2/11/1916 Verdun: France recovers Fort Vaux

The French continue to recover lost ground at Verdun. The tricolour flies once more over Fort Douaumont, and now Fort Vaux too is recovered. Fort Vaux was the scene of a desperate siege in June, surrendering four days after the defenders ran out of water. Its recovery now is anticlimactic, with advancing French troops finding that the Germans have abandoned it.

image sources:

French troops on the superstructure of Fort Vaux (Les Français à Verdun)

map (Les Français à Verdun)

8/6/1916 Verdun: the French at breaking point

Outside Verdun the Germans have captured Fort Vaux after a short siege. Now they press on in an attempt to exploit their victory. But the French are unaware that Fort Vaux has fallen. A relief force is preparing another attempt to raise the siege. The two forces collide. The result is carnage, in most areas leading to both sides returning to cover as the enemy’s artillery shells rain down. But Moroccan troops, their numbers greatly depleted by the German guns, press on to attempt the relief of For Vaux. It is only when they are cut to pieces by the fort’s machine guns that they realise that it has fallen to the enemy.

The carnage of the last few days of fighting is exacting a heavy toll on French morale. There have been disturbing incidents: an entire battalion surrendering without a fight, units breaking and running back to Verdun rather than face the Germans. Nivelle is outraged, ordering his officers to adopt the harshest measures to ensure military discipline remains in force. No more ground is to be yielded, no matter what the cost.

image source (De Eerste Wereldoorlog 1914 – 1918)

7/6/1916 Fort Vaux surrenders

The French defenders of Fort Vaux have lasted for four days without water, but now they can take no more. Today they capitulate to the Germans. The surrender is conducted with full military honours, like something from a bygone era of warfare. War is a tough business but the Germans are shocked to see the desperately thirsty French troops emulate the fort’s cocker spaniel by crawling on all fours to drink muddy water out of a shell hole.

The men of Fort Vaux have suffered around a hundred casualties, but they have inflicted some 2,600 on the Germans. Major Raynal, their commander, is treated with great respect by his captors. He is introduced to Crown Prince Wilhelm, the German commander at Verdun. The Crown Prince presents Raynal with a sword as a token of esteem.

image sources:

Raynal & Qui Qui before the surrender (Lead Adventure Forum)

Raynal in captivity (Les Français à Verdun)

6/6/1916 Verdun: desperate times in Fort Vaux

The siege of Fort Vaux continues. Raynal has sent away the stragglers to try their luck slipping past the Germans to the French lines. Apart from the cocker spaniel, who elected to stay in the fort, the only ones left are the men of its garrison.

The defenders’ situation is desperate. They have run out of water and are being tortured by thirst. Men are drinking their own urine and licking at condensation forming on walls. The sufferings of the wounded, particularly the burns victims, is unimaginable. An attempt to relieve the fort fails, the attacking French troops cut down by the Germans. In the fort itself the men suffer another grave reverse, as a German advance puts the last usable latrine out of reach.

Major Raynal decides that his men have done enough. They have fought and died to hold the fort but he cannot expect them to go on without water. The time has come to surrender.

image source:

French soldiers, Fort Vaux (Wikipedia; I am not entirely convinced that this was taken during the siege)

4/6/1916 Verdun: Fort Vaux attacked by flamethrowers & running out of water

The siege of Fort Vaux continues. Now the Germans bring up flamethrowers to smoke out the French defenders. Through apertures and cracks the Germans pour smoke and flame into the fort’s interior. Then the flamethrowers cease and the Germans attempt to rush the main corridor into the fort. Unfortunately for them, a Frenchman beats them to a machine gun and cuts the attackers to pieces, though he is himself wounded several times.

At another entrance to the fort the French have a stroke of luck, managing to capture one of the flamethrowers. They turn this on their attackers. But the situation is still desperate, with increasing numbers of Frenchmen wounded, including the flamethrowers’ victims.

Major Raynal sends Fort Vaux’s last carrier pigeon with a message saying that his men are holding on but relief is imperative. The pigeon is suffering from the German smoke but it carries its message to the French lines, whereupon it dies. There are reports that it is posthumously awarded the Légion d’Honneur.

Meanwhile in Fort Vaux the French discover that their situation is worse than they thought. The water gauges are faulty and now the cistern is revealed to be nearly empty. There is no more water.

image sources:

The Pigeon Vaillant (HistoQuiz)

Monument to the last pigeon of Fort Vaux (European Trip Notes)

3/6/1916 Verdun: Fort Vaux cut off

At Verdun the Germans are attacking Fort Vaux, hoping to seize it and then press on to Verdun itself. After establishing themselves on the fort yesterday, today they complete its encirclement, cutting it off completely from French positions to the south. And they begin the work of storming the fort, attempting to advance down the north west corridor into its heart.

The French have barricaded the passageway and exact a heavy toll on the Germans as they try to move down the narrow shaft. The Germans on top of the fort suffer also from the attentions of French artillery. But the defenders of Fort Vaux are suffering too in the savage underground fighting. And unlike the Germans their numbers cannot be made good with reinforcements.

image source (Les Français à Verdun)

2/6/1916 Verdun: a renewed German onslaught targets Fort Vaux

At Verdun after their successes on the west bank of the Meuse, the Germans are now attacking again in strength on the east. They hope that this onslaught will smash the French defences and bring them to Verdun itself, securing a victory that will knock France out of the war.

The initial German targets now are Fort Vaux and Fort Souville. Once they are secured the German advance will be nigh unstoppable. Today the assault troops reach Fort Vaux. If they hope for a repeat of the easy capture of Fort Douaumont, they are sorely mistaken. The French have learned their lesson and Fort Vaux is now strongly defended. Major Raynal commands the 250 defenders, whose numbers have been augmented by wounded men and stragglers from surrounding units (including a cocker spaniel).

The Germans establish themselves on the fort’s superstructure. At great cost they manage to eliminate the French machine gun platforms. But their efforts to penetrate the fort are repulsed. Raynal and his men are determined to defend the fort to the bitter end.

image sources:

Fort Vaux (Les Français à Verdun)

map (Les Français à Verdun)