Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

100 Years Ago: Fort Vaux Falls

German Troops Atop Fort Vaux, June 1916

Yesterday was a big anniversary for the Battle of Verdun. On 7 June 1916 Fort Vaux – IMHO one of the two most valuable fortifications for the French Army during the great battle – finally fell to the German Army.

Outside the Fort Today

After mighty Fort Douaumont had fallen primarily through negligence on the fifth day of the struggle, Vaux, the smallest of the Verdun Forts, held out for three and a half months stopping cold the left flank of the enemy's offensive.  It beat back two major efforts to capture it in April and May. By June, however, the French infantry had been driven from all the supporting positions and – due to the steep slopes north and east of the fort – German assault troops were able to approach the fort blind to the artillery protecting Fort Vaux.

Atop the Fort Looking Northwest and Over the Main Defensive Ditch

Nonetheless, it took the four battalions committed to the attack a week to fulfill their mission, taking over 2,700 casualties. Despite getting inside the fort through a weak spot at the latrines and getting into its passageways, where war was waged with gas, flamethrower, and grenade, the immediate cause of the surrender was the lack of water for the defenders.

Inside the Fort at a Calmer Moment

Fort Vaux's loss was a morale blow for the French, and it allowed the Germans to proceed with their advance on the next major obstacle on their left, Fort Souville.

Atop the Fort Looking West to the Woevre Plain, Occupied Entirely by German Forces

The siege of Fort Vaux, however, provided a notable addition to France's pantheon of war heroes. Major Sylvain Eugène Raynal was already twice wounded in the war when he volunteered for a command position in the Verdun fortress zone.  Arriving at Fort Vaux on 21 May 1916, he proved an industrious and inspiring leader for his  troops.  When he surrendered he informed his captors that it was only thirst that had defeated his troops. The Crown Prince later personally congratulated him on his leadership of the defense of the fort.

Major Raynal and an Aide in Custody after the Surrender

Thanks to regular contributor Steve Miller and several of my traveling mates for the photos here


  1. I think that I have read that the Crown Prince was so impressed with Raynal that he hand his surrendered sword back to him.

    1. The Story I've heard is that he didn't have a sword but was given one.

  2. It would be good to know what "IMHO" means. Or a key to such uses should be provided some where on the site