Brest Fortress at the time of its construction was one of the largest fortifications on the Western border of the Russian Empire. However it became legendary during first days of the Great Patriotic War. A small garrison of Soviet soldiers bravely defended their citadel against overwhelming attacks of the German army.
Location: Brest, Brest Oblast Map
Constructed: Initial phase in 1836- 1842 with latter additions
Open: 9am- 6pm every day
Brest Fortress was erected in the 19th century by the Imperial Corp Engineers of the Russian Empire under oversight of general K.I. Oppermann, General N.M. Malecki and Colonel A.I. Feldman. They chose a well defended part of the confluence of the river and Mikhavets in the Western Bug around 1830. They began its construction in 1836 under a name of Brest- Litovsk Fortress. It was completed in 1842. At the time of its construction Brest Fortress was one of the largest military citadels in the Russian Empire.
By the time World War I broke out Brest Fortress became obsolete. They couldn't protect against modernized artillery so Russian Empire constructed several concentric circles of defenses. Brest Fortress ceased to be a real castle in a military sense of the word. Instead it became nothing more than a series of barracks and living quarters for soldiers and officers.
In August 1915 German Army managed to capture the Brest fortress and kept it until the Treat of Brest- Litovsk, which was signed here. New Soviet government that took control of the country after Russian Revolution of 1917 chose to abandon World War I and sign a peace treaty with the Germans and Austrians. The actual treatment was signed in the White Palace of the Brest Fortress. However today little remains from the original structure. Most of the original White Palace was destroyed during heavy shelling by the German army.
Brest Fortress along with surrounding lands was transferred to a newly formed independent Poland after the break up of the Russian Empire. Only in 1939 it was captured by the Soviet Army that took the citadel fairly quickly. Within two years Soviet military command managed to modernize and improve defenses around Brest Fortress complex. Unfortunately at the same time many of the officers and soldiers were purged by Stalin and NKVD. Some of the best officers were killed and those who replaced them often lacked talent and knowledge about their fortress as well as military service. During early days of Great Patriotic War (World War II in Russia) it proved to be fatal.
Brest Fortress became legendary during World War II for a strange reason. It certainly held a strategic location on the border with the Nazi Germany. Naturally the stronghold of Brest Fortress was one of the first military bases that was attacked by the German Wermacht. However subsequent course of history took a surprising twist.
As the German suspected Soviet soldiers were caught off guard and most of them did not even get a chance to take their battle positions outside of the Brest Fortress. They were trapped within walls of an old 19th century obsolete fortress with no chance for reinforcement. Soviet Army surprised advancing Hitler's army by starting a fierce and bloody resistance within ruins of the buildings.
Defenders of Brest Fortress managed to keep their barracks for two months against thousands of infantry soldiers, tanks, artillery barrages and constant aerial bombing. The last Soviet soldiers hid in the underground passages of the Brest Fortress for months after the citadel officially fell to the enemy hands. Occasionally they emerged to kill German troops. The last known soldier who defended Brest Fortress died 10 months after beginning of the war. Apparently he ran out of ammunition and didn't even save a bullet to shoot himself.
Brest Fortress became legendary in Soviet Union in the 1950's. For some time Soviet officials chose to ignore heroic acts of its soldiers largely due to a fact that their heroism was forced by failures of the high command of the Red Army military. Defenders of the Brest Fortress didn't even get 15 minutes required for a full battle disposition. Russian soldiers that were captured by the Germans often were labeled as traitors. Only in the 1950's several journalists and writers devoted themselves to writing about survivors of the Brest siege.
In the subsequent years Soviet government restored many parts of the Brest fortress. They also constructed several sculpture devoted to the heroes of Brest soldiers. Ruins of former barracks as well as White Palace are located in the Eastern part of the complex. You can reserve at least a day if you want to explore the whole military complex.