Camaret

Article and pictures by Jeroen van der Werf, all rights reserved.

On the end of the Crozon peninsula, on an isthmus sheltering the harbour of Camaret, a Vauban'tower is situated. This position overlooks the entrance of the Goulet de Brest (Brest channel); the entrance to Brest harbour and the Fort de Bertheaume situated on the other side of that waterway.

The tower's purpose was twofold: The bay in front of Camaret formed an anchorage for ships waiting for the right tide and winds to enter the harbour at Brest. The tower had to protect this anchorage and the Camaret harbour from enemy attacks.

Secondly, it protects Brest harbour because it overlooks the entrance to the Goulet de Brest and it prevents enemies from landing in Camaret in order to attack Brest from the other side of the bay.

With regard to this last purpose the tower already proved its worth on the 18th of June 1694 - although it wasn’t finished yet it withstood an attack by the Anglo-Dutch fleet that tried to embark at Camaret in order to take the coastal batteries along the Pointe des Espagnols.

From those batteries it would be possible to bomb the harbour of Brest. The attack failed and Traverse, the engineer who designed the tower, lost his arm during this attack.

On his visit to this area in 1685 Vauban already noticed the strategic significance of Camaret. Traverse designed the tower in 1689 and it was built between 1693 and 1696. It consists of a hexagonal tower (18m high) with a semi-circular battery in front of it.

The tower holds the living quarters, powder magazine'and storerooms. The only entrance to the fort is the small drawbridge on the right side. It is well flanked by loopholes'in the tower.

At high tide the ditch'was filled with water. There were originally two guardhouses on the rear wall, of which only the one above the entrance remains. The other one was replaced by a furnace for heating shot - heated shot caused much more damage to ships.

An interesting feature of this tower is the fact that it is not equipped with a platform for guns, but only loopholes for muskets. Other towers from this period, fort Chapus for example, do have a terrace for cannon.

The more modern ones like the towers of Tatihou and St Jacut also mount guns in their towers. So the tower was only used as a watchtower and for short-range defence, while the battery was used for long range fire at sea level.

It is unclear why the tower has no gun platform, which was the case even on the original design. Long range fire from the tower probably wasn’t necessary because the coastal batteries of the Pointe des Espagnols served this purpose better and the waters protected by the tower were close by, since the tower does not face open sea.

Visiting Camaret

Although the battery and tower at Camaret is not unique, its outstanding red colour and roofed tower make this fort one of a kind. This, together with its great condition, makes the fort well worth a visit. The tower can be visited for a small fee.

Over the years many fortifications have been built on the Crozon peninsula, some of which, according to the leaflet at the tourist office, date from prehistoric times.

Sadly, the most spectacular defences and batteries from the Vauban period, situated on the Pointe des Espagnols, are private or military property and can’t be visited. You can walk along the coastline of the Pointe and see some of the forts from the road.

Article and pictures by Jeroen van der Werf, all rights reserved.

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