to: Phase 4 - The Battle of the Flanks - the Right Bank of the Meuse
The explosion in fort Douaumont
Monday - 8 May 4:00 a.m. Suddenly there is panic in fort Douaumont. Men cry out 'the blacks are coming'. (Note: with 'the blacks', the feared French colonial troops are meant. They were notorious for the fact that they took no prisoners).
Shortly after, there are three explosions creating an enormous shock wave that rages through the fort, much stronger than there would have been in the case of a direct hit. Within the fort a smoke screen of suffocating gas is put up. The shock wave results in many dead bodies. The dead bodies are literally thrown into all corners in piles of three or four bodies at a time; hundreds of Germans die of suffocation.
In a huge effort only a hundred Germans are saved. The number of deaths is estimated between 700 and 800. Most bodies cannot be identified any more. A doctor present at the scene reconstructs the drama: a direct hit reached the flame-thrower oil depot. The oil caught fire due to some small cooking fires of the Germans troops. This started the fire and consequently a very severe cloud of soot and smoke. Everyone is covered with soot and this explains the fear of 'the blacks'. In this state of alarm hand grenades were thrown at the alleged intruders. These grenades caused the ammunition depots containing grenades and poisonous gas to explode. (Source: Werth, p. 224-229).
The bodies cannot be buried due to firing and are therefore piled up in an empty ammunition depot: bodies – chlorinated lime – bodies. The ammunition depot is quickly sealed up and, to this day, remains within the fort. Incidentally, the French never found out about this catastrophe.