The Eastern part of the Western Front:
The Vosges and Alsace,
A travel Guide (part 1)

Senones Necropole Nationale, Saint-Dié (Les Tiges) Necropole Nationale, Le Linge, Tête des Faux, Cernay, Hartmannswillerkopf , Grand Ballon, Musée des Amis de Thann, Ballon d'Alsace, Musée Serret, Belfort, Jonchery, Pfetterhouse, Grand Canon (Zillisheim).

It can often be read that the Western Front was a continues line trenches approximately 400 miles long and stretching from Nieuwpoort on the Belgian coast in the west, to Pfetterhouse on the Swiss border in the east.
After visiting the Western Front for a decade we realized we had seen places spaced over the whole of this front except the most eastern part: the French departments of the Vosges and Alsace. High time to correct this...


Waterworks at Nieuwpoort.
Key position for the flooded most Western part of the Western Front



Swiss - French border post at Pfetterhouse during the war.
The trenches ended near this border post and it's therefore
counted as the most Eastern part of the Western Front.



Border post at Pfetterhouse, Aug. 2000


It quickly became apparent that it would not be easy to find (English) information on this part of the Western Front. Even the book I usually swear by, BEFORE ENDEAVORS FADE by Rose Coombs (see 'The bookshelf' for full bibliographical details) completely ignores this part of the front. So it looked like this was going to be an exploration trip like we did it in the old days: a Michelin or IGN map of the region and checking every mentioned 'Mont.' to see if it had anything to do with the Great War. But the Internet provided some solutions: there was the battlefield guide of Charles Fair on Hellfire Corner and through the internet we came in contact with Eric Mansuy. Eric is an author on the AEF involvement in the Vosges and author of several articles on the internet on this subject. He offered to guide us on two days of our six day visit and brought us in contact with French scholars who kindly offered to guide us over the terrain of their expertise, we sincerely want to thank them for their help and friendship.

Word of Warning
For walking in forested hills the normal precautions should be taken: good shoes, watch out for thunder storms which can sneak up on you (as happened to us). Get off a hill as quickly as you can or shelter in one of the many German bunkers.
No matter how warm it is: wear long sleeves, long trousers and wear your socks over your trousers. Ticks which can cause Lime's disease are plentiful out here. One of us did not follow this advice in 2008 (short sleeves and trousers not in socks) ended up with two ticks, one on his leg and one in the arm-pit. The penalty being a doctors visit and 14 days antibiotics.

The Alsace has been the scene of many wars and has changed between French and German ownership many times. Before 1648 Alsace belonged in different periods to different Kingdoms which would later make Germany. The 30 year war of 1618-1648 between (among others) France and Germany would change that. The French won this war and in the peace treaty of Westphalia in 1648 the German Hapsburgs had to surrender the Alsace to France. Alsace would remain French for more than 200 years.
The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 would change that again. After this war (which was mainly fought in the upper part of the Alsace, in Moselle and Ardennes) the Alsace became German again. This 44 year occupation (or liberation if you will) came to an end in 1914.

The French war plan (Plan XVII) was centered around the attack, what the enemy did seemed less important. While the Germans attacked on the French left flank and threaded Paris, the French right flank thrusted forward to liberate the Alsace. Even before the war is officially declared (Germany declares war on France on Aug. 3rd) there is fighting in the Alsace. On Aug. 2nd 11 border violations by German patrols are reported.
In one of these skirmishes at Jonchery Cpl. André Peugeot (44 R.I.) is killed, 30 hours before the war is officially declared.  He is counted as the 'first French soldier killed in the Great War'. But since he died before War was declared  there must be an other soldier who can be counted as the first French soldier killed. For more details see further down on this page.


Memorial to Cpl. Peugeot.
The original monument was erected in 1922.
This was destroyed on July 24th 1940 by the Germans.
The current monument was erected in 1959.


Detail of Memorial: portrait of Cpl. Peugeot


The fighting that started in the Alsace when Cpl. Peugeot was killed would rage on during 1914 and 1915. Although the front was never quiet, the major battles of the war years 1916, 1917 and 1918 would be fought elsewhere.

Below our travel schedule. What you will need is the Institute Géographique National (IGN) map, Green series (1:100.000),  No. 31, St-Dié - Bâle.
Our trip was done in August 2000 and road numbers and road signs might have changed since then. Below is a description of our trip. It could well be that you find that not all the mentioned sites / placed fit in one day. It could also be that you find you have time left. The places are not far apart and things can be easily shifted forward from the next day, or shifted back to the next day. 

For a general chronology of the fighting in this region please read: The Great War in the Vosges and Alsace: A Chronology, by Eric Mansuy

Day 1: Getting there and World War Two
Most people will get to the region from Metz. Metz - Strasbourg is 160 Km over the A4 motorway (toll). From Metz it is an other 117 Km to Mulhouse (A35/E25). Mulhouse is a large town and makes a good base to exploit the Alsace  / Vosges. It has a wide range of hotels.

BUT that's not what we did. 50 Km West of Strasbourg, on the N420 is the town of Schirmeck. Between Schirmeck and Natzwiller on the D130 is  the village of Le Struthof. At Le Struthof is a former WW2 concentration camp. The French seem to know it as Le Struthof, internationally it seems better known under the name Natzwiller. The terrain is still fenced off with a double fence with guard towers and 4 barracks remain. Among these are the jail and the crematorium. Natzwiller was used as an extermination camp for among others French Resistance Fighters. It is also the place where 4 British Women from the Secret Service were executed by lethal injections and cremated while barely unconscious. It's an evil place and although not WW1 we felt it a must to visit it when so close and pay our respects to those who died there. 
Close to the camp is an annex of a hotel (signposted Chambre a Gaz). The hotel (build in 1930 to accommodate ski tourists) was commandeered by the Germans during WW2 and used as a headquarters. The annex was used on three occasions to experiment with gassing people. The corpses were preserved in Formaldehyde and dissected at the Anatomical Institute at Strasbourg. The experiments performed in this annex would lead to the use of gas in all concentration / extermination  camps. It is possible to visit the annex on some occasions. It still belongs to the hotel. There is no entrance fee charged, but a voluntary donation can be made for the upkeep of the building.

Noticeably more silent  we continued our trip on the N420 towards Saint-Blaise-la-Roche. It's here that the 1st B.C.P. seized the first German flag of the war in Aug. 1914. Take the N424 towards Senones. In Senones the N424 makes a sharp left turn. Don't make that turn but travel straight ahead through the center of the village and follow the unnumbered road on your map.  You are now traveling parallel to the N424. 2 Km. out Senones, Senones Necropole Nationale (in Senones you can follow the signs for "La Poterosse") is signposted to your right . The memorial on this 'T' junction is to two Frenchmen that were shot there by the Gestapo.
The cemetery contains
795 French, 11 Romanian, 6 Polish, and 6 Russian burials. It contains a memorial to the 363 Regiment d'Infanterie (R.I.).

Adjacent to the French Cemetery is a German plot / cemetery. It contains 1528 German burials. There is a very nice memorial to Wehrmann Georg Baumbach who was killed on 16/7/1917. He is buried in Plot 2, Grave 355.

Get back on the D424 and travel to Moyenmoutier. On the City Hall there is a plaque to the American Thomas Rodman Plummer. You can read the full story in Eric Mansuy's AEF Memorials in the Vosges.

After this continue on the D424 till it meets the N59. Take this road towards St.-Dié. Take the exit signed "St.-Dié Centre", turn the first right (away from the center) towards Les Tiges.  Saint-Dié (Les Tiges) Necropole Nationale is on a small road on your left. Problem is that it's only signposted coming from the other direction.... It contains 2608 burials and two memorials.


 Memorial to 99th Regiment d'Infanterie (R.I.)
and the 14th Army Corps. The 14th was composed
mainly of Chasseurs Alpins.



 Memorial to the Chasseurs Alpins
who died Aug. 1914.


Noticeable are the graves of two commanders: J.G. Eveno of the 10th B.C.P. (25/8/1914) and E.P. Reneaud of the 3rd Bn. Chasseurs a Pied (23/8/1914).
Their graves are next to each other and both have a private memorial plate attached to them.

Saint-Dié itself was occupied by the Germans for a short period. See the Chronology mentioned earlier. In the city center in the Rue Thiers is a  bookshop called LIBRAIRIE LE NEUF. It sells an excellent book on the Vosges: LA BATAILLE DES FRONTIERES – VOSGES 1914 - 1915. by J.P. Claudel (1999). Well worth the 130 FF.

Day 2: Le Linge
Take the D415
Saint-Dié - Fraize road. At Saulcy sur Meurthe turn left on the D58. After several 100 meters turn left again. The cemetery is signposted.
The cemetery was created in 1921. Contains casualties from the battle of the Vosges mountains. Also the hospitals at Gerardmer. During WW2 the Germans dug a trench between the French and German plot of the cemetery. The position was attacked by the 411th U.S. Infantry, A Company. There is a memorial at the entrance of the cemetery to 8 of their comrades that lost their lives in that action. The French cemetery records 2560 French, 11 Russian and 1 Romanian burials.

Get back on the D415, and at la Barriere / Anould take the D8 towards Gerardmer. Don't enter Gerardmer but take the D417 towards Munster. On this road you will pass under the Roche du Diable. A very good point to stop and enjoy the views over the Ballons des Vosges. Continue on the D417. Signs will appear with "Le Linge". These signs will take you on the D48 and the D11. On the D11 in a bend there is a gray obelisk on your right. Just past this memorial there is a road to your right. You can park your car there and walk back to the memorial. The memorial is to the Chasseurs, 47, 66 and 129 Div.  which fought at Le Linge 1914-1918. 

From here you have two good views concerning the fighting on Le Linge.
See Le Linge: Chronology of the Combats, by Eric Mansuy.

Follow the D11 to the summit of Le Linge and the Museum and Memorial Park.  The museum is an excellent one. Weapon displays, uniforms and objects found on the battlefield. Open 15 April - 1 Nov., 9:00-12:30 and 14:00-18:00 (information dates from Aug. 2000). The park was last searched in 1971 and several bodies were found. White crosses mark these places.

Follow the D11 and park at the first 'T' junction. Here is Hohrod German Cemetery. It records 1496 German burials. The central memorial has a poem:


which can be loosely translated as:


(Our thanks to Gaston Graf for completing the German text (incomplete due to damage) and to Andrew "the Bard of Burntwood" Bamji for coining up a rhyming translation).

It's worth making a small detour now. Continue on the D11 towards Les Trois-Epis. After a few kilometers you will see a strikingly painted memorial on your right. This is the memorial to the 3rd Bn., 152nd R.I. which according to the memorial was engaged in a 5 hours combat here with a Bavarian Landwehr Regiment on Aug. 19th, 1914. The badge is painted red because the 152nd was know as 'Diables Rouges', the Red Devils.


152 R.I.  'Red Devils' Monument


Continue on the D11. After a short distance you will see a bunker on your left. It has a red cross incorporated in the facade. This is badly damaged, however. The bunker was a German hospital / Casualty Clearing Station. 

Find a suitable place to turn and head back to the Le Linge Museum and continue on the D11. At the 'T' junction turn right onto the D48. Shortly after this junction Le Linge Necropole Nationale is on your right. The central memorial contains some personal plaques with pictures of the deceased. A good reminder that very concrete cross represents a person which left morning relatives and loved ones behind.

Continue on the D48. You will pass the Lac Noir and Lac Blanc. During the war their surroundings contained many French hospitals and supply depots. Follow the signs to the "Tête des Faux". 

This area is used for skiing and there is a big parking. You can follow the signs to the Cemetery and to the summit.

For a description on the Tête des Faux, please follow this link.

We spent 4 hours exploring the site, but we were fortunate to be guided by Vincent Bullière who has an unbelievable amount of knowledge on this site. When you follow the signs and tracks your visit will probably take less time.

After you have finished follow the signs to Le Bonhomme, and there take the N415 towards Colmar and from there on to Mulhouse and your hotel.

Day 3: Cernay and the Hartmannswillerkopf
From Mulhouse take the N66 towards Cernay. Drive past the junction with the N83 (to Colmar), but take the next, the D5 towards Cernay. The layout of the roads there seem to change regularly because of a developing industrial site. Cernay German Cemetery is well signposted however. The sign points to the left. The Cemetery r
ecords 7485 burials of WW1 and 1479 burials of WW2. On the left there is an interesting row of original grave markers.

Return to the D5 and drive towards the city center. Once you see signs for Uffholtz, follow these. You will drive past Cernay Necropole Nationale. When we visited it was not signposted. It contains 2304 French, 45 Czechoslovakian, 19 Russian, and 1 U.K. burials. Also 1405 French WW2 burials. The lone Brit is Driver G.F. Bond, Royal Field Artillery. He died on 10th December 1918.

Follow the D5 and at Uffholtz turn left on the "Route des Crétes" towards the Hartmannswillerkopf. Just after you have turned left notice the house on your left with the original WW1 sign.

On the Hartmannswillerkopf there is a Necropole Nationale, a crypt, a very small museum and extensive remains of trenches / bunkers. Please use this following link for more detailed information on the Hartmannswillerkopf. The options for the rest of the day depend on how much time you have spent on the Hartmannswillerkopf. You can get an impression in 2 hours, our guided tour took 3½ hours, but I can imagine it will be possible to spend a whole day here.

After your visit Continue on the Route des Crétes towards the Grand Ballon. This is the highest peak in the Vosges: 1424 meters. On the top there is an orientation table and a monument to the Chasseurs Alpins, the 'Diables Blues', the Blue Devils.


Monument to the Chasseurs Alpins on the Grand Ballon


Because of the considerable time spent by us on the Hartmannswillerkopf our day drew to an end. Follow the "Route des Cretes" back to Cernay and to your hotel in Mulhouse.

Day 4: Museums and The Ballon d'Alsace
From Mulhouse take the N66 towards Thann. Thann has several monuments. There is the monument Chardon in the Rue Marsilly; the monument to the 66th Div. "L'Alsacienne" in the Rue du Général de Gaulle; the monument to the 133rd R.I. at the Town Hall and the Plaque des Combattants 14-18 at the Military Cemetery at Rue du 7 Août. At 24 Rue St. Thiébaut (one of the main streets leading from the Cathedral) is the Musée des Amis de Thann. It has a very small section on WW1 on the top floor. Open 15 May - 15 Sept. 10:00-12:00 and 14:00-18:30 (information dates from Aug. 2000).

Continue on the N66. At Moosch turn right into the Rue du Cimetière. Here is Moosch Necropole Nationale. The cemetery is not signposted and the Rue de Cimetière is a small street and easily overlooked. Keep an eye on the signs "Restaurant de Foie Gras" which is in the same street. The cemetery records  594 French, and 1 U.S.  burials. Unusual is the board (on your right when you enter the cemetery) which has all the names of the buried and the grave number. The American buried here is Richard Hall, Soldat Sect. Sanitaire, Auto No. 3. He was an ambulance driver, killed on 25/12/1915. Noticeable is that he doesn't have the usual 'Mort pour la France' on his grave.
Also buried here are the brothers Belmont (next to each other), Sister Ignace and General M. Serret.


 Grave of Gen. M. Serret, 66th D.I.
There are strong rumors that there was a 'contract' on Serret's life
by troops fed up with him. Same rumor has it he was killed
by French artillery.

Continue on the N66 to Saint-Maurice-sur-Moselle. In a hairpin turn a few kilometers outside Urbes there is a sign (to the left) to Mon. du Steingraben. On 24 Sept. and 4 Oct. 1944 the Gestapo executed 12 Frenchmen here.

Continue to Saint-Maurice-sur-Moselle. Just past the village turn left onto the D465 towards the Ballon d'Alsace. Near the summit is a restaurant and souvenir shop. Park there. The Ballon d'Alsace is 1244 meters high and was  on the 1914 French - German border. You can walk to the summit and enjoy the extensive views. On the summit is a nice statue of Jeanne d'Arc. The souvenir shop has a small museum / display which can be viewed free of charge.  The main theme should be the French de-mining squads (Demineurs) who cleared the battlefields after WW1, but there are also many rifles on display. To the left of the museum is the modern monument to the Demineurs who were killed on the job. It is usually our practice not to comment on  Memorials, because tastes differ and we recognize that they commemorate something usually worth commemorating. Having a negative comment on the form of a memorial feels like having a negative comment on those commemorated. But in this case... Oh boy. A naked bloke being blown in the air. The site was probably chosen because of the very heavy fighting on the Ballon d'Alsace during WW2. The area was naturally cleaned up after the war and this probably resulted in casualties among the Demineurs.


Monument aux Demineurs, Ballon d'Alsace


Take the D416 back to Saint-Maurice-sur-Moselle, and from there on the N66 back to Saint-Amarin. Head for the town center. In Saint-Amarin there is a Cimetière Militaire (military plot in the Communal Cemetery) with a nice view over Saint-Amarin. There is a memorial to the dead of the 152nd R.I.
A short walk from the cemetery, in the Rue Clemenceau, is the Musée Serret.
A very interesting museum, although it gets some points deducted because photographing is not allowed. Open May - Sept. daily (except Tuesday) from 14:00 - 18:00 hrs (information dates from Aug. 2000).

From Saint-Amarin head back to Mulhouse and your hotel.

Day 5: Belfort and the right of the line
Take the A36 Mulhouse - Belfort road. Take junction 14 (towards Belford Center) first this road is called N1083-1 and that will bring you on the N83 towards Belfort. Keep an eye out for a sign to the left to Belfort Fort / Chateau. Follow these signs and then the signs for Belfort Necropole Nationale. The cemetery records
919 French, 3 Polish, 3 Russian ,and 2 Czechoslovakian burials. After visiting the cemetery go to the fort. The fort itself is worth some exploration (in case you are there before 10:00 hours) and it houses the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire. A fine museum that has two military collections that contain many Great War objects. Open 1 Oct. - 30 April Daily (except Tuesday) 10:00-12:00 and 14:00-17:00 hours. From 1 May  - 30 Sept. daily from 10:00-19:00 (information dates from Aug. 2000).

Get back on the A36 by going back to junction 14 or finding your way to junction 13. Continue towards Sochaux. Leave the A36 at junction 11. Take the N19/E27 to Morvillars. Drive to the center of town and follow the signs for Morvillars Necropole Nationale. It is on the D23 Morvillars - Mézire road. It records 156 French, and 1 U.K. burials. The lone Brit is Pte. T. Robertson, Royal Scots, who died 3rd Jan. 1919 aged 20.

Turn back to Morvillars and continue on the N19 towards Delle. Before reaching this town turn left onto the D463 to Jonchery. Just outside the village is the memorial to Cpl. Peugeot, the 'first' French soldier killed in the Great War. He was 21. For a picture of the memorial see the top of this page. In this incident the German Lt. Albert Mayer from Illfurth is also killed. Mayer is buried at Illfurth Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof, plot 4, grave 181. This cemetery will be visited later. The incident is described in: DER KRIEG AN DER JURAGRENZE (Cerf, 1931). Strange is that this book, and the report it cites, talk of a Lt. Camille Meyer. A search of the Volksbund Kriegsgrabeversorge database has not revealed any 'Meyer' killed on 02/08/1914. Lt. Albert Mayer is listed. Also the Reg. history of the German unit involved identifies the German Lt. as Albert Mayer.

On Sunday 2 Aug., before war was declared, at the Communal Cemetery of Jonchery a NCO guard post of the 8th Cavalry Division, 11th Bn., 44 R.I. guarded the road Réchésy-Pfetterhouse. At 10 O'clock in the morning a soldier of the detachment on guard saw a horseman galloping down the street. With his rifle at the ready the NCO in charge went forward to observe the suspicious horseman. A second later they were attacked by a German patrol. With a shot from his pistol the German leader, Lt. Meyer (sic), shot the French NCO, Cpl. Peugeot, down. Immediately the French detachment opened fire and shot the German Lt., who mortally wounded fell down. With that the rest of the German patrol turned around and raced back. The report made by the French Bn. Commander Petitjean tells: "At 10 in the morning when we heard some rifle shots coming from the direction of the 4 men post of Cpl. Peugeot. Some minutes later a riderless horse come towards us. Blood could be seen on the left side of the saddle - I went to the post of Cpl. Peugeot to find out what had happened. Half way there I saw a German Lt. laying on the side of the road, who wore the uniform of the 5th Jäger zu Pferd. He lay on his right side, with his head in a puddle of blood. It was Lt. Camille Meyer (sic). A bullet had entered his head behind his ear, at the height of his right temple. A black circle around the eye indicated he wore a monocle. The young beardless man was 22 at the most. I continued on my way and heard from a woman who lives just off the street in a house near the post office that Cpl. Peugeot was killed. She told me 'They have killed our Corporal!'. (our thanks go to Oswald Schwitter for providing us with the German text).


Lt. Albert Mayer, 5th Jäger zu Pferd.
Picture kindly provided by Uwe Jelinsky through Oswald Schwitter.


Continue on the D463 to Rechesy and there take the D20 (which later becomes the D24) to Pfetterhouse. In Pfetterhouse turn left (D10) towards the Swiss border. Between the French and Swiss customs houses is a football field (on your left), park there. From here you have a good view on the Swiss customs house. It was at Pfetterhouse where the 'End of the Line' was. The trenches terminated near here. See top of this page.

Head back to Pfetterhouse and take the D24 to Mooslargue and on to Moernach. And Moernach take the D11bis to Feldbach. At Feldbach take the D432 to Altkirch. Altkirch Necropole Nationale is not signposted, but it is behind the Communal Cemetery, which is on the D466 to Aspach. The cemetery records 1749 French burials. When you walk uphill to the memorial you have a fine view over the cemetery and towards Altkirch church.

Get back to the main road and turn left. Take the D432 to Illfurth. At Illfurth follow the signs (left) to Illfurth Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof. It records 1425 German burials.

Return to Illfurth and turn right onto the D432 to Zillisheim. At Zillisheim follow the signs (right) to the "Auberge du Canon". It's a five min. drive. At a certain point the tarmac stops and it becomes a gravel road. Don't worry about that, you're on the right road! Park at (or near) the Auberge and walk back the way you came. The first bend in the road (just a few meters from the Auberge) has two roads to the left. The first one is a grass track, the second one a gravel road. Up on a tree several small signs point towards this gravel road. One has "Empl. Grand Canon 500m" on it. Follow this sign. 500 meters further there is a small road on the left (lower road) while the main gravel road continues (higher road). If you look down this lower road you can see the entrance to a tunnel. Here starts the complex which was part of a 380mm German gun position. The gun shelled Belfort, which is 35 km. away. When the Germans decided to launch an attack early in 1916 to force the French to a fight on the German's turns they doubted between Belfort or Verdun. It became the latter, but deceptive measures were taken to make the French believe the attack would be at Belfort. One of the measures taken was a visit to this front by the Crown Prince. The emplacement consists of several underground tunnels, storage facilities etc. When you walk along the trodden path in the wood you will end up at the concrete gun pit, which is full of water. The underground tunnels can be explored, but a torch, Wellington boots (no matter what the weather is) and a good appetite for the smell of decaying mud is a must.


Entrance to the tunnel


One of two entrances to underground
works near the gun pit.


Return to Zillisheim and turn right onto the D432. A few meters along the road (on your right) is a memorial to the 97th R.I. killed at the Battle of Flaxlanden and Zillisheim, Aug. 19th 1914. The memorial also commemorates General Plessier, the first French General killed during the Great War.

Continue on the D432 towards Mulhouse. At Brunstatt turn right on the D8bis to Bruebach. After a few dozen meters there is a memorial on your left to the 19th Dragoons.

From here on to your hotel in Mulhouse.



Day 6: Getting back and the Maginot line
From Mulhouse take the A35/A25 to Colmar. At leave at junction 24 and head for Colmar (note that junction 24 is a one-way junction. There is no access coming from Strasbourg). At the roundabout you will see Colmar Necropole Nationale. At the back is Colmar German Cemetery.  It must be said that Colmar Center is  beautiful, and well worth a visit. 

Our trip to the Vosges was closed by a visit to the small fort of Marckolsheim. To get there return to the A35/A25 towards Strasbourg. Exit at Guemar and take the D10 to Marckolsheim. Follow the signs "Le Mémorial de la ligne Maginot". The fort was attacked by the Germans on 15-16 June 1940.

Also see Vosges travel guide part 2. The items described in that tour can also be added to the tour described on this page.



An Unfortunate Region 2003/2008