Rear area postal service

Changes in rear areas

In order to carry out a study of the German rear area postal service in the occupied territories, it is essential to know the zones of occupation of each Army and the changes that did not fail to take place during the 4 years of occupation.

As far as the VALENCIENNES district is concerned, war was declared on 3 August and on 23 August the first elements of German troops from Belgium entered the Département du Nord in the CONDE-SUR-L'ESCAUT sector.

Border fighting broke out and troops from General von KLUCK's 1st German Army entered VALENCIENNES on 25 August.

From 25 August to 16 September 1914, the 1st Army occupied the area. Following the Battle of the Marne and in preparation for the "race to the sea", where the belligerents tried to flank each other northwards, the 7th Army arrived in the district via Belgium. This army remained in the VALENCIENNES area until mid-October 1914.

The postal traces left by these 2 Armies for this period are very weak as well concerning the area postal service as the Feldpost. We do not know whether a military post office of the 1st Army was in VALENCIENNES. But we do know from the Postmaster of the 7th Army (Armee-Postdirektor 7) that from 16th to 24th September, the Lines of Communication of the 7th Army were installed in VALENCIENNES with its post office (Feldpoststation 76). We also know that on 24 September, Feldpoststation no. 77 set up in VALENCIENNES.

The 7th Army was replaced by the 6th Army which, going up through NAMUR (Belgium) and the Aisne, was given the occupation of a large part of the Nord from October 1914. The 6th Army's Lines of Communication Inspectorate moved into the VALENCIENNES town hall on 8 November 1914, on its way from CAMBRAI.

Following the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 and the creation of a new 1st German Army, there was a further change in rear areas. The Lines of Communication Inspectorate of the 1st Army replaced those of the 6th Army at VALENCIENNES on 1st October 1916. However, the 6th Army retained part of the district, in particular the cantons of ST AMAND-LES-EAUX and CONDE-SUR-L'ESCAUT.

From the end of 1916, the German Supreme Command had considered reducing its front by withdrawing to the Scarpe and Aisne rivers and to a fortified position, the HINDENBURG line (which the Germans called the SIEGFRIED line). The advantage of this strategy was to reduce the space to be held and therefore to use fewer troops.

Operation "ALBERICH", from 9 February to 15 March 1917, was designed to prepare the withdrawal by destroying everything the enemy could use and moving the inhabitants of the area. Around 900 trains were needed to evacuate the population, salvageable goods and military equipment. The SIEGFRIED movement took place between 16 and 20 March and involved the withdrawal of German troops to the fortified line.

The Allied attacks in the ARRAS and Chemin des Dames sectors prompted the German Command to reorganise its battle plan, taking the decision on 12 April to dissolve the staff of the 1st Army. The troops of the former 1st Army were integrated into the 6th Army (Gruppe ARRAS) and the 2nd Army (Gruppe CAMBRAI, Gruppe CAUDRY).

The 2nd Army took over a large part of the 1st Army's rear areas.

A notice signed by the 2nd Army's Inspector of Staging, Lieutenant-General FRANKE, announced that from 19 April 1917, the districts of the Kommandantur of CAMBRAI, VALENCIENNES, ARTRES, SOLESMES, LE QUESNOY and BAVAY were to be integrated into the 2nd Army's rear area. Etappeninspektion 2 moved to no. 8 rue de Mons in VALENCIENNES on 21 April 1917.

The VALENCIENNES district was affected one last time by a change of rear area. This change can be dated to the end of September 1918. The 17th Army then took over the whole of the district, which was to change rapidly from a staging area to an area of operations as the fighting drew closer. The 17th Army already occupied a large part of the District in February 1918.

In October, the Germans hoped to entrench themselves behind a defensive line stretching from GAND to the Argonne, of which VALENCIENNES was a key position, the HERMANN Line (HERMANN Stellung). This line did not hold. The first communes in the Arrondissement were liberated on 18 October. VALENCIENNES was free on 2 November.