Alsace and the Vosges Mountains

The right of the (allied) line: Between the Vosges and the Swiss border

This area, the extreme right of the allied line, is also covered by the IGN 1:100,000 green series map 31 'St. Die - Mulhouse - Basle'. Most of the sites are covered in one or other of the A.J. Peacock "Alternative Guides".

The small village of Roderen nestles at the foot of the Vosges two miles south of Thann. This is the crash site of Kiffin Rockwell. Just over one mile south of the village in the forest where the D34 forms a cross-roads to Michelbach and Guewenheim is a memorial. This is to the fallen of the "1er Regiment de Voluntaires de Lyonne" of 1944-45. At the base of the monument is a bronze plaque to Rockwell which states that he achieved the first aerial victory of the squadron and was killed in aerial combat on 23 September 1916. Another plaque is to sous-lieutenant Henri Paillard who was killed in aerial combat at Guewenheim on 7 November 1916.

Another site in the rolling countryside south of the Vosges is at Zillisheim just over 4 miles south-west of Mulhouse on the D432. This village was the scene of furious fighting during the French offensives into Alsace in August 1914. A monument beside the D432 commemorates 600 men of the 97th Alpine Regiment d'Infanterie who were killed here on 19 August 1914. It also has a bas-relief of General Plessier who was the first French General to die in battle during the Great War.

In the Bois de l'Altenberg south of Zillesheim is one major site that is worth a detour. This is the emplacement of a 380 mm naval gun that began firing on Belfort on 8 February 1916. "A Second Alternative Guide to the Western Front" by A.J. Peacock states that "this was part of Operation Jura, intended to make the Allies believe there was to be an attack on Belfort (while the preparations for Verdun offensive were well advanced). Twenty shots from the big gun had been fired by 13 February and Belfort was regularly bombed by the Army Detachment Gaede".

(This site was difficult to find. From the monument described above in the village one can see a sign pointing south to a restaurant, the Auberge du Grand Canon 14-18. Follow the road indicated for about one mile and you will see the auberge. About fifty yards before the auberge the road makes a left-hand bend: just before this bend you will see a muddy gravelled track to the right. The emplacement is not signposted, but, if you follow this track for 300 or 400 yards, on the right of the track you will see the arch of the tunnel entrance that marks the start of the complex.)

The semi-circular gun pit is intact, but is half filled with stagnant water. On either side of the gun pit is a deep shaft which looks as if it contained some sort of machine for hoisting shells up from an underground magazine. There are also two sets of stairways that give access to the lower levels. An array of concrete structures - vents, tunnel entrances, stairways etc. - extends about 150 yards from the gun pit back towards the road. There were some earthworks which I assume mark the course of a light railway that must have been used to resupply the gun. The concrete structures all appear to be intact since the gun was too far behind the German lines to have received counter-battery fire.

Peacock adds that "it is possible to walk through the maze of underground tunnels". Please note that the site is extremely wet and muddy. Solid boots and a decent torch are advisable if one wishes to explore underground.

If one has managed to get this far south, one might as well go all the way to the end of the Western Front. This was at Pfetterhouse, a small village about 18 miles south-east of Belfort. The Swiss frontier post on the D10 to the south-west of the village marks the end of the line. This must have been a surreal place to have been stationed during the war since the trenches came to an abrupt end at the border and the peaceful green rolling hills of Switzerland are clearly visible to the south. A photograph of the frontier post with the last poilu standing in front was published in issue no 48 (Jan 1997) of "Stand To! the journal of the Western Front Association". A present day photograph was published in "Stand To!" no 49 (April 1997).

A few miles west of Pfetterhouse is the village of Joncherey. This is where the first casualties of the war on the Western Front occurred in one of the border incidents that preceded the formal declarations of war. On the eastern edge of the village on the D463 is a monument to Corporal Jules Peugeot who was killed at 10am on 2 August 1914, 30 hours before war was declared between France and Germany. He was the first French casualty of the war and died just in front of the house which stands across the road from the monument. His patrol from the 44th R.I. was surprised by and fired upon by a patrol of seven German cavalrymen. The first German casualty, a Lieutenant Mayer of Ilfurth, was killed in the same incident.

A panel which explains the incident and displays photos of the original monument as it looked in 1922 is affixed to the back of the monument. The original monument was destroyed on 17 July 1940, and the present monument was inaugurated in 1959. At the house that stands beside the monument (2, rue 44 R.I.) one can buy a small booklet "Le Drame de Joncherey" which describes the incident and monuments in more detail.

Copyright © Charles Fair, July, 1997.

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