History l Pictures from today

The history of the battle of Vauquois

Dominating the whole area east of the Argonne, Vauquois is considered , by the general staff of both side, to be an exceptional observation post and a strategic bolt. As it has long-range views in every direction, the Vauquois hill allows its owner to follow and therefore to command the traffic axe (road and rail) emerging from the Islettes pass, leading to Verdun. This explains the stubbornness of both sides to obtain or to maintain their power there. This mound justifies, from the onwards, the sacrifices that were agreed to…

The Germans, at the time of their violent surge against the 3rd French Army to surround Verdun, occupied this hillock on 24th September 1914, when it had been evacuated by the 82nd Infantry Regiment. Whilst there, the Germans turned the mound into a real fortress, supported and flanked by artillery in the woods of Cheppy and Montfaucon. From October 1914 to February 1915, the first counter-attack using bayonets, with no artillery preparation, allowed the French troops to approach the southern edges of the mound, after intensive charges and extraordinary human sacrifice.

From 17th February until 4th March the successive waves of French attacks eventually ended the fierce German resistance. Losses are heavy: 3000 killed or missing for the attack lasting from 28th February to 4th March…

In the middle of Match, the front line of General Valdant’s Division Is finally stabilized in the southern half of the village. With better protected positions the front resists a counter-attack uniting classical weapons with a fearsome contraption: the flame thrower. The position war began in the area. Pioneers and sapper buried themselves and hollowed out kilometers of galleries, sheltered chamber from where battle ramification will leave, which, infiltrating the enemy network, allow them to inflict the heaviest losses possible using tons of explosives.

The Vauquois mound is a huge termite nest: the installations on various levels, from the far east up to the “V of Vauqouis” (1500 meters long, 50 to 250 meters wide , 10 to 50 meters deep) made up more than 17 kilometers of shafts, galleries and ramifications. Thousands of ton of Argonne rock were extracted.

Vauqouis is also the extraordinary underground struggle acted out “below”: the mine war. 519 explosions (199 German, 320 French) were counted. Mines were placed deeper and deeper, the explosive charges are therefore the more and more significant. That’s how, on 14th May 1916, a German mine estimated at 60 tons of explosive mead 108 victims, shattering the entire far west of the mound.

A lunar landscape, a mound cut in two buy huge craters that form a ditch 10 to 20 meters deep separating the first German lines from the first French lines, is the apocalyptic sight that the American soldiers will remember when the finally freed it from its nightmare on Thursday, 26th September 1918. Where a small Meusian village of 168 inhabitants once stood, only a terrifying network of giant funnels remains.

Other important areas of 1914-1918 had mine wars: les Eparges, the Argonne forest, les Hauts de Champagne, 108 mound at Berry-au-Bac, the Vimy crest, etc., but only Vaouquois mound conjugates several factors:

-a village crushed and the battle continued under the hill below it.
-the integration on an immense underground city with its various quarters: barracks, sanitary blocks, storage depots, electric and compressed air exchanges, commanding and communication posts.
-the use of various types of position and mine wars, leading each side to successive developments in the destruction of the enemy’s installations, forestalling or thwarting their plans, without thinking of the slightest prospect of a breakthrough by the attacking infantry.

The Vauquois mound is a First World War site still intact, graded by French Heritage, where the effects of war are forever engraved in the grounds of the Argonne and the Meuse. An agreement has been signed between the State owner and the “Friends of the Vauquois and its Area Association” to protect, to pass on the memory and to promote the heritage.

The pictures is taken from Adolf Buchners' book "The Battle Of Vauquois", ISBN 3-9800750-4-4.
The text is from the museum in Vauquois, translated by Tim Tawney.
Thanks to Adolf and Tim.
The aeral picture is from Nils Fabianssons' site