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Feste Leipzig/Fort Francois-de-Guise
{{{location}}}
Type fort of type von Biehler
Coordinates Latitude:
Longitude:
Built 1907-1912
Garrison 360 men

The Feste Leipzig, renamed Group Fortifications Francois-de-Guise after 1919 by the French, is a military structure located in the municipality of Châtel-Saint-Germain, close to 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, oscillates between a German garrison of between 15,000 and 20,000 men at the beginning of the period[1] and exceeds 25,000 men just before the First World War,[2] gradually becoming the first stronghold of the German Reich.[3] The Group Fortifications Francois de Guise complements the Second fortified belt around 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).

Overall designEdit

The Group Fortification Francois de Guise was built by Germany in the first annexation. It was part of a wider program of fortifications called " Moselstellung " which encompassed fortresses scattered between Thionville and Metz in the valley Moselle. The aim of Germany was to protect against a French attack to retake Alsace-Lorraine from the German Empire. The fortification system was designed to accommodate the growing advances in artillery since the end of XIXth   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.

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

The Group Fortification Francois de Guise, over an area of 80 hectares, was built from 1907 to 1912. The perimeter defense of the Group Fortification Francois de Guise is provided by two infantry positions, the Folie works and Leipzig works. The three fortified barracks could receive 360 men. The batteries are equipped with rotating turret howitzers 100mm wide. Scattered on the high points, 6 observation turrets and 12 observation posts allow perfect monitoring of the sector. Each infantry item has a power plant equipped with three diesel 20cv engines. The works are scattered over a wide area and concealed by the natural topography. All works, connected by 270m of underground galleries, are surrounded by a network of barbed wire.[4]

Successive assignmentsEdit

From 1890 the garrison relief is guaranteed by the fort troops Corps XVI stationed at Metz and Thionville. From 1914 to 1918, the fort was spared any fighting, and used simply as outpost by the German army. After 1918, the Group Fortification Francis de Guise is invested by the French army. In 1939, it serves as an outpost for the French army. Taken over by the Germans in June 1940, it serves as a training ground. Beginning in September 1944, during the Battle of Metz, German troops reorganized its defense, and integrated it into the defensive system set up around Metz. After World War II, the fort was taken over by the French army. The fortified group comprising forts Leipzig and Madness is used during cold War from 1953 to 1958 as part of air defense, having a transmission vocation. This place was then the Work "F" of the DAT ("Radar Station Master 40/921").[6]

After a War command post exercise in 1963, it became in 1967 the command center of the Tactical Air Force 1 Aerial region (FATAC), but was transferred to the Air Base 128-Metz Frescaty two years earlier. "Nuclear Biological Chemical" protection (NBC) at the Works is designed at this time.[7]

Second World WarEdit

After the departure of French troops in June 1940, the German army reinvests the fort. In early September 1944, with the beginning of the Battle of Metz, the German command integrates the defensive system set up around Metz. On September 2, 1944, Metz declared fortress Reich by Hitler. The "place forte" must be defended to the last by German troops, whose leaders were all sworn to the Führer.[8] The defense is organized around the forts of Metz. From September 6, 1944, the Group Fortification Francis de Guise serves as a forward base on the front line for German units of the 462th Volks-Grenadier-Division. At that time, German troops are based firmly at the strengths of the sector, especially in the Group Fortification Francois de Guise, ideally located between the Group Fortification Lorraine, or Festivals Lorraine, and the Fort Jeanne d'Arc, or Fixed Empress. In the area of Amanvillers - Saint-Privat is held further north by the 1010th Backup Regiment of Colonel Richter of the 462th Infanterie-Division and further south by the Cadets of the Fahnenjunkerschule VI des Heeres, "Metz" under the command of SS Colonel Joachim von Siegroth.

On the morning of September 9 American artillery rain down 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 2nd Infantry regiment are taken under fire by Fort Kellermann. The German batteries eliminate, within moments, seven tanks and two freestanding guns, forcing the column to withdraw precipitately.[9] Wanting to bypass the fortifications from the north, the Americans soon came under fire from a German counterattack, before being stopped by gunfire from Group Fortification Lorraine. The artillery of the US campaign immediately resumed its attack on the fortifications of the sector, but without great results considering the terrain and vegetation. 3rd Battalion of the Task force, in charge of the right flank of the attack, falls on the fortified farmhouse of Moscou,[note 1] a veritable redoubt between the German fortifications, before being taken under heavy fire from Gravelotte. The 2nd Battalion Task force which headed towards Vernéville with relative ease, finally was stopped by gunfire from a sunken road, west of the Group Fortification Francis de Guise. The day ends with a failure for Colonel Roffe, who deplores high losses -14 officers and 332 men - for " twenty odd forts ".[9] He therefore calls for air support from General Silvester.

On 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 was launched at 18:00, meeting fierce resistance. Despite the support of tanks, it stops three hours later, out of breath.[9] Towards Gravelotte, in the Woods Génivaux American troops also destroy the Officer Cadets of SS Colonel Siegroth that dominate the field. On September 10, 1944, the commander of the 7th Armored Division agrees to take a position near Roncourt to support a new attack of the 2nd Infantry regiment.

On September 11, 1944, at 6:30 am, the tanks are headed for Pierrevillers, wiping the passage with sporadic gunfire, they finally come across a roadblock, with fire coming from anti-tank guns which are camouflaged and difficult to locate. The infantry, however, manage to take a position on the wooded slopes, northwest of the village of Bronvaux, too far, however, from the objective, which is to support the 2nd Infantry regiment.[9] Despite several counterattacks 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 which uses smoke shells for cover.[9]

On September 13, 1944, the US military is redeploying its troops on the front line, to concentrate its attack on the fortifications. But fatigue and stress disorient the men of the 2nd Infantry regiment, which are ultimately relieved on September 14.[9] The 1st Battalion Task force, hard hit by the shelling of the 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.

Fatigue and stress soon disorient men of the 2nd Infantry Regiment, who are finally relieved from this " Hell Hole  »[note 2] on September 14, 1944.[9] Two regiments, reinforced by the engineering companies of the 90th Infantry Division, take over in the area: the 357th Infantry Regiment of Colonel Barth takes position along the Wood Jaumont, to the east of Saint-Privat-la-Montagne, while 359th Infantry Regiment of Colonel Bacon takes position to the east of Gravelotte.[10]

On September 15, 1944, an attack is planned on Canrobert sector and Kellermann to the north and Jeanne D'Arc on the southern sector. The approach is difficult, German soldiers defending inch by inch. American bazookas have no effect on the concrete bunkers, tanks, followed by armed sections of flamethrowers, throw themselves on the first German lines, not reaching nor neutralizing them, nor taking them. General McLain then concludes a sector 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.[10]

On September 16, 1944, in thick fog, the attack on Support Point Canrobert starts at 10:00. The attack is stopped two hours later by the Cadets of SS Colonel Siegroth, who fight man to man without mercy. The Americans 357th Infantry Regiment withdrew, leaving 72 soldiers in the field. At 17:00 1st Battalion of the same regiment is stopped in its tracks by artillery and small arms. In the southern sector, 2nd Battalion lost 15 officers and 117 men under heavy fire from mortars and automatic weapons, from the buffer strip. At nightfall, the battalion advances only 200 meters. Seeing that the Americans gradually eat away at their lines, the German artillery redoubles its fire, managing to contain the two regiments, and raising fears with General McLain of a new counterattack. Before the pugnacity of the elite troops of 462th Volks-Grenadier-Division, McLain, in agreement with the General Walker, decided to suspend the attacks, pending further plans of the General Staff of the 90th Infantry Division .[10]

After a rainy and cold month of little fighting, fighting resumes early November 1944. On November 9, in preparation for the offensive on Metz, 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.[11] Most bombers, having dropped bombs without visibility at over 20 000 feet, miss their military objectives. In Metz, the 689 loads of bombs destined to strike the Group Fortification Jeanne-d'Arcand six other forts, designated as priority targets, merely cause collateral damage, proving once again the inadequacy of the massive bombing of military targets.[12]

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 Group Fortification Jeanne-d'Arc, between Fort Francis de Guise and Group Fortified Driant. The aim is to pave the way for 379th Infantry regiment, which is responsible for reaching the Moselle. The attack is focused on fort Jeanne-d’Arc which ends up being completely encircled by US troops. After two deadly counterattacks against the men of Major Voss by the 462th Volksgrenadier division, German troops soon fall back to the Group Fortification. They will come out again. For the commander of Fort Jeanne-d'Arc, the finding is bitter: Losses are heavy and they have not prevented the Americans from reaching the Moselle.[13]

Under pressure from the American artillery, and armored troops, the German units of the 462th Volks-Grenadier-Division eventually fall back on a more limited basis, before shutting themselves in the fort, West of Metz during the final assault on the old city of Lorraine. While the US military managed to pass the Moselle on November 18, 1944, the US command was forced to keep back forces to neutralize the elements of the 462th Volksgrenadier division still entrenched in the Group Fortification Francois de Guise and the forts surrounding. On the evening of November 23, 1944, shortly before midnight, the last detachments of the 379th Infantry Regiment withdraw from Moscou Farm, from the Farm St-Hubert, from the bunker south of Fort Guise and the Group Fortification Francois de Guise, leaving room for fresh troops of 5th Infantry Division. The Fort de Bois-la-Dame still held by a hundred men of the 462th Volks-Grenadier-Division, the Fort St Hubert and the Fort de Marival, each still manned by fifty men, will finally surrender, November 26, 1944.

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.[14] The objective of the German staff, which was to stall US troops for the longest possible time at Metz before they could reach the front of the Siegfried Line, is largely achieved.

Notes & referencesEdit

NotesEdit

  1. At that same place, the French troops of Napoleon III repelled the assault of three German columns August 18, 1870, at the Battle of Gravelotte.
  2. « Received warning order that we are to be relieved -which is good news, this is sure a hell hole » (Journal de marche du 3rd bataillon of 2nd Infantry Regiment of 14 September 1944).

ReferencesEdit

  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 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. « Antoine Brolli : L'ouvrage « G » de la D.A.T. » dans le Bulletin de la société belfortaine d'émulation N° 79 / 1987-1988.
  7. Agnès Beylot (dir.
  8. René Caboz, La bataille de Metz, Éditions Pierron, Sarreguemines, 1984, p. 132.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 Hugh M. Cole : The Lorraine Campaign, Center of Military History, Washington, 1950 (p 152-155)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Hugh M. Cole : The Lorraine Campaign, Center of Military History, Washington, 1950 (p 176-183).
  11. 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).
  12. Hugh M. Cole : The Lorraine Campaign, Center of Military History, Washington, 1950 (p. 424).
  13. Hugh M. Cole : The Lorraine Campaign, Center of Military History, Washington, 1950 (p. 432-434)
  14. Hugh M. Cole, The Lorraine Campaign, Center of Military History, Washington, 1950, p. 448.

See as wellEdit

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