At the beginning of the war, the plain of the Woevre formed a buffer zone between German and French fortifications on the Metz ridges and Meuse heights. On 19 September, a German advance sortie to the west of the plain found it thinly defended by inexperienced reservists. A rapid forward thrust followed, capturing a series of villages. The strategically positioned town of St Mihiel on the banks of the Meuse and the adjacent Fort du Camp des Romains were captured on 24 September. Prince Rupprecht, a German General, swerved southwest with the aim of encircling Verdun. However, hastily summoned French reinforcements blocked his path and began a sustained counterattack. The Germans remained bottled in the newly created St Mihiel salient, but could not be forced back. Their presence obstructed movement along critical rail and road networks.