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Group Fortification Lorraine/Feste Lothringen
Type fort of type von Biehler
Coordinates Latitude:
Built 1899-1903
Garrison 1400 men

The Feste Lothringen, renamed Group Fortification Lorraine after 1919, is a military installation near Metz. It is part of the second fortified belt of forts of Metz and had its baptism of fire in late 1944, when the Battle of Metz occurred.

Historical contextEdit

During The Annexation, Metz, will oscillate between a German garrison of between 15,000 and 20,000 men at the beginning of the period[1] and will exceed 25,000 men just before the First World War,[2] gradually becoming the first stronghold of the German Reich.[3] The Feste Lothringen complete the Second fortified belt of Metz composed of Festen Wagner (1904-1912), Crown Prince (1899 - 1905), Leipzig (1907–1912), empress (1899-1905), Lorraine (1899-1905), Freiherr von der Goltz (1907-1916), Haeseler (1899-1905), Prince Regent Luitpold (1907-1914) and Infantry-Werk Belle-Croix (1908-1914).

Built in the early XXnd   century, the group fortification becomes part of a wider program of fortifications called " Moselstellung", encompassing fortresses scattered between Thionville and Metz in the valley Moselle. The aim of Germany was to protect against a French attack to take back Alsace-Lorraine from the German Empire. The fortification system was designed to accommodate the growing advances in artillery since the end of XIXis   century. Based on new defensive concepts, such as dispersal and concealment, the fortified group was to be, in case of attack, an impassable barrier for French forces.

Overall designEdit

The scope of protection of the Group Fortification Lorraine is provided by a set of infantry positions, fortified barracks and artillery batteries scattered over a wide area and concealed by the natural topography. From 1899, the Schlieffen plan of the German General Staff designed the fortifications of the Moselstellung, between Metz and Thionville, to be like a lock for blocking any advance of French troops in case of conflict.[4] This concept of a fortified line on the Moselle was a significant innovation compared to Système Séré de Rivières developed by the French. It later inspires the engineers of the Maginot Line.[5]

Construction and facilitiesEdit

Group Fortification Lorraine was built on the heights of Saulny. It was to strengthen the northwest edge of the first fortified belt. It controlled the railway axis Metz-Verdun, through Amanvillers and the highway Metz-Briey. Covering an area of 385 ha, the Feste Lorraine was built from 1899 to 1903. It consists of a main fortification and two support points north and west. It has 6 howitzers 150mm wide and six long guns 100mm wide.[4] It has 14 observation domes and 24 lookout posts. It has two concrete barracks, one for 1,000 men, the other for 400 men. It was indeed designed to accommodate four infantry companies, in addition to the gunners. The Feste had a phone line and a power plant with 4 diesel engines of 35 hp. and 600m of underground tunnels connecting the different positions.[4]

Successive assignmentsEdit

From 1890 the garrison relief is guaranteed by the fort troops Corps XVI stationed at Metz and Thionville. At the back of the German lines during the Great War, the fort did not have the test of fire. In November 1918, the fort was again occupied by the French army. After the departure of French troops in June 1940, the German army reinvests the fort. After the war, the French army resumed the fortified group. The main building was used until 1985 by GRET 806,[6] then the 1re Company 43is signals regiment.[7] The main building is from the early 2000s, used as a support station for electric and two communication antennas of the army. This building is protected by three walls with barbed wire, fence and wrought iron gates. The third stronghold, the most in the center, was recently installed to prohibit access to communications antennas. The building is equipped with an alarm to prevent intrusion. All other blocks are however accessible without having to cross the center stronghold.

Second World WarEdit

In early September 1944, the beginning of the Battle of Metz happens. The German command integrates the defensive system set up around Metz. On September 2, 1944, Metz was declared, in effect by the Reich, fortress Hitler. The fortress must be defended to the last by German troops, whose leaders were all sworn to the Führer.[8] The next day, September 3, 1944, General Krause, then commander of the fortress of Metz, established his High Command, the main command post in the barracks fort Alvensleben. The same day, the troops of General Krause took position on a line from Pagny-sur-Moselle to Mondelange, passing to the west of Metz by Chambley, Mars-la-Tour, Jarny and Briey. After an initial withdrawal, made on September 6, 1944, on Saint-privat and Amanvillers, the German lines are now based firmly on the forts of the sector, particularly in the Group Fortification Lorraine, or Feste Lorraine, and the fortified positions on the sides of Amanvillers: Steinbruch-Stellung, Kellermann, and Wolfsberg-Stellung, Richepance and Batterie Vemont and Canrobert, and Horimont-Steelung. The area of Amanvillers - Saint-Privat is bound to the north by 1010th Sicherungs-Regiment of the Colonel Richter of the 462th Infanterie-Division and to the south by the Fahnenjunker of the Fahnenjunkerschule VI des Heeres, "Metz" under the command of SS Colonel Siegroth.[9] The sector fortifications line from Gravelotte to Semécourt, which consist of a discontinuous concrete wall, three meters high and 10   meters wide, reinforced by four forts, covered on the west by a line of outposts, trenches, barbed wire and machine gun positions, looks stunning.[9]

On the morning of September 9, 1944, the American artillery rain shells on identified German positions, paving the way for the infantry and the tanks of Task force McConnell. Arriving in the Wood Jaumont US troops 2 Infantry regiment is taken under fire by Fort Kellermann. The German batteries in moments eliminate seven freestanding tanks and two guns, forcing the column to withdraw precipitately.[10] Wanting to bypass the fortifications from the north, the Americans were soon under fire against a German attack, before being stopped by the firing of the Group Fortification Lorraine. The artillery of the US campaign immediately resumed his attacks on the fortifications of the sector, but without great results considering the terrain and vegetation. The 3is Battalion Task force, in charge of the right flank of the attack, falls on the fortified farmhouse Moscou,[note 1] a veritable redoubt between the German fortifications, before being put under penny heavy fire from Gravelotte. The 2is Battalion Task force which was heading towards Vernéville with relative ease, finally is stopped by gunfire from a sunken road, west of Fort Francis de Guise. The day ends with a failure for Roffe colonel, who deplores high losses[note 2] for "twenty odd forts".[10]

The Colonel of the Roffe 2nd Infantry regiment, whose losses already amounted to 14 officers and 332 men on the morning of September 9, requires the air support of General Silvester. The September 10, 1944, three squadrons of fighter-bombers dump their bombs on the eastern sector of Amanvillers where the fortifications are grouped. The P-47s reach their targets, but the 500-pound bombs have little effect on the reinforced concrete fortifications. The infantry attack at 18:00 meets fierce resistance. Despite the support of tanks, it stops breathless three hours later.[10] Towards Gravelotte, in the Woods Génivaux American troops destroy the Fahnenjunker of SS Colonel Siegroth that dominate the field. On the September 10, 1944, the commander of the 7is Armored Division agrees to take position near Roncourt to support a new attack from 2 Infantry regiment. The September 11, 1944, at 6:30 am, the tanks are headed for Pierrevillers, wiping the passage with sporadic gunfire. They finally come across a antitank roadblock, under fire from anti-tank guns camouflaged and difficult to locate. The infantry, however, manages to take a position on the wooded slopes, northwest of the village of Bronvaux, too far, however, to support the 2 Infantry regiment.[10] Despite several counter attacks by the 462th Infanterie Division, American troops arrive to take over the land in the late afternoon, after a rolling artillery barrage targeting fortifications in the sector, and using smoke shells for cover.[10]

The September 13, 1944, US Staff redeploy its troops on the front line to focus its attack on the fortifications. But fatigue and stress now disorient the men of 2nd Infantry regiment and they are finally relieved of such a Hell hole,[note 3] September 14, 1944.[10] The 1is Battalion Task force, hard hit by the shelling of 462th Volks-Grenadier-Division and specific small arms fire, had to withdraw with difficulty behind a screen of smoke rockets, more than five hundred meters from Amanvillers. Around 14:00, an air strike on Amanvillers does not allow the infantry to advance, the village being too close to the fortifications of the sector to be taken in full. Two regiments, reinforced by the engineering companies 90th Infantry Division, take over in the area: the 357 Infantry Regiment of Colonel Barth takes position along the woods of Jaumont, East of Saint-Privat, while 359 Infantry Regiment of Colonel Bacon takes a position east of Gravelotte.[9]

The September 15, 1944, an attack is planned on the Canrobert sector of buildings and Kellermann sector to the north and Jeanne D'Arc to the south of the sector. The approach is difficult, German soldiers defend inch by inch. American bazookas are not effective on the concrete bunkers, and tanks followed by armed flamethrower sections pounce on the first German lines, neither reaching them, nor neutralizing them, nor taking them. General McLain sector concludes a frontal attack would be doomed to failure and ordered his troops to keep the pressure on the outposts 462th Volks-Grenadier-Division without attacking frontally forts Jeanne-d'Arc and Lorraine.[9]

The September 16, 1944, in thick fog, the attack on Canrobert starts at 10:00. It is stopped two hours later by the Fahnenjunker of Colonel Seigroth, who engages in a man to man fight without mercy. The Americans 357th Infantry Regiment withdrew, leaving 72 soldiers in the field. At 5:00 p.m., the 1is Battalion of the same regiment is stopped in its tracks by artillery and small arms. In the southern sector, 2 Battalion loses 15 officers and 117 men under heavy fire from mortars and automatic weapons, from the buffer strip. At nightfall, the battalion has advanced only 200   meters.

Seeing that the Americans gradually eat away at its lines, the German artillery redoubles its shots, managing to contain the two regiments and raising fears for McLain of a new counter attack. Before the pugnacity of elite troops 462th Volks-Grenadier-Division, General McLain, in agreement with the General Walker, decided to suspend the attacks, pending further plans of the General Staff of the 90is Infantry Division.[9] While the troops of the Third US Army sit listening to Marlene Dietrich,[11] German troops are taking advantage of the lull in fighting to reorganize. Reserve troops of the future 462th Volks-Grenadier-Division reinforce the elite fort troops of SS Colonel Siegroth.

When hostilities resumed after a rainy month, the soldiers of the 462th Volks-Grenadier-Division still hold firmly the forts of Metz, though supplies are more difficult under the artillery and the frequent bombings.[12] As a prelude to the assault on Metz, November 9, 1944, the Air Force sends no less than 1,299 heavy bombers, B-17s and B-24s, to dump 3,753 tons of bombs, and 1,000 to 2,000 books on fortifications and strategic points in the combat zone of IIIrd army.[13] Most bombers, having dropped bombs without visibility at over 20 000 feet, miss their military objectives. In Metz, the 689 loads of bombs dropped over the seven forts of Metz, identified as priority targets, merely cause collateral damage, proving once again the inadequacy of the massive bombing of military targets.[14]

At dawn on November 14, 1944, the 105 mm howitzers from 359th Field Artillery Battalion opened fire on the area located on either side of the Fort Jeanne d'Arc, between the Fort Francis de Guise and the fort Driant to pave the way for 379th Infantry regiment whose goal is to reach the Moselle. Further north, on November 15, 1944, the works of the Canrobert line in the wood of Fèves are attacked by the 378th Infantry regiment of colonel Samuel L. Metcalfe. In the morning mist after an artillery preparation, the strong northern Canrobert line is the first to fall, at around 11:00 am, US troops arriving in the wood Woippy. During the afternoon, the men of 1217th Grenadier-Regiment « Richter », consisting of Security Regiment 1010 and those of 1515th Grenadier-Regiment « Stössel » of the 462th Volks-Grenadier-Division make several unsuccessful attempts to push the Americans behind the Canrobert line. Under pressure, they end up dropping out, leaving behind them many casualties.[15] German grenadiers, who had to withdraw to a line connecting strongpoint Leipzig to the Fort Plappeville, retreat in disorder towards Metz. On November 16, 1944, while the Americans progress rapidly in Woippy, the Group Fortification Lorraine, considered a strong defensive position behind the Canrobert line, is evacuated without fighting by troops Kittel. The simultaneous attack of 377th and 378th Infantry Regiment had achieved its objectives.[15]

The fort Jeanne-d’Arc was the last of the forts of Metz to disarm. Determined German resistance, bad weather and floods, inopportunity, and a general tendency to underestimate the firepower of the fortifications of Metz, have helped slow the US offensive, giving the opportunity to the German Army withdraw in good order to the Saar.[16] The objective of the German staff, which was to stall US troops at Metz for the longest possible time before they could reach the front of the Siegfried Line, is largely achieved.

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit


  1. At that same place, the French troops of Napoleon III repelled the assault of three German columns, August 18, 1870, during the Battle of Gravelotte.
  2. Losses of 2nd Infantry regiment already amounted to 14 officers and 332 men, including 228 in only the sector of Amanvillers
  3. «  Received warning order that we are to be relieved which is good news, this is sure a hell hole  » (Walking Journal of the 3rd Battalion 2nd Infantry Regimentof September 14, 1944)


  1. René Bour, Histoire de Metz, 1950, p. 227.
  2. L’Express, no 2937, du 18 au 24 octobre 2007, dossier « Metz en 1900 », Philippe Martin.
  3. François Roth : Metz annexée à l’Empire allemand, in François-Yves Le Moigne, Histoire de Metz, Privat, Toulouse, 1986, (p.350).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Donnell Clayton, The German Fortress of Metz: 1870-1944, Oxford, Osprey, 2008, p. 24.
  5. Donnell Clayton, The German Fortress of Metz: 1870-1944, Oxford, Osprey, 2008, pp. 10-13.
  6. GRET 806: émetteurs grande puissance BLI, puis réseau RITTER
  7. Le 43e régiment de transmissions a été dissous le 30 juin 2002.
  8. René Caboz, La bataille de Metz, Éditions Pierron, Sarreguemines, 1984, p. 132.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Hugh M. Cole : The Lorraine Campaign, Center of Military History, Washington, 1950 (p 176-183)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Hugh M. Cole : The Lorraine Campaign, Center of Military History, Washington, 1950 (p 152-155)
  11. Hugh M. Cole : The Lorraine Campaign, Center of Military History, Washington, 1950 (p 190)
  12. Hugh M. Cole : The Lorraine Campaign, Center of Military History, Washington, 1950 (p 256)
  13. Général Jean Colin, Contribution à l’histoire de la libération de la ville de Metz ; Les combats du fort Driant (septembre-décembre 1944), Académie nationale de Metz, 1963, p. 13.
  14. Hugh M. Cole : The Lorraine Campaign, Center of Military History, Washington, 1950 (p. 424)
  15. 15.0 15.1 Hugh M. Cole : The Lorraine Campaign, Center of Military History, Washington, 1950 (p. 435-436)
  16. Hugh M. Cole, The Lorraine Campaign, Center of Military History, Washington, 1950, p. 448.

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