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Location 10 – Tranchée de la Soif (St Mihiel Sector)

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Following the failure of their attacks at Fort Troyon, the Germans attempted to outflank Verdun and cross the Meuse further to the south. On 18th September 1914, the five divisions of the Third Bavarian Corps began to advance towards St Mihiel and its bridge across the river. The area was only lightly defended by one territorial infantry division and the German juggernaut crashed straight through it. By 24th September St Mihiel and the Meuse crossing was theirs. The French rushed up the XVI Corps from Nancy to plug the gap but the damage was done – the last two railway lines into Verdun were severed and a Salient extended into the French front.

The St Mihiel Salient was to remain for four years until recaptured by the Americans in September 1918. During that time, and particularly in late 1914 and the first half of 1915, it was the scene of desperate fighting as the French strove to strangle this incursion across the Meuse.

Nowhere was this fighting fiercer than in the Bois d’Ailly on the Meuse heights to the south-west of St Mihiel – with the French trying to gain positions from which they could threaten the town itself. The battle reached its peak in May 1915, when in an attempt to recapture territory lost, the French counter-attacked in an intense three-day operation. On the 20th a company of the 172nd Infantry Regiment under Commandant d’André reached the German fifth line but reinforcements were prevented from following due to dense machine gun fire. D’André’s men were forced to retreat and spent three whole days holding a small stretch of trench under constant fire and without food or water. Eventually, d’André and his men were forced to surrender. In recognition of their privations, the preserved trench line here is known as the “Trenchée de la Soif”, the Trench of Thirst.

The author has to add that he has no belief in the paranormal, but on visiting this area, an alarmed colleague reported seeing "a shape" in the doorway of one of the bunkers. All that can be said is that if such phenomena exist the Bois d’Ailly would be a prime location for their observation – 60,000 French soldiers became casualties in this and the surrounding forest in 1915 alone.

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