Rhine Battle Walks

Offering guided tours of the Rhine battlefields of WW1, WW2, Napoleonic and Franco-Prussian Wars.

Siege of Neuf-Brisach (Napoleonic Wars): From 03 January to 20 April 1814.

French General Dermoncourt was ordered by General Grouchy to hold the forteress of Neuf-Brisach (18km south-east of Colmar). His garrison consisted of 3,000 men, which were overwhelmingly National Guardsmen with a small detachment from the 105e de Ligne and 16e Chasseurs à Cheval.

The siege started on 3 January 1814 when Wurttemberger forces arrived, later replaced by Bavarians. After a few skirmishes, the French surrendered on 20 April 1814.

Siege of Belfort (Napoleonic Wars): 24 December 1813 to 15 April 1814.

On 31 December 1813, the Austrians, having bombarded Belfort since the 24th, called on the French defenders to surrender. The call fell on deaf ears. The Austrians start to bombard the city once more at midnight on 8 January before being replaced by a Russian division, which in turn would be replaced by another Austrian brigade on 17 January.

The French garrison undertook a number of sorties during all this time in order to disrupt Allied operations and to secure provisions. On 13 February, the French tried unsuccessfully to blow up the brigade at Danjoutin. On 12 March, the Allies call once more for the French to surrender but the later refuse once more.

On 6 April, emissaries bring news that Paris has capitulated. The garrison at this point only has enough provisions and has lost 2/3 of its original strength. On 15 April, the French decide to cease fighting and open the doors of the city to the Austrians.

Siege of Huningue 1814 (Napoleonic Wars): From 21 December 1813 to 14 April 1814.

The French defenders are made up by two battalions of National Guardsmen and a small contingent of the 7e Léger. Outside, Bavarians are beseiging the fortress. After three months, the French continue to resist.

On 20 March 1814, the Bavarians bring a large amount of artillery to bear on Huningue. The French start to realise that the game is up. On 6 April, the French are advised that Napoleon has capitulated and on 14 April in the morning, the siege is over and the Allies take possession of the fortress on 16 April.

HWK (WWI): On 26 March 1915, the French continued their attacks when the 152nd Infantry Regiment (152e RI) once more charged the German-held summit of HWK, with the support of several of Alpine light infantry sections.

The attack was a complete success and the French not only captured the summit itself but pushed on until the Panorama Rock, the Bischofshut and the Curb 7 sector.

The Germans suffered 1.000 dead and over 1.600 German soldiers were made POWs.

HWK (WWI): On 23 March 1915, the French 152nd Infantry Regiment (152e RI), supported by the 7th Alpine Light Infantry Battalion (7e BCA), charge into battle after a four-hour bombardement by the French artillery.

The French captured the Sermet position but are blocked in their advance by German machine-guns placed 150m above that position.

Losses were heavy: 400 dead and more than 200 POWs on the German side whilst the French suffered 260 dead including 9 officers.

HWK (WWI): On 17 March 1915, following up on their successfull attack of 05 March 1915, the French 7th and 13th Alpine Light Infantry battalions (7e and 13e BCA) attacked the German positions on the HWK summit.

This attack failed and lead to high casualties on both sides.

After the attack, the 13e BCA was relieved by the 152nd Infantry Regiment (152e RI) and, at the same time, the German command decided to withdraw the 161. R.I.R. and replace it with the 26. Infanterie-Regiment.

HWK (WWI): On 05 March 1915, in the sector called Jägertanne, the French 13th Alpine Light Infantry Battalion (13e BCA) launched an attack against German positions held by the 161. R.I.R.

An entire company of the German defenders was annihilated by the precision of the accompanying French bombardement at Goldbach and the Germans were thrown out of their positions in total disarray.

HWK (WWI): Having been promoted to the head of the French 66th Infantry Division since 29 January 1915, General Serret decides to launch an attack on the German positions on the HWK summit.

On 27 February 1915, between 11am and 3pm, over 13 French artillery batteries bombarded the German lines before the 7th, 13th and 53rd Alpine Light Infantry battalions (7e, 13e and 53e BCA) charged with bayonets.

The French artillery bombardement, unfortunately, wasn't the best and the French infantry was pushed back by the firepower of the 161. R.I.R. (Rheinischen-Infanterie-Regiment), the Landstrumbataillon Mannheim and the 2nd Squadron of the 11. Uhlans.

The Siege of Belfort (Franco-Prussian War): Lasting from 3 November 1870 to 18 February 1871, this 103-day military assault and blockade of the city of Belfort by Prussian forces during the Franco-Prussian War. The French garrison held out until the January 1871 armistice between France and the German Empire obligated French forces to abandon the stronghold in February 1871.

Belfort is located in a gap between the mountainous southern Vosges and the Jura Massif, strategically positioned as the gateway between Alsace and central France. At the beginning of the war, the French Army of the Rhine was routed in northern Alsace. The fall of Strasbourg on 28 September 1870 allowed the German army under August von Werder to move south against Belfort. Upon hearing of the approaching German army, Pierre Philippe Denfert-Rochereau, commander of Belfort, began constructing fortifications around the city, expanding those originally built by Vauban. Werder's forces reached Belfort and invested the city on 3 November. The intransigent resistance by the French forces stopped the Germans from completing an effective encirclement of the city.

General Charles Denis Bourbaki assembled an army intending to relieve Belfort. On 15 January 1871 Bourbaki attacked Werder along the Lisaine River; however after a three-day battle he was repelled and his army retreated into Switzerland. German forces grew impatient with the length of the siege and on 27 January 1871, General von Tresckow launched an attack on the city which was repulsed and the siege operations resumed.

On 15 February an armistice was signed between France and Germany. Louis Adolphe Thiers, president of the Government of National Defense sent an urgent message to Denfert-Rochereau ordering him to surrender the fortress. On 18 February the Belfort garrison marched freely out of the city with their weapons and honor.

In recognition of the French defense of Belfort, under the terms of the Treaty of Frankfurt, the city and its surrounding area were not handed over to Germany, unlike the remainder of Alsace.

HWK (WWI): After the fall of the French forward-post at the end of January 1915, both French and Germans proceeded to improve their trench systems in the area. On HWK itself, communication trenches and front-line trenches were improved upon. Shelters, observation posts, casemates and living quarters were also constructed.

In order to get to the HWK battlefield, the French constructed access roads from Willer-sur-Thur and Bitschwiller for the infantry and from Molkenrain for provisions and artillery. Many batteries were scattered along the surrounding mountains (Grand Ballon, Goldbach, Molkenrain, Freundstein, Roche Dure, Herrenfluh and Wolfskopf).

On the German side, they continued to improve and fortify their position on the HWK mountain top, with concrete trenches and shelters. To get the necessary materials up to the front, they created a serpentine road that served as the main link between their front and rear. German artillery was set-up at the foot of the HWK mountain in a semi-circle around Nonnenbruch, Wittelsheim, Staffefelden, Berrwiller, Bollwiller, Sandgrubenkopg and Thierenbachkopf.

Siege of Huningue (French Revolutonary Wars): From 1 December 1796 to 1 February 1797.

The French defending the fortress were under the orders of General Férino and numbered 4,000 men. The Austrians beseiging them numbered 10,000 soldiers.

The French surrendered on 1 February 1797 and evacuated between 2 and 4 February.

HWK (WWI): At the top of Hartmannswillerkopf, the German 123. L.I.R., 119. L.I.R., 14. M.J.B. (Mecklemburgische Jäger Bataillon) as well as the 11. Uhlans having been attacking the forward-position held by the French 28th Alpine Light Infantry Battalion (28e BCA). Under the heroic leadership of Second-Lieutenant Canavy, the French knocked every German attack back.

French reinforcements of the 13ème, 28ème and 53ème B.C.A. attempted to break the German encirclement of their comrades from the Silberloch but the German machine-guns prevented them from gaining any success.

The French continued to resist despite the icy temperatures of -14°C and the thick snow. However, on 21 January 1915, the Germans managed to get a Minenwerfer (trench mortar) up the mountain and launched around 20 50-kg rounds on the heads of the poor Frenchmen. One of the last shots hits the ammunition depot and killed Canavy.

Exhausted, the French defenders were forced to surrender and 118 were lead away to Mulhouse as prisoners of war.

The struggle to capture the 28ème BCA's forward position had claimed the lives of over 1.000 men on both sides. But the battle of Hartmannswillerkopf had only just begun...

HWK (WWI): On 19 January 1915, the German 1. Rheinische-Infanterie-Regiment (Nr.25) attacked and took the Hirtzenstein, a rocky headland at 570m altitude just below the southern face of the Hartmannswillerkopf. 42 French soldiers of the 28th Alpine Light Infantry Battalion (28e BCA) were made prisoners during this action.

The Germans then tried once more to destroy the French forward-post on the summit with both the LIR 119 and LIR 123, accompanied by the the 14. Jagerbataillon and the Uhlans of the 42nd Cavalry Brigade.

The French position, held by part of the 1st company of the 28e BCA and led by Lieutenant Canavy, was surrounded but the Germans failed to break them despite multiple assaults.

Reinforcements from the French 13th and 27th Alpine Light Infantry battalions (13e and 27e BCA) were sent to support their comrades but were unable to break the German siege. Commander Barrié, at the head of the 13e BCA, was killed during this engagement.

HWK (WWI): On 14 January 1915, the 8th Company of the German 123. Landwehr-Infanterie-Regiment, supported by the Landsturmbatallion Heidelberg, tried to execute a pincer movement on the French forward-post. However, the Frenchmen held on long enough for reinforcements to arrive from the Silberloch and the Germans were forced to retire.

HWK (WWI): On 9 January 1915, the German artillery comes into play for the first time on the Hartmannswillerkopf with a bombardement at 10.40am, followed up by a new infantry assault on the French forward position at 1.30pm by the 123. Landwehr-Infanterie-Regiment.

The attack is a failure as the Germans are pushed back by the men of the French 28th Alpine Light Infantry Battalion (28e BCA), that have also placed marksmen amongst the surrounding trees, with losses amounting to 34 men killed and another 81 injured.

Following this new failure to destroy the French forward-post, the German command decides on calling upon regular soldiers to wrestle the summit from the French.

HWK (WWI): On 4 January 1915, 150 soldiers of the German 123. Landwehr-Infanterie-Regiment surrounded and attacked a forward post of 30 men from the French 28th Alpine Light Infantry Battalion (28e BCA).

The Frenchmen fought hard and threw the Germans back in total disarray.

WWI: Today, on 3 January 1915, after 10 days of attacks and counterattacks, at the cost of great suffering on both sides, the French finally took the village of Steinbach.

HWK (WWI): On 30 December 1914, a German recon patrol struck out westwards and fell on the French post, where they were greeted with a brisk fire. Later on, the German observation post would come under French attack.

The Germans sent another patrol and one of the soldiers, Wehrmann Maximilian Ott of the 8th company of the LIR 123 was killed.

Ott has the unwanted honour of being the first fatality of the battle of Hartmannswillerkopf, which would go on to claim thousands of victimes.

HWK (WWI): On 28 December 1914, the German 123. Landwehr-Infanterie-Regiment set-up an observation post with forty men to the east of the summit of the Hartmannswillerkopf, with no idea that the French had done likewise not too far away.

WWI: Today, on 27 December 1914, the French 152nd Infantry Regiment (152e RI) launched an assault to take the village of Steinbach, just to the south of the Hartmannswillerkopf.

The attack started at 8am with an artillery barrage, which destroyed several buildings and started several fires. At 10am, the 152e advanced through the morning fog and into the flames of Steinbach under heavy German fire.

The French attacked twice before calling it a day and leaving Steinbach in German hands.

HWK (WWI): On Christmas Day 1914, the soldiers of the French 28th Alpine Light Infantry Battalion (28e BCA) take hold of the Silberloch plateau and set-up a forward-post with 30 men on the east of Hartmannswillerkopf summit.

This was the first permanent position set-up on the HWK battlefield.

WWI: Today, on 24 December 1914, the Germans attacked in order to take back the Tête des Faux mountain summit that the French had conquered at the beginning of the month.

A private of the 14. Jager Battalion tells us about this assault:

"It was a nightmare. The French were over-energised. They were shouting, singing the Marseillaise, real devils! We couldn't see anything and getting lost. Our feet, that were frozen, were getting caught in the barb-wire. Bullets were hailing down on us and we lost 500 comrades. I have no idea how I got out of all this..."

HWK (WWI): On 21 December 1914, German patrols from the 6. Infanterie-Regiment (IR 6) are sent to scout the forests around the Hartmannswillerkopf and come upon a patrol of French soldiers. Shots are exchanged and the Germans suffer three men wounded.

WWI: Today, on 2 December 1914, the French 28th and 30th Alpine Light Infantry battalions (28e and 30e BCA), after two unsuccessfull assaults, took the mountain summit of "La Tête des Faux".

It was during this battle that the Germans gave the French Alpines troops the nickname of "Schwartz Teuffel" (Black Devils), which the French troops modified to "Diables bleus" (Blue Devils).

WWI: Today, on 31 October 1914, after a titanic struggle against the enemy, the French 28th Alpine Light Infantry Battalion (28e BCA) took and held the stategic mountain summit of "La Tête du Violu".

Le Linge (WWI): On this day (17 October) in 1915, the bloody battle of Le Linge came to an end. Over 15,800 men fell (8,800 French and 7,000 Germans) in what was one of the bloodiest engagements between French and German troops during World War I.

French monument on the Linge 1915 battlefield, which translates as:

"To the Officers, NCOs, Corporals and Privates of the 107th Alpine Light Infantry Battalion who fell for France."

Le Linge (WWI): The last great offensive to take place at the Battle of Le Linge was launched on 16 Octobre 1915, where the Germans unsuccessfully tried to break the French trench lines.

From that moment on, each side stayed in its positions and consolidated them, with artillery barrages breaking the monotony of the soldiers' lives until the end of the war on 11 November 1918.

The Battle of Le Linge claimed the lives of 11.000 French soldiers and 7.500 German soldiers.

Many thanks to the Year 7 pupils of Collège St-Joseph at Riedesheim for their attention and questions during the visit to the Hartmannswillerkopf battlefield this morning.

Le Linge (WWI): On 12 October 1915, a heavy German artillery barrage is followed up by an infantry attack along the French lines on the Ligne and the Schratz.

At the Collet du Linge, the 14th Mountain Light Infantry Battalion (14e BCA) holds its ground but the defenders at the Schratz are forced to give way.

The Siege of Strasbourg (Franco-Prussian War): After the German victory at Wörth, troops from the Grand Duchy of Baden under Prussian General August von Werder were detached to capture Strasbourg with the help of two Prussian Landwehr divisions which had been guarding the North Sea coast. This 40,000-strong siege corps reached the fortress on 14 August 1870 and began to immediately bombard it. The defenses were largely obsolete and 7,000 of the 23,000-strong French garrison were National Guard militiamen. Desiring a quick surrender, the Germans began a terror bombardment to destroy the morale of the civilian population on 23 August. Explosive and incendiary shells were rained down on the city for four days and entire quarters were reduced to ash. Panic developed among the civilians but there was no capitulation.

A shell shortage forced Werder to lower the intensity of the German fire on 26 August and switch to formal siege operations. The Germans dug their way closer to the fortress through trench parallels and destroyed specific sections of the defenses with concentrated bombardments. The siege progressed rapidly, French sortie attempts were defeated and by 17 September the enceinte wall had been breached. At the same time, the defenders' morale was lowered by news of the annihilation of the Army of Châlons at Sedan and the encirclement of the Army of the Rhine in Metz.

On 19 September 1870 the Germans captured their first outwork and began a devastating close-range bombardment of the bastions. With the city defenseless and a German assault imminent, the French commander Lieutenant-General Uhrich surrendered the fortress.

17,562 troops, 1,277 artillery pieces, 140,000 rifles, including 12,000 Chassepots, 50 locomotives and considerable stores of supplies into German hands on 28 September. The French National Guards were allowed to disperse. The Germans lost 936 troops. The besiegers expended 202,099 shells, with a weight of about 4,000 tons. Some 861 French soldiers died from all causes by the end of the siege and thousands were wounded. A total of 341 civilians were killed by the bombardment and a further 600–2,000 wounded. An estimated 448 houses were completely destroyed and 10,000 inhabitants were rendered homeless. The German siege operation was successful in clearing up railway lines to German forces in the French interior and freed up several divisions and a corps for operations along the Seine and in the siege of Paris. The deliberate German targeting of civilian morale presaged the total wars of the 20th century.

Rhine Battle Walks: From Napoleon to 1945

We are a small company offering guided tours (in French and English) around the many battlefields that litter Alsace, France’s most eastern province and border territory between both France and Germany. We specialise and propose the following guided tours: Napoleonic Wars - Invasion of Franche-Comté by the Austrians (1815); - Defence of the Rhine by Rapp (1815)

Franco-Prussian War - Battlefield of Wörth/Reichshoffen (1870) - Forteress and siege of Bitche (1870) - Battlefield of Wissembourg (1870) - Battlefield of Gravelotte (1870)

World War I (Alsace-Rhin Sector) - Le Donon (1914) - La Tête des Faux (1914) - Le Linge (1915) - La Fontenelle (1915) - Metzeral (1915) - Hartmannswillerkopf/Viel-Armand (1915) - Strasbourg/Molsheim Sector - Sundgau/Mulhouse Sector

World War II - Colmar Pocket (1945)

So come along and engage with history along France’s eastern frontier!

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Vidéos (voir toutes)

Visit of the Agricultural School of Grenoble - 9th April 2019
HWK 1914-1915. Going up Boyau 0 under the snow

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