To go to the main Souville page with an overview of the battle and links to other awards and documents awarded for the fighting, please clickHERE
To open a useful map illustrating the actions below in a separate window, please clickHERE
Left: Jean Baptiste Aime of the 4th Battalion, 4th Regiment de Marche de Zouaves. He was to win one of his 8 Croix de Guerre in the attack on the 5th of August. His exceptional citation can be found below.
On the 23rd of June 1916 the Germans had launched
their last major offensive at Verdun.
Thiaumont, Fleury and a large section of the Vaux-Chapitre Wald had been gained
in a spectacular push by the elite Alpenkorps and 1st Bavarian Infantry
A few days later the allied bombardment on the Somme
had started and the German high command had ordered a stop to major offensive
actions at Verdun.
On the West bank the Germans dug in where they were, on the East bank they
limited themselves to local attacks.
The most tempting prizes which still eluded them were
the heavily defended "Kalte Erde" (Froideterre) and Fort Souville,
which stood firmly in the way of their advance.
To the North of Souville, attacking from Fort Vaux
the Germans inched towards the right flanks of the fort. The Germans were just
2000 meters from Verdun.
In spite of heavy losses in the preceding months their spirit was still strong
and Fort Souville lay just ahead. If they could
take Souville the road to Verdun
On the night of the 4th of August the 4eme Regiment de
Zouaves (38eme Division d’infanterie) went into the line. Hardened by their sojourn
on Cote 304 and relaxed by a month of rest at
Rancourt the regiment was in fine form. It was no surprise that great
sacrifices were now expected from the men.
Above: The entries in a pass book to a member of the 6th Garde Infanterie Regiment. The last two entries include fighting on the Kalte Erde and Fleury and in the Chapitre Wald.
The text below is based on a section of the Zouaves Regimental history.
The 4eme and 3eme Compagnie took up the positions in
the frontline trenches. The 4eme Cie in the direction of Fleury (to their left
the 8eme Tirailleurs), on the right flank the 3eme Cie which took up position
on the eastern slope of the Ravin des Fontaines (Known to the Germans as the
Souville Schlucht and shown as such on the map). The 5eme Cie Batln occupied
the trenches and the turrets of Fort
Souville itself. The
relief had taken place under a heavy bombardment but casualties had been
At the break of dawn on the morning of the 5th of
August the German artillery started a heavy bombardment with shells off all calibres
falling on the Zouave positions. The front line and, the entire Ravin des
Fontaines and its quarry where the regt H.Q. were heavily hit. Fort Souvile
itself was targeted with 30.5 and 38 cm shells. Telephone lines were destroyed,
it was impossible to send messengers through the shellfire. The Zouaves
prepared to face the coming attack. They were cut off, but had enough experience
in throwing back attacks.
At 7.40am the enemy left their trenches (They were the
men of the Garde Ersatz Division). On the left they made the most of a weak
spot in the 4eme battalion lines and broke through bypassing the post of the
battalion commander. The men of the support section, the telephonists, the
runners and the pioneers under Sgt Major Domazon counter attacked and threw
back the German assault troops. After 45 minutes of fighting the Germans made
off in the direction of their frontline.
Right: An Iron Cross 2nd class document to Reservist Carl Frost. As a member of the 6th Garde Infantry Regiment he attacked the positions of the 4eme Zouaves.
Captain Ageron, commander of the 14eme Cie was wounded
by three shell splinters but stayed at the head of his company who retook every
inch of ground they had ceded. Captain Clermont-Tonnerre and his 13eme Cie
stood firm and Sous Lieutenant Pailler commanding the 15eme Cie was killed
leading his support section in a counter attack.
On the right flank the 3eme Batln managed to hold its
own. In the Ravin des Fontaines the 19eme Cie lost heavily in the bombardment
but when the attackers approached they rose from their trenches and threw
themselves at them. Zouaves and German Guards in a massed brawl with rifles and
hand grenades on a sector of the battlefield into which both the German and
French artillery poured their shells blowing up soldiers irrespective of the
colour of their uniforms.
Three officers of the 19eme Cie were killed. Sous
Lieutnant Bonnefoy commanding the machine gun company manned a gun himself.
Surrounded by Germans, his men dead or wounded around him he was forced to
"play dead" lying amongst the bodies hoping a French counter Attack
would free him. He did not have long to wait. The 17eme Cie, until then in
reserve on a backward slope towards Souville was moved forward to the right of
the 3eme Batl. There they were ordered to stop the German attack at whatever
The Germans were making their way forward from shell
hole to shell hole when the 17eme Cie descended the slope, crossing through an
enemy barrage of shrapnel and small arms fire. The German machine guns in the
Bois Fumin and behind the chapel St Fine were firing furiously, the men of the
17eme Cie fell on after the other. One could follow their path by the long line
of “Kaki’s” laying bleeding on the ground.
The company covered 200 meters then existed no more.
The few survivors took cover in the shell holes and
waited for darkness to come. 19 survivors made it back that night.
Left: The Zouave Jean Aime at a photo Studio in Verdun, a month and a half before the fighting at Souville.
The situation was critical and getting worse from
minute to minute. The enemy had broken through a place on the 3eme Batln line
and was now only 200m from the Regimental Head quarters. Soon there would be
nothing between the Germans and the Fort
Lieutenant Chailes formed a combat group with a
handful of Pioneers, cyclists and telephone operators, 17 men all in all.
Following a fold in the ground they made their way forward. At about 100 meters
from the Germans their cover ran out. The 17 Zouaves rose up and rushed the
Germans. A dozen enemy assault troops were captured while the rest fled back
towards their lines. Making the most of the confusion the courageous group
pushed forward collecting Sous Lieutnant Bonnefoy and a few scattered survivors
of the 19eme Cie. They kept the Germans at Bay throughout the day and that
evening the Germans made their way back into the trenches they had left that
morning. It was their last attempt to take fort Souville.
On the 6th and 7th of August the
Zouaves continued to harass the Germans. The newly introduced VB rifle grenade
was given to them to test and proved to be very effective.
The Germans, fearing a counter attack, fired a number
of artillery barrages at night. It made food and ammunition supply difficult
but thanks to the efforts of the men designated to carry the supplies the front
line was not left wanting. Certainly, the food ration was meagre and the water
ration stingy… but it was enough. The men occupied the shell holes under a
burning sun and kept their moral up thinking of the beer and wine they would
drink once they were relieved.
Right: A variation of the Iron Cross document. Heinrich Kahmann Fought on the Souville Höhe as a member of the 6th Garde Infantry Regiment. Thje entry in his pass book can be found above.
On the 8th of August came the counter attack
the Germans were waiting for.
After a two hour bombardment the 18th Cie
under Lt Ysebaert, reinforced by a section of the 14th Cie took the
trench “Mont Brison” which formed an enemy salient into the French lines. The
enemy garrison surrendered right away and 80 prisoners were taken. Captain de
Lacroix was mortally wounded while doing a reconnaissance of the newly taken
position and Lt. Bardo had been killed in the advance.
The counter attack had demoralised the German
Infantry, from now on it was a battle for the artillery. The bombardment
continued without a break, it seemed to pass the levels seen by the Regiment on
Höhe 304 earlier that year.
Communications to the rear were difficult and
dangerous at night, impossible by day. The evacuation of the wounded was
difficult and many died at the aid station in the Ravin des Fontaines while
waiting to be evacuated. The ravin des Fontaines was a living hell as the enemy
bombarded it with all calibres. The aid station of the 3eme batln was destroyed
with a single heavy shell.
On the 17th the Zouaves were relieved after
12 days in one of the hottest spots on the east bank. In the 12 days they had
fought off and enemy attack, counter attacked, gained over 300 meters of enemy trench
line and captured numerous prisoners and weapons. They kept the ground they had
taken despite an intense bombardment, hunger, thirst and the enraged efforts of
enemy in front of them who had seen victory at Verdun turn into defeat.
Jean Baptiste Aime was awarded a citation for his
Croix de Guerre for his actions on the 5th of August.
“On the 5th of August (He) attacked a group
of Boche Grenadiers with his bayonet. He chased them from our lines and then, with
his rifle fire, helped keep the enemy advance at bay”
In recognition of their services the regiment was
cited at “L’ordre de L’Armee”
Order of the 22nd of September
"(The Regiment) has once again shown proof of its
Valeur. Courage shown since the beginning of the war, notably at Streenstraete
and on the Yser, now again between the period of the 5th to 17th
of August 1916. In August under the command of Lt. Col. Richaud it stopped a
major attack on its positions, then in the following days harassed the enemy
with a number of counter attacks. In the fighting it took a few hundred meters
of enemy trench line, 3 machine guns and numerous prisoners."
Congratulations for making it this far down the page.... to the footnotes....
As collectors we all too often think about the men behind the medals... but seldom about who paid the REAL price for those medals...
Above we had the Cross of War to the French soldier, and the Cross of Iron to the German.
Other men received wooden crosses, if they were lucky and their battlefield graves were not churned over by artillery they may have graduated to concrete crosses....
So, spare the thought for the two men above, Caporal Antoine Celestin, born on the 18th of June 1893 and Zouave 2nd class Paul Julien Grousseau, born on the 8th of February 1894. They served in the 4th Zouaves and both died in the attack described above.
The only reason that anyone today spares a thought about Jean Baptiste Aime and Carl Frost is because their documents on in a collection.... For Antoine Celestin and Paul Julien Grousseau I like to think that by including them here they to, for an instant, will be remembered by someone.
Something fantastic happened this month... Which results in "Version 3" of this page.
The photographs of the two graves above were random shots. I was just walking through one of the graveyards at Verdun. I had passed hundreds, thousands of graves in my various visits.
Sometimes I spend an hour or so, alone amongst the graves.
Jean Lemieux wrote in "La Lune Rouge"...
"Life is like a huge furnace. When we leave there is just a pile of ashes, photos, memories, a farce that two generations later means nothing. A white stone on a hill next to the church."
Indeed, as I wrote above, for the young men of 14-18 who left no children behind, even those two generations is wishful thinking.
So what are the chances, I choose two graves at random.... And not long afterwards the nephew of one of the two men contacts me. Having posted pictures of two of tens of thousands of graves at Verdun, and just by chance the nephew is taking the trouble to find an uncle who died almost 100 years ago... I would say the odds are pretty amazing.
Paul D. was able to provide me with a photo of his uncle (Paul Julien Grousseau) and some information.
Here, to round off the story above, by amazing coincidence, is a photograph and some information about Paul Julien Grousseau.
Paul Julien Grousseau was born on the 8th of February 1894 in Migne, a tiny Hamlet to the east of Poitiers in the Poitou-Charentes region. He then lived and worked as a baker in Vivonne, just to the South of Poitiers.
He was drafted in September 1914 and joined the 4eme Regiment de Zouaves on the 24th of December 1915.
He was killed in the Vaux-Chapitre forest on the 5th of August 1916. He was removed from the roll on the 6th of August.
His remains were transfered to the Necropolis of Douaumont on the 6th of October 1925 and he was buried in tomb number 2951.