The story of the dragon’s cave

The Dragon’s Cavern is located in the Chemin des Dames, in the region of Aisne in Picardie.

It was a strategic location during the First World War and more precisely during the Nivelle offensive.


Photo by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash

Initially, it was a subway quarry excavated in the limestone of the Chemin des dames plateau.

These quarries or crevasses, which are found both in the Somme and the Aisne, were used as shelters, first aid posts, to house personnel or, as in this case, as an advanced defensive post.

The Dragon’s Cavern is indeed located near the Hurtebise isthmus, that is, where the plateau is narrowest.

Moreover, its position on the edge of the plateau offers a wide panorama of the Aisne valley.

The Attack

To consolidate their positions on the plateau of the Chemin des Dames, the Germans launched a victorious attack on the cave on January 25, 1915: they were now 600 meters from the French front line, 80 meters above it .

This outpost was then protected and developed: the Germans brought electricity and telephone, a well was dug and even a chapel was built.

Finally, they connected the Cavern to the back lines through a tunnel. In the event of an attack, reinforcements and ammunition arrived quickly and unimpeded, while the wounded were evacuated.

On April 16, 1917, during the assault on the Nivelle offensive, the men leaving the Dragon’s Cavern took the Senegalese who had set out to conquer the Isthmus of Hurtebise.

The Senegalese were disoriented and in panic, which put an end to their advance. The existence of numerous caves linked to the rear by tunnels is one of the explanations for the brutal failure of the offensive.

After several attacks in April and May 1917, the French maintained some trenches in the Isthmus of Hurtebise. On June 25, the 164th Infantry Division was charged with a new attack to control the entire Isthmus.

During this attack, the French discovered the entrance to the tunnel and caught the Germans.

This passage of arms was then celebrated as a great military victory in France.

Today, the Dragon’s Cavern has been converted by the Aisne General Council into a museum space dedicated to the First World War.

Editor’s Note

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