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The Boyen Fortress is an exceptional example of military architecture in Eastern Europe and the most important historical building in Giżycko. The fortress became a symbol of German defence during WWI. In 1914, the Russians failed to capture it.

The fortress was located on a narrow pass between Niegocin and Kisajno lakes. That is why, there is dozens of kilometres of water from here to the north and south. The road was used militarily for centuries. By pagans, by the Teutonic Knights, during the Swedish Deluge. Napoleon led his troops through here on his way to Moscow in 1812. That is why, in 1816, the authorities ordered a review of defence capabilities. The authors of the report suggested strengthening the neck between the lakes.

4th September 1844 saw a symbolic breaking of the ground and the huge investment was commenced. Approximately 1000 people found work during the fortress construction. The first stage were excavations works on a great scale. Depending on the topography, embankments were mounded or graded, giving the fortress the shape of a star. Digging a moat and forming the main embankment was the next element. Masonry works started in 1847, which lasted for the next 8 years. In 1854-55 the fortress was surrounded with a 2.3km long Carnot wall.

In such a shape the fortress covered an area of 100 hectares. The highest embankments were almost 30m high. Defence capability and firepower were to be ensured by artillery.

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A fast changing military technology enforced modernisation works. In 1868 the Water (Wodna) Gate was reconstructed as a result of the railway line construction. In 1868 also the Gunpowder Lab was built. In the 90's of the 19th century, five infantry shelters were erected at the fortress. In 1913, above the Giżycka Gate, an observation post with a periscope was located.

Glory moment - actions during WWI.
Year 1914 has a particular mark in the history of the fortress. On 28th June, in Sarajevo, the heir to the Austrian throne, prince Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. As a result of the subsequent events, WWI broke out.

Warfare started in August of 1914. After a quick mobilisation, on 17th August, Russian troops crossed the border. The Russians planned to invade the German Empire with two armies. From the north, from the Vilnius direction, approached the 1st Army commanded by general Paul von Rennenkampf. From the south, the German territory was to be invaded by the 2nd Army commanded by gen. Alexander Samsonov. A part of gen. Rennekampf's forces, amounting to about 40 thousand soldiers, was assigned to capture the Boyen Fortress.

On 23rd of August, Russian forces closed the encirclement of the fortress within a 16km radius. The Russians waited with the frontal attack. Meanwhile, the fortressgarrison (approx. 4k) carried out a number of raids, that effectively slowed the Russian forces. On 25th and 26th August the Russians attempted to capture the city and the fortress. Fortress artillery proved its usefulness and the offensive collapsed. On 27th August, parlimentaires were sent to the fort with a proposal to surrender but the request was flatly rejected.

On 28th August, about 150km from the fortress, the army of gen. Samsonov was crushed during the battle of Tannenberg. The Boyen Fortress received an order to continue holding off the forces of gen. Rennenkampf until help arrived. Russian actions changed from offensive to defensive. A retreat of troops was noted. Until 8th September, when the "First Battle of the Masurian Lakes" started, the Boyen Fortress troops effectively scourged the Russians. But the Tsar's army held their own. However, the defence was not broken. The Prussian fortress remained unconquered.

WWI confirmed the sense of the construction of the fortress. However, defeats on other fronts caused Germans to lose the war. The Treaty of Versailles forbade Germans from creating new military facilities.

During the WWII.
Situation changed when Adolf Hitler came to power. Due to its construction from the previous century, the fortress no longer had a typically defensive function. After an attack of the Third Reich on the Soviet Union, it became a military hospital. In 1942, a POW camp for Soviet officers was created here. It was prepared for around 100 prisoners and the conditions were considered to be decent. The most famous figure in the camp was general Andrey Vlasov, a hero of the defence of Moscow in 1941, the subsequent creator of the Russian Liberation Army. Due to its large area, during WWII, the fortress also served as a weapon depot.

In December 1944, the eastern front was already very close. Air raids on the city started. Last German soldiers left the fortress on 25th January 1945. A day later, the fort was captured by Red Army troops. Thus ended the German history of the fortress.

Looking for a English-speaking guide from the fortress? Call us on +48 500 209 895 or send a mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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