WW1 – 100 years ago in the Vosges mountains …

Today is Nov 11, 2015. A bright sun is shining and the sky is absolutely blue over Alsace and the Vosges mountains that I see from my window. Difficult to imagine what a nightmare was going on 100 years ago not far from here.

Today is Armistice Day (which coincides with Remembrance Day and Veterans Day, public holidays). Armistice Day is commemorated every year on 11 November to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. November 11 was declared a national holiday in many allied nations, to commemorate those members of the armed forces who were killed during war.

Let’s go up to the mountain then …

The front line in the Vosges mountains

Landscape near Le Bonhomme and Linge in the Vosges
A peaceful landscape between the village of Le Bonhomme and the Linge ridge in the Vosges mountains. The plain of Alsace is in the haze while the Black Forest draws the horizon. This is the battlefied of World War 1 …

During World War 1, the front line in the Vosges mountains started East of St Die des Vosges and runned right down to the Swiss border following most of the time the ridges of the mountain. Let’s remember that in 1914 Alsace was German territory (since 1871). The German army had taken up positions along the ridge in 1914. They were able to pick and choose where they wanted to place their guns and men and went for the high ground. One objective was to cut off French access to Colmar. From the beginning of 1915 the position of the front line in this whole Alsace and Vosges area was ill-defined.

The battle of «Le Linge»

The Linge ridge is located in the Vosges in Alsace and with a height of 1,000 metres it separates the Orbey and Munster valleys. The Germans had made the first moves on 19 February 1915 when they attacked some of the smaller peaks on the Linge ridge including the Kleinkopf, the Barrenkopf, and the Schratzmännele but heavy snow storms meant that they could only reach the Barrenkopf and the Schratzmännele.

German soldiers in 1915. Linge museum.
German soldiers in 1915. Linge museum.

In March 1915, the French launched their own offensive and fighting continued week by week and in July, after a heavy artillery bombardment the French Chasseurs à Pied, Chasseurs Alpins,and Infantry Regiments attacked the Barrenkopf, the Schratzmännele, and the Collet du Linge but without success.

French Chasseur Alpin in his Winter battle dress
French Chasseur Alpin in his Winter battle dress. Museum of the Linge.

Attacks and counterattacks continued and on 29 July the French took the Barrenkopf and the Schratzmännele but by the end of August the Germans retook these peaks but left the lower western slopes to the French. From August until October 1915 the attacks and counterattacks would go on without much gain for both parties.

Linge cemetery of the Wettstein pass
Linge cemetery of the Wettstein pass. This cemetery holds 2,201 individual graves with the remains of another 1.334 men lying in two ossuaries. The main Linge Memorial is located in this cemetery and is dedicated to those who fought in the Battle of Linge.

It was a bloody encounter with gas and flame throwers being used. Approximately 10,000 Frenchmen and 7,000 Germans were to be killed but after the fighting the front line positions were to remain much the same until the end of the war in November 1918.

The Linge memorial

I drove up to the Linge ridge several times. It is a short drive from Riquewihr or La Vancelle where I am at home. But it takes an hour or so since the road is snaking its way through passes and mountains. The scenery is absolutely beautiful. I wonder whether the combatants hundred years ago were in the mood of savouring that beauty of nature …

Part of the Linge battlefield area has been conserved and one can still see bunkers and fortified trenches. The terrain of the Linge was not ideal for fighting with numerous trees and bushes and rocky escarpments and the Germans had used their time on the ridge from late 1914 to build substantial defences including bunkers, blockhouses for their artillery and machine gun emplacements and to add barbed wire which was often difficult to see amongst the bushes and rocks.

The Linge memorial museum

The memorial is run by the association “Le Mémorial du Linge”. Here is a short paragraph you can read on their very instructive website:

Le Linge and the Hartmannswillerkopf (another major battlefield of the Vosges ridge, further to the South) were «both battlefields resulting of a tactical settled conception so-called “overflow movement by the high”, cheer to the theorists of the High Command of the years 1914.

Battle philosophy of both French and German armies 100 years ago
Battle philosophy of both French and German armies 100 years ago: go forward what ever the cost! “How stupid!”. This is my personal comment.

Such movement by the high is only valid if it is done exceptionally with a high-speed effect of surprise. It is inoperative, if it becomes a slow operation, long and exacting, foreseeable by the organized enemy and entrenched then on the strong positions.

The front line seen from the Linge battlefield.
Families show and explain the front line to their children. View from the Linge ridge battlefield.

The thin results acquired to Le Linge were without comparison with the number of dead people: 10000 dead persons between July and October 1915, 17 battalions of hunters: up until 80 % of dead people.

We have forgotten the Napoleon principle: “avoid the battlefield that the enemy has recognized and strengthened”.»

A young couple shows the battlefield map to their children.
A young couple shows the battlefield map to their children. Armistice day 2014.

The LINGE memorial museum displays French and German objects found on site : weapons, munitions, personal objects and relics. Models of French and German infantry men, scale models of the battlefield, photos, texts, maps. Video assembly of photographs of the period.

At the Linge memorial museum.
At the Linge memorial museum. A very instructive visit.

To learn more …



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you for your feedback Alan. Keep in touch. Jean-Paul

  2. Alan Wirt says:

    I enjoyed your history lesson very much. Thank you and please continue them. Your interpretations really help me to better understand the land of my forefathers.

    Also, it is Veterans Day here in the U.S., when we honor those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom.

    Have a fantastic day!


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