Gros ouvrage de Barbonnet - 2 blocs - Located 2 km SW of Sospel. Access from Sospel. Take the D2204 to Nice. At the Col St-Jean go right pass the holiday colonie. Currently owned by an association.
The original fort of Le Barbonnet stands on a mountain top overlooking Sospel.(2752 feet above sea level) It was built between 1883 and 1886 as part of the Séré de Rivières defences. The fort was renovated and rearmed in 1932 and in 1940 the Gros Ouvrage of Le Barbonnet was built at a slightly lower level alongside. The main fighting block (B2) is just below the ramparts of the original fort while the entrance, Block 1, is adjacent to the winding access road 80 feet below. The forts main claim to fame is the part it played in the Battle of the Alps in June 1940. It is still permanently occupied by the French army and there was a unit training during our visit. As a result we were not able to visit everywhere in the fort and photography was limited to exterior shots. The main armaments were 2 pairs of 155mm cannons mounted in hydraulically operated raising and rotating turrets known as 'Mougins'. They were installed in 1877 and weighed 150 tons each. Both turrets still remain in place although the guns from the southern Mougin have been removed. The northern turret, named 'Joan of Arc' is one of only two surviving complete examples in France. Between the two turrets there were 4 open emplacements but all the guns mounted in these have now been removed.
Having walked over the top of the fort to see the turrets and the emplacements we descended into the narrow parade ground where we could see troops in class rooms under instruction. There is a small private museum which includes an intact German V1 rocket. We were able to see inside 'Joan of Arc' which is on three levels with an ammunition lift to the magazine below. There is a short internal tramway linking to the forts northern caponier. All the machinery is in excellent condition and well maintained by the society who look after the fort. Having toured the old fort we drove down to the 1940 Gros ouvrage. Although only consisting of two blocks, B1 the entrance and B2 the fighting block below the ramparts of the 1886 fort, this ouvrage housed 304 troops. Unlike St. Agnes which is open to the public daily in the Summer, Le Barbonnet is not a museum, it is still owned by the army and maintained by a preservation society. It is not open to the public but occasional visits can be arranged for interested parties.
The entrance blockhouse is on a hairpin bend with little parking available. The layout is fairly standard with all the forts we saw, once inside the entrance there is a long corridor with the generator room on the left and the filter room on the right. There are two marine diesel generators, compressors, compressed air tanks and racks of electrical switch gear, all in good working order. Beyond these on the right of the main corridor is the caserne with another well equipped work shop, water tanks, washing area, telephone exchange, the artillery commanders room with a floor standing telephone switchboard, situation boards and two telephone booths, infirmary, dormitories etc.
At the end of the corridor stairs lead up to block 2 which has two upper levels. The lift was still in place but not working so we had to leg it 80' up the stairs. The lower level houses two 81mm mortars. The mortars are fixed at 45 degrees as they are shooting out of the fosse, but they can be moved from side to side. On the upper level there are two 75mm canons, one original and the other a recent replacement obtained from another fort.
With the lack of manikins and interpretation boards found in many museums and a low lighting level using all the original electrical fittings Le Barbonnet gives a real flavour of what the fort must have been like when it was fully operational.