Fort de Saint-Héribert
1. Historical site
The outcome of the French-Prussian war of 1870 caused serious revenge feelings between two old opponents. King Léopold II ordered General Brialmont to fortify the cities of Liège and Namur to prepare against a possible attempt to pass through our country coming from the south or from the east.
Due to this situation the fortified positions of Liège and Namur came into existence between 1880 and 1890. A circle of nine forts with a radius of average 6 Km was built around Namur.
Saint-Héribert, one of the largest together with the forts of Andoy, Cognelée and Suarlée, were mainly built in the region of Wépion. This point was the highest of the Fortified Position of Namur (Position Fortifiée de Namur : PFN) with a height of 245 m.
At the moment of the installation, the forts were the best of their period and the armament offered a interesting fire power.
The concrete and the armour could resist the artillery of that period and the armament was in the same way. The artillery was centralised in the centre of the fort, the central massif, and it consisted of 2 howitzers of 210 (1), 2 guns of 150 and 4 guns of 120, all in copulas. Next to these there were 4 guns of 57 in turrets. The entrance and the defence of the dry moat was defended by 9 guns of 57 in casemates.
During the tumultuous month of August 1914 they discovered quickly the vulnerable character of our fortifications compared with the advance of the enemy on artillery.
The intensive bombardment of 24 August on the central massif and the right part of the dry moat at the entrance were fatal for the fort Saint-Héribert which had only fired a few spread shots during the eve.
A projectile fell between the pre-armour and the armour of a 21 cm turret (2) and killed several men (3) (where under Captain L’Entrée, history of the fort of Saint-Héribert, page 13). A wounded prisoner, Sdt Mahy of the 13th Line Infantry Regiment died the next morning. He lived in Saint-Aubain.
In the thirties, Saint-Héribert was one of the seven forts of the PFN which was rearmed. The renovation were done in the framework of the modernisation of the actual installations.
A basement that was called « quadrilatère » was dug with galleries and rooms under the central massif. The existing galleries were reinforced whereby the height and the width of the galleries were decreased, but they could resist bombs of 500 Kg and shells of 220 mm.
Power supplies delivered electricity everywhere and a ventilation was built with an air inlet on the central massif. Communications with outside by phone and radio were improved, and modern toilet groups were built. Gas locks were constructed in the framework of gas assaults.
In regards of the armament, they used a standard form of calibres. The 57 mm guns were replaced by 75 mm guns and both 150 mm guns were replaced by 75 mm GP guns (4). Both 120 mm guns and the nine 57 mm guns of the defence of the dry moat were replaced by machine guns (7.65 mm) (5) . The howitzers of 210 disappeared and the shafts were closed.
When the German invasion started on 10 May 1940, our soldiers had fully confidence in the structures that protected them.
Saint-Héribert and its neighbour Malonne were going to be seriously damaged between 18 and 21 May 1940. Infantry assaults, artillery bombardments and air raids reduced the resistance of the two forts which surrendered on the same day. The garrisons left as prisoners of war.
Capitaine-Commandant Edgard Demaret and Capitaine Léon L’Entrée who were the commanders of the forts of Malonne and Saint-Héribert, were allowed to keep their weapons as recognition of the heroic resistance of the forts.
One case has to be mentioned during the campaign of 1940, it happened on the 15th or the 16th of May. Soldier Charles (or Robert) Radu from Salzinnes of the class of 1940 was drowned accidentally. He was born on the 5th of June 1920 and he was part of the 2e Régiment de Forteresse de Namur (2/RFN).
Soldier Georges Scailteur, born in Gérin on 28 September 1913 who belonged to the garrison of the fort of Saint-Héribert has also died. He passed away in Paris on the 22nd of May from his injuries of a traffic accident between Albert and Paris three days earlier.
The fort was shredded by the occupier and it offered a poor view for the members of the association « Fraternelle de Défenseurs du Fort de Saint-Héribert » who returned to the fort until the sixties when the Ministry of Defence has sold the fort to a private person. The fort was covered with earth and forgotten. There were a few projects but none of them saw daylight.
To remember the events and the men who fought during the last wars a monument was erected on 31 May 1981 not far from the fort at the crossing of the Route de Saint-Gérard (N951) and the Rue du Ry de Flandre.
The next text is mentioned on the monument :
RFN / EN SOUVENIR / DES DEFENSEURS / DU FORT / DE / SAINT-HERIBERT / 1914 1940
(1) 210, 150, 120, 57 are the calibres of pieces of artillery, howitzers and guns. It refers to the diameter of the barrels in millimetres. It’s also the calibre of the shells used for these guns.
(2) A turret of 21 cm or 210 mm, contains one piece of that calibre.
(3) This number has been published in an article at page 4R in La Meuse-La Laterne of Thursday 3 June 1981. It can be rather accurate because a turret for 21 cm howitzers was equipped by 20 to 25 men. But it’s also possible that the author mixed up the number of victims with the calibre of the gun : 21 cm.
(4) Idem note 1. A barrel with a calibre of 75 mm. GP means « long range », with a range of 15 Km.
(5) 7.65 is a calibre of rifles and machine guns, bullets with a diameter of 7.65 mm.
2. The chronology of a rebirth
When Mr Emile Legros bought the domain in April 2013, it was for clearing the trees for heating!
He was of course aware that a fort existed in this region, but he had absolutely no idea what was under his feet. Nothing was visible at that time. Everything was covered with a thick layer of earth and rubbish from the last decades. The vegetation had retaken its rights and the forest seemed to be the same as every other forest. It was impossible to imagine that a huge lump of concrete was just laying a couple of meters deeper.
Even the most optimistic and passionate people couldn’t think to see the fort reappearing from out of the earth, but still…
Mr Legros and his family became passionate for the site and the history restarted…
Picture. Photo taken on 25 March 2013. The kick-off of the excavation of the infantry block, entirely covered with earth.
With their available resources, financial and human, the association has set several targets like the excavation of the entrances and openings, repairs respecting the military architecture, the sanitation of the cleared and accessible rooms, the safeguard of the visiting routes and the general decoration of the environment.
This is the continuation of the excavation of the « tambour ». This is the backside of the entrance gate that gives out in the dry moat. A visit is foreseen from 2017 on because we have to clean, sort out and safeguard the place. Passage is forbidden at this moment.
The reconstruction of a barracks identical to the directives of a town planner.
5. The volunteers
In the name of all the members of the private association « Emile Legros », I want to show our gratitude to all the volunteers of the fort who spent all their time and efforts to help us.
It’s with pleasure that we notice their diligence and generosity. Thanks to all to spend a part of your free time for us.
Guided tours in English are available only on reservation and if the guides are available: firstname.lastname@example.org