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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

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Back to the Violu. starting with a view from near the Ferme Haicot (Haycot), above the Col des Bagenelles, southwest of the Violu. In other words: Haicot is more or less halfway between the Violu and the Tête des Faux (Buchenkopf). The mountain on the left is the Violu, the ridge with the meadows on the right, somewhat lower, is the Pain de Sucre. Above it, in the background, are the two summits of the Donon. Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines is outside the picture, on the right. To my knowledge, there was no fighting of any importance around Haicot, but still there is a remarkable relic, left by men of Landsturm-Infanteriebataillon Friedberg, a town in Hesse. The mosaic represents the contemporary version of the Hessian coat of arms, with crown and sword. Apart from that, it is quite similar to the current version. I think I have already pointed out the Violu sector was occupied by a regiment from Hesse for a long time.




On the picture showing the Violu, you can see a kind of edge, to the right of the summit, where the slope becomes considerably steeper. I suppose this is where (and why) the Germans stopped the French attack, as the steep slope offered them cover. The inclined elevator finished in that area, and around it there are some bic concrete shelters, presumably for command centres etc., some of them with access to galleries (which are locked, though). 123402537_Vogesen-TteduViolu18_04.2017(233).thumb.JPG.6e22d9ae8f4c76046059530587133a19.JPG1628565965_Vogesen-TteduViolu18_04.2017(253).thumb.JPG.f7542c6cb95c841eb1a22c2a040521f4.JPG871121573_Vogesen-TteduViolu18_04.2017(256).thumb.JPG.83670c22180b538b55f487c2625cf9dd.JPG453168145_Vogesen-TteduViolu18_04.2017(258).thumb.JPG.edec41181fb7f36ebb8b67e8fe308b22.JPG


Above these, towards the summit, there are relics of the actual positions of "Violu Süd", probably pushed forwards again gradually after the battle at the end of October 1914. They include entrance blocks to galleries, a concrete Minenwerfer position, and a pillbox with a door which is still more or less intact.




The last picture shows a German structure in the foreground and what must be the area around the plateau-like summit of the Violu in the background, illustrating how close they were.




I consider the presence of pretty massive concrete structures like these (on GoogleEarth you can also see how close the Minenwerfer is to the summit) as evidence of the "live and let live" system described by Tony Ashworth (Trench Warfare 1914-1918: The Live and Let Live System) for the British front. There is quite a lot of evidence of fraternisation happening in the Vosges as well, for the Violu sector see Richard Dehmels "Zwischen Volk und Menschheit. Kriegstagebuch" (available online as PDF). Dehmel was a writer who volunteered despite his more than 50 years. He served as an officer here, for a while, and his book is interesting not only for his repeated mention of fraternisation, again and again over months, but also for his massive disillusion which set in pretty soon, with his fellow officers as well as with the war and German warfare as such. But to come back to the issue of "live and let live": I am sure that the French were aware of the Germans building these structures, and they would obviously have been able to destroy the building site. Impossible to imagine that transporting the building materials and the work itself could have gone unnoticed, in my humble opinion. The same goes for other Vosges sectors as well, e.g. the Hartmannsweilerkopf, the Lingekopf or the Buchenkopf.




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And on to "Violu Nord" ... No command centres etc. that I know of, but interesting structures in the forward positions, like this dugout.




One of the really striking ones is a concrete underground Minenwerfer, considerably bigger than the one in Violu Süd. Apparently, this one was linked by galleries to a second one, which has disappeared, though. A couple of years ago it was still possible to enter the galleries.




Then there is a structure which seems too small for rifles etc. to have been used inside, so I reckon it was an observation post, built with prefabricated parts.




The openings could be closed with steel shutters, and the concrete elements were screwed together. Transporting the "rings" which form the inside must have been awkward.


And then there is the so-called "Betonturm" ("concrete tower"), a big pillbox with two levels. It was built in the first half of 1915, some 100 m from the French, apparently. As it is obvious that wooden formwork was used, which must have implied the use of hammers and nails, the French must have noticed something was being constructed, even if the site itself was hidden behind a wall of sandbags etc. (which would have been a telltale sign itself). They didn't impede the construction as such, but in August decided to destroy the roof, built with (concrete?) sandbags, as period pictures show. They used trench mortars and small guns for this purpose, but didn't try to destroy the rest of the Betonturm, which seems to be more or less undamaged. The Germans didn't rebuild the roof, which may mean that they understood a pillbox with a roof was unacceptable in that spot. All the same it would have been a strong defensive position.




The Betonturm is somewhat similar to the "Bastion" at the highest point of the German positions at the Tête des Faux, where the roof survives.



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  • 3 weeks later...

Back to the northern Vosges, after some busy weeks at work.


Between the Violu and the Col de Sainte-Marie, there is another summit, the Bernhard(t)stein, which was another folcal point of the fighting in that sector, including mine warfare. The ground is still heavily marked by the war, and there are quite a few relics.




On the north-eastern slopes of the Bernhardstein, there are more concrete structures. The inscription on one of them identifies it as a former telephone exchange.






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  • 1 month later...

Been too busy with other projects lately. Anyway, on to the German position north of the Col de Sainte-Marie. There was some fighting on these heights in August and October 1914, but that was apparently it. Still, the Germans fortified the ridge, which dominated the pass just like its southern counterpart, the Bernhardstein. The same pre-fabricated concrete blocks were used as in the Violu sectors.






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Excellent posts so please keep them coming. I’ve only been to the Vosage once whilst sneaking off for a day when on holiday 90 miles further south but found it absolutely fascinating.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Thanks for your kind feedback, Dave. I will continue this thread, as and when I have time to do so. For now, I will just post some recent discoveries (which usually means 'discoveries' for me, thanks to information I have found online or in books).


In April 1917, the 'Royal Naval Air Service' attacked Freiburg (where I work) from airfields west of the Vosges. Nine civilians died in the offices of a company, near the university, and three of the bombers were shot down over Alsace on the way back. The 'Freiburger Zeitung' published the obituaries and mentioned the British planes that were brought down:

- https://fz.ub.uni-freiburg.de/show/fz.cgi?cmd=showpic&ausgabe=04&day=16y&year=1917&month=04&project=3&anzahl=4

- https://fz.ub.uni-freiburg.de/show/fz.cgi?cmd=showpic&ausgabe=01&day=16y&year=1917&month=04&project=3&anzahl=4

Some damage can still be seen near the main entrance to 'Kollegiengebäude I' of the university, where an inscription commemorates the attack.




Across the Rhine there are the tombs of at least two British aviators who were killed during that raid, one of them on the French cemetery in Plaine (cf. picture), the other one in Strasbourg.




On Sunday I photographed a cross in the southern Vosges that commemorates the crew of a French plane shot down above the village of Lautenbach in 1918:






On the same day I also found a stronghold the plan of which I had found years ago in the Generallandesarchiv in Karlsruhe. This was a position behind the front, built in 1917, apparently designed to stop a French breackthrough in the sector of the Grand Ballon by blocking the narrow valley at Belchenthal, near Murbach. It is on the southern slope of the valley, fairly high above the road, and consists of a pillbox for (most likely) two machine guns, which was linked to a second entrance via a u-shaped gallery. The roof of the pillbox and the first part of the adjoining gallery is not as thick as envisaged according to the plan, and although they did reinforce it in a makeshift way, the beginning of the gallery collapsed at some point (cf. last picture). A lack of cement may have been the reason for changing the plan - which happened elsewhere as well and would illustrate the lack of resources the Germans had to cope with.














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