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Location 3 – Butte de Vauqois (Argonne Sector)

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The tactical importance of the village of Vauqois and the hill on which it stood (known as the Butte de Vauqois and rising to 295 metres) was recognised early on in the First World War. It originally fell to the Germans on 24th September 1914 during the consolidation of the front following the Battle of the Marne and was used as a key observation post dominating the surrounding area. The French tried desperately to recapture it in February and March 1915 and managed to reach the summit, but could not dislodge the Germans from the northern side of the hill.

What followed, for the next three and a half years, was one of the most intense and concentrated mine warfare campaigns in history. Both sides burrowed into the hill, setting and exploding an incredible total of 519 mines (199 German/320 French). They ranged from quite small charges of 2,000kg - 8,000kg or “camouflets” designed to collapse nearby enemy tunnels, to the massive 60,000kg charge detonated by the Germans on 14th May 1916 which killed 108 Frenchmen and blew away the whole western side of the hill. By the time the feature was finally captured by the US 35th Division on 26th September 1918 by outflanking it to the east and west, what had been the summit was merely a series of cavernous mine craters separating the Allied and German trench lines. The village that had stood there before the war was a distant memory and the remains of 8,000 French and German soldiers lay buried in the churned-up earth.

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All photos © Mark Sluman. Click on image for full size.

Today the Butte de Vauqois has been reclaimed by nature and the village has been rebuilt at the foot of the hill, yet the incredible violence of what occurred here is still plain to see. At the summit is a memorial to the fighting and many of the trenches have been restored although archaeologists are continuing to explore the miles of tunnel under the hill used by the French and German garrisons.