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BELFRY

Franco-German War. Even before the investment Belfort was cut off from the interior of France, and the German corps of von Werder was, throughout the siege, between the fortress and the forces which might attempt its relief. The siege corps was commanded by General von Tresckow and numbered at first 10,000 men with twenty-four field guns—a force which appeared adequate for the reduction of the antiquated works of Vaubau. Colonel Denfert-Rochereau was, however, a scientific engineer of advanced ideas as well as a veteran soldier of the Crimea and Algeria, and he had been stationed at Belfort for six years. He was therefore eminently fitted for the command of the fortress. He had as a nucleus but few regular troops, but the energy of the military and civil authorities enabled his force to be augmented by national guards, &c., to 17,600 men. The artillery was very numerous, but skilled gunners were not available in any great strength and ammunition was scarce. Perhaps the most favourable circumstance from a technical point of view was the bomb-proof accommodation of the enceinte.


1911 Britannica - Siege of Belfort.png


The old fortress consisted of the town enceinte, the castle (situated on high ground and fortified by several concentric envelopes), and the entrenched camp, a hollow enclosed by continuous lines, the salients of which were the castle, Fort La Justice and Fort La Miotte. These were planned in the days of short-range guns, and were therefore in 1870 open to an overwhelming bombardment by the rifled cannon of the attack. Denfert-Rochereau, however, understood better than other engineers of the day the power of modern artillery, and his plan was to utilize the old works as a keep and an artillery position. The Perches ridge, whence the town and suburbs could be bombarded, he fortified with all possible speed. On the right bank of the Savoureuse he constructed two new forts, Bellevue in the south-west and Des Barres to the west, and, further, he prepared the suburb on this side for a hand-to-hand defence. His general plan was to maintain as advanced a line as possible, to manoeuvre against the investing troops, and to support his own by the long range fire of his rifled guns. With this object he fortified the outlying villages, and when the Germans (chiefly Landwehr) began the investment on the 3rd of November 1870, they encountered everywhere a most strenuous resistance. Throughout the month the garrison made repeated sorties, and the Germans were on several occasions forced by the long range fire of the fortress to evacuate villages which they had taken. Under these circumstances, and also because of their numerical weakness and the rigour of the weather, the Germans advanced but slowly. On the 2nd of December, when at last von Tresckow broke ground for the construction of his batteries, the French still held Danjoutin, Bosmont, Pérouse and the adjacent woods, and, to the northward (on this side the siege was not pressed) La Forge. Thus the first attack of the siege artillery was confined to the western side of the river between Essert and Bavillers. From this position the bombardment opened on the 3rd of December. Some damage was done to the houses of Belfort, but the garrison was not intimidated, and their artillery replied with such spirit that after some days the German commander gave up the bombardment. On this occasion the distant forts La Miotte and La Justice fired with effect at a range of 4700 yds., affording a conspicuous illustration of the changed conditions of siege-craft. The German batteries, as more guns arrived, were extended from left to right, and on the 13th of December the Bosmont was captured, ground being also gained in front of Bellevue. The difficulties under which the siege corps laboured were very great, and it was not until the 7th of January 1871 that the rightmost battery opened fire. The formal siege of the Perches redoubts had now been decided upon, and as an essential preliminary to further operations, Danjoutin, now isolated, was stormed by the Landwehr on the night of the 7th-8th January. In the meanwhile typhus and smallpox had broken out amongst the French, many of the national guards were impatient of control, and the German trenches, in spite of difficulties of ground and weather, made steady progress towards the Perches. A week after the fall of Danjoutin the victory of von Werder and the XIV. army corps at the Lisaine, in which a part of the siege corps bore a share, put an end to the attempt to relieve Belfort, and the siege corps was promptly increased to a strength of 17,600 infantry, 4700 artillery and 1100 engineers, with thirty-four field-guns besides the guns and howitzers of the siege train. The investment was now more strictly maintained even on the north side. On the night of the 20th of January the French lines about Pérouse were carried by assault, and, both flanks being now cleared, the formal siege of the Perches forts was opened, the first parallel extending from Danjoutin to Haut Taillis. In the early morning of the 27th a determined but premature attempt was made to storm the Perches redoubts, which cost the besiegers nearly 500 men. After this failure Tresckow once more resorted to the regular method of siege approaches, and on the 2nd of February the second parallel was thrown up. La Justice was now bombarded by two new batteries near Pérouse, the Perches were of course subjected to an “artillery attack,” and henceforward the besiegers fired 1500 shells a day into the works of the French. But the besiegers were still weak in numbers and their labours were very exhausting. Bellevue and Des Barres became very active in hindering the advance of the siege works, and the German battalions were so far depleted by losses and sickness that they could often muster but 300 men for duty. Still, the guns of the attack were now steadily gaining the upper hand, and at last on the 8th of February the Germans entered the two Perches redoubts. This success, and the arrival of German reinforcements, decided the siege. The Perches ridge was crowned with a parallel and numerous batteries, which in the end mounted ninety-seven guns. The attack on the castle now opened, but operations were soon afterwards suspended by the news that Belfort was now included in the general armistice (February 15th). A little later Denfert-Rochereau received a direct order from his own government to surrender the fortress, and the garrison, being granted free withdrawal, marched out with its arms and trains. “The town had suffered terribly ... nearly all the buildings were damaged ... the guns in the upper batteries could only be reached by ladders. The garrison, of its original strength of 17,700 officers and men, had lost 4750, besides 336 citizens. The place was no longer tenable” (Moltke, Franco-German War). Nevertheless, “the defence was by no means at its last stage” at the time of the formal surrender (British Text-Book of Fortification, 1893). The total loss of the besiegers was about 2000 men.

See J. Liblin, Belfort et son territoire (Mülhausen, 1887).

BELFRY (Mid. Eng. berfrey, through Med. Lat. berefredus, from Teut. bergfrid or bercvrit, which, according to the New Eng. Dict., is a combination of bergen, to protect, and frida, safety or peace; the word thus meaning a shelter; the change from r to l,—cf. almery for armarium,—wrongly associated the origin of the word with “bell,” and aided the restriction in meaning), a word in medieval siege-craft for a movable