The Fort des Ayvelles, also known as the Fort Dubois-Crancé, is a fortification near the French communes of Villers-Semeuse and Les Ayvelles in the Ardennes, just to the south of Charleville-Mézières. As part of the Séré de Rivières system of fortifications, the fort was planned as part of a new ring of forts replacing the older citadel of Mézières with dispersed fortifications. With advances in the range and destructive power of artillery, the city's defensive perimeter had to be pushed away from the city center to the limits of artillery range. The Fort des Ayvelles was the only such fortification to be completed of the ensemble, as resources were diverted elsewhere. At the time of its construction the fort controlled the Meuse and the railway line linking Reims, Montmédy, Givet and Hirson. The Fort des Ayvelles was reduced in status in 1899, its masonry construction rendered obsolete by the advent of high-explosive artillery shells. However, it was re-manned for the First World War before it was captured by the Germans on 29 August 1914. The fort was partly destroyed in 1918. During the Battle of France in 1940 the fort was bombarded. French resisters were executed at Ayvelles during both world wars. At present the fort is maintained by a preservation society, and may be visited.
Built starting in 1876 under the direction of Captain Léon Boulenger, the fort was completed in 1878. The fort's four 250-metre faces form a square perimeter, surrounded by a ditch 10 metres wide and 8 metres deep. The fort features particularly elaborate double caponiers to protect the outer wall and ditch on opposite corners, as well as 7-metre counterscarps. The caponiers were provided with unique projecting watch-stations, or échauguettes. The fort and a subsidiary battery featured Mougin casemates, each armed with a single de Bange Model 1877 155mm gun. The fort possessed 53 artillery pieces in 1899, manned by 880 men, and disposed in two-level casemates on a north-south line. The battery is about 600 metres to the east, connected to the main fort by a covered causeway. The caponiers were damaged by both world wars and by the French military in explosives tests in 1960 in preparation for demolition of the urban fortifications of Charleville Mézières. The Mougin gun was removed at about this time, but the casemate remains.
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