The Hartmannswillerkopf, given the abbreviation "HWK" by the German command, is a pyramid-shaped rocky outcrop that overlooks the south of the Plain of Alsace. In 1915, French infantrymen nicknamed it the "Vieil-Armand" and then described it as a "man-eater" or the "Mountain of Death". At a maximum height of 956 metres, its strategic position was at stake during fierce fighting between 26th December 1914 and 9th January 1945. During this period, as attack and counterattack followed one after the other, the summit changed hands eight times. The most illustrious regiments took part, including the famous 152nd IR, known by soldiers as the "15-2", and lost half their men in just a few days of fighting. As for heavy bombardments, 250,000 shells were fired by French artillery on 21st December 1915 alone. The bombardments gradually transformed the forest into a lunar landscape.
Estimated losses suggest a figure of 25,000 deaths on both sides, which made the generals all the more determined to conquer this peak: for Joffre, "the Hartmann must be recaptured".
"I will keep watch over the Rhine", the German General Gaede replied.
The facilities, gun emplacements, tunnels and underground shelters that were set up to house men and ammunition were the most imposing in the Vosges Mountains. Among the 6,000 shelters built, half of them are still visible, marking a 90-kilometre route of trenches.
The "Hartmannswillerkopf 14-18" National Monument is one of the four national monuments to the First World War in France.
A work of the architect Robert Danis and the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle this uniquely original monument was inaugurated in 1932 by the President of France, Albert Lebrun.
The German Military Cemetery in Cernay, located at the foot of the Hartmannswillerkopf, was renovated between 1979 and 1983, and has some tombs that date from the 19th century. It contains the majority of the tombs of German prisoners from the various fronts who were interned in French camps. 7,085 German victims of the First World War were laid to rest there.
Office de Tourisme de Cernay et de la Région du Vieil Armand
1 rue Latouche
Tel:+33 (0)3 89 75 50 35