POSTAL HISTORY OF THE NORD DEPARTMENT

 
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German occupation of  Valenciennes 1914-1918 Miscellaneous


The German occupation of VALENCIENNES 1914-1918.

A bit of history.

Before addressing the postal history of the occupation, it is appropriate to relate the events that took place in VALENCIENNES between 1914 and 1918.

AUGUST 1914:
August 3: War is declared.
The Germans attack Belgium, which was neutral, and approach the French border.
The French move to the border and VALENCIENNES is abandoned. Only a few reservists and mobilized soldiers of the 127th infantry regiment (based in VALENCIENNES) remained.
When it became obvious to the French General Staff that the Germans were approaching the border too quickly, better prepared troops (French and English) were sent to the district. These were to move quickly towards the border and beyond into Belgian territory.
23 August: the first Germans (1st Army) crossed the border near CONDE-SUR-LESCAUT and border fighting took place in the north of VALENCIENNES.
25 August: the Germans arrived in VALENCIENNES. The station and the railways were intact.
End of August-beginning of September: the district which is not yet totally occupied knows some fights here and there. The Germans are not yet numerous enough and many small French units retreat and try to return to their lines.

SEPTEMBER 1914:
7 September: fall of the fortress of Maubeuge. 40.000 Germans with superior weapons take more than 40.000 French prisoners. It must be said that Maubeuge was an obsolete fortress and that the General Staff never entertained the idea that the Germans would invade the Nord. Nevertheless, it is established that the 10 days of resistance of Maubeuge allowed the French to stop the Germans on the Marne, because the latter would have needed the 40,000 men surrounding Maubeuge.
By mid-September, the fate of the Valenciennes was sealed, it was fully occupied.

Propaganda photo showing a group of German soldiers being shown the road to LILLE by a child in 1914.

The years 1915 and 1916 were the years when the Western Front was consolidating. The district of Valenciennes became a hub of the German military apparatus. Requisitions became more numerous, control more oppressive, life in the district harder. The first shortages appeared in Germany. The Germans knew that the war would last.
The armistice with Russia at the end of 1917 allowed the Germans to repatriate divisions to the Western Front. However, these troops were not the best and were not well prepared for the fighting methods of the Western Front.
The year 1918 and the great spring offensive could make the Germans believe that they were going to win a decisive victory. But by June, it appeared that the major gains in ground were reaching their peak, with the Allied defence becoming increasingly effective. The Germans lost many fresh troops in the fighting. In July, the French counterattacked the exhausted German troops. The Allied offensive and subsequent victories continued until the Armistice.
Since July 1918, the allied counter-offensives make the German troops retreat irremediably towards Belgium while passing by VALENCIENNES. These troops, whose morale was very low, obviously disturbed the troops stationed in the district and gave civilians the feeling that the end was near.
The first communes of the district were liberated by the Anglo-Canadians at the end of October 1918. Before that, the Germans had taken care to evacuate the civilian population first to VALENCIENNES, then to Belgium.
The war of movement having resumed since September 1918, the Germans inexorably retreat. They nevertheless hoped to stop the allies on the Hermann Line, of which VALENCIENNES was a key position protected by the Scheldt and the heights of Mont Houy. Moreover, the presence of many refugees from other towns made it impossible to bomb the town directly. The investment of the town was very well prepared by the Anglo-Canadians. Mont Houy was taken in a single assault.
3 November 1918: VALENCIENNES is liberated by the Canadians.

The district of VALENCIENNES was occupied successively and/or jointly by 5 German armies, the 1st (end of August to mid-September 1914), the 7th (mid-September to mid-October 1914), the 6th (mid-October 1914 - 30/09/1916), the 1st (1st October 1916 - 20th April 1917), the 2nd (20th April 1917-September 1918) and finally the 17th (September 1918 - 3/11/1918) The 17th army set up its headquarters in ST AMAND on the 1st February 1918. It will effectively occupy VALENCIENNES from October 1918.


Presentation of troops during the birthday of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1916 on the Place d'Armes in VALENCIENNES.
Infanterie Regiment 125.
Parade of the 125th Württemberg Infantry Regiment (26 Württemberg Infantry Division).  From the 1st to the 11th May 1917, this regiment was at rest in VALENCIENNES. It took part in 2 parades: on May 6 in front of the General of the Division and on May 9 in front of Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria.

Throughout the war, the district of VALENCIENNES was part of the Etappengebiet (Lines of communication area or rear area) immediately behind the front and before the General Government zone in Belgium and German territory.
The Etappengebiet was an area where troops, ammunition, equipment and foodstuffs were transported to continue the fight.
Lines of communication
Map taken from "With the Army in the west by Sven Hedin, 1915.

The German troops were therefore in relative safety, despite frequent air raids by the Allies. These raids mainly targeted military installations (airfields, stations, depots, ammunition factories). The accuracy of these air raids was relative and it was not uncommon for civilians to fall victim to them.


Air raid on VALENCIENNES 1915.
Railway tracks destroyed by an air raid on VALENCIENNES which also destroyed 16 wagons of ammunition.
Bayer. Etappen-Kratwagen-Park 6.
Ambulance of the Bayer. Kraftwagen-Park 6. of VALENCIENNES destroyed by an allied bombing.

Each German Army had its own rear area. The latter was directed by an Inspectorate (Etappeninspektion). It was responsible for coordinating the flow of troops and equipment in its territory, but also and above all for maintaining the communication routes to the front. It was also responsible for economic management and for collecting the financial contributions requested from the municipalities of the occupied territories. Finally, the Lines of communication Inspectorate was responsible for maintaining military and civil order in its area. VALENCIENNES was the headquarters of Lines of communication Inspectorate of 4 Armies; the 7th, the 6th, the 1st and the 2nd. In mid-September 1918, it was not possible to install the Lines of communication Inspectorate of the 17th Army in VALENCIENNES, because the front was too close.

We should not confuse the capital of the rear area (Etappenhauptort) with the seat of an Army Headquarters. For example, during the period of the 6th Army,
the capital of the rear area Inspectorate was Valenciennes while the Army Headquarters was in Lille.

For 4 years, the Germans settled in the district.

Offices of the rear area warehouses of the 6th Army located in ANZIN.

Etappenkommandantur Valenciennes
Part of the staff of the Kommandantur of VALENCIENNES in December 1914.

Militär-Eisenbahn-Direktion I. Eisenbahenerheim Valenciennes
Mess of the military railway in VALENCIENNES.

Hauptmann Schultz and Oberleutnant in front of the Saint-Wasnon church in CONDE-SUR-LESCAUT.

3. Landsturm Intanterie-Bataillon Augsburg
3rd Augsburg Landsturm Battalion in front of RAISMES station in 1916.

German soldiers in front of the Vauban spring in ST AMAND THERMAL. Throughout the war, the Germans used the thermal baths of ST AMAND-LES-EAUX as a convalescent centre.


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