In 1914, Europe dominated the world. The super powers were fighting among themselves over economic and political issues, and two groups of defensive alliances were formed in order to prevent war from breaking out : on one side, the Triple Entente (France, the UK, Russia and their colonial empires), and on the other, the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy and their colonial empires).
The assassination at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 acted like a detonator, hastening the eventual declaration of war : following the assassination by a Bosnian student of Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and his wife, Austria-Hungary tried to resolve the Balkans Crisis once and for all by reducing Russia’s influence in the Balkans. By virtue of the alliances, this regional crisis meant that a large part of Europe became involved in the war ; by the beginning of August, virtually all European countries were caught up in the conflict. Germany declared war on France and invaded it extremely quickly.
Both alliances were gradually joined by several more countries: the Triple Entente welcomed Belgium and Japan in 1914, Italy in 1915, Portugal in 1916 and the US in 1917, whilst the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Bulgaria joined forces with the Triple Alliance in 1914 and 1915, thereby turning this European conflict into the first world war.
Meuse during the Great War
Meuse is synonymous with the First World War. From 1914 to 1918, from the Argonne to the Saint-Mihiel Salient and from Vauquois to Les Eparges, the whole of Meuse was in the front line during the Great War. And among all the battlefields, the largest is world-famous - Verdun. The Battle of Verdun was so fierce that it became the mother of all great battles in the 20th century. Europeans, Africans and Americans fought in Meuse. Hundreds of thousands of young men died here. Many of them were buried ; many were never found.
Meuse was martyred and disfigured. Dozens of villages and towns suffered irreversible damage. Farmland and forest were turned into wastelands of death classified as “Red Zone“. The civilian population was forced to flee and many people never came back again. The battlefields are maintained as authentic battle sites and remains, testimonials to the fighting waged during the Great War.
Today, Meuse boasts the richest “Great War“ heritage in the world. This historic, archaeological and commemorative heritage bears the stamp of authenticity. Forts and buildings, artillery batteries and concrete trenches, bunkers and communication trenches, mine craters and shell holes, tunnels, monuments, graves and tombstones combine to create wartime landscapes across tens of thousands of hectares in Meuse.
Meuse timeline from 1914 to 1918
1914 Meuse a time of resistance and ocupation
- 3 August : Germany declares war on France.
- 6 to 13 September : Battle of the Marne : The battle to break through the Revigny Gap; the German offensive shifts the frontline to north of Verdun.
- 24 September : St Mihiel is taken by the Germans.
- October : Vauquois Hill in Argonne taken by the Germans.
1915 Mine warfare
- January-April : Battle of Les Eparges and the start of mine warfare on the hill occupied by the Germans since the retreat from La Marne.
- April : Beginning of mine warfare on Vauquois Hill.
1916 Verdun, A universal symbol
The German offensive on Verdun :
- 21 February : First German offensive to take Verdun from the right bank.
- 21-22 February : Heavy fighting in the Les Caures wood north of Verdun, where Colonel Driant is killed.
- 25 February : The Germans take Douaumont fort.
- 25 February : Philippe Pétain takes command of operations in Verdun from Souilly town hall.
- 6 March : First German offensive on the left bank of the Meuse.
- 7 June : The Germans take Vaux fort.
- 23 June : Violent German attack; the village of Fleury falls but Froideterre fort holds out.
- 11 July : Major German offensive on Verdun; Souville fort holds out. Having lost many troops in the battle of the Somme, the German Chief of Staff abandons his plans for an offensive strategy.
The French regain territory in the Battle of Verdun :
- 17-18 August : The village of Fleury is taken back.
- 24 October : Major French offensive; Douaumont fort is recaptured.
- 3 November : Vaux fort recaptured by the French.
- 15 December : Last French offensive on the right bank.
1917 An international war
- 20 August : French troops continue their fight to regain the left bank of the Verdun battlefield : Mort-Homme is captured by the French.
- 6 April: The United States enters the war.
1918 The war ends
- 12-15 September: Victorious Franco-American attack on the St Mihiel Salient, led by General Pershing.
- 26 September to 11 November: Meuse-Argonne offensive by the American Expeditionary Force.
- 11 November: The Germans sign the Armistice in Rhetondes.
28 juin 1919 : Signature du traité de Versailles.
10 November 1920 : The Unknown Soldier is taken from the Underground Citadel in Verdun.
To know more about the First World War in Meuse discover our universe The Great War in the Meuse 14-18 : the centenary.