The 121. Infanterie Division moved to the Verdun front in mid March 1916. Their sector was to the north of the village of Vaux, east of the Britenschlucht (the Zick Zack Graben on the map).
On the 17th of March the division launched their first attack. After a steady two day bombardment the 7th (Lt.d.R. Greverath) and 6th (Lt. Schmidt) companies of the 60th Infantry Regiment attacked the quarry (Steinbruch, StBr on the map) to the north of Vaux while the 7th Reserve Infantry Regiment tried to take the village itself. The results were dissapointing. The newly arrived division attacked enthusiatically moving rapidly across no man´s land. The full moon and snow covered battlefield made it easy for the defenders to pick their targets and the attack of the 121st I.D. soon collapsed.
Lt.d.R. Geverath was wounded in the Assault, Wehrmann Franz Heinz disapeared.
The Reichsarchiv describes the sector...
"Equipment was strewn all over the battlefield. In every corner there lay equipment, weapons, entrenching tools, ammunition, wooden boards... and corpses. It was impossible to fetch them in during the day, the enemy machine gunners and pilots saw every movement. At night whole companies were sent forward to find the dead and bury them where they had fallen."
A map of the battlefield. Fort Vaux is to the South, Douaumont to the North-East. The 60. I.R. attacked from the Zick-Zack trench in the direction of the StBr. (Quarry)
An account from the Regimental history of the 60. I.R.
"At 1:20 am on the morning of the 17th of March the assault companies advanced with 50m between waves. There was a bright moonlight, everything was done to avoid any noise. The 7th Company managed to suprise the French soldiers in the Gambetta-Graben (Trench) and throw them out of their positions. The Frenchmen in the quarry recognised the danger and fired signal rockets. This signal got the French machine guns in the Zahnbürsten-Wäldschen (Copse) firing and at the same time the French Machine guns in the quarry opened fire. Before the 6th Company reached their objective they were caught in the crossfire and dived for cover. The losses were so heavy that Lt. Schmidt ordered his men to retire. 100m of the Gambetta-Graben were captured and saps dug back to the German positions. The losses included the badly wounded Lt. Greverath, Behneke, Fischer and Nitsche. Total casualties were 5 officers and 95 NCOs and other ranks. Of the 95 22 were killed and 23 were missing."
The letter from February 1921 confirming that Wehrmann Franz Heinz was missing in action. The cruel reality is, you are probably the only person on the planet to spare a thought for Franz Heinz today. Documents like these get thrown out every day, and when they do, the last proof of existance of the simple soldier... vanish.
On the next day, the 18th of March, the 121st attacked again, this time part of a larger attack, the division was supposed to finally take the village af Vaux. Once again the attack failed. The men of the 121st Division were dug in on the slopes of the high ground to the north of the village Vaux. The trenches were flattened and the soldiers hugged the earth, the French artillery observers and machine gunners able to see right into their positions.
On the 19th the Crown-prince Wilhelm grew impatient and insisted that the V. R.K. come up with a plan to take Vaux. The Vaux area was put under the command of General der Infanterie Mudra and he soon issued orders for a systematic plan of attack.
"The infantry, over a period of time, is to work their way forward taking over in shell holes then digging communications trenches between them and saps to the rear. This work is to go on day and night as we push our staging areas forward, including towards the Fortress Vaux. I expect the field artillery to move their guns forward at night, into the infantry positions. They will engage block houses, MG nests and observation posts at close range. They will be moved to the rear when their objective is achieved."
Above: The Militärpass of Georg Johann Schmidt with the entry "Storming the Quarry at the village of Vaux"
The attack was to come on the 31st of March, but the
artillery was active in the days leading up to that date. The Objective
for the 121st division on the 31st of March was the capture of the
Steinbruch (Quarry) to the north of Vaux, an area the division had come
to know too well. Wehrmann Heinz's Battalion did not take part in this
attack, they were on the divisions right flank and instead provided
covering fire for the 56th Reserve Infantry Regiment, shooting at French
positions in the Caillette and Chapitre woods. The Bavarian Gebirgs
Kannonen Batterie 10. was dug in in the 2nd Battalions positions and
from there engaged a newly discovered French strongpoint. The fire
attracted a heavy French counter bombardment and a number of men in
Heinz's battalion were killed.
A grisly photograph of the "missing", from the album of Capitaine Paul Rossin of the French 112eme Regiment d'Infanterie, taken a few km's to the North East of where Heinz went missing.
The "Grave" of Franz Heinz. The ground to the North East of the Vaux Teich where Heinz and his comrades were last seen alive is now covered in Forest. The shell holes remain visible.