Alsace, France, the Vosges Mountains, right flank of General Joffre. At the summits and passes: battlefields of mountain warfare from the earliest days of the war in August 1914.
The Col du Bonhomme used to be a border checkpoint
of the 1871-1914 Franco-German frontier.
French and German customs-officers pose together in harmony
for this pre-war post card.
This old border stone has been moved from the Col itself to
some 100 m. more southward along the D 148.
The text is not more readable. It used to be:
"ELZASSERSTRASSE 8 VON DIEDOLSHAUSEN (nowadays le Bonhomme) NACH NEU BREISACH (nowadays Neuf-Brisach, east of Colmar). HÖHE ŰBER DEN MEER 950 M."
At the left side: "DEUTSCHLAND COLMAR 32 KM."
"Alsatian road nr. 8 from le Bonhomme to Neuf-Brisach. Height above sea 950 m."
This hotel at the Col du Bonhomme forms always
our base of operations to explore the battlefields.
According to Martial, our host and cook,
there used to be a French wartime cemetery
on the premisses of his hotel.
The Col's junction offers a good departure point
for our explorations.
The Col also offers this Memorial for
the French, 69-years old General Bataille, commander
of the 41st Infantry Division since 3 September 1914, ...
... and 6 of his officers, who died on
the Col du Bonhomme on 8 September 1914
by the impact of a German artillery grenade.
From the 41st Infantry Division's War Journal d.d. 08-09-1914:
"At 11.40 hrs. just returned to the Col du Bonhomme, where the artillery bombardment redoubles it's intensity, General Bataille makes his observations from the houses at the Col, when a 19 cm projectile explodes just in front of him, and it also hits mortally Captain Couillaud."
Same spot in 1915, officers of the Chasseurs Alpins:
On 25 August 1914 the 30th. Battalion Chasseurs Alpins ...
... occupied the Col and the area around it.
The ancient road down to le Bonhomme.
In 2008 we went down for a walk down this road...
... to look for the former temporarily quarters of the General.
General Bataille's headquarters used to be in and
around this foresters house.
View from the foresters house at the slopes of the Tête de Faux.
Around the house,
some collapsed entrances to former French dugouts.
View from this spot over the valley of the Béhine-river.
At the end of the French - Prussian War of 1870-1871 the French lost Alsace Lorraine, a vital and an important industrial area, to the Germans.
At the beginning of the Great War General Joffre launched Plan XVII,
a kind of pre-emptive strike to reconquer the lost Alsace Lorraine sector.
Joffre ordered an "Offensive à l' Outrance!", an "Offensive to the Utmost".
From 6 August Joffre launched 3 Armies in Alsace Lorraine;
General Ruffey and his 3rd Army near Metz, General Castelnau and this 2nd Army near Nancy, and General Dubail and his 1st Army near Epinal and the "Crêtes", the summits of the Vosges.
They were opposed by the Bavarian 6th Army of Crownprinz Rupprecht von Bayern, and the 7th Army of General von Heeringen.
The fighting for the summits and the mountain passes of the Vosges would go on until
the end of 1915, the attacks initiated alternately by both parties.
The battles concentrated on the summits of the Tête de Violu, Col de Mandray,
Col du Bonhomme, Tête de Faux, le Linge, Collet du Linge, Hohrodberg, Grand Honack,
Honeck, Rainkopf, Grand Ballon, le Sudelkopf, and the Vieil Armand.
From the Col du Bonhomme we make a trip northward
via the D 148 to the Col du Pré des Raves and
the Col des Bagenelles. From the Col des Bagenelles
we will later jump westward, via a numberless road,
into the Forêt Domaniale de la Croix aux Mines.
Col du Pré des Raves.
First: a short route from the Col du Bonhomme northward
via the Col du Pré des Raves to the Col des Bagenelles.
East of the Col du Pré des Raves into the direction of ...
... the Col des Bagenelles lies along a hairpin curve...
... the by dense vegetation hidden
Roche du Coq de Bruyère (Rock of the Rooster of Bruyère).
The rock served as an important observation post for the French, with a trench on top of it, ...
... and a man-made tunnel beneath it.
Of course I entered the tunnel,
armed with my hat for protection and my flashlight.
After 15 m. at the right is a small and low side room,
with a rifle hole directed to the east.
The main tunnel itself is not higher than 1.25 m.
Some 15 m. furtheron , again a lower room on the right side.
It might have served an observation opening eastward,
or a as "caponnière",
a hole to throw hand grenades down the steep slope.
The tunnel ends some 15 m. further on;
the entrance to the left corridor down is filled in.
Outside; on the east side of the rock runs a now shallow trench.
A young tree grows out of the trench.
Beware. Climbing around this trench is dangerous ...
... at the risk of tumbling down the steep slopes.
At the summit of the trench and the rock a view westward.
From the same spot a view northward.
Over the former German lines in the Valley of the Lièpvre river,
into the direction of Ste. Marie aux Mines (Markirch).
For quite a different perspective of the Roche du Coq de Bruyère we continue, under other weather conditions, westward to the Col des Bagenelles.
From the Col des Bagenelles a teleview up- and eastward
to the Roche du Coq de Bruyère.
The Col des Bagenelles offers this panorama view northward
over the valley of the Lièpvre river,
We return to the Col du Pré des Raves and from there we continue westward.
We make some stops near the Col du Pré, at the Col de la Séboue,
the Col des Journaux, and the Col du Mandray.
Hundred m. after passing the Col de Pré des Raves, we find on the verge
of the right, or northern side of the narrow road, a battlefield grave.
“August 1914 – The border is 100 m. away from here. Enemy troops invade the Vosges. 10,000 Men will be killed during terrible combats on the Col de Journaux, Col de Mandray, and the Behouille. Passer-by, a thought, a prayer for him , who rests beneath this stone.”
The battlefield grave of a Chasseur Alpin, Lt. Y. Burlé of the 7e B.C.A., killed on 13 August 1914 in the wood some 100 m. west of the Col du Pré des Raves.
The grave is positioned just in between two 100 years old trees, which clarifies the strange angle of this photo of above.
We continue westward to the Col de la Séboue (794 m.), a sign attached to a tree tells:
"On the heights of this narrow mountain pass, from Col du Bonhomme at Col des Journaux and Mandray, one of the first battles of the Great War 14-18 took place in August and September 1914. Terrible combats caused thousands of deaths, these relics of a trench is all that is left as sole witnesses."
This ditch is one of the few relics of a French trench
along this side road.
At the Col des Journaux near Fraize
the Franco American Association raised this monument ...
... to commemorate the battles of August and September 1914, ..
... and the 400.000 French and Allied soldiers,
who died during the Great War in the Vosges.
Left column of this plaque:
"Dedicated to 7 Indo Chinese Regiments - to 3 Divisions of Polish Volunteers, who fought under French Colours - to the 5th American Infantry Division -
to the 868 Regiments or Battalions, who took part in the battles from 1914 to 1918 in the Vosges."
Centre column of the plaque:
"Memorial erected to honour 400.000 French and Allied soldiers,
who died for France on the Vosgian soil, high region of combats of war 1914-1918."
Right column of this plaque:
"Heraldic shield of the city of Fraize with it's "Croix de Guerre" - dedicated to the Battalions of the French Chasseurs Alpins (mountain troops) - to the English pilots under the Royal Flying Corps - to the 30 African Regiments - to the 2 Divisions of Czechian Volunteers, who fought under the colours of France.
A few kilometers to the west, the Col de Mandray (694 m.).
At the T junction with the D 23 ....
... we found this memorial with the inscription:
"IN MEMORY OF THE CHIEF OF THE BATTALION VERLET - HANUS,
MORTALLY WOUNDED ON 29 AUGUST 1914 NEAR THE COL DE MANDRAY
COMMANDING THE 13TH B.C.A. (13me Bataillon Chasseurs Alpins) DE CHAMBERY".
A view from the Verlet - Hanus Memorial westward.
Continue to the next chapter: