Verdun

Fort Souville

As can be seen from the maps, Fort Souville is the last of the major forts before the hills commence their descent into Verdun about 5 kilometres away. Although not one of the larger forts it was used as a military base and had been strengthened to hold a reserve.

Following the fall of Douaumont it became the main obstacle to a final assault on Verdun, its importance increased on 7 June when the Fort of Vaux fell to the Germans.

By then though the German advance had begun to grind to a halt. Despite this, the Crown Prince's Chief of Staff: General Knobelsdorf was determined to shatter the French lines and break through to Verdun.

Such an assault would require taking the Ouvrage at Thiaumont, the village of Fleury and the Fort at Souville.

The Ossuaire in the distance

Through the trees the great Ossuary at Douaumont looms over the horizon. Perhaps a little misleading in that the Fort of Douaumont is further away to the right, but just to the left is the Ouvrage at Thiaumont.

General Knobelsdorf was supremely confident that he could do so. Colours and Regimental bands were brought up to the front from their bases in preparation for the triumphal entry into Verdun on or before 25 June 1916.

 

The weapon of terror for this attack was going to be gas shells, using a new form of phosgene gas. The French had experimented a bit with the gas, but the German chemical experts believed that they had come up with a variant that was effective against the French gas masks.

On 22 June 1916 the German artillery opened fire on the French artillery positions. At first the French gunners were a bit confused, they could hear the German guns firing but there were no explosions on their side of the lines. Then this green gas started to leak from the shells. The gunners quickly donned their masks, but this time they found that they were not 100% effective against the new gas.

The French Artillery's counter bombardment began to fall silent as gunners choked and died from the effects of the poisonous gas cloud.

At 05:00 hours the German Infantry commenced their assault. Thiaumont and the village of Fleury fell to the Germans but Souville continued to hold out.

On 1 July 1916 The Battle of the Somme commenced.
Originally planned as the Allies big push for 1916 it was now much more than that:
A Franco-British attempt at relieving Verdun.

On the 11th and 12th July 1916 the Germans launched yet another attack. Artillery fire caused serious damage to the roof of the fort but the use of the new gas was for the most part neutralised by updated French gas masks.

The crossroads at the chapel of Ste Fine was taken and for a moment on 12 July German soldiers stood on the roof of Fort Souville. This was to be the first and only time that they would see the town of Verdun.

Leading a small band of soldiers out of the Fort Lieutenant Dupuy managed to drive off the Germans.

The Pamard Casemate

The body of the Fortress is not accessible, but coming through the trees you find a Pamard Casemate built for two machine guns. It always reminds me of looking at the top of an elephant's head.

 

The Wounded Lion

The Lion of Souville

At the crossroads just before you reach the Memorial Museum (D 913 & D 112) you will see this memorial to the men of the 130th Division who fought as part of the Souville Garrison. It's position at the site of the former ruins of the Chapel of Sainte-Fine marks the furthest that the Germans managed to advance towards Verdun in their attack on 12 July 1916.

 

Memorial to André Maginot

The Memorial to André Maginot

As a pre war politician André Maginot was the Député for Bar-le-Duc and for six months had been the Under Secretary of War. When the war broke out in August 1914 he decided to join up as an ordinary soldier in his local unit: the 44th Territorial Infantry Regiment and was sent to the front.

Constantly showing his abilities and audacity he swiftly rose through the ranks and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in September. During an action on 9 November at Verdun his knee was shattered. Despite his injuries he remained with his unit and it was only that evening that he allowed himself to be assisted by two soldiers to return to an aid post.

Hailed as a war hero and a recipient of the Medaille Militaire Maginot returned to politics following his injury. In 1920 he became Minister of Pensions and it was Maginot who conducted the ceremony for the Choosing of the Unknown Soldier in the Citadel at Verdun and lit the flame of remembrance at the Arc de Triomphe.

Throughout his life following the war he worked tirelessly on behalf of the veterans introducing a card for former combatants and acting as patron for the Association of War Wounded.

Perhaps for people outside of France his name is associated more with the famous ring of fortresses on France's eastern border (The Maginot Line) than with his exploits during the war.

He died of typhoid in January 1932 before the line was actually finished - it is named in his memory. He is buried in the town cemetery at Revigny-sur-Ornain on the Meuse. His memorial here at Souville depicts his wounding on the field of battle against a background of a shield made from bricks.

Dupuy Memorial

A little further along the road towards the Wounded Lion Monument you will see smaller memorials including one to Lt Dupuy and his men - the saviours of Souville.