Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Modlin Fortress Excursion 18 May 2014

Click on Photographs to enlarge - far superior rendition
Photographic acknowledgement legend (initials) appears at the conclusion of the post

Many CCC members had been anticipating this tour of one the greatest military structures in Europe. The atrocious weather the day before with thunderstorms and torrential rain did not bode well. However Sunday dawned first with a heavy fog which had lifted to reveal clear spring sunshine by the time we were due to leave around midday.  

A brief historical introduction to the Modlin Fortress is in order before our own successful invasion of the place is documented here. No losses were documented.

The huge extent of this fortress at the strategic confluence of the Vistula and Narew Rivers about 30 kms from Warsaw
The Swedes built the first fortified position here in 1656. After their defeat the area was undefended for 150 years. 

After Poland was partitioned in 1772 the area was incorporated  into the Russian Empire. A Dutch military engineer Jan Pieter van Suchtelenn in the Russian service planned a formidable fortress in the area named after the nearby town of Zakroczym. The project was never finished because in 1806 the area became part of the Duchy of Warsaw, a rump Polish state created by Napoleon.

Bonaparte's engineers started to fortify the border with Russia. In December 1806 Napoleon ordered a fort to be built on two islands located at the confluence of the Narew and the Vistula. The fortification was to be temporary and was to become primarily a supply depot and a huge granary serving as a supply centre for the forces operating in Poland or Russia. However his Chief Engineer General Francois de Chasseloup-Laubat decided to build the fortress on the northern bank of the river rather than on the islands. In 1810 the concept of the fort was changed and Napoleon decided to turn Modlin into a central fortress in his line of fortifications and expand it significantly by adding an outer rim of defenses. By September 1811 more than 19,000 people were taking part in the works. 

After the defeat of the Grande Armée in Moscow in 1815 it again became a Russian Fortress known as Novogeorgievsk. During the years 1832-1841 underwent a huge expansion  to garrison troops tasked with preventing another Polish uprising as well as the defense of Russia's Western frontiers. The new work was a huge 2.5 km fortified barracks, the longest brick building in Europe. It then fell into limbo for many years.

Intensive new construction work started in 1912 and continued until the German army approached the fortress in 1915 during World War I. The fortress comprising 19 separate forts was one of the major fortifications in Europe at the outbreak of World War I. Captured for a period by the Germans it became part of Poland again at the conclusion of the war. During the invasion of Poland in WW II it was one of the final fortresses to capitulate to the Nazis on Day 28 of the invasion.

This extraordinary time capsule was there for us to explore under the guidance of Janina Bystrek, one of the most eminent guides to the Fort. She has shown many famous military and civilian groups around this huge area including a personal tour for the Polish Foreign Minister and former Defense Minister Radek Sikorski and his wife Anne Applebaum. 

The tour was delivered entirely in Polish.

This aerial photograph gives some idea of the vast extent of Modlin Fortress. 140 sq. kms. including outlier bastions.
The confluence of the Vistula and the Narew Rivers is clear

And so we set off from different points in Warsaw to meet at the Cmentarz Wojenny in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki.

Ian Booth in the 4.2 E-Type 2+2 crossing Poniatowski Bridge   (MS)

Eugene Houx and Mathieu Spencer go through the Tunel Wislostrada in the MGC, the longest road tunnel in Poland at 900 metres    (MS)
En route taken by Blazej Zulawski from the passenger seat of the Series 1 E-Type driven enthusiastically by his fair lady Kaja.
In front we can see the Lukas Rzepecki Lotus Esprit S1 and the Eugene Houx MGC   (BZ)

Eugene Houx at the wheel of the MGC     (MS)
Przemek's Ferrari 328 GTS and a glimpse of the Paul Ayre Triumph TR 6 taken from the Zulawski E-Type (BZ)

A great in period shot of glamorous Kaja at the wheel of the Series 1 E-Type  (BZ)


The line up at the official meeting point at the War Cemetery. From the right the Rzepecki 1977 Lotus Esprit S1; the Ayre Triumph TR 6; the Ferrari 328 GTS; the David O'Driscoll  TVR Griffith; the Marek Kurylowicz Jaguar XKF ; the Moran Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow;  (MM)

                                                              The Eugene Houx MGC                                            (MS)


David O'Driscoll's TVR Griffith


David O'Driscoll's rather menacing TVR Griffith outside the Palace of Culture, Warsaw
It takes rare courage to run a TVR Griffith in Poland! The exhaust note alone is worth it...

       The line up from the other end - the Zulawski Series 1 E-Type and so on down the line
                                        Some cars had not yet arrived                 (MM)

Eugene Houx driving and Mathieu Spencer in the usable and practical MGC  (BZ)
By this time Bill Flint had landed in his Jaguar X Type and Grzegorz Gratkowski in his 1994 Alfa  33 1.7 (MM)

                                                                                                                                      (BZ + MM)

And so the car guard was positioned and the tour began along a narrow, muddy path. 
There were about 30 of us altogether, around 24 adults and the rest children all young boys ready for excitement.

And almost immediately we were in the true countryside with wild goats gambolling in the moat that lay beneath the track 

                            Then to the approaches to the Russian powder magazine.

Our guide Janina Bystrek with Karolina Kierzkowska and Lukasz Rzepecki listening closely                                                                                                                                                       (BZ)


'In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself...'

                                                               Alice's Adventures in Wonderland   Lewis Carroll

We were suddenly in the depths of the Russian powder magazine where they stored the fortress supply of mines. Torches were lit, a damp musty smell invaded our lungs...and the ground was steep, rocky and and rough....

                                                                                                                                               (MS)                                                                   Very scary it was....



            Some were tremendously well equipped for the punishing task set before them.

And then the bats began to flit about and some screamed in sheer terror....bats and humans


But nothing phased our intrepid and experienced guide who fearlessly led us out of the Stygian gloom

    Huge hooks for handling the mines remain  in situ


And so we bad farewell to the cemetery and drove to another part of this vast complex

To take another walk, more ruins and more history...some weariness flitted across faces that were losing concentration

MM in rural bliss. May in Poland is my favourite month - the countryside explodes into bloom and electric green growth


'All this complex history is doing my head in...'


'Has anybody seen my Dad?'

We then returned on foot to the Russian War Memorial which gave 'the boys' ample time to go crazy climbing all over it and give their fathers and mothers the possibility of dealing with fractured skulls.



We then moved on to a private tour of the Casino (actually the Officers' Club) which is not normally open to the public. But before that a brief tour around the parked cars.

Karolina and Kaja - lovely ladies and sports cars always seem to go together

Andy Fincham's S2 Lotus Elan which had recently driven over from the UK. If you have ever done this drive it is no mean feat in an Elan that is not entirely waterproof!


The back seat of the RR functioning as a minibus -  Stanislaw Ignacy, Stefan, Leon and Basia


The Casino when under German occupation after the beginning of the Great War

The Garrison Officers' Club was built in 1901 (a packet of cigarettes left by a builder under the floorboards dated it). For me the building was a revelation and the neglect of the fabric and glorious interior an inexplicable tragedy. 

I am afraid this is typical of the Polish government's indifferent attitude to the decay of what little remains of the cultural heritage of this country. Where is the Polish equivalent of those magnificent organisations in the UK The National Trust and English Heritage? And the priorities? I am not against sport but do we need more football stadiums? More conversions of historic mansions and castles into luxury hotel 'Health and Wellness' centres? Phooey!

Private investors may have good intentions and do preserve buildings from decay but they have mainly financial priorities not the altruistic ones of preserving a nation's cultural heritage.

For me as a former adult education college lecturer in British Cultural Studies in London for close on 25 years the situation in Poland concerning the indifference to the preservation of the architectural cultural heritage is a disgrace. 

Disclaimer: The above are solely my personal opinions and not that of members of the CCC.

                                                 The Ayre TR 6 in front of the Casino

               The imposing Grand Double Staircase leading to the Ballroom and Concert Hall of the Casino or Military Officers' Club. Superb wrought iron balustrades

      Magnificent wrought iron detail on the staircase. Is it a variety of Gryphon perhaps with the staircase balustrade acting as the lion body?

CCC Members all present and correct Sir!

              The Officers' Concert Hall

  Waiting for a concert that will never begin. What a tragic waste of a beautiful building.

        The Orchestral Gallery of the Concert Hall

A truly melancholic sight for a musician and for me a symbol of serious cultural neglect

The exquisite trompe l'oeil marquetry decoration that covers the entire coved ceiling of the magnificent Ballroom

One of the remarkable Russian Byzantine chandeliers that decorate the ceiling of the Ballroom

There has been a movement to preserve this building but it seems ill-fated and unusual. You might like to look at this 

And so we drove on to our last point of call the area surrounding the 
Tartar Tower (Wieża Tatarska)


The first motorcar to enter the gate of the area we were exploring. 
What make of car I wonder?

Our overseas CCC member Robert Mathews in Cambridge who possesses a photographic memory, keen eyesight and extensive car knowledge has written and feels it is a 1911 Horsch

Interesting history of this high quality German marque

A recent car standing before a similar but now blocked off gate  
The Jaguar XKF of Marek Kuryłowicz. 


                                                  Andy Fincham's lovely Lotus Elan S2                                                                                                                                                                  
'Who wants to look at stupid old buildings when you can play in the dirt!'


An alarmed Andy Fincham (?) comparing notes on Eugene Houx's MGC engine. 
His own MGC is in the process of restoration at Rzepecki's and is coming together beautifully


  A truly lovely portrait of Paul Ayre's Triumph TR 6 in Poland   (MS)

The formidable Tartar Tower at Modlin Fortress


But before we ascend the Tartar Tower a few glimpses of Modlin through the keyhole of history

An unidentified photograph of the short period of German occupation during WW 1

General Wiktor Thommée, the Commander of the Modlin Fortress near Warsaw negotiating the surrender conditions with General Adolf Strauss
the Commander of German Second Corps.

Modlin surrenders to the Germans only on Day 28 of the invasion of Poland. 
The fortress offered the fiercest resistance and was one of the very last places to capitulate.


The majestic view over the confluence of the Narew and Vistula Rivers from the Tartar Tower at Modlin with the ruins of the Napoleonic granary in the foreground. 
The muddied waters are from the recent floods in the south of Poland

This sublime and poetic structure featured in the film by Andrzej Wajda of the great Polish literary epic Pan Tadeusz.

When gazing on this view I am always reminded of that immortal poem by 
William Wordsworth in Lyrical Ballads on the passing of time:  


but of course transferred to Poland and the Vistula

*  *  *  *  *
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years

*  *  *  *  *

For I have learned
To look on nature, not in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity


And now the ruin has been sold to an investor and is to be redeveloped unsympathetically with a ultramodern glass extension and helipad. 

Why cannot the authorities leave such things alone, reinforce the ruin and therefore slow or even halt the passage of time as is done in so many European countries. Venice for example. 

Instead, everything poetic and spiritual in life, the national cultural heritage no less, is sacrificed to the golden calf of investment and the religion of economics


Always continue to learn through all the phases of life...
Michael Moran, our guide Janina Bystrek and two young 'students'

Most people felt faded and jaded by this time what with walking, climbing and listening so decided to return home after what turned out to be a surprisingly demanding but marvellous day for the CCC. 

However I pressed on together with Basia, our guide Janina and Grzegorsz Gratkowski and his family to the bitter end. Anything faintly Napoleonic fascinates me and so it was onto the Napoleonic Redoubt which is actually for sale 
(one can immediately see on inspection why it hasn't sold)

A Redoubt at Modlin designed by Napoleon. 
He fancied himself as a military architect as well as his many other accomplishments


And so the day drew to a fitting close with an English afternoon tea on the lawn before Napoleon's Redoubt at Modlin
Michael Moran's 1975 RR Silver Shadow SRH18723 

Life offers one rare pleasures indeed in Poland

I truly hope this blog posting will remain a memorial in a modest way to this extraordinary place before everything beautiful and historically fascinating we have seen on this tour disappears or is much modified under the developers' juggernaut

None of this is inevitable - choice is always possible

                                                                                          Michael Moran  (Chairman)

Photograph acknowledgements:

IB      Ian Booth
MM   Michael Moran
BZ     Blazej Zulawski
GG    Grzegorz Gratkowski   
MS    Mathieu Spencer
KN    Krzysztof Niewiadomski
DO    David O'Driscoll