Fort of Janus
Was built between 1886 and 1903, on the summit of the same name at 2529 m. An underground structure 900 meters long which extends the Maginot line, was added between 1931 and 1937. It has the 20th century Heritage Label in the PACA region.
The Fort du Janus is built to the North East of the Place de Briançon, above the position of Gondran. This fully-proof modern fort is the tallest in the square and the most advanced on the Italian border and consists of two parts, an infantry blockhouse built in 1887 and an underground part built from 1898. One Frontal action casemate is built to flank the Gondran defense line. It is armed with 4 guns of 95 on a hilltop lookout. It is the only casemate of this type built in France.
The borders and the coasts of France have been fortified by successive touches, according to the threats, real or supposed, of alliances or of territorial annexations. On the border with Italy, at an altitude of 2,540 m, the crest of Château Jouan hides the second highest Maginot structure in the Alps, after the whole of the Col de Restefond.
Very early on, the strategic importance of the position had been understood, and a watchtower was built there at the end of the 18th century.
But it was a century later, in 1883, that, the performance of the artillery having greatly improved, an open-air Séré de Rivière battery was installed there, after construction of a cannon road from the crest of Gondran.
Between 1886 and 1889, a square blockhouse with two bastionnets was built on the crest and from 1889, we began to dig a battery under rock facing the border, with 4 pieces of coast of 95 m / m.
In 1891-1892, the blockhouse was raised by two habitable levels, thus creating a peace barracks on three levels, with a cistern in the basement, for 120 men.
From 1898 to 1906, the underground war barracks were built, with direct access by a low door to the south, and by a staircase from above. All the superstructures are surrounded by a continuous infantry grid, with a gate acting as the main entrance.
A preliminary project was established in 1926 for the construction on this ridge of a Maginot structure with high firepower.
The first works of the CORF (Organizing Commission of the fortified regions) for the realization of the work began in 1931. In 1934, the galleries of the unused war barracks were filled in, or too close to the Maginot barracks. The entrances are condemned, as are the living spaces. Only the battery under casemate of 4 outdated 95 m / m guns, which is overhauled and reinforced, and the ammunition bunkers are kept. A gallery is dug to connect the Maginot structure to the Séré de Rivière part, a duality which makes the great originality of the Janus.
The work was stopped in July 1935, due to a short-lived rapprochement between France and Italy (Stresa agreements), to resume precipitously in 1938-1939, because Italy decidedly turned towards Germany.
As it is at the declaration of war, the work of the Janus is far from the original preliminary draft which provided for an impressive armament.
Credit restrictions meant that the work only had 2 mortars of 81 m / m and 2 pieces of 75 m / m for its main artillery, firing parallel to the border or in friendly territory, plus 4 twinning of Reibel machine guns and a few machine guns. The structure is, however, equipped with the overpressure and ventilation system specific to Maginot structures, which is very comfortable for men living inside.
In the midst of the battle, in June 1940, the officer commanding the work will have to cut the right part of the embrasure visors in order to be able to widen the fire to the right and support the defense, north of the Col de Montgenèvre.
The Janus is one of the rare structures in the sector to experience a fire test in June 1940. It was targeted by the 149 m / m of the nearby Italian fort of Chaberton, which dominates it by nearly 600 m. A GFM bell still bears the mark of the ricochet of an Italian shell.
It is also to these observation bells that he owes his greatest claim to fame: one of them housed an officer who participated in the artillery observations and the firing of the 280s of the 6th Battery. of the 154th RAP which, under the command of Lieutenant Miguet, reduced the Chaberton to silence.
The Janus is now owned by the municipality of Montgenèvre, which recently acquired it. A study is underway to secure the structure in order to open it soon for visitors.
Protected from looting and vandalism by the close presence of the Gondrans military post, still in operation, the Janus structure, still equipped with its extraordinary drawbridge, enormous, and yet maneuvered by a single man, from its long central gallery of 345 m, of its main artillery, of its complete electricity production “factory”, and of a significant part of its life equipment, is in good condition and its visit will be of great interest to understand what t was the life of a high altitude fort crew over 60 years ago.
Source: Jean-Pierre Garnier, Association for the fortified heritage of Briançonnais