Whilst recently going polar bear watching in Canada, I visited what must be a very strong contender for the world’s least successful military fort.
Construction of the Prince of Wales Fort, at the mouth of the Churchill River on the Hudson Bay in Canada, started in 1731 (probably; though the plaque on it says 1733), to replace a previous wooden affair. The inhospitable and far-flung location meant construction went not only slowly but really slowing. It was not until 1772 that it was completed, 41 years on.
It was meant to be a modern design displaying the very latest in fortification knowledge, but it was a design that was badly flawed as was discovered when a cannon was test fired for the first time on site. The recoil on the canon was greater than the width of the wall, meaning that each time a canon would be fired there would be a big risk of it recoiling back and falling off the inside edge of the wall on which it was positioned. Appropriate for Carry On Up A Fortress perhaps, but not very practical. As a result, the walls had to be nearly doubled in width during the construction.
A decade after it was finished, the fort went into action for the first time. A French expedition under Admiral Jean-Francois Galaup arrived, finding the fort without any soldiers and only 39 civilians. The absence of soldiers was not completely surprising as the fort had been a private construction by the Hudson Bay Company, but even so with a mere 39 people to possibly defend the fort against the French ships their commander, Samuel Hearne, wisely decided to surrender without a shot being fired.
Forty years in the making and handed over without a shot being required; the world’s least successful fort?