... and directly upward to the highest point of Sermet.
But I preferred to go back downwards first,
and follow another trench to the highest point of the Sermet, ...
... almost in the traces of General Serret's
28me. Bataillon Chasseurs Alpins, ...
... and his 152nd Infantry Regiment during
the days of March 1915.
A view from this machine gun post northeast;
you could hardly call it a bunker or shelter.
These trenches would stay in French possession until 1918.
At Sermet Peak is a crossing of trenches,
coming from below and leading more upward to the Summit.
Half way above Sermet Peak...
... we follow the trench upward to find
this typical French fore post bunker, ...
... made of natural materials; mostly wooden beams,
mountain rock's, and some steel U Bars.
"The 2nd Company of the 152nd Infantry Regiment" of
the French Army builded this trench and bunker in April 1915.
We still climb upwards passing this shelter, ...
... again of natural materials, stone and wood,
and some iron corrugated boards and steel U bars.
A machine gun post opposite a lower lying (invisible)
German sap with relics of the barbed wire obstacles.
Just before we enter the open spot on the summit
with the 29 m. high Crucifix, standing in the centre of
the former, rather narrow No Man's land on
the 956 m. high summit.
A 1920's postcard of this spot.
We are standing right next to the cross
in the last French first line, opposite the Johann Albrechtgraben,
and the Dortmundergraben.
This vandalised after war demarcation stone faces
over the western slope.
The 1st French Frontline trench, opposite the Dortmundergraben.
Facing the Johann Albrechtgraben, and the Dortmundergraben,
a French steel observation post.
Christine walking in the French 1st Front line,
with saps of rocks on both sides.
A view standing in the trenches.
One of the many saps.
A small shelter.
A French trench at le Vieil Armand, November 1917.
The trench bends eastward, ...
as we were passing some sniper holes ...
... to the end of the trench, so near the Cross,
marking the No Man's Land ...
... to this most forward French machine-gun post.
This monument stands in No Man's Land just in front of
this trench, and in front of the German Dortmundergraben,
commemorating the most advanced point of
the French 28me. Bataillon Chasseurs in January 1915:
"HERE WAS SITUATED THE ADVANCED POST OF
THE 28TH BATTALION OF MOUNTAIN TROOPS
THROWN INTO BATTLE FOR THIS SUMMIT IN JANUARY 1915.
LES DIABLES BLEUS- LES AMIS DU HWK- LE SOUVENIR DE FRANCE"
Chasseurs Alpins in action.
Some 10 m. further to the south also in No Man's Land
a plaque, commemorating the 3 assaults of March 1915
by the French 152nd Regiment:
"IN 1915 THE 152ND INFANTRY REGIMENT HAS ATTACKED THREE TIMES AND CONQUERED THIS MOUNTAIN AT THE PRICE OF ENORMOUS SACRIFICES.
ON 23 MARCH THE 6TH COMPANY LAUNCHED A PARTICULARLY VALUABLE ASSAULT FOR WHICH THEY ARE DECORATED WITH A CITATION IN THE ORDER OF THE ARMY AND IT'S BANNER DECORATED WITH THE CROIX DE GUERRE."
A view of the same machine gun bunker
in the 1st French line over No Man's land, ...
...seen from the opposite position of
this German 1915 "Dora Feste" fortification.
Next we cross over the former No Man's land
to the German lines.
We cross the No Man's Land to the German Johann Albrechtgraben, the former most extreme French line,
which the Germans conquered on the French on 1 April 1915.
Most of the German army units, deployed on the Hartmannswillerkop (HWK), were “Jäger-Bataillonen” and “Gardeschützen-Bataillonen” from several “Reichsländer”, not only from Berlin and Potsdam, but also from Alsacian towns like Schlettstadt (nowadays “Sélestat”) and Kolmar ( nowadays “Colmar”).
Some of these units were deployed several times at the HWK.
For instance, the Mecklenburger Jäger-Bataillon nr. 14 was fighting for the summit in the winter of 1914-1915. On 1 April 1915 this Jäger-Bataillon, under Major Freiherr Schenk zu Schweinsberg, drove the French from their 1st line trench, the later called Johann Albrechtgraben.
This Jäger-Bataillon nr. 14 fought the French down from the summit at 9 September 1915. During the “Weinachtskämpfen” (Christmas Battle) of 21 December 1915, the French annihilated this Battalion of their Commander in Honour, Grossherzog Johann Albrecht von Mecklenburg, on the Aussichtsfelsen (“Panorama Rock”).
Only the Major and 80 of his soldiers survived. The next day, on the 22nd, the Reserve Jäger Battailon nr. 8, and the 80 man of Schenk zu Schweinsberg re-conquered the Aussichtsfelsen and drove the French back to their lines down the western slope.
Some of the trenches, fortifications, and bunkers, are named after German officers and commanders fighting at the HWK.
Dinastollen or Dina cave entrance,
on the connection of the Johann Albrechtgraben
and the Dortmundergraben.
Like Feste Dora (below) it was the entrance to a large underground tunnel system.
(Watch the light blue lines on the maps!)
The entrance left in Feste Dora leads to the caves beneath it.
The entrance to the Dora Feste Bunker,...
... a combination of an observation post
and a machine gun bunker, facing the opposite 1st French line.
The Kommandeur, Major Kachel, of the Reserve Jäger Battailon nr. 8 and the Kommandeur, Major Freiherr Heinrich von Hadeln, of the Gardenschützen Bataillon were mainly responsible for building this huge fortress on the summit and eastern slopes of the HWK.
From April 1915 they started building and digging into the rock. Until 1918 they extended the fortress furthermore.
Besides digging trenches, and building bunkers, fortifications ("Festen"), and observation posts, the Germans excavated a huge underground tunnel system, connecting “Stollen”, caves, which were sometimes also enlarged.
In these caves were also telephone posts (the Germans even listened to the French telephone conversations!), and rooms for producing electricity for lights. The Germans built also a cable railway with 2 stations on the northern slope to import new building materials, ammunition, weapons, and food, from the valley below. For exchanging messages the Germans used beside telephones also mountain dogs.
In No Man’s Land, and in between the trenches, there were vast barbed wire obstacles, also fortified with high voltage electrical wires, powered by aggregates in the “Machinenraum”- caves.
Many of the bunkers gave a direct entrance to this tunnel system and caves.
Remember that many times these extension constructions were made during battles.
From Feste Dora we follow the Moritzgraben to ...
... the entrance of the Blindsack, a cave and tunnel system.
I only entered it for a few meters.
The observation post at the Blindsack is also
the start of the Weinachtsgraben.
A guard post bunker of the Weinachtsgraben.
The Weinachtsgraben leads to the 2 bunkers and entrances of...
... the Krötenloch; "Wo die Soldaten liegen wie Kröten im Loch".
The southern bunker.
Steel rifle shields with fire holes along the trench,
in front of the Krötenloch bunker.
Krötenloch, the northern parallel bunker.
From the Krötenloch we follow the Schweinsberggraben,
named after Major Freiherr Schenk zu Schweinsberg .
At the south western end of Schweinsberggraben
we arrive at the Bremer Ratskeller, a 1st line Stollen.
The Bremer Ratskeller has 2 entrances ...
... to it's underground man made cave, ...
... and an opening for a machine gun, facing the 1st French lines.
The Feste Rohrburg was named after ...
... Hauptmann Rohr of the 3rd Gardenschützen Bataillon.
It is a rather large bunker, especially downstairs, ...
... where the Rohrburg is connected by tunnels to the 2nd line, ...
... and the Stollen bunkers of the Feste Grossherzog,
Feste Mengelbier, and the Aussichtsfelsen.
Passing these fire holes, ...
... we leave the Rohrburg, ....
....climb a little upward to Feste Grossherzog.
Feste Grossherzog formed together with Feste Mengelbier
and Aussichtsfelsen "Stützpunkt XI".
This 2nd line bunker lies on a height of 940 m.
The Feste has been built in 1916 by
the Badische Pioniere Bataillon nr. 14 (engineers),
under supervision of Oberleutnant Ratz.
It got it's name after Grossherzog Friedrich II of Baden.
We could have gone many more steps downstairs
to explore highly unreliable tunnels, ...
... but we preferred to stay on a rather safe level
to take a look inside the Feste Grossherzog.
Mme. GG. located these samples of soldier's graffitti
of the period inside the Feste:
"Hotell zum schönen Aussicht", or "Hotel Beautiful Panorama".
"Wel 1914 /15 und 1916".
View from the entrance and another view from
this entrance in the direction of the Aussichtsfelsen.
Next to the bunker is a staircase, ....
... leading south-west, ...
...an observation post with this marvellous view over the valley.
Some 50 m. south west, more down the slope,
but still belonging to Feste Grossherzog, ...
... is the Feste Mengelbier or Bastion Mengelbier.
Behind and upward the bunker entrance Mme. GG.
located this observation post.
A steel, armoured observation post,
fit for use of a "scissor shaped" binocular periscope.
Only the top of the binoculars would stick out ...
We left the Feste Grossherzog for the Minenwerfer bunker ...
A 1918 picture of the other, northern slope of
the Hartmannswillerkopf, in winter conditions.
In this bunker Leutnant Killian and his crew installed
and deployed the first Minenwerfer on the HWK.
"Here at 21 December 1915 stood the first "Minenwerfer"
(trench mortar), deployed at HWK
(Leutnant des Regiments Killian)".
Of course many more Minenwerfer were deployed on the HWK.
The Germans on the HWK even had their "Minenwerferstrasse".
But this is, what is left of this bunker on the north west side
of the Aussichtsfelsen.
The 940 m. high Aussichtsfelsen from the eastern slope.
From 28 december 1914 this rock was for the Germans
the most important point on the summit.
A 1917 view of the Aussichtsfelsen Stollen Bunkers,
left the Feste Ratz.
Since 1922 the French Government installed
this huge monument in bronze on the Aussichtsfelsen,
commemorating the heroic acts of
the French "15-2 Regiment" (152nd IR)...
.. in March 1915, the "Weihnachtskämpfen" of 1915,
and their actions at nearby Munster and Metzeral.
This breathtaking panorama over Cernay tells,
why this summit was so important for the Germans.
Just under the memorial I went inside the Aussichtsfelsen.
I did not dare to go too far inside the bending tunnels.
After a short time I used the other exit under the memorial.
From the other exit another view at the extreme
wide panorama from the narrow ridge of the Aussichtsfelsen.
Via Feste Ratz we went back down the southern slope,
into the 2nd French lines.
We left the Feste Ratz to go back to the Bremer Ratskeller.
Here we crossed the No Man's Land into the French lines.
After 200 m. going westward down the slope
we arrived at this sap, ...
... connected by a trench,
which also leads to the entrance of a French tunnel system.
As you probably notice, the tunnel is nowadays filled in
with debris and chalk soil.
Following this French 2nd line trench inside,
I modestly came to the conclusion, ...
... that sometimes you can see more of the shape of
a trench from above, from the parapet, than from the inside.
Here we find a lot of relics, reminding us of the many
barbed wire obstacles between the trenches.
This shelter bunker is that small, that I suppose,
it served as a guard room.
From this bunker we follow inside the trench our way to ...
... the shelter bunker of
the 2nd company Genie, French engineers.
As in all French bunkers on the Vieil Armand
the entrance is very low...
... and the room downstairs is only 1.50 m. high,
and it measures not more than 2 x 2 m.
Some last relics, remembering of the presence of
the 2nd "Compagnie du Genie".
After all that undestructable, German steel and concrete,
it is again amazing to see, ...
... how the French environmentalists "avant la lettre" built
their "abri's" of mostly natural materials.
We left the trench and the small shelter bunker
of the 2nd.Cie du Genie....
.. to the foot of the French National Cemetery at
the Col du Silberloch, which we had to climb again
to the road to return to our point of departure.
We got our car, parked near the Cemetery
at the Col du Silberloch, ...
...to make a trip downwards into the valley to visit the French National Cemetery at Cernay.
Casualties in the Vosges.
Both parties at the Vieil Armand, the Germans and the French, had each around 6.000 men killed. The estimations of the total of casualties on each belligerent side -, men killed, wounded, missed in action, or taken prisoner of war,- has been counted at around 30.000 men.
In some publications about the Hartmannswillerkopf you will find the death toll of 60.000 men. This is a persistent misunderstanding, by changing the number for casualties into a number for the presumed death toll. For instance: during all the fights and battles in the front sector of the whole Alsace in 1914-1918, the death toll of the Germans was a total of 22.278, and not even the 60.000 dead men on the HWK mentioned before in those publications.
So, both belligerent parties at the Hartmannswillerkopf, the French and the Germans,
shared a total of around 60.000 casualties and of which around 12.000 men were killed.
Cernay: The French National Cemetery.
On the horizon the mountains,
which witnessed these destructive and bloody battles.
Cernay: The German War Cemetery.
Of course we do realise, that we have only covered a small portion of all the relicts to be visited at the HWK.
Especially on the German side of the mountain
there is much more to see;
bunkers, caves, and trenches of the 2nd and 3rd line.
Perhaps this modest impression gives you an idea,
why we hope to revisit the HWK in the spring of 2011
to explore those many other sites on this mountain.
Continue to the next chapter:
© Some period photographs and situation maps:
Courtesy of "Verlag Les Amis du Hartmannsweilerkopf Deutschland" and