3. The German preparations were learned of by the French
Through intelligence gained by the Dutch and British, as well as their own agents, the French learned of the extensive preparations for the attack underway in early 1916. By then the largest fort within the RFV was Douaumont, used by maintenance technicians as a barracks. As the French had removed much of the artillery, three defensive trench lines had been constructed, to be defended as was most of the Western Front at the time. Barbed wire and machine gun pits supported the trenches. A garrison of just under 70,000 troops defended the RFV. Several divisions of French troops were ordered to reinforce the RFV and others held in reserve.
The Germans planned to launch their preliminary artillery bombardment on February 12, but poor weather intervened. Heavy rains and fog impeded the gunners, followed by high winds, which prevented the launching of observation balloons to determine the accuracy of the guns. Not until February 21, over one week later than planned, a week which gave the French precious time to prepare their defense, was the weather favorable for the Germans. At 7.15 in the morning, more than 800 German guns begin a bombardment of the forward-most French positions, firing an estimated 800,000 shells on the French positions. At the same time over two dozen heavy guns – some 14-inch artillery – bombarded the French forts.