Fort National

Saint-Malo, France

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.

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Founded: 1689-1693
Category: Castles and fortifications in France

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User Reviews

Jonathan Maas (10 months ago)
Very nice fort to take a look at, especially with the guide. For other languages than English there is a translated copy. Entry costs 4€ and you can only pay by cash. Plan about 1 hour for the tour. You can only go there when the tides are low and there is a french flag visible.
Gleb (10 months ago)
Of all the islands around Saint-Malo this one gets accessible first at low tide. The guided visit of the fort costs 5 euros (end of August 2023). Two year ago they filmed here Three Mousqueteers.
Keith Allen (14 months ago)
The fort is only open from June till Sept. However still impressive and can be walked to at low tide.
Sasha (15 months ago)
It is a very interesting place for those who love history, an adventure for the little ones and the scenery is a dream
sergio (3 years ago)
Very nice castle on the bay. You can walking to the castle only when there is low tide. This is an ancient guard castle to defense the city from sea attack, so there are cannons inside. There is a large grass for resting, it's also beautiful for child who want to run. In the sunny days is a very spectacular place for taking pictures. It's important so pay attention at the tides, if you don't want wet your shoes..
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