Saturday 18 August 2018

News from the Front (3)

Leaving Metz on Thursday morning we took the A4 as far as Forbach then lesser roads to Bitche. The route was of great interest to me because Forbach was the centre of another of the Franco-Prussian War battles (known as Forbach to the French, but Spicheren to the Germans). Since Forbach and Saarbrücken have expanded greatly over this field I had decided not to visit, but as we drove along the names of the towns and villages were familiar from my study of the battle - Forbach, Spichern, Behren, Petite Rouselle, Grosbliederstroff, etc. The road in fact took us across the back of the battlefield and I caught a good view of the Simbach Ravine that marked the French extreme right.

We stopped briefly at Bitche and could see the fortress high on the hill, dominating the whole area. But it was a public holiday and everything except a Café was closed. So after a coffee and a few macarons we were back on the road to our stop for the night, Niederbronn les Bains. The town featured briefly in the FPW during the French retreat after the Battle of Froeschwiller. It was here that late arriving elements of de Failly's 5th Corps covered the retreat of shattered 1st Corps. 

We arrived way too early for our room to be ready so we set off on a walk to the town center. I hadn't expected much of Niederbronn, but it is a charming town with a strong German architectural influence. Since it was a holiday the shops were closed, but there was a fair in the square and I am sure the whole town was present.

We left the hotel at 9:00 AM and drove to Froeschwiller via Reichtshoffen. Driving through the narrow streets of Reichtshoffen it is easy to imagine the chaos that must have reigned as the retreating French crammed through with German cavalry nipping at their heals. The road carried us through the woods where the troops of Ducrot's and Pelle's divisions fought a deperate rearguard and out into the open ground that leads to Froeschwiller.

We didn't linger in Froeschwiller, but turned off to the left towards Nehwiller. This was where Ducrot's Division  formed in the relatively open ground about 100 meters in front of the road (at the extreme left of the image below) with clear field of fire to the woods.  The ground rises significantly from the woods where the Bavarian 4th Division initially advanced until Ducrot ordered two battalions of Zouaves to clear them out.

Turning back towards Froeschwiller we passed through the village and turned right towards Elhasshausen,  stopping about half a kilometre down the road beside the monument to the 3rd Wurtemberg Jäger Battalion. This unit charged forward from Elhasshausen and was the first German unit to force its way into Froeschwiller towards the end of the battle.

The same position marks the crest of the ridge and along that the ridge line the French artillery deployed and tried to respond to the deluge of shells from from all 14 batteries of the German V Corps. In the image below the ground can be seen falling away from the ridge. In this dip Bonnemain's cuirassiers and Pelle's Division waited out most of the battle.

The next shot shows the view back towards Froeschwiller from the same spot.

The next two shots show the ground looking from the ridge looking east. This was the focus of the fignting of the mid to late afternoon. Beyond  what appears to be the treeline (but in truth is just a number of scattered trees the the camera sees as a mass) is the forward edge of the ridge where Raoult's Division deployed and fought most of the day. 

Later in the day it became the site of the counterattack of the Wollf's and Marie's brigades.

Perhaps most famously it was the site of the charges of Bonnemain's cuirassiers.

The next shot is taken from the Elsasshuasen road looking south towards the Neiderwald. This marked the right of Raoult's line.  Starting within the wood and extending further south is where Lartigue's division stood.

This shot, a little to the right of the one above, is where Nicolaï,'s 7th Corps division stood at the start of the battle.

A little further along the Elsasshausen road is the Lion Monument to the German 83rd Regiment.

The ground along this ridge line is scattered with small apple orchards and, as in the last  of the shots below offers a view back to Freoeschwiller.

A little furher along the road stood the monument to the German 94th Regiment, that finally carried the village of Elsasshausen.

And yet further down the road, past the village of Elsasshausen, is the artillery monument, marking the position taken along the road by batteries of the XI Corps. This two level, octagonal observation tower, with 8 Krupp gun barrels built into its walls, offers a mgnificent view of the center of the battlefield.

Below, looking back towards Froeschwiller, give a great view over the ground that Bonnemain's troopers charged. What really surprised me was the number of clumps of vegitation, not woods, but just a few trees, were scattered across the for thought for future game tables.

This shot looks west towards Elsasshausen.

This looks south towards the Neiderwald. The wood in the center middleground is the Petit Bois, the scene of fierce hand to hand fighting.

Still further north the road descends through the gully (the name of which escapes me) that runs north of Calvary Hill. Atop this hill, the site of the counterattack by the French 99th Regiment, stands the French memorial to the battle, which comes in the form of this modern sculpture (sorry it is so dark but the shot is taken almost directly into the sun)...

And the more traditional form.

The site also offers great views southeast across the face of the hill towards Gunstett where the XI Corps artillery was positioned early in the day, and in the second shot south towards the Niederwald. 

The next stop for us was at the monument to the 11th Jäger battalion. This battalion was roughly handled first by the Turcos in front of the Brüch Mill and then at the farm that stood at the top of the hill beyond the monument.

On the crest of that hill, shown better here, is where the bulk of Lartigue's Division initially deployed.

Moving further around to the south, beyond Morsbronn, stands the memorial to Michel's Cuirassier Brigade that made the suicidal charge across the slopes show in the second image.

Also from the position of the Cuirassier memorial, looking southeast, can be seen the route taken by von Bose's XI Corps in thier flanking movement around Lartigue's right.

The final stop was on the north end of the line near Langensoultzbach. It was here that the Bavarian 4th Division formed and advanced against Ducrot early in the action. 

By now it was lunch time and we found a little place and settled in. After that we went into the town of Woerth to visit the Musée de 6 août, but that is another post, since this one has gone on for too long.


  1. Glad you enjoyed your visit, I was in Verdun two days ago, not so far from you! Nice post...

    1. Thank you Phil. We are really enjoying the hot summer weather!

  2. Very enjoyable battlefield tour, Mark! Do you suppose those small clumps of bushes and scatterings of trees as on the battlefield today were the same during the FPW? Was there more vegetation? Less?

    Looks like a marvelous trip. Niederbronn looks quaint. Perhaps that would make a decent place to stay?

    1. I suspect that those clumps wrre present in 1870 - some illustrations do show something similar. Some of the woods are smaller today.

      Wissembourg, that will feature in the next report, is even more quaint and in retrospect it would have been a better option to mak it a base and go too and from the Froeschwiller battlfield - it is only a 30 minute drive.

  3. Interesting tour, very open spaces,nice looking old town and yes I'm intrigued by the clump vegitatveg!
    Best Iain

    1. Yes this battlefield is pertty much intact, apart from the town of Woerth expanding towards Froeschwiller, up the slopes on which Raoult's left was formed. Of interest apart from the clumps of vegetation were the small planting of grapes and fruit trees. The contemporary descriptions of the field mention these. I think there will be a need to make some more terrain items when I get home.

  4. I am surprised at the large number of monuments, but it is good to see. The open fields really do look like a wargame table with lots of wide open spaces and a few woods, as opposed to fenced-off farmland. The gently rolling hills are always difficult to recreate though, yet can be quite deceptive in tiring you out by the time you have made your way to the top.

    1. There are a great number more monuments and markers, both at Froeschwiller and Gravelotte. In many cases it simply was not possible to stop. The vast majority are German, because they held this area for 58 years after the battles. There was quite a business in military tourism before the Great War - the museum in Woerth had quite an interesting display of postcards and the like. There are also a number of markers placed by families in rememberance of individuals killed that were quite poignant.

      It is a little odd to see these vast fields unfenced. Ther seems to be no need for the farmers to have some sort of demarkation of their property.

  5. Fantastic shots, Mark. It always intrigues me when I see actual photos of the ground that battles occurred over. You tend to develop a picture in your head, which is more often than not, incorrect.

    1. Thanks Nathan. Having studied this battle intensely I had built a fairly accurate mental image of the area between Froeschwiller and Elsasshausen, but the way the ground fell away to the south of the latter and the expansivemess an openess of that ground was a surpise. On the map it seems a short, flat distance. Now I understand why the capture of the village was such a difficult task.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Sorry Aly, I managed to delete your comment in error...the problem with replying to comments while sitting in the hotel terrace on sunny afternoon!

    2. Thank you for yet another enjoyable virtual tour...
      Once again it’s very interesting to see the shape of the land...

      All the best. Aly

      Is what I said... :-)