... we walk some 100 m. southward,
and we spot at the eastern side of the road this German bunker.
Before we cross the road to explore further,
some concise information about the Largue front sector.
Sundgau. August - September 1914.
The French period colour photos in this frame give us an impression of the French positions near Hirtzbach and Largitzen in 1917. We are now only visiting some bunkers at the German side of the Largue front between Hirtzbach and Largitzen.
August - September 1914.
On 14 August 1914 the XIV Army Corps and the XV Army Corps were ordered back to Strasbourg, to be deployed elsewhere with the 7th German Army. These troops were replaced by an “Armeegruppe Gaede” of 5 reserve brigades under command of General Gaede, consisting of 21 infantry battalions, 5 cavalry squadrons, and 10 batteries of artillery.
From 10 August General Pau commanded the 7th Army corps, which consisted of the 8th cavalry division and the 57th reserve division of Belfort, 3 extra reserve divisions, the 58th, 63rd, and 66th division, the 44th infantry division, and 5 battalions of Chasseurs Alpins. In total General Pau commanded about 150.000 men, called the “Armée d’Alsace” or “7th Army”.
When the Germans retreated on 14 August, General Pau decided to pursuit them immediately, progressing between the Col de la Schlucht and the Swiss border. The advance was too slow and the French troops reached on the 18th only the line from Seppois northward to Dannemarie, Reiningue, and Munster.
For 19 August General Pau planned to attack in the north the city of Colmar, and in the south the town of Mulhouse. On 19 August the German 6th and 7th Armies in Alsace Lorraine stopped their retreat. On the 25th these armies started a counter offensive on Sarrebourg and Morhange, the Battle of the Haute Meurthe - Mortagne (25 August - 11 September 1914) against the French armies of General Dubail and General Castelnau.
“Armeegruppe Gaede” attacked the 7th Army around Mulhouse. On the line Mulhouse – Altkirch, the troops were involved in very heavy fights. (General Gaede lost that day about 2.300 men and 24 artillery guns.)
North of Mulhouse the French reached Wittenheim and Illzach and were able to occupy Mulhouse again. West of Colmar the French reached the village of Les Trois Epis on the 19th and, a day later, Turckheim near Colmar.
The 7th Army was in need of immediate re-enforcements. But at 24 August the “Armée de l’Alsace” had to give up again the town and the surroundings of Mulhouse. Joffre decided that the 7th Army had to give up and to retreat back to the ridges of the Vosges mountains.
After the French retreat from Mulhouse General Gaede forced in September 1914 the front line forward to a line from Altkirch, Seppois, to Mooslargue. During that period, especially from 9 until 11 September, there were many skirmishes and a serious fights between patrols in this sector.
General Rouquerol at his fortress in Belfort disposed of 70.000 men. During September 1914 these French units advanced again at a line from Cernay, Aspach, Michelbach, Dannemarie, Hirtzbach, Largitzen, and Pfetterhouse.
From September 1914 the French troops were staying on German territory along the east bank of the Largue river, between Altkirch, Hirtzbach, Largitzen. Near Seppois the front crosses the Largue and runs southward at Pfetterhouse. From there the French were on the west bank, and the Germans were positioned at the east bank of the Largue. The front in this Largue sector, also called the Largue pocket, would consolidate in this situation until the end of the war.
From the bunker east of the D 17,
we cross the road to the west side.
Christine was the first
to spot this by dense vegetation hidden bunker.
When I approach it through the thicket,
I then only understand, that Christine located
the German "Bismarck Bunker" with it's remarkable
battlements and decorations.
The inscription is probably a quote
of the great German statesman, ...
... "The Iron Chancellor", Graf Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898): ...
... "We Germans fear God, nothing else in the world."
The damaged bas relief represents a portrait of Bismarck.
The constructors of the bunker left a damaged inscription:
Komp.Ldw.8 ...unreadable... Regt 110
Rascher Hauptmann - Kompagnieführer
Mündt Leutnant - Perso.....unreadable ...
Grebe Leutnant - Lo.....unreadable ...."
This bunker has been constructed by a Company
of the 110. Landwehr Infanterie Regiment of
the 8. Landwehr Division.
As always, I am curious. So, I enter the bunker.
A filled in tunnel to other underground rooms.
View at the windows and the entrance.
I have never seen before along the Western Front
these peculiar, decorative battlements on a bunker.
The top structure of the bunker is overgrown.
Even trees and their roots grow on top of the Bismarck bunker.
In 2010 I struggled through the impenetrable thicket,
some 100 m. away to the east from the Bismarck Bunker,
when I detected this overgrown bunker.
I would not be surprised, if there is more German concrete,
hidden in this wood.
We continue southward to Mooslargue.
Behind the village church of Mooslargue and the communal grave yard....
... used to be a wartime Franco-German military cemetery.
In two languages the base of the crucifix tells us more about this site.
"In memory of the French and German soldiers, who were interred in this cemetery during the war."
Another side of the base tells in French:
"In memory of the former military cemetery of the French and German soldiers of the Great War, fallen in this area, 1914-1918, and,
In memory of the soldiers, born in Moos and Niederlarg, fallen in 1914-1918 on various battlefields."
Marble plaques hang in four niches
with the names of the soldiers engraved.
The crucifix is also commemorating two civilian victims,
killed by the explosion of a shell, and buried here;
a 46 year old school teacher, and a 13 year old girl.
From Mooslargue we make a huge jump westward to Etupes...
... to follow next the Franco-Swiss border back to the east.
Caporal Jules André Peugeot.
Next we will visit three sites, which are connected to the death of Caporal Peugeot, opponent of Leutnant Mayer, and the first killed French soldier of the Great War.
We will visit his grave at Etupes, his memorial at Joncherey, and the site of the killing, as I have concluded it from my sources.
At the communal cemetery of Etupes we visit at
the modest military plot the grave Caporal Peugeot.
Right of the Caporal are buried an Adjudant Chef of the 35e R.I.,
and two privates, resp. of the 172e R.I. and the 22e R.I.
The grave of the first killed French soldier of the Great War:
Caporal Jules André Peugeot.
Plot 4, grave 181.
"On Sunday 2 August 1914 Corporal Jules André Peugeot of the 44e R.I. was killed during a mission at a border post at Joncherey. More than 30 hours before she declared war to France, Imperial Germany has already spilled the first French blood of the War of 1914-1918"
Did Caporal Peugeot really kill Leutnant Mayer?
The historian Hanotaux and the war journal of the 2nd Battalion of the 44e R.I. tell us each a different story about the dead of Leutnant Mayer and Caporal Peugeot.
According to Hanotaux’s official French history Leutnant Mayer was hit by a rifle shot in the head, after he managed to hit the head of a soldier with his sword. Mayer and his 7 Jäger zu Pferde of the 3rd Battalion of the Jäger-Regiment zu Pferde Nr. 5 crossed the border to patrol and to scout the area. They attacked the post of Caporal Peugeot. Peugeot was deadly wounded, but he still managed to fire his rifle "at short range" and killed Leutnant Mayer. Soon afterwards Peugeot died himself.
So, in this “official” version Hanotaux tells us that Caporal Peugot killed Leutnant Mayer.
The Journal des Marches et des Opérations of the 2nd Battalion of the 44th Infantry Regiment (44e R.I.) tells us another story about the location and the dead of Caporal Peugeot and Leutnant Mayer on 2 August 1914:
“Some minutes before 10 o’clock in the morning, four men of the 6th Company under command of Caporal Peugeot set up a post along the route from Joncherey to Faverois. At about 800 m. east from this location the unit is attacked by a German patrol of Jäger-Regiment zu Pferde Nr. 5 from Mulhouse, consisting of one Second Lieutenant (Second Lieutenant Mayer) and 7 men.
Caporal Peugeot is killed by a revolver shot by the chief of the patrol, on whom he fired, but did miss. The (men of the) post and also the post next to it did hear the rifle shots, and start to fire at the horsemen, who try to spread out, and they kill the Lieutenant, chief of the patrol, and 2 horses. One horseman is wounded and two others are made prisoner. The post, which was set up at a barricade at the east exit of the village of Joncherey along the route to Faverois, opens, alarmed by the rifle shots at this post, equally fire at the enemy patrol, which disappears.”
In the version of this French war journal Peugeot fired a shot at Mayer, but missed. It was Leutnant Mayer, who killed Caporal Peugeot with a revolver shot. Other soldiers of the 44e R.I. killed some moments later Mayer.
Peugeot was the first soldier, killed in the Great War. Mayer was the second soldier, but still being the first killed German soldier. Anyway, French after war mythology or not, Caporal Peugeot still shares the disputable honour of the German Leutnant Mayer to be the first and French fallen soldier of the Great War.
From Peugeot's grave we continue eastward to Joncherey ...
... to visit his memorial and the site of action.
First we visit the Caporal Peugeot Memorial.
The same text as on Peugeot's grave, here in capitals,
and also the claim, that it happened here.
"On Sunday 2 August 1914 Corporal Jules André Peugeot of the 44e R.I. was killed here during a mission at a border post at Joncherey. More than 30 hours before she declared war to France, Imperial Germany has already spilled the first French blood of the War of 1914-1918"
This memorial for Caporal Peugeot, erected in 1959, is the second memorial.
The first memorial, erected in 1922, has been destroyed
on 24 July 1940 by German troops.
"In 1915 Corporal Peugeot has been cited in the order of the 44e. R.I. and awarded with a Croix de Guerre with a bronze star,
and in 1920 Paul Deschanel, President of the Republic, offered him posthumously the Ordre Militaire."
Though the memorial claims that Peugeot fell here,
I am going to a field behind the memorial to look
for the site of action.
Site of Action - Peugeot versus Mayer.
I have several reasons to doubt the claim of the memorial text about the exact location of the fight between Mayer and Peugeot. Many times I experienced that the inscriptions on memorials are often not correct, and that the location of a memorial has been chosen for more practical than for correct historical reasons. The main reason for me to look somewhere else for this particular site is the rather precise quote of the war journal of the 44e R.I.:
"At about 800 m. east from this location (the border post at the edge of the village) the unit is attacked by a German patrol of Jäger-Regiment zu Pferde Nr. 5 from Mulhouse, consisting of one Second Lieutenant (Second Lieutenant Mayer) and 7 men."
Considering the increase over the years of the built-up area of the village, I made an estimation of these mentioned 800 meters. I do realise that I am also not exact, but I conclude that this first deadly fight happened somewhere in this field, east of the memorial. From the south I made 5 photos of this field, where to my opinion the fight between Mayer and Peugeot must have happened. The overlapping photos start westward and continue clockwise to the east.
Five overlapping photos of the Site of Action of the fight of Peugeot and Mayer.
From Joncherey we continue via Réchésy to the location, ...
... where the former borders of three states met each other.
Réchésy - Pfetterhouse.
In the area close to the Swiss border we will visit the "Borne des Trois Puissances" (Boundary Stone of the Three Powers), the Franco-Swiss border post, the last French bunker of the Western Front, the "Villa Agathe", and on the eastern bank of the Largue river, the Last German trenches and bunkers, which are all a few hundred meters away from the Swiss border.
To complete the impression of the border area my Dutch friend, René Kappert, came to my assistance and did provide me with some of his photo's of the "Borne des Trois Puissances". René also let me use some carefully self-made maps of the Villa Agathe Bunker. Thanks, René!
Before we continue: some concise background information
about Réchésy and Pfetterhouse...
Réchésy and Pfetterhouse.
Before August 1914 Réchésy was a French village, and Pfetterhouse was a German village; Pfetterhausen. The Franco-German border lied in between these villages. The three borders of Switzerland, Germany, and France did meet together half way Réchésy and Pfetterhausen.
Réchésy. The intelligence service of Pierre Bucher.
Docteur Pierre Bucher (1869-1921) was a patriotic, French medical doctor, born in Guebwiller. On 30 July 1914 he escaped from an imminent German arrest and fled to Switzerland. The Germans condemned him to death for desertion and treason. On 4 August, after the declaration of war, Bucher returned to France and enlisted in the army. Some few weeks later he was detached to the intelligence service of the general staff of General Pau.
Docteur Pierre Bucher set up a military intelligence centre in a villa at the outskirts of the village of Réchésy, called the “Académy de Réchésy”, a few hundred meters away from the three borders location. Bucher’s staff observed and reported not only the military operations and troop movements of the German army units, but they also eagerly collected intelligence about the movements of the Swiss army units along the border. Pierre Bucher was awarded for his services with the decoration of the Légion d’Honneur.
Pfetterhouse. August 1914.
Already on 7 August 1914, during General Bonneau’s first attack on Mulhouse, about 400 infantry and cavalry soldiers under command of Dragoon Sergeant Grünfelder attacked successfully the German units at Pfetterhouse. That day the French counted four dead. The Swiss authorities immediately closed down the frontier.
In spite of two following retreats the French were later able to hold the position east of Pfetterhouse on to the west bank of the Largue river. From October 1914 the 55e Régiment d’Infanterie Territoriale (55e R.I.T.) under command of Commandant Fleutiaux occupied the area around Pfetterhouse. From the end of December 1914 the 55e R.I.T. mainly occupied the west bank of the Largue. The German soldiers were positioned at the east bank of the Largue.
During the war years skirmishes and bombardments would go on in this sector. In February 1916 Pfetterhouse and surroundings even suffered a German artillery bombardment, which lasted for more than a week. During these bombardments the population of the village has been evacuated to Montbéliard. In spite of these violent events the End of Western Front near Pfetterhouse would freeze in the same situation until 1918, as it was in December 1914.
Departing from Réchésy we are going eastward, along the D 20.
After some 1.300 m there is a sign,
designed in a colourful Hansi-style,
which directs to the right, to a muddy track,
which leads south-westward into the woods to the
Borne des Trois Puissances,
or the Boundary Stone of the Three Powers.
René made this photo from the French territory.
"RF" stands for République Française.
The left, rather rough stone is a relic
of a border stone the Habsburg period.
A view from the Swiss side of the frontier.
"C S" stands for Confederation Suisse,
and "D" stands for Deutschland or Germany.
Christine and I continue eastward along the D 24.
In the village of Pfetterhouse we turn left, at the D 10 bis,
and go southward to
the Franco-Swiss frontier post and customs office.
By many this location is considered as the end of the Western Front.
But in fact it is not the exact southern end of the Western Front.
A view from the border to the outskirts of Pfetterhouse.
We leave Pfetterhouse and continue eastward along the D 24.
About 500 m. outside the village is a track leading southward.
We go on by foot along the track,
that touches the edge of the "Bannholz" wood.
Just as a reminder: again the situation map.
I have to struggle southward in quite a densely vegetated wood.
After a while I detect the French "Villa Agathe" Bunker.
The rear side of the last French bunker of the Western Front
with the entrance.
René measured the bunker precisely and made this ground plan.
The rear side, photographed from the west.
The staircase at the entrance.
The northern wall.
The fire windows facing the north.
With a last view at the field before the Bannholz wood, ...
... we continue to the location, which I consider as
the proper, southern end of the Western Front:
the last bridge, before the Swiss border, over the river Largue.
We cross the Largue to the German frontline.
I show this 1936 utility house, at the east bank,
just as an important landmark for fellow front-travellers.
The Germans possessed the east bank of the Largue.
About 15 m. next to the utility house, ...
... a German observation bunker,...
... with it's top blown off.
We cross the road and in the wood we detect traces of trenches.
On the southern side of the road, a machine-gun bunker.
We are here only a few hundred meters away from the Swiss border.
The fire openings facing westward across the Largue.
Some 75 m. southward lays a relic of a trench, ...
... connected to another machine-gun bunker.
A look inside.
The three fire windows, south-. west-, and northward.
The same bunker, on the outside, facing the west.
Last view of the last German bunkers of the Western Front.
In the background the other machine-gun bunker.
On the next photo page we explore another site in the Sundgau: the Bunker Path of Burnhaupt-le-Bas.
Continue to the next chapter
about the Alsace Sundgau battlefields: