This location at an altitude of 2,291 meters was already used in the late 19th century as a bivouac by the French Alpine army. From 1896 the army establishes a permanent mountain barracks named Camp des Fourches or Caserne des Fourches. The camp welcomes Alpine Troops on manoeuvres, mainly during the summer season. An esplanade located south of the chalets made it possible to set up marabout tents. During the winter, access is made impossible by snow.
In the 1930s, the construction of works for the Alpine Line, an extension of the new fortified Maginot Line, made it necessary to modernize Camp des Fourches in order to improve its habitability, especially in the cold season. From September 1st, 1932, a permanent detachment of 80 men was set up for the winter. During heavy snowfall plank galleries between the chalets made it possible to move through the camp.
The central position of the barracks in the high valley of the Tinée, only a few kilometers from the border with Italy, makes it an ideal fall-out base for the Alpine defense troops. Several works in the area safeguard its position, like GO Restefond to the West, AP des Fourches on the Col des Fourches to the East and the Blockhouse des Fourches to the Southeast. Ouvrage des Granges Communes controlled the access road ascending from the hamlet of Bousiéyas towards the Fourches.
Construction & lay-out
The largest building activity on this location happened between 1895 and 1906, although after this period the site continues to be improved until the outbreak of World War Two. In the 1930s some modernisations are added like a power generator (1933) for the camp’s lighting, telecommunications installation and a sanitary building (1935).
Camp des Fourches consists of 26 buildings, of which 20 are chalet like barracks that could accommodate four companies of 150 men. Further more the camp had kitchens, a bread oven, sanitary facilities, storage facilities, stables and an officers mess. A cable car (téléphérique) constructed in the 1930s connected the barracks to the Hamlet du Pra for transporting supplies and evacuate wounded. Unfortunately the cable car building was demolished in 2005 to make room for a wider road.
An information sign at the location gives a good overview of the camp lay-out right before WW2 and what the buildings were used for:
The translation of the legenda above: (1) Oven and bakery, (2) Troop kitchen and food storage, (3) Command post and officers mess, (4) Officers barracks, (5) Latrines, (6) Troops barracks, (7) Mess and kitchen for NCO’s, (8) Officers kitchen, (9) Civilian guard house and cellar, (10) Storage, (11) Canteen, (12) Engineering storage, (13) Storage and generator, (14) NCO barracks, (15) Laundry, showers and sinks, (16) Alpine troop foyer, (17) Infirmary, (18) Stables, (19) Cable car station.
World War Two
In both June 1940, during the Italian Invasion of France and the Liberation of France in September 1944, the outposts (avant postes) at Col-des-Fourches ware attacked. While Camp des Fourches was located in the near vicinity of the Col-des-Fourches, often at the epicenter of the battle, the camp itself wasn’t really affected by these events. The only known attack on the camp was in the afternoon of September 7th 1944, when the camp itself was targeted by German artillery, without any known consequences.
Camp des Fourches today
At the end of the war the camp lost its purpose and from the 1950s it is abandoned and left to its fate. Although there are plans to preserve and possibly restore parts of the site in 1988, it takes until 2015 before restoration work actually begins at Camp des Fourches. The command post is sealed to preserve the mural paintings and the bat population on the second floor. The work on the other structures is done between 2016 and 2018 during the summer months.
Today the site is a monument dedicated to the French Alpine Troops.
Underneath here are some pictures of some of the buildings.
This kitchen was very small and cramped. The men could get their meals in a bowl and eat it in their own barracks.
Command Post and Officers Mess
This building housed the detachment office and the dining room of the officers on the ground floor. These officers enjoyed a certain comfort here. The walls were decorated with fresco’s, some of with have been preserved. On the first floor there was a lookout post which made it possible to communicate in Morse alphabet, by light signals, with the forts in the sector and the troops on manoeuvres.
The camp has separate barracks or chalet buildings for troops, NCO’s, officers and civilian personnel at Camp des Fourches. Although these chalet buildings look alike, there were from different construction periods.
Each barracks had two connecting rooms, which could accommodate 20 soldiers. The layout of the interior of each barracks is basic but functional, enough to keep the troops out of the cold. The floor is made of concrete, wooden beds, luggage boards and rifle racks line the walls and a stove for heating.
You can visit Camp des Fourches along the Route de Nice. The site is publicly accessible and has lots of information signs telling about the propose of the buildings and life of the Alpine Soldier in the Camp and the Alps. The only down side for visitors who can’t read French is that these signs are all in this language, although the beautiful illustrations make up a lot for that.