In the 1870s, in a meeting of the Secret Council and tsar Alexander II, a decision was made to reinforce the western border of the Russian Empire with a system of fortresses. As soon as the next decade, the construction of two rings of forts around Warsaw began. They were centered around the already existing Alexander Citadel and its seven forts. Fort VIII constitutes part of the outer ring of the fortification system. It is located on the peak of a hill between Skarpa Ursynowska (Ursynów Slope) and the bed of Potok Służewiecki (Służew Stream). At this point the route leading from Warsaw to Góra Kalwaria branched towards Piaseczno and Jeziorna. The fort was constructed according to guidelines set out by the Ministry of War and included in design F1879 prepared by Chief Engineering Executive Council. It was a model design for this type of structures. Construction commenced in 1883 and was completed in 1890.
The fort was based on a pentagram shape and had two faces (the main part of fortifications facing the forefield), two flanks (side section of the fortifications) and a neck (back section of a fort which contained the gate). The structure was surrounded by a ditch with a 100 m gently sloped rampart in front of it. This formation was supposed to partially cover the fortifications and make them appear lower than they really were. Originally, the fort incorporated two ramparts, whose structure consisted of brickwork covered with a layer of earth. The first, lower, rampart was intended for infantry and was built as a closed pentagonal shape. Behind it, a second, higher rampart was constructed for artillery; it ran along both faces and flanks. However, during the construction, the adopted solution proved to be obsolete; the fortifications were too high, which made a potential bombardment easier. The fort also housed protected artillery structures called caponiers. These included a front caponier (located at the meeting point of two face sides), two side caponiers (on either flank) and a neck caponier (defending the gate and the route to it). The back area also housed barracks with an unusual shape for this type of structure, as it formed an acute angle.
Shortly after completion the fort underwent modernisation – as did all the Warsaw Fortress forts – and was turned into a single rampart structure. Brick floors were reinforced with concrete, and the brick front caponier was replaced with a concrete one located in front of the rampart to more effectively defend the forefield. It was connected to the fort with an underground passage running under the ditch. Other brick caponiers were also replaced with concrete ones. The fort’s back defences were also reinforced by erecting a concrete work called a traditor used for side fire.
In 1909 it was decided that Warsaw Fortress was to be decommissioned. The garrisoned troops and mobile property left the fort in the middle of 1910. However, it wasn’t until 1913 that its concrete elements were destroyed.
The fort did not play a significant role during the September Campaign. After the fort area was claimed by the German army, four stables were built inside, as well as support facilities in front of the fort’s neck. After World War II the area was managed by the Polish Army until 1990. In the 1970s, the stables were demolished and a residential complex for the Polish Army officers erected in their place. At the beginning of the eighth decade of the XXth century, a concrete-reinforced trench was dug towards the city.
Some elements of the fort still remain: the ditch, the barracks, as well as some remnants of the flank caponiers, the face caponier and the traditor foundations.
Author Michał Paczkowski
MA in archeology
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