Kaunas Fortress

Kaunas Fortress


The Ninth Fort, begun in 1903, was the first of its kind in the Empire. The structure was a trapezoid, encompassing one infantry rampart, and was equipped with two armored watchtowers, electricity, and ventilation. The walls of its cannon casemates were covered with cork to reduce firing noise. The cost of this single fort was 850,000 rubles. Gamma-Gerät howitzer (Big Bertha). The howitzer's shell weighed about 1 ton with a range of convert|14|km|mi|abbr=on. [Harvnb|Orlov|2007|p=138] Several days into the siege more guns of various calibers were deployed.

The German army concentrated its attack on the First, Second and Third Forts, which were the complex's oldest structures. The army did not surround the entire fortress, and its defense was able to regroup and resupply. On August 8, the Germans intensified their bombardment, but the fortress garrison withstood several attempts to breach the defensive perimeter. Several days afterward, the bombardment of the fortress reached its peak; its defenders sustained heavy casualty rates of 50% to 75%. On August 14, over 1,000 defending troops were killed, but the Germans were unable to completely overcome the fortress' defenses. However, on the next day, Gamma-Gerät shells destroyed the First Fort and the Germans transferred their attentions to the Second Fort. The fight was now within the confines of the greater fortress complex.

At the cost of many casualties, the Third Fort's defenders delayed the advance of the Germans, but were forced to evacuate and retreat later the same day. The next day the Fourth Fort was abandoned and the Fifth Fort was conquered soon afterwards. In a chain reaction, the other forts began capitulating. Commander Grigoriev abandoned his post and escaped to Žiežmariai. When the Germans crossed the Nemunas river they captured the Sixth and Seventh Forts. The remaining two forts were captured soon afterwards. After eleven days of fighting, the fortress had been taken.The defensive forces sustained 20,000 casualties, and about 1,300 [Harvnb|Cornish|2001|p=7 ] weapons were captured by the Germans. Grigoriev was arrested by Russian authorities, tried, and sentenced to fifteen years in prison for failure to properly perform his duties. He also suffered the revocation of all his awards, military degrees, and honors. The Germans used materials from the fortress elsewhere during their war against Russia.

Researchers have identified factors contributing to the relatively rapid fall of the fortress. It had not been completely renovated; its defenders were inexperienced;Harvnb|Pociūnas|2008|p=121] the crew had been frequently rotated, and had not been able to familiarize themselves with the surrounding area and with the fortress. Although most of their experience lay in the defense of the fortress' interior, they were dispatched to fight on open ground. When the combat moved outside the fortress, communication lines were disrupted by the German bombardment, and the fortress defense was unable to restore complete communication with the command center or with other forts. The absence of external support was a crucial factor in its fall.


Lithuania regained its independence on February 16, 1918 and the old fortress was placed under engineering staff supervision. Those materials that had not been taken by the Germans were used to resupply Lithuanian military needs, and for the construction of the armored train "Gediminas", named after the 14th century Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas. In 1920, the Kaunas Fortress Board was formed and charged with the task of administering the fortress. Due to the development of new military technologies, its reconstruction was seen as a vast and inappropriate expense. The fortress' armament was dismantled and the trenches were filled with scrap iron.citation|title=Brief Historical Overview of Kaunas Fortress|url=http://www.fortresses.eu/en/f_kaunas_i.html|publisher=INTERREG-project BFR|accessdate=2008-05-23]

Sections of the fortress were given to various civil institutions, while the army occupied the barracks of the former 28th Division. The Sixth and Ninth forts were used as prisons and the Central Archive was located in the Seventh Fort; the Republic's official radio station was based in the fortress; a gas chamber was installed in the gunpowder depot of the First Fort and used to execute condemned prisoners. Some sections were used as housing for the poor. As the city of Kaunas expanded near the complex, its roads became public streets. The structures and layouts of the new sections were influenced by the presence of the fortress. [lt icon citation| title=Kauno tvirtovė 2007 01 08|publisher= Nijolė Steponaitytė|url=http://www.kamane.lt/lt/atgarsiai/architektura/architekatgarsis110|accessdate= 2008-05-20]

World War II

Adjustments to the secret protocols of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact assigned Lithuania to the Soviet sphere of influence, and it was occupied by the USSR in June 1940. [Harvnb|Anušauskas|2007|p=61] The fortress was then used to conduct interrogations and house political prisoners. The pact was broken when Germany invaded Russia on June 22, 1941. Nazi forces entered Kaunas on June 24. The Sixth Fort became a POW camp for Red Army soldiers.lt icon citation|title=Kauno tvirtovė|publisher=Tvirtovių istorijos centras|url=http://www.fortresses.eu/lt/f_kaunas_i.html| accessdate= 2008-05-20] Kaunas's Jewish population numbered between 35,000 and 40,000; few would survive the Holocaust in Lithuania. [cite web|title=Holocaust Encyclopedia - Kovno|publisher=United States Holocaust Museum|url=http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005174|date=2008-05-20|accessdate=2008-09-29] The Nazis, aided by Lithuanian auxiliaries, began massacring the Jewish population. On July 6, acting under orders of the SS, Lithuanian auxiliary police units shot nearly 3,000 Jews at the Seventh Fort. [Harvnb|Gitelman|1997|p=208] On August 18, in what came to be known as the "intellectuals action", over 1,800 Jews were shot at the Fourth Fort. On October 28, the "Great Action" took place—the residents of the Kaunas Ghetto were summoned, and over 9,000 men, women and children were taken to the Ninth Fort and executed. During the later course of the occupation, over 5,000 Jewish deportees from Central Europe would be executed at this fort. About 60 escaped in December 1943; they had been assigned to excavate and burn the bodies of earlier victims, as part of Aktion 1005. Thirteen of these escapees were able to document the Aktion's attempt to hide the evidence of the mass murders.

When Germany began losing the war and the battlefront approached Lithuania, the German defense began attempts to prepare a defensive in Kaunas, including the use of the fortress. The Nemunas River was labelled "the line of catastrophe", and Adolf Hitler called for its defense at any price. On August 1, 1944 Kaunas was captured by the Red Army. The remaining fortress structures were used for military needs and several of the original structures were demolished or redeveloped.

The number of deaths at the fortress during World War II vary by source; the United States Holocaust Museum gives detailed descriptions of the deaths of about 18,500 Holocaust victims. Other sources mention 30,000 Jewish deaths,citation|title=Kaunas' Ninth Fort Museum|url=http://muziejai.mch.mii.lt/Kaunas/forto_muziejus.en.htm|publisher=Museums of Lithuania|date=2006-12-19|accessdate=2008-05-23] , with total number 50,000.


Lithuania remained a Soviet Socialist Republic until 1990. In 1948, the headquarters of the 7th Guard paratrooper unit was established in the fortress' commandant's headquarters. The barracks were used by the 108th paratroopers regiment and the Fifth Fort served the air defense regiment. Most of the forts, however, served as depots or housed farming organizations. During the postwar expansion and development of the city, parts of the fortress were dismantled; as part of the construction of Kaunas Polytechnic Institute the ground-level entrenchments of one defensive sector were destroyed.

In 1958, the Ninth Fort was dedicated as a museum. lt icon citation| title=Kauno IX forto muziejus|url=http://www.muziejai.lt/Kaunas/forto_muziejus.htm#Naujienos|publisher=Lietuvos muziejai|date=2008|accessdate= 2008-05-15.] During 1959, its first exhibition was opened, memorializing the crimes that had taken place there. The museum later expanded its scope to cover the fortress' entire history. A convert|32|m|ft|abbr=on|adj=on tall memorial to the victims was constructed there in 1984. However, the Soviet military occupied most of the fortress until Lithuania re-established its independence. After the withdrawal of Soviet forces, completed in 1993, Lithuanian military bases were established at several forts. [Harvnb|Frucht|2005|p=201] As of early 2007, only the Ninth Fort had been completely renovated. It is now devoted to the Holocaust and Lithuania's occupations by the Nazis and the Soviets. The museum, which holds over 65,000 artefacts, is sponsored by the Lithuanian Ministry of Culturecite web|title=Country Report on Holocaust Education in Task Force Member Countries - Lithuania - 2006|publisher=The Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research|url=http://www.holocausttaskforce.org/teachers/educational_reports/country/lithuania.php|accessdate=2008-09-29] . Since the early 2000s, it has received about 100,000 visitors per year and hosted Holocaust education seminars and workshops. In 2005, the international project "Baltic Culture and Tourism Route Fortresses" was launched, with support from the European Union. Its goal is the promotion of transnational scientific cooperation in monument protection, along with the creation of strategies to reconstruct and manage fortresses in the region. Kaunas Fortress is a part of this project. [ citation|title=Baltic Culture and Tourism Route Fortresses|publisher=BSR INTERREG III B programme| url=http://www.bsrinterreg.net/programm/project.php?id=10465&start=0|date=2008-05-10|accessdate=2008-05-15] In the 2000s, a variety of entities owned parts of the complex: the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Defence, the State Property Fund, and the City of Kaunas. The site still contains unexploded ordnance, although a 1995 project removed about 1.9 tonnes of explosives. Other restoration issues include uncovered wells, poor drainage and ventilation, erosion, possible chemical contaminants, vegetative overgrowth, and the presence of a protected bat colony.citation|title=Bats of Lithuania: distribution, status and protection|journal=Mammal Review|date=2002|first=D.H.|last=Pauza|coauthors=N.Pauziene|volume=28|issue=2|issn=0305-1838 |url=http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119121554/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0|format=|accessdate=2008-09-28 ] Despite the damage that it has sustained, the Kaunas Fortress complex is the most complete of the surviving Russian Empire fortresses.Harvnb|Orlov|2007|p=18]




*lt icon citation |first=Arvydas|last=Anušauskas| coauthors = Česlovas Bauža, Juozas Banionis, Valentinas Brandišauskas, Arūnas Bubnys, Algirdas Jakubčionis, Laurynas Jonušauskas, Dalia Kuodytė, Nijolė Maslauskienė, Petras Stankeras, Juozas Starkauskas, Arūnas Streikus, Vytautas Tininis, Liudas Truska |title=Lietuva 1940–1990: okupuotos Lietuvos istorija |place=Kaunas|year=2007|pages = 712 |isbn = 9955-601-47-7
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*lt icon citation |first=Bronius|last=Kviklys|title=Mūsų Lietuva |volume=II |publisher=Mintis |place=Vilnius| year=1991|pages = 752|isbn = 978-9955-638-97-1
*citation |first=Allan|last=Millett|title=Military Effectiveness|publisher=Routledge|year=1987|pages = 385|isbn =0044450532
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*lt icon citation |first=Arvydas|last=Pociūnas|url=http://www.kam.lt/EasyAdmin/sys/files/Kauno_tvirtoves_gynyba_inter_2008.pdf| title=Kauno tvirtovės gynyba 1915 metais |publisher= Generolo Jono Žemaičio Lietuvos karo akademija|place=Vilnius|year=2008|pages = 186|isbn = 978-9955-423-64-5
*citation |first=S.C.|last=Rowell|title=Lithuania Ascending: A Pagan Empire Within East-central Europe, 1295-1345|publisher=Cambridge University Press|place=Cambridge|year=1994|pages = 375|isbn =052145011X
*lt icon citation |first=Jonas|last=Zinkus|title=Lietuviškoji tarybinė enciklopedija. |volume=V |publisher=Vyriausioji enciklopedijų redakcija |place=Vilnius|year=1979|pages = 754|oclc =20017802

External links

* [http://www.waffenhq.de/panzer/dickeberta-bilder.html Gamma-gerät in pictures]
* [http://www.panoramas.lt/m_katalog.php?&p_id=157&code=657d641a3b6e5b27cd95a3c8af26e188&lg=2 360-degree panorama of the 9th Fort Memorial to the victims of World War II]

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