Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France


Avant poste du Col-des-Fourches
Avant poste du Col-des-Fourches – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France

The Col-des-Fourches outpost (French: Avant-Poste) was a small fortified position of the French Maginot’s Alpine Line, located at an altitude of 2,261 meters and on walking distance from the nearby military barracks of Camp des Fourches. The outpost was part of the fortified sector of the Dauphiné (SFD) and attached to the Restefond district in the Jausiers sub-sector. The mission of these fortifications was to control the Larche pass close to the border between Italy and France during World War Two.

Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches
Block 6 of Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches overlooking the Salso Moreno valley – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France

Construction

After multiple claims of Italian Fascist dictator Mussolini to annexe the French city of Nice as former Italian territory, the French decided in June 1930 to construct various outposts near the Italian border in the Southeast to secure the valley heads.

Avant-poste-du-Col-des-Fourches overview
Overview of Avant-poste-du-Col-des-Fourches seen from the path toward the Mont des Fourches blockhouse. Blocks 2 and 3 are situated behind the mountain slope on the right of the picture.

The Col-des-Fourches outpost was constructed between 1931 and 1939. Although the original plan estimated the work to be finished as soon as 1935, extra additions to the work, like Block 6 and its connection to the underground gallery, caused the building process to extend. Eventually the infantry structure consisted of an entrance block (B1), an infantry shelter (next to B1), three infantry blocks (B2, B3, B4) and two observatories (B5, B6). Near block 1 there was an open mortar position.
An autonomous block named “Ventabren Block” is situated higher to the North of Block 6.

The outpost’s perimeter was protected by a network of barbed wire. The remnants of this can still be seen today.

The First Battle of the Alps – 1940

Mussolini inspecting troops in Ethiopia
Mussolini inspecting troops in Ethiopia

During the Italian Invasion of France in June 1940, also known as the First Battle of the Alps, the Col-des-Fourches outpost was occupied by a crew of the French 73rd Alpine Fortress Battalion (BAF) consisting of two NCO’s and 21 soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Delécraz. These men were especially trained for the Alpine Line defenses.

On the 21st of June 1940 the outpost supported in containing Italian “Alpini” troops passing through the Pourriac Pass and the Pel Brun (alt. 2,795 m) with flanking machine gun fire. When the Italians resumed the attack through the Salso Moreno valley in the early morning of June 23rd under the cover of a thick fog, Block 2 supported again with machine gun fire. When the fog lifted later that morning, one of the observation posts registered that the valley had been invaded by the Italians and advanced just underneath the Col-des-Fourches.

Shortly after, the Italian Alpini Troops were engaged from multiple positions by machine gun fire and artillery from Block 6 of Ouvrage Restefond. The Italians retreated and tried to cover their withdrawal with artillery fire. After the firing stopped later in the afternoon, the soldiers of the Col-des-Fourches outpost discovered a number of Alpini troops waving white handkerchiefs for their surrender at the bottom of the valley.

The Second Battle of the Alps – 1944

In September 1944 the outpost was at the frontline of the fighting between the German retreating forces and the Allies. The Germans undertake multiple attacks on the outpost and especially on Block 6 and the nearby Ventabren block, but without success.

Entrance Block – B1

Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches
Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches Block 1 entrance and infantry shelter – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France

The entrance block is located a little further back from the ridge line and gives access to the underground galleries. The steel door could be defended by a machine gun from an embrasure. A concreted metro sheet infantry shelter is situated right from the entrance block door. There was also an open position for a mortar here.

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Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches inside Block 1 entrance looking at the machine gun embrasure – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France
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Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches access to underground galleries from Block 1- Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France
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A look inside the corrugated steel infantry shelter next to Block 1 of Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France

Infantry Block – B2

This infantry block (B2) overlooks the Salso Moreno valley. From here the frontal position could target the slopes of the valley with a Hotchkiss Mle 1914 machine gun. On the left side of the block there was another machine gun embrasure to cover it’s flank and that of Blocks 3 and 6.

Infantry Block – B3

Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches Block 2
Block 3 of Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France

Infantry block 3 also overlooks the Salso Moreno valley and has a frontal Hotchkiss machine gun position that could target the slopes of the valley.

Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches Block 2
Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches Block 3 MG embrasure for Hotchkiss gun – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France

Infantry Block – B4

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A view of Block 4 of Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France

Block 4 has an oddly shaped niche which was put there to enable it to optically communicate with the fort located on top of the Cime de Pelousette, Northwest from the outpost. Next to this it has two FM embrasures of which one facing in the direction of entrance block (B1) could cover the emergency exit at the back and a second to cover Observation Block 6.

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Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches Block 4 close up – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France
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Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches Block 4 FM embrasure – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France
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The emergency exit of Block 4 of Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France
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Looking up towards Block 4 with Observation Block 5 behind it at Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France

Observation Block – B5

Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches
Block 5 of Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France

This observation block has two metal slits in the top structure which can be closed from the inside by steel traps. One of these slits provides a view into the valley towards the Italian border and the other towards the other observation block (B6). On the side facing block 6 the casemate also has two FM embrasures for flanking fire. A third FM embrasure protects the emergency exit on the side facing the entrance block (B1).

Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches
Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches Block 5 observation slit close up – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France
Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches
Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches Block 5 emergency exit – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France
Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches block 5
Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches Block 5 observatory. In the background on the right Camp des Fourches is visible – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France

Observation Block – B6

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Observation Block 6 of Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France

Observation Block 6 has two FM slots of which one directly flanks the pass and the other covers the field between itself and blocks 2 and 3. The armored door of the block is quite large for an emergency exit, but this is because originally the block wasn’t connected to the underground galleries. This was altered in 1939.

Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches block 6
Close up of block 6 of Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France
Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches block 6
Observation Block 6 of Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches overlooking the valley – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France
Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches block 6 inside
A look inside Observation Block 6 of Avant-poste du Col-des-Fourches – Jausiers, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, France

Underground galleries

The blocks of the Col-des-Fourches outpost are all connected to the underground galleries by concrete wells with metal steps. The galleries gave room for simple sleeping quarters with wooden berths and shelves to store food and ammunition.

Visit

You can visit the Col-des-Fourches outpost along the Route de Nice. Park your car at the Camp des Fourches military barracks parking area and proceed towards the Col des Fourches on foot.


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