The photo is a 13 x 18 cm gelatin silver print, dated March 21, 1916 and taken at an altitude of 2000m. Fort Saint-Michel is in the upper right corner. The battle of Verdun had started exactly one month earlier on February 21, 1916. The great destruction, as can be seen on later aerial photos, is missing from this photo and the fort is still intact.
The photo was taken by an airplane of the French Escadrille M.F. 63. This unit was founded on August 24, 1915 and was allocated to the fortified city of Verdun from October 1915. From March 2, 1916 it was stationed in Souilly, southwest of Verdun. The Escadrille flew the Farman MF 11bis at the time of the photo.
Fort-Saint Michel is part of the ring of fortresses around Verdun and located northeast of the city. The fort was built between 1875 and 1877 as one of six "redoutes de la panique", forts built in haste as relations between Germany and France deteriorated. The compact fort has the shape of an irregular pentagon and could accommodate 23 guns and a garrison of 160 men.
The fort is built entirely of stone and masonry and wasn't modernized after completion. It was therefore already obsolete at the time of the Battle of Verdun and vulnerable to modern artillery. The fort played no significant role during the battle as the German advance was halted at Fort Souville. As a result, a direct attack on Fort Saint-Michel didn't take place. However, the fort was heavily bombarded during the battle. On May 8, 1916, a German shell destroyed the right double caponier. On June 22 and 23, the bombing raids were significantly intensified when the German army launched a major offensive.
Today, the fort is in quite good condition. It's still military territory and access to the fort is prohibited.
- Escadrille M.F. 63 on Les Escadrilles Françaises de 1 à 600
- Verdun, Les forts de la Victoire, Guy Le Hallé, 1998
- Index de la Fortification Française 1874-1914, 2008