Butte Vauquois

In September 1914, after the initial advance into France had been halted, the Germans once again went on the offensive, capturing land south of Verdun, an area that would be known as the St. Miheil Salient.  The salient cut off one of the two major rail lines into Verdun.  On September 22nd, the Germans attacked south in the Argonne Forest, gaining several kilometers including a butte rising 70 meters above the surrounding land, with the town of Vauquois on top.  Butte Vauquois overlooked the remaining rail line into Verdun.  The Germans could direct fire on the railroad, just six kilometers from the butte.  In a matter of a few days, the Germans had reduced the supply line of Verdun to a country road and a narrow guage railroad from Bar le Duc.  Starting on October 28th, the French began attacking the butte, without much success. In December, the French high command took note of the Verdun's tenuous supply situation and ordered the capture of the butte.  On February 17, 1915 the French attacked again, with the first use of mines at the butte.  Attacks continued into March.  On March 4th, the French reached the top, but the two sides still faced each other across the ruins of the town.  In some cases, the lines were just nine meters away from each other.  

In March 1916, the Germans blew four tons of mines, the French twelve.  On May 4th, the Germans blew sixty tons of mines.  Mining continued, and eventually, the top of the butte became two ridges separated by mine craters.  Attacking across the craters was impractical.  Both sides saw an escalation in the mining as the solution.  While the Germans hoped to blow off the entire top of the butte, the French hoped to simulateously detonate three mines of 145 tons each.  To put that into persepctive, the Lochnager Crater at the Somme, which was 300 feet across and 70 feet deep, was the result of a single 30 ton mine.  Only during the American Meuse-Argonne offensive in the fall of 1918 was the butte finally captured.  In all, 519 mines were detonated.  The French accounted for 320 of these, amounting to 664 metric tons of explosives.

1918 Trench Map From George C. Marshall Library


Concrete Model of Butte

Map of Butte

The arrow shows the tour trail.  

Cross Section of the Butte


Mine shafts were dug into the side of the butte.


From the German Side

The Lanterne des Morts is lit on special occasions.  For scale, note the tourists walking along the path.



From the French Side

For scale, note the tourists walking along the path.


From the German Side

Copyright 2010-11 by John Hamill

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