accordingly became too large for its original purpose. The modern complex does however still include the facilities detailed below for about a hundred elderly or incapacitated former soldiers.