Modlin Fortress
Modlin Fortress is one of the biggest 19th century fortresses in Poland. It is located the town of Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki
Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki
Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki is a town in central Poland with ca. 42500 inhabitants . It is situated in the Masovian Voivodeship ; previously, it was in Warszawa Voivodeship...

 in district Modlin
Modlin (village)
Modlin was a village near Warsaw in Poland near the banks of rivers Narew and Vistula. In 1961 it has been incorporated into the town of Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki.-See also:* Modlin Fortress* Battle of Modlin* Modlin Airport...

 on the Narew
The Narew River , in western Belarus and north-eastern Poland, is a left tributary of the Vistula river...

 river, some 50 kilometres north of Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

. It was renamed Novogeorgievsk (Новогеоргиевская крепость) after it was captured by the Russians in 1813.


Strategic importance of the area limited by the Vistula
The Vistula is the longest and the most important river in Poland, at 1,047 km in length. The watershed area of the Vistula is , of which lies within Poland ....

, Bug
Bug River
The Bug River is a left tributary of the Narew river flows from central Ukraine to the west, passing along the Ukraine-Polish and Polish-Belarusian border and into Poland, where it empties into the Narew river near Serock. The part between the lake and the Vistula River is sometimes referred to as...

, Wkra
Wkra is a river in north-eastern Poland, a tributary of the Narew river, with a length of 249 kilometres and the basin area of 5,322 km². .Towns and townships:* Bieżuń* Radzanów* Strzegowo* Glinojeck* Sochocin...

 and Narew
The Narew River , in western Belarus and north-eastern Poland, is a left tributary of the Vistula river...

 was known to various armies throughout the ages. However, it was not until 1656 that a permanent fortified position was built there by the Swedish armies during The Deluge
The Deluge (Polish history)
The term Deluge denotes a series of mid-17th century campaigns in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. In a wider sense it applies to the period between the Khmelnytsky Uprising of 1648 and the Truce of Andrusovo in 1667, thus comprising the Polish–Lithuanian theaters of the Russo-Polish and...

. The so-called Bugskansen was a star-shaped fortified military camp, located probably close to the confluence of the Narew
The Narew River , in western Belarus and north-eastern Poland, is a left tributary of the Vistula river...

 and the Vistula, at the so-called Swedish Island. The camp was also guarding a wooden bridge over the Vistula prior to the battle of Zakroczym and served as the main supply depot of the Swedish army during the battle of Warsaw
Battle of Warsaw (1656)
The Battle of Warsaw was a battle which took place near Warsaw on , between the armies of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth on the one hand and of Sweden and Brandenburg on the other. It was a major battle in the Second Northern War between Poland and Sweden in the period 1655–1660, also known as...

 of July of 1656. After the Swedish defeat the fort was demolished in 1660 and the area remained unfortified for roughly 150 years.

After the Partitions of Poland
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

 the area was incorporated into the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

. Shortly afterward Jan Pieter van Suchtelen
Jan Pieter van Suchtelen
Jan Pieter van Suchtelen, Count of Liikkala, Pyotr Kornilovich Suhtelen , was born in the Netherlands, and was a general in the Russian army during the Russo-Swedish War...

, a Dutch military engineer in Russian service prepared a construction plan for a mighty fortress in the area, named after the nearby town of Zakroczym
Zakroczym is a small town in the Masovian Voivodeship, Poland. It is located at around . The Vistula River flows through the town....

. The fort was to be a bastion
A bastion, or a bulwark, is a structure projecting outward from the main enclosure of a fortification, situated in both corners of a straight wall , facilitating active defence against assaulting troops...

 fortress, located approximately 1.5 km from the rivers and with several forts guarding the area from the west. However, the project was never accomplished as in 1806 the area became part of the Duchy of Warsaw
Duchy of Warsaw
The Duchy of Warsaw was a Polish state established by Napoleon I in 1807 from the Polish lands ceded by the Kingdom of Prussia under the terms of the Treaties of Tilsit. The duchy was held in personal union by one of Napoleon's allies, King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony...

, a rump Polish state created by and allied to Napoleon Bonaparte.

From the very beginning of French presence in Poland, Bonaparte's engineers started to fortify the border with Russia, expecting either a Russian offensive towards western Europe - or a future offensive of the French armies towards Petersburg and Moscow. In December 1806, while in Poznań
Poznań is a city on the Warta river in west-central Poland, with a population of 556,022 in June 2009. It is among the oldest cities in Poland, and was one of the most important centres in the early Polish state, whose first rulers were buried at Poznań's cathedral. It is sometimes claimed to be...

, Napoleon ordered a fort to be built on two islands located at the confluence of the Narew and the Vistula. The fortification was to be temporary and was to become primarily a supply depot and a huge granary, serving as a supply center for the forces operating in Poland or Russia. The construction started almost immediately, although Chief Engineer of the French forces Gen. François de Chasseloup-Laubat
François, marquis de Chasseloup-Laubat
François, marquis de Chasseloup-Laubat , French general and military engineer, was born at Saint-Sernin , of a noble family, and entered the French engineers in 1774....

 decided to build the fortress on the northern bank of the river rather than on the islands. The work started in early 1807, yet went on very slowly. It was not until the following year that the pace was speeded up and in 1809 the first casemates and walls were ready. It was there that the core of the Polish Army was stationed after the Battle of Raszyn
Battle of Raszyn (1809)
The first Battle of Raszyn was fought on April 19, 1809 between armies of the Austrian Empire and the Duchy of Warsaw as a part of the War of the Fifth Coalition in the Napoleonic Wars. The Austrian army was defeated....

 against the invading forces of Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

. Soon afterward the outer rim of defenses on the right bank of the Vistula was ready. It ran more or less along the inner line of modern fortifications. It consisted of a semi-circular earthwork reinforced with wooden stockade and five bastion
A bastion, or a bulwark, is a structure projecting outward from the main enclosure of a fortification, situated in both corners of a straight wall , facilitating active defence against assaulting troops...

s. In addition, the area was guarded by two fortified bridgehead
A bridgehead is a High Middle Ages military term, which antedating the invention of cannons was in the original meaning expressly a referent term to the military fortification that protects the end of a bridge...

s, one in Kazuń on the left bank of the Vistula and the other next to Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki.

In 1810 the very concept of the fort was changed and Napoleon decided to turn Modlin into a pivotal fortress in his line of fortifications and expand it significantly by adding an outer rim of defenses. General de Chasseloup-Laubat was replaced with a famous French engineer Jean Mallet de Granville (later a naturalized Pole under the name of Jan Malletski), aided by Gen. François Haxo. It is not certain whether the authors of the expansion were the two to supervise its construction, or Napoleon himself. The works continued on a very fast pace as Napoleon was planning his campaign in Russia and envisioned Modlin to become the main fortress behind his lines. By September 1811 more than 19,000 people were taking part in the works. Because of that the authorities of the Duchy of Warsaw were considering to grant Modlin with a city charter, which however did not succeed. Although the following year, shortly before the outbreak of the Franco-Russian War, the number of workers exceeded 20 thousands, the fortress was never fully completed.

The French plans included a fortified area composed of three, semi-independent fortifications. The main line of defenses was located on the right bank of Vistula and Narew, and was composed of a polygonal fort
Polygonal fort
A polygonal fort is a fortification in the style that evolved around the middle of the nineteenth century, in response to the development of powerful explosive shells....

ification with 4 bastion
A bastion, or a bulwark, is a structure projecting outward from the main enclosure of a fortification, situated in both corners of a straight wall , facilitating active defence against assaulting troops...

s and 3 linking ravelin
A ravelin is a triangular fortification or detached outwork, located in front of the innerworks of a fortress...

s (one facing the Utrata river, one facing the village of Modlin and one in the centre). The ravelins were between 800 and 1000 meters away from the main line of fortifications, in order to reinforce the defenses against new models of heavy artillery. The second part of the fortress was the Kazuń bridgehead on the left bank of the Vistula, composed of a single ravelin. The third was a redoubt
A redoubt is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, usually relying on earthworks, though others are constructed of stone or brick. It is meant to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line and can be a permanent structure or a...

 located between Vistula and Narew and the fourth was an artillery nest located on the Swedish Island. Among the engineers to supervise the construction were also Gen. Ignacy Prądzyński
Ignacy Pradzynski
Ignacy Prądzyński was a Polish military commander and a general of the Polish Army. A veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, he was one of the most successful Polish commanders of the November Uprising against Russia....

, Gen. Prevo-Vernois and Lt. Col. Filip Mięciszewski. After the defeat of the Grande Armée at Moscow, the fortress was taken over by the forces of the Duchy of Warsaw. On February 5, 1813 the Russian army of 36,000 soldiers arrived to the fortress and laid siege to it. The Polish forces under Dutch general Herman Willem Daendels
Herman Willem Daendels
Herman Willem Daendels was a Dutch politician who served as the 36th Governor General of the Dutch East Indies between 1808 and 1811....

 defended the fortress until December 1, 1813. It was the last of the French fortresses along the Vistula to capitulate.

Fortress in the Congress Poland

After 1815 the fortress found itself in Congress Poland
Congress Poland
The Kingdom of Poland , informally known as Congress Poland , created in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna, was a personal union of the Russian parcel of Poland with the Russian Empire...

, a state which was a part of the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, but had considerable autonomy and its own army. It was weakly manned by Polish and Russian units, but little new construction work was carried out. During the November Uprising
November Uprising
The November Uprising , Polish–Russian War 1830–31 also known as the Cadet Revolution, was an armed rebellion in the heartland of partitioned Poland against the Russian Empire. The uprising began on 29 November 1830 in Warsaw when the young Polish officers from the local Army of the Congress...

 of 1830 the fortress was prepared for defense by Polish units, but the Russian army did not storm it. It surrendered on October 9, 1831 as one of the last points controlled by Polish units during the uprising.

Russian Fortress Novogeorgievsk

After the uprising the Russian rule over Congress Poland became more severe. The Modlin fortress was renamed Novogeorgievsk in 1834 and during the years 1832-1841 underwent a huge expansion, to host garrison troops who were tasked with preventing another Polish uprising, as well as defense of Russia's western frontiers. It was part of the chain of fortresses which included Warsaw, Ivangorod
Dęblin is a town, population 19,500 , at the confluence of Vistula and Wieprz rivers, in Lublin Voivodeship, Poland. Dęblin is the part of the agglomeration with adjacent towns of Ryki and Puławy, which altogether has over 100 000 inhabitants....

, and Brest-Litovsk
Brest Fortress
Brest Fortress , formerly known as Brest-Litovsk Fortress , is a 19th century Russian fortress in Brest, Belarus. It is one of the most important Soviet World War II war monuments commemorating the Soviet resistance against the German invasion on June 22, 1941...

. The most notable new work built was a huge, 2200 m long fortified barracks building, which was to serve as the last line of defense for the fortress. For the next 40 years after 1841 construction work largely ceased, and the fortress gradually became obsolete.

When relations between Germany and Russia deteriorated in the 1880s, with Germany entering the Triple Alliance
Triple Alliance (1882)
The Triple Alliance was the military alliance between Germany, Austria–Hungary, and Italy, , that lasted from 1882 until the start of World War I in 1914...

 potentially aimed against Russia, the decision was made to expand the fortress and upgrade it to modern standards. In years 1883-1888 eight modern forts were added, each located from 2 to 4 km from the old fortress and forming a ring. In the following years these forts were modernized. At the same time, additional defensive works were built to integrate the fortress into the larger fortified region around Warsaw.

The defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War
Russo-Japanese War
The Russo-Japanese War was "the first great war of the 20th century." It grew out of rival imperial ambitions of the Russian Empire and Japanese Empire over Manchuria and Korea...

 caused a rethinking of Russian strategy. In particular the idea of concentrating forces in the interior away from the borders before hostilities began to gain popularity. This approach would eliminate the need for a chain of border fortresses to screen the mobilizing units. In 1909 when General Vladimir Sukhomlinov
Vladimir Sukhomlinov
Vladimir Aleksandrovich Sukhomlinov was a cavalry general of the Imperial Russian Army who served as the Chief of the General Staff in 1908–09 and the Minister of War until 1915, when he was ousted from office amid allegations of failure to provide necessary armaments and munitions.Vladimir...

 became the War Minister for the Russian Empire, one proposal he made was to scrap the bulk of the Russian fortress system, and Novogeorgievsk was a prime example of why they should be scrapped. The outer forts were built about eight kilometers from the citadel to protect it from artillery; by 1900, even field guns could fire past that distance.

Suhkomlinov was overruled. Instead of being razed, the fort system was slated for a 800 million ruble upgrade. A new belt of forts was to be added. The fortress was also to receive a large number of heavy artillery pieces. The intensive new construction work started in 1912 and continued almost until the German army approached the fortress in 1915 during World War I. The fortress was now designed to serve as a center of resistance deep behind enemy lines if the Russian army was forced to retreat from Poland. The works were carried out in great haste, not all equipment was fitted, and some construction materials were improvised and hence of lower quality. Even with these defects, the fortress with its 19 forts was one of the major fortifications in existence in Europe at the outbreak of World War I. The Russian high command expected that if surrounded by the German armies it would hold out for many months, serving as a major thorn in the German rear.

Capture by the Germans

In summer of 1915, the Russians were reeling from the German attacks in Poland. They were faced with the reality of giving up Poland to the Germans or have their forces cut off from retreat.

The problem of the retreat was the abandonment of the fortresses especially Novogeorgievsk. Novogeorgievsk was seen as the “symbol of Russian rule in Poland.” It would also mean the abandonment of Poland, which would compromise their ability to negotiate for more territory if the Allies won.

Mikhail Alekseyev, the commander of the Polish sector, knew that to garrison the forts was a trap and the impregnability was an illusion. However, he was swayed by men with of a higher social standing and left a garrison to defend Novogeorgievsk. The troops that he was able to spare were the remnants of the II. Siberian division, the 63rd division, and 58th division.

To capture Novogeorgievsk, the Germans transferred General Hans Beseler
Hans Hartwig von Beseler
Hans Hartwig von Beseler was a German Colonel General.- Biography :Beseler was born in Greifswald, Pomerania. His father, Georg Beseler, was a law professor at the University of Greifswald. He entered the Prussian Army in 1868, fought in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, and had a successful...

 who had successfully laid siege to the Belgium city of Antwerp early in the war. In a stroke of luck, his forces captured the chief engineer of Novogeorgievsk on the first day. The siege lasted only a matter of days. When it fell, the Germans captured 1,600 guns and close to a million shells.

Post World War I

After the First World War Modlin became part of Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 and was modernized with modern bunker
A military bunker is a hardened shelter, often buried partly or fully underground, designed to protect the inhabitants from falling bombs or other attacks...

s, anti-tank and anti-aircraft equipment. Its main purpose was to provide cover for Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

 from enemy attacks from the North. The fortress also housed several military barracks and military colleges for NCO
Non-commissioned officer
A non-commissioned officer , called a sub-officer in some countries, is a military officer who has not been given a commission...


Modlin fortress was the place of Battle of Modlin
Battle of Modlin
The Battle of Modlin took place during the German invasion of Poland at the beginning of the Second World War. Modlin Fortress was initially the headquarters of the Modlin Army until its retreat eastwards. From 13 September to 29 September in 1939 it served as a defensive citadel for Polish forces...

 during the Invasion of Poland
Invasion of Poland (1939)
The Invasion of Poland, also known as the September Campaign or 1939 Defensive War in Poland and the Poland Campaign in Germany, was an invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the start of World War II in Europe...

. It was one of the last Polish units to capitulate.

Present day

Some parts of the fortress are open to tourists. At the same time, the Polish military still has many facilities in the area and thus some forts are inaccessible. Some abandoned forts are not maintained and have deteriorated badly, with many metal elements pillaged for scrap. The Modlin airfield
Modlin Airport
Modlin Airport is a disused military airfield, currently being converted into a passenger airport for low-cost carriers serving the Warsaw, Poland market. The airport is scheduled to open for passenger service prior to UEFA Euro 2012. On 8 February 2010, the airport was registered officially as...

is located within the fortress area. It will soon be converted into a second civilian airport for the city of Warsaw.

External links

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