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

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Lonesome Memorials #6: La Vaux-Marie

If you knew what went on at this site in September 1914, the humble marker shown above might seem utterly out of proportion to the history made here. On the night of 9/10 September, one of the critical episodes of the Battle of the Marne took place. This action may have saved the day—and the war—for France.  

Holding the little plateau known as Vaux-Marie were forces of General Maurice Sarrail's Third Army.  Facing them were units of Crown Prince Wilhelm's Fifth Army.  Possibly unknown to the Poilus at Vaux-Marie, Wilhelm's staff had come up with a plan that—if successful—could have undermined the entire strategy of General Joffre, who was hoping to reverse France's fortunes in a single decisive action. Fifth Army had detached one of its corps 12 miles to the east with the mission of forcing a crossing of the Meuse River and getting behind the main French formations which were pushing North. This effort, however, was held up by the small French screening force along the Meuse and the mighty efforts of the small but perfectly located Fort Troyon. Nevertheless, had the Fifth Army forces at Vaux-Marie broken through, they were well positioned to attack the French units along the Meuse from the rear, thus insuring the success of the river crossing.  

Vaux-Marie Battlefield
On this plateau thousands of French soldiers fought heroically and a large number of them died for France!. . .
this monument pays tribute to their valor.

France's moment had come. Under a stormy rain and in almost total darkness, following a brutal artillery barrage, the German infantry began their assault at 2 a.m. Author Maurice Genevoix later wrote about the scene: " Black silhouettes appeared on the crest of the hill nearby, barely visible against a sky without light. They were barely 30 meters away when I recognized the tops of the helmets. Then, shouting at the top of my voice, I ordered continuous fire. . ."

Kiosk at Site

What ensued was one of the finest moments of the war for the French 75. Almost as soon as they advanced, French artillerymen spotted their movement and opened fire. A whirlwind of shells crashed into the German ranks, bowling over men by the score and leaving the track of the German columns littered with the broken and dying. Confusion reigned in the darkness as the men groped hopelessly forward. When the 38th Reserve Infantry Regiment blundered into a body of troops to their front, they opened fire, inadvertently sending a steady fire into the rear of their stalled and terrified comrades. The battle was fierce and the losses heavy on both sides.

Leaderless men wandered in terror as entire companies evaporated. A French counterattack swept through the German ranks, ushering in a scene of savage bloodletting as men shouted, struggled, and killed in the darkness. By daybreak, it was apparent that the attack had been a disaster. Thousands lay dead or dying. Not a single French gun had been silenced. Lt. Erwin Rommel who fought in this battle would write "the French artillery kissed us goodnight by firing enormous quantities of ammunition."

How To Get There

1. From Verdun, take the Voie Sacrée/D1916  south to D902 in Chaumont-sur-Aire. (31km)

2. At D35 turn right at sign for La Vaux-Marie

3. Follow "Champ de Bataille de la Vaux-Marie" signage to destination (2km)

Sources:  Lorraine Tourism; French Wikipedia

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