Fleury devant Douaumont.
From Côte de Froideterre we follow the D 913 southward
to the wood, scattered with shell holes.
Under this wood lie the ruins of the destroyed village
of Fleury devant Douaumont.
Fleury devant Douaumont.
Before the First World War, Fleury devant Douaumont was a village with 422 inhabitants in 1913. After 1870 a railway was constructed between Verdun and Douaumont, which runned along Fleury.
Due to the presence of a number of defence constructions like the fortresses of Douaumont, Froideterre, Vaux, and Souville many soldiers and workers passed the village.
In August 1914 the regiments of Verdun pass Fleury to get to the plain of Woëvre. With the battle of the Marne in September 1914 the front was fixed a few kilometres north-east of the village. During 1915, it is part of the fortress of Verdun and it forms the quarters of many soldiers.
On 21 February 1916 the village was awakened by the huge artillery preparation for the German infantry assault. The order is given to evacuate the village.
After the conquest of Fort de Douaumont, and after the surrender of Fort de Vaux on 7 June 1916, the front line from Froideterre passes through Fleury to the front of Fort de Souville. Fleury becomes a key position that can allow the Germans to break through to Verdun. From June to August, the German command launched several offensives in this part of the front.
On 23 June the Germans launched a bombardment of several thousands of shells on the village, many gas shells. The bombardment is followed by an attack of the best Bavarian light infantry troops, Garde-Jäger. The 121me Bataillon Chasseurs à Pied had to hold the position. The French were also trying to maintain their counterattacks involving airplanes gunning the troops on the ground. The 260th Brigade took over from the 121me and for several days a bitter fighting broke out on a few acres. The Germans conquered the village on 23 June, but the following day the French returned, and again two days later the Germans took the village in ruins again.
In two months, the village was taken and retaken 16 times by the French and the Germans.
From 13 July to 5 August intense fighting took place around the village in ruins. On the night of 17 to 18 August, the RICM (Colonial Infantry Regiment of Morocco) launched a final assault and reconquered the village. With the Zouaves and the skirmishers of the 38th Infantry Division, they fought for the territory of the village for 10 days.
In 1918, the village was declared "Died for France". This is one of nine villages destroyed during the Battle of Verdun. The relief of the communal ground still reflects the huge amount of shells that it had received.
Many craters have a small marker,
indicating for instance the former location of the bakery.
This is the after war built Memorial Chapel,
"Notre-Dame de l'Europe",
which stands on the former location of the village church.
The chapel forms also a mark of honour,
dedicated to the 1.796 soldiers of the 39me R.I.,
who died here.
Anywhere you look, you will see shell holes.
The location of the Café- Grocery.
A memorial for the former inhabitants of Fleury.
FLEURY DEVANT DOUAUMONT
TO IT'S CHILDREN
DEAD FOR FRANCE
HEROIC COMMUNITY OF WHICH THE NAME MUST BE SAVED IN THE MEMORY OF THE GENERATIONS TO COME. VANISHED UNTIL THE LAST STONE IN A HORRIBLE TORMENT, FORMING ALSO FOR THE DEFENDERS OF THE SOIL THE THREATENED CENTREPOINT OF THE BATTLEFIELD.
BY THE REVENGEFUL MAGIC OF IT'S RUINS, IT HAS ADDED TEN TIMES MORE TO THE ENERGY AND THE BRAVERY OF THE SOLDIER OF VERDUN DURING THE FIERCE COMBATS, OF WHICH IT HAS BEEN THE WITNESS AND WITH DEDICATION IT HAS ACQUIRED OF THE FATHERLAND TITLES OF ETERNAL RECONNAISANCE."
The memorial is located
next to the former location of the community hall.
With some period photo's of the battlefield around Fleury,
we continue a few hundred metres southward.
Mémorial de Verdun.
The Mémorial de Verdun has been constructed on the location ...
... of the former railway station of Fleury.
A teleview from the Douaumont Cemetery at the Museum.
In front of the 1967 Museum there is an exhibition of
artillery guns and shells, ...
... examples of the bombs, which ravaged this region.
Two French 75 mm guns transported from a fortress.
A German 420 mm shell.
A German 17cm trench mortar.
We continue southward,
to the former location of the Chapelle Sainte Fine.
This memorial, on the junction of the D 913 and the D 112,
stands on the most advanced point of penetration
of the Germans. It was also the jump off line for
their attacks at Fort de Souville of 23 June 1916.
"HERE, BEFORE 1914, EXISTED YET THE RUINS OF AN ANCIENT LITTLE CHAPEL, CALLED "CHAPELLE STE. FINE".
THIS IS THE POINT FROM WHERE THE LAST GERMAN ATTACK WAVES CAME TO ANNIHILATE ON 23 JUNE 1916. IN A MASSIVE AND SURPREME EFFORT THE GERMANS HAD DEPLOYED 50.000 MEN ALONG 6 KILOMETRES OF THE FRONT AFTER AN ENORMOUS INTRODUCING ARTILLERY BOMBARDMENT.
IN THE MEANTIME, YET RISKING A DESPERATE ATTEMPT ON 12 JULY, THEY LAUNCHED AN OFFENSIVE, DIRECTED AT THE FORT DE SOUVILLE.
THERE THEY WERE DEFINITELY OVERPOWERED.
ON THE NEXT 24 OCTOBER A GREAT FRENCH COUNTER OFFENSIVE ALLOWED TO RETAKE IN ONE DAY THE LOST AREA INCLUDING THE FORT DE DOUAUMONT, WHICH WAS CONQUERED BY THE GERMANS ON 25 FEBRUARY."
At the other side of the road, at north of Fort de Souville
rests the wounded Lion.
We will return here later on our route.
Before we visit the fortress we go left, to the D 112,
southward for some interesting memorials.
At the east side of the road,
the memorial for the French 30th Army Corps.
"IN THIS AREA was the COMMAND POST of the 30th CORPS, General Chrétien,
- 72e, 51e, 14e, Infantry Divisions -
that endured, from the Meuse to the Woëvre, from 21 until 25 February 1916, the first shock of the German storm attack, having lost two thirds of their manpower.
Reinforcements, 37th, 153rd Infantry Division - Detached, 32nd Infantry Division."
Next the memorial to commemorate the events around
the Fort de Souville on 12 July 1916,
and the heroic actions of Lieutenant Kléber Dupuy of the 7me R.I.
"ON 12 JULY 1916 THE FORT DE SOUVILLE LAST OBSTACLE TO THE ROUTE TO VERDUN RESISTED VICTORIOUSLY DURING TEN HOURS TO FURIOUS AND REPETITIVE ASSAULTS OF THE ENEMY.
GLORY TO LIEUTENANT KLEBER DUPUY AND
HIS SOLDIERS OF THE 3RD COMPANY OF THE 7TH INFANTRY REGIMENT.
(THE FORT DE SOUVILLE, NOWADAYS IN RUINS, AND OF WHICH THE DANGEROUS ACCESS IS FORBIDDEN, IS LOCATED APPROXIMATELY 200 METERS BEHIND THE MAGINOT MEMORIAL)."
Second Lieutenant Dupuy and Captain Décap took important decisions, like deploying machine guns and artillery fire on the attacking Germans, which prevented the German conquest of the fortress. (Source: JMO, 7me R.I. -12 Juillet 1916)
Next is the impressive memorial, designed by Gaston Broquet,
for war heroe, Sergeant André Maginot.
André Maginot (17 February 1877 –
7 January 1932) was a French civil servant, soldier, and Member of Parliament.
In 1897 he received a Doctorate of Law degree. After taking the civil service exam in the same year Maginot began his career in the French bureaucracy, where he would serve for the rest of his life. He worked as the assistant of the Governor-General in Algeria until 1910, when he resigned and began his political career. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies that year and served for six months as Under-Secretary of State of the Ministry of War just prior to the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
The inscriptions on the memorial tell us:
"UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE OF THE MINISTRY OF WAR, DETACHED BY HIS MOBILISATION CALL, AS A SIMPLE SOLDIER OF THE 44me REGIMENT D'INFANTERIE TERRITORIALE. -HAS ORGANISED AROUND VERDUN A SECTION OF VOLUNTEER SCOUTS, OF WHICH HE TOOK THE DIRECTION, AND OF WHICH HE HAS BEEN THE SOUL. - DURING MORE THAN FIFTY PATROLS ON TERRAIN, OCCUPIED BY THE ENEMY, HE HAS GIVEN AN ADMIRABLE EXAMPLE OF COURAGE AND HAS BEEN DECORATED ON 6 NOVEMEBER 1914. - HEAVILY INJURED ON 9 NOVEMBER, HE HAS HOLD HIS POSITION ALL DAY LONG, WITH A HANDFULL OF MEN AND IN SPITE OF HIS INJURIES, AGAINST AN ENEMY, WHO WAS VERY SUPERIOR IN NUMBERS. TO WHOM HE HAS INFLICTED GREAT LOSSES. - FOUR CITATIONS- MEDAILLE MILITAIRE FOR FACTS OF WAR = TWO INJURIES
CITATION AWARDED TO SERGEANT MAGINOT WITH THE CROSS OF KNIGHT IN THE LEGION OF HONOUR. PETAIN."
"ONE DAY THEY FOSTER THE CONCEPT THAT THEY FORCE A FUTURE WAR. IT IS A NECESSITY WHO STAYS IMPERIOUS. IT IS TO PREVENT AN INVASION OF THE TERRITORY. WE KNOW WHICH DISASTERS THEY CAN ACCUMULATE. DISASTERS BIGGER THAN VICTORY ITSELF. DON'T BE SATISFIED WITH COMPENSATING FOR THE IRREPAIRABLE DAMAGES. WE WOULD PREFER THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ORGANISATIONS OF THE DEFENSIVE POSITIONS OF THE FRONTIERS. THEY HAVE NO OTHER GOAL THAN TO BLOCK THE ROAD TO THE ALWAYS POSSIBLE INVASION.
THE CONCRETE WILL BE BETTER AND WITH REGARD TO THIS IT COSTS LESS EXPENSIVE THAN THE WALL OF PARAPETS... - ANDRE MAGINOT, MINISTER OF WAR, DEMANDING FROM THE PARLIAMENT THE CREATION OF THE LINE OF FORTIFICATIONS, TO WHICH HIS NAME STAYS CONNECTED. -"
(The Maginot Line or Ligne de Maginot.)
When the war began, Maginot answered his mobilisation call to serve in the army. At first he was posted along the Lorraine front. In the autumn of 1914 Maginot was active gathering intelligence in the area around Verdun. In September 1914, he was promoted to Sergeant for his "coolness and courage." In November 1914, as Verdun was being invested, General Serrail showed Maginot a written authorization to evacuate Verdun. He asked Maginot, the Under-Secretary of War, not the Sergeant, what he would do. Maginot tore the authorization to pieces. On 9 November 1914, his knee was shattered in the battle. He was invalided out. Maginot would walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
In 1922 he was appointed War Minister under Raymond Poincaré. Maginot worked out a defensive plan, a combination of field positions and permanent concrete forts:
the later called Maginot Line.
"FRANCOIS-JOSEPH JOLAS, THE SOLDIER WHO SAVED MAGINOT"
Broquet's sculpture catches the moment,
when soldier Jolas helped the wounded Maginot
to a dressing station.
We return to the wounded Lion of Souville,
at the northern tip of the defensive works
around Fort de Souville.
It is facing the Wood of Vaux Chapitre.
HERE HAVE FOUGHT
THE 130e, 131e, 120e, 37e, 33e, 15e, 38e, 32e, 68e, 167e, 133e INFANTRY DIVISIONS.
THE GARRISON OF FORT DE SOUVILLE"
We follow the D 913 southward.
In the battle sector of Fort de Souville,
some 300 meters to the east of fortress, lies ...
... one of the three double machine gun bunkers,
named after it's designer, Colonel Le Pamart.
(Sometimes also known as Le Pamard)
The sunken double machine gun bunker possesses
a wide angle of 160 degrees.
This bunker is located on an eastern slope in front of
Fort de Souville.
In 2005, to my regret, the bunker lost it's typical air shaft.
Compare this with my older photo of the bunker of 1994.
Behind the bunker we follow the path southward
to the second Le Pamart bunker.
The Le Pamart bunkers were connected to the fortress
by 220 m. long tunnels of sometimes 20 m. deep.
Halfway the tunnels was an emergency shaft.
This time I detected something of interest inside.
The rusty remains of a machine gun!
We continue southward passing relics of trenches.
These trenches are near the war entrance of the fortress.
South of the Le Pamart bunkers and the trenches ,
we arrive at the entrance of Fort Souville during the war years,
officially called "Abri-Caverne de Souville" (Shelter-Cavern).
Fort de Souville, July 1916.
Fort de Souville has been an important point of communication between the fortresses more forward on the front, like Douaumont, Tavannes, and Vaux, and also the Citadel of Verdun and the general headquarters at Souilly, south of Verdun.
Although General von Falkenhayn did not have the ambition to conquer the city at all ("Let the French bleed themselves to death at Verdun"), a well kept secret for the rest of the German Army, the loss of Fort de Souville would offer the Germans the final breach to attack the city itself. For the French, who had also the impression that the city itself was at stake, the fall of Fort de Souville meant the inevitable capture of Verdun.
Before 23 June 1916 German bombardments with 380 mm and 420 mm shells devastated the gun turrets of the fortress. In the early morning of 23 June the 103rd Division crossed the junction of the wounded Lion and attacked the top construction of the fortress. 150 men of them reached the roof but were chased away by Chasseurs Alpins.
French "Crapouilloteurs" with their mortars near the fortress (11-07-1916).
On 10 July 1916, the German artillery launched 63.000 gas grenades at Fort Souville, in a territory of only 600 meters wide.
In this period of the war the French troops were rather prepared to gas attacks. With much effort the French resisted the follow-up of the infantry attack.
The second German and last attack at Fort de Souville was on 12 July 1916. The attack waves went on for 10 hours. The French deployed intense machine gunfire and artillery support to throw back German infantry attack. This time the French army resisted succesfully this German attack.
A picture of the entrance, made at 28 July 1916.
Right at the entrance of the fortress: a sentry post,
a latrine, and a wash stand.
A 2005 picture of the entrance of Abri-Caverne de Souville.
The right corner.
The wall on the right side.
For safety reasons it is forbidden to enter the fortress.
Inside the fortress there is a dark, underground labyrinth
of 990 rooms, narrow corridors, and low tunnels.
One could easily get lost in this labyrinth of several floors.
Some walls and ceilings look unstable.
In the floors there are "unexpected", square manholes, ...
... shafts to underground tunnels, sometimes more than 20 m. deep!
There 50 of these deep shafts!
Warning: Only recently, on 12 July 2009, a 25 year old Swiss tourist was not cautious enough, and fell down one of these shafts of Fort de Souville near a Pamart bunker for about 20 m.! It took a special rescue team almost 3 hours to rescue this tourist! (Source: L'Est Républicain, 12-07-2009.)
So, it is quite dangerous to enter the fortress!
Before I got lost myself, I decide to return to an exit.
We leave Fort de Souville, and continue eastward to
the artillery position of ...
... the Batterie de l'Hôpital.
We pass some relics of trenches, and ...
... masonry bunkers.
In this area used to be a wartime cemetery.
The corpses, exhumated here in the late twenties,
Five large artillery bunkers, in a line next to each other,
are hidden under the vegetation.
South of this bunker complex, Batterie de l'Hôpital,
lays the front sector of Fort de Tavannes.
In the arched masonry bunkers lie piles of debris.
Sometimes with a hole in the roof, caused by a shell impact, ...
... leaving a pile of rubble.
Though the position came frequently under artillery fire,
it was never captured.
With a last view we leave the Batterie de l'Hôpital ...
... to continue with a jump backward in time, to the first week of June 1916, and the siege of Major Raynal's Fort de Vaux.
Continue to the next chapter: