La Tranchée de Chattancourt


Chattancourt is a village surrounded by hills, situated at the base of the Argonne plateau.

The village is crossed by a little creek that empties into the Meuse river.

Close to our community is the Mort-Homme Hill, at 295 meters in height and one kilometer in surface area.

Village de Chattancourt pendant la guerre 14-18

Before 1914

The first mention of Chattancourt in writing is in the 10th Century, under the name of Castonis Curtis.  The church is mentioned in notes of Saint-Vanne of Verdun Abbey in 952 AD. The village was completely destroyed by the Swedes in 1636  during the Thirty Years War.

A 1756 Census shows about forty houses in this town.

At the beginning of the 19th century, soldiers of Napoleons’ army passed through. The 25th Régiment de Ligne bivouacked here.

Beginning on the 22nd of November, 1875, Chattancourt was serviced by a railroad line.

In 1899, the Laiterie Coopérative de Chattancourt was created, collecting milk from nearby towns and produced butter of Argonne. This creamery was situated just a couple dozen meters from where you now stand.  The community also had craftsmen, such as carpenters and blacksmiths, etc, and even had it’s own post office.

By 1906, the bell tower of the town was in disrepair.  A total of 1000 Francs was raised for restoration work, which was completed in 1913.

Clocher du village de Chattancourt en 1906

The First World War

At the declaration of war in 1914, many of the inhabitants were called to fight under the flag, however, 27 of them would never return. Four civilian habitants also lost their lives due to the bombardments.

A la declaration de guerre en 1914 plusieurs habitants du village sont appeles sous les drapeaux

In August of 1914, two German cavalrymen who were on a reconnaissance patrol came into the village, on the road that leads to the Mort-Homme Hill (also known as Hill 295 or Dead Man’s Hill). They asked two young boys to fill their canteens from the little fountain. This was the only time that any Germans entered the village during the whole first world war, except for prisoners of war.

August 29th, the French began digging trenches just north of Chattancourt near the Béthincourt sector.

During the first few months of the war, Chattancourt came under sporadic, but very heavy bombardments.

In February 1915, just a few kilometers north-west from Chattancourt, the German Army employed flame-throwers for the first time in history near the Malancourt woods.

In March of 1915, the first shells fell upon the village church, which soon collapsed.

During 1915, Chattancourt was a rear-guard village.  The 164th RI (régiment d’infanterie) as well as the 34th RIT (régiment d’infanterie territoriale) were stationed here. Many families still lived here, and welcomed the soldiers into the hospitality of their homes. Marre, a nearby village allowed the soldiers to bath and shower.

Chattancourt est un village de l’arriere abritant le 164e RI et le 34e RIT guerre 14-18

That autumn became catastrophic. Torrential rain and winds caused a mess in the trenches (falling parapets and flooded trenches).

The 26th of November, at 5:07 PM the sector had its first gas attack resulting in 424 victims
including 198 killed. This German gas attack was the first in the Verdun sector.

At the begining of 1916, General Georges de Bazalaire noted shortcomings in the French defense system. He immediately ordered new trenchs dug along with new shelters.  It was at this time that the trenches were dug and finished in the village itself. 

The 12th of February, 1916, the civilian population of Chattancourt was evacuated by order of the French army, who predicted a large-scale German attack.  The inhabitants found refuge in different regions of France, most notably the Lorraine and southern part of France

From the beginning of the battle of Verdun, the village is constantly bombarded.

La village de Chattancourt est constamment bombardé dès le début de la bataille de Verdun

The 6th of March, 1916, the Germans launched their attack on the right-side of the Meuse river. By the end of winter, the battles turned very violent against Chattancourt, the Mort-Homme Hill and Hill 304. The village is reduced to a mass of ruins.

Throughout springtime, the two sides fought aggressively, winning or losing precious terrain, each in turn.

On April 9th, the Germans completely occupied the Mort-Homme (Hill 295), lost it on the 20th of April, then re-conquered it on the 20th of May. However, they never took possession of Chattancourt.

At the beginning of summer, 1916, the front line stabilized in front of the village. This situation would stay unchanged until spring 1917. Even though the larger offensives were achieved, the Germans continued to develop localized operations that sometimes became very powerful attacks in this sector. Objectives were to improve the positions, capture prisoners to collect information on the enemies disposition, and ultimately to keep to a maximum French troops in Verdun.

With the goal of securing the left bank of the Meuse river and to stem these attacks, the French Command decided to prepare an operation of large proportions. The objective of this plan was to retake the Mort-Homme Hill and Hill 304. The Germans, sensing the attack, multiplied their patrols on the front line to capture prisoners for information.

At the same time, close to Chattancourt, some mutinies broke out in the ranks of the French army in the Avocourt and Béthelainville sectors.

August 20th, 1917 at 4:40 AM, the French assault waves went “over the top” preceded by a rolling barrage of artillery. Zouaves, tirailleurs and légionnaires (French Foreign Legion) all participated in this offensive, which became a veritable success. The Mort-Homme Hill was retaken the same day, and Hill 304, 4 days later. The front moved forward, and the village was totally disengaged from the fighting.

After this, the sector became relatively quiet, suffering only sporadic bombardments.

A few weeks later on September 15th, 1917, Georges Clemenceau, the President of the Senatorial Commission of the Army, came in person to see the trenches of the Mort-Homme Hill and to encourage the soldiers (Poilus).

On May 11th, the soldiers of the 16th RI succeeded in dislodging the bells of the village of Chattancourt from the ruins of the church.  They were immediately sent to the rear for safekeeping.

The French army stayed in the village until the 19th of September, 1918. After that day, Chattancourt was occupied by the American 80th Infantry Division until the end of the war.

On September 26th, 1918, the Americans began their Grand offensive known as the “Meuse Argonne Offensive” which would become a success. This offensive would last until November 11th, 1918, Armistice Day. On the last day of the war, about fifteen kilometers north of Chattancourt, Henry Gunther of the American 79th Infantry Division died at 10:59 AM at Chaumont-devant-Damvillers. His was the last death of the Great War.

Between the Two Wars

After the war, the village was totally reconstructed, as opposed to the village of Cumières which was declared a village “dead for France” due to the dangerousness of the land.

En tant que village martyr, Chattancourt est décoré de la Croix de Guerre le 15 mars 1921.

Starting in 1920, temporary wooden houses known as Adrians’ barracks allowed the population of Chattancourt to return after the exodus. In that way, the reconstruction of the village began. The bells of the old church were returned and installed in their new building.

Between the two wars, Chattancourt became a pilgrimage destination for soldiers who fought here, and also for the families who lost a loved one here. For example, the mothers of soldiers Pierre Cansel and Eugene
Chiffre, both of whom died in battle in 1916, returned every year and stayed at the house situated 7 Rue de la Gare (Mrs. Tremlet’s house) for dozens of years.

In September 1938, after the crisis of the Sudetenland that was provoked by Germany, France mobilized its’ Military. Due to its strategic location (between Belgium and Verdun) Chattancourt was once again occupied by french troops. The french army installed a check-point on the road to
Cumières, and also stationed into part of the trench of Chattancourt itself.  After the signing of the Munich Agreement on the 30th of September, 1938, the occupation ceased.

The Second World War

One year later, after the declaration of war in 1939, the French army is again at Chattancourt. After the invasion of France in 1940, the village, as well as the surrounding communities, were evacuated. In June 1940 horrific battle happened in the area, most notably at Esnes-en-Argonne, where François Mitterand, future President of the French Republic, was wounded.

After the fighting, the villagers returned and saw the destruction.  The Wehrmacht bivouacked in the village until June, 1941.

La Wehrmacht cantonne dans le village jusqu’en juin 1941

The occupation didn’t make life easy for the inhabitants. In 1943, after being denounced, Julien Alcobendas, lifelong resident of Chattancourt, was deported. He died in May of 1945.

The French Resistance organized in the village and surrounding areas.  On the 6th of june 1944, Colonel Gilbert Grandval, commander of the FFI (Forces Françaises de l’intérieur) in “C” region, established his General Headquarters in nearby Béthincourt.

At Chattancourt, the Resistance derailed trains three times.

After the unsuccessful attempt on Hitlers’ life, July 20, 1944 various German officers who had participated in the plot preferred to die as opposed to being tried. Thus, close to Chattancourt, Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge committed suicide the 18 of August 1944 at Dombasle-en- Argonne. This was also the case of General Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel who attempted to end his life at Vacherauville. Seriously injured, he was then trialled in Berlin, sentenced to death and hanged on the 30th of August, 1944.

On August 31st, 1944 Chattancourt was liberated by the American 7th Armored Division. The next day, clashes erupted on the road in the direction of Cumières, costing the life of an American Soldier (Arlo J. Thomas) and two German stretcher-bearers.   

La Tranchée de Chattancourt

In 2014, a handful of interested persons had the idea of rebuilding the trenches that defended the village.

Work started at the beginning of 2016. On the 22nd of February 2017, La Tranchée de Chattancourt Association was founded and the first visits started on the 1st of April, 2017.