Battle of Verdun
Overview
 
The Battle of Verdun was one of the major battles during the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 on the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

. It was fought between the German
German Army
The German Army is the land component of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following the disbanding of the Wehrmacht after World War II, it was re-established in 1955 as the Bundesheer, part of the newly formed West German Bundeswehr along with the Navy and the Air Force...

 and French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 armies, from 21 February – 18 December 1916, on hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse
Verdun
Verdun is a city in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Verdun is the biggest city in Meuse, although the capital of the department is the slightly smaller city of Bar-le-Duc.- History :...

 in north-eastern France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. As again pointed out by French Verdun scholar and historian Alain Denizot in "Verdun, 1914-1918" (1996) the Battle of Verdun ended as a French tactical victory.
Encyclopedia
The Battle of Verdun was one of the major battles during the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 on the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

. It was fought between the German
German Army
The German Army is the land component of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following the disbanding of the Wehrmacht after World War II, it was re-established in 1955 as the Bundesheer, part of the newly formed West German Bundeswehr along with the Navy and the Air Force...

 and French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 armies, from 21 February – 18 December 1916, on hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse
Verdun
Verdun is a city in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Verdun is the biggest city in Meuse, although the capital of the department is the slightly smaller city of Bar-le-Duc.- History :...

 in north-eastern France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. As again pointed out by French Verdun scholar and historian Alain Denizot in "Verdun, 1914-1918" (1996) the Battle of Verdun ended as a French tactical victory. However, it can also be considered a costly strategic stalemate. The German High Command had failed to achieve its two objectives: 1) to capture the city of Verdun and 2) to inflict a much higher casualty count on its French adversary. By the end of the battle (December 1916) the French Second Army had rolled back the German forces around Verdun, but not quite to their initial positions of February 1916.

Verdun resulted in 306,000 battlefield deaths (163,000 French and 143,000 German combatants) plus at least half a million wounded, an average of 30,000 deaths for each of the ten months of the battle. It was the longest and one of the most devastating battles in the First World War and the history of warfare. Verdun was primarily an artillery battle: a total of about artillery shells were exchanged, leaving behind millions of overlapping shell craters that are still partly visible. In both France and Germany, Verdun has come to represent the horrors of war, like the Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Somme (1916)
The Battle of the Somme , also known as the Somme Offensive, took place during the First World War between 1 July and 14 November 1916 in the Somme department of France, on both banks of the river of the same name...

 in the British
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....

 consciousness. The renowned British military historian Major General Julian Thompson
Julian Thompson
Major General Julian Howard Atherden Thompson, CB, OBE is a military historian and former Royal Marines officer who, as a brigadier, commanded 3 Commando Brigade during the Falklands War.-Military career:...

 has referred to Verdun as "France's Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

".

The Battle of Verdun popularized General Robert Nivelle
Robert Nivelle
Robert Georges Nivelle was a French artillery officer who served in the Boxer Rebellion, and the First World War. In May 1916, he was given command of the French Third Army in the Battle of Verdun, leading counter-offensives that rolled back the German forces in late 1916...

's: "They shall not pass
They shall not pass
"They shall not pass" is a slogan used to express determination to defend a position against an enemy.It was most famously used during the Battle of Verdun in World War I by French General Robert Nivelle...

"
, a simplification of the actual French text: "Vous ne les laisserez pas passer, mes camarades" ("you shall not let them pass, my comrades"), on record in Nivelle's Order of the day of 23 June 1916. About two months earlier, in April 1916, General Philippe Pétain
Philippe Pétain
Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain , generally known as Philippe Pétain or Marshal Pétain , was a French general who reached the distinction of Marshal of France, and was later Chief of State of Vichy France , from 1940 to 1944...

 had also issued a stirring Order of the day, but it was optimistic: "Courage! On les aura" ("Courage! We shall get them"). Conversely, Nivelle's admonition betrayed his concern for the mounting morale problems on the Verdun battlefield. The French military archives document that Nivelle's promotion to lead the Second Army at Verdun, in June 1916, had been followed by manifestations of indiscipline in five of his front line regiments. This unprecedented disquiet would eventually reappear, but in greatly amplified and widespread form, with the French army mutinies
French Army Mutinies (1917)
The French Army Mutinies of 1917 took place amongst the French troops on the Western Front in Northern France. They started just after the conclusion of the disastrous Second Battle of the Aisne, the main action in the Nivelle Offensive, and involved, to various degrees, nearly half of the French...

 that followed the unsuccessful Nivelle offensive
Nivelle offensive
The Nivelle Offensive was a 1917 French attack on the Western Front in the First World War. Promised as the assault that would end the war within 48 hours, with casualties expected of around 10,000 men, it failed on both counts. It was a three-stage plan:...

 of April 1917.

Historical background

For centuries, Verdun had played an important role in the defence of its hinterland, due to the city's strategic location on the Meuse River. Attila the Hun
Attila the Hun
Attila , more frequently referred to as Attila the Hun, was the ruler of the Huns from 434 until his death in 453. He was leader of the Hunnic Empire, which stretched from the Ural River to the Rhine River and from the Danube River to the Baltic Sea. During his reign he was one of the most feared...

, for example, failed to seize the town in the fifth-century. When the empire of Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

 was divided under the Treaty of Verdun
Treaty of Verdun
The Treaty of Verdun was a treaty between the three surviving sons of Louis the Pious, the son and successor of Charlemagne, which divided the Carolingian Empire into three kingdoms...

 of 843 the town became part of the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

. The Peace of Munster
Peace of Westphalia
The Peace of Westphalia was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October of 1648 in Osnabrück and Münster. These treaties ended the Thirty Years' War in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Dutch Republic, with Spain formally recognizing the...

 in 1648 awarded Verdun to France. Verdun played an important role in the defensive line that was built after the Franco-Prussian War
Franco-Prussian War
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and...

 of 1870. As a protection against German threats along the eastern border a strong line of fortifications was constructed between Verdun and Toul
Toul
Toul is a commune in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department in north-eastern France.It is a sub-prefecture of the department.-Geography:Toul is located between Commercy and Nancy, and situated between the Moselle River and the Canal de la Marne au Rhin....

 and between Épinal
Épinal
Épinal is a commune in northeastern France and the capital of the Vosges department. Inhabitants are known as Spinaliens.-Geography:The commune has a land area of 59.24 km²...

 and Belfort
Belfort
Belfort is a commune in the Territoire de Belfort department in Franche-Comté in northeastern France and is the prefecture of the department. It is located on the Savoureuse, on the strategically important natural route between the Rhine and the Rhône – the Belfort Gap or Burgundian Gate .-...

. Verdun guarded the northern entrance to the plains of Champagne
Champagne (province)
The Champagne wine region is a historic province within the Champagne administrative province in the northeast of France. The area is best known for the production of the sparkling white wine that bears the region's name...

 and thus the strategically important approach to the French capital city of Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

.

Verdun sector in 1914

In 1914, following the German invasion of France, the First Battle of the Marne
First Battle of the Marne
The Battle of the Marne was a First World War battle fought between 5 and 12 September 1914. It resulted in an Allied victory against the German Army under Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. The battle effectively ended the month long German offensive that opened the war and had...

 (5-12 September) and the capture of Saint-Mihiel
Saint-Mihiel
Saint-Mihiel is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France.-History:Saint-Mihiel was captured by the Germans in the first year of World War I, and was re-captured during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel from 12 September to 19 September 1918, during World War...

 (on 24 September) created a salient
Salients, re-entrants and pockets
A salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. The salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops occupying the salient vulnerable. The enemy's line facing a salient is referred to as a re-entrant...

 around Verdun
Verdun
Verdun is a city in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Verdun is the biggest city in Meuse, although the capital of the department is the slightly smaller city of Bar-le-Duc.- History :...

. Although some forts underwent Big Bertha
Big Bertha (Howitzer)
Big Bertha Bertha") is the name of a type of super-heavy howitzer developed by the famous armaments manufacturer Krupp in Germany on the eve of World War I...

's artillery bombardment, the fortifications were not threatened with capture.

The heart of the city of Verdun was a citadel built by Vauban
Vauban
Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban and later Marquis de Vauban , commonly referred to as Vauban, was a Marshal of France and the foremost military engineer of his age, famed for his skill in both designing fortifications and breaking through them...

 in the 17th century. By the end of the 19th century, a large underground complex had also been built which served as quarters for the troops inside the city. About 8 km (5 mi) beyond the walls of the city of Verdun was an outer double circular ring of 18 large underground forts (not including 12 smaller forts or redoubts), many of them featuring retractable/rotating artillery turrets equipped with short 75 mm (2.95 in) and short 155 mm (6.1 in) fortress cannons. This ring of 18 large underground forts protecting Verdun had been built at great cost beginning in the 1880s and according to the specifications of the Séré de Rivières system
Séré de Rivières system
The Séré de Rivières system was an ensemble of fortifications built from 1874 and first used at the beginning of the First World War along the frontiers and coasts of France...

. The Verdun forts were variable in quality and size, and thus provided unequal potential to resist heavy artillery shelling.

The forts situated to the north and east of Verdun (e.g. Fort Douaumont
Fort Douaumont
Fort Douaumont was the largest and highest fort on the ring of 19 large defensive forts protecting the city of Verdun, France since the 1890s. However, by 1915 the French General Staff had concluded that even the best protected forts of Verdun could not resist bombardments from the German 420mm ...

, Fort Vaux
Fort Vaux
Fort Vaux, located in Vaux-Devant-Damloup, Meuse, France, became the second Fort to fall in the Battle of Verdun. The first fort to fall had been Fort Douaumont which was virtually undefended and had been captured by a small German raiding party in February 1916 . Fort de Vaux , on the other hand ,...

, Moulainville
Moulainville
Moulainville is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France....

) had been thoroughly hardened during the early 1900s with very thick steel-reinforced concrete tops resting on a sand cushion. Those hardened forts had also been equipped with regular 75 mm (2.95 in) field guns installed in reinforced concrete bunkers ("Casemates de Bourges") looking sideways, thus providing flanking fire across the intervals between the forts. However, several large forts built during the 1880s on the same defensive ring, but to the west and south of Verdun (e.g. La Chaume
La Chaume
La Chaume is a commune in the Côte-d'Or department in eastern France.-Population:-References:*...

, Regret, Belrupt-en-Verdunois
Belrupt-en-Verdunois
Belrupt-en-Verdunois is a commune in the Meuse department in the Lorraine region in north-eastern France.-See also:*Communes of the Meuse department...

), had never been improved. The prediction was that a German assault would come from the east and north and this proved to be essentially correct.

German strategy

After the German invasion of France had been halted at the First Battle of the Marne
First Battle of the Marne
The Battle of the Marne was a First World War battle fought between 5 and 12 September 1914. It resulted in an Allied victory against the German Army under Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. The battle effectively ended the month long German offensive that opened the war and had...

, in September 1914, the war of movement gave way to trench warfare
Trench warfare
Trench warfare is a form of occupied fighting lines, consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are largely immune to the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery...

 with neither side being able to achieve a successful breakthrough.

In 1915, all attempts to force a breakthrough by the Germans at Ypres
Second Battle of Ypres
The Second Battle of Ypres was the first time Germany used poison gas on a large scale on the Western Front in the First World War and the first time a former colonial force pushed back a major European power on European soil, which occurred in the battle of St...

, by the British at Neuve Chapelle
Battle of Neuve Chapelle
The Battles of Neuve Chapelle and Artois was a battle in the First World War. It was a British offensive in the Artois region and broke through at Neuve-Chapelle but they were unable to exploit the advantage.The battle began on 10 March 1915...

 and by the French at Battle of Champagne
Battle of Champagne
The Battle of Champagne is the name of three battles fought in the Champagne region of northern France during World War I.*First Battle of Champagne *Second Battle of Champagne...

 and Battle of Artois
Battle of Artois
The Battle of Artois is the name of three battles fought in the Artois region of northern France during World War I:*First Battle of Artois , an early and indecisive encounter...

 had failed, resulting only in very heavy casualties.

According to his post-war memoirs, the German Chief of Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn
Erich von Falkenhayn
Erich von Falkenhayn was a German soldier and Chief of the General Staff during World War I. He became a military writer after World War I.-Early life:...

, believed that, although a major breakthrough might no longer be achieved, the French army could still be defeated if it suffered a sufficient number of casualties. He explained that his motive was to attack the French army in a position from which it could not retreat, for reasons of both strategy and national pride.

Verdun, surrounded by a ring of forts, was a stronghold and a salient that projected into the German lines and blocked an important railway line leading to Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

. However, by early 1916, its much-vaunted impregnability had been seriously weakened. General Joffre had concluded, from the easy fall of the Belgian fortresses at Liège and at Namur
Namur (city)
Namur is a city and municipality in Wallonia, in southern Belgium. It is both the capital of the province of Namur and of Wallonia....

 that this type of defensive system was obsolete and could no longer withstand shelling by German heavy siege guns. Consequently, pursuant to a Directive of the General Staff enacted on 5 August 1915, the Verdun
Verdun
Verdun is a city in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Verdun is the biggest city in Meuse, although the capital of the department is the slightly smaller city of Bar-le-Duc.- History :...

 sector was to be stripped of over 50 complete batteries and 128,000 rounds of artillery ammunition: a process that was still in progress at the end of January 1916. Moreover, the forts at Douaumont and Vaux had been designated for destruction, and demolition charges had already been placed when the German assault began on 24 February. Finally, the 18 large forts and other batteries surrounding Verdun were left with fewer than 300 guns and limited ammunition while their garrisons had been reduced to small maintenance crews.

In choosing Verdun, Falkenhayn had opted for a location where material circumstances favoured a successful German offensive: Verdun was isolated on three sides and railway communications to the French rear were restricted. Conversely, a German controlled major rail head lay only 20 km (12.4 mi) to the north of their positions. In a war where materiel
Materiel
Materiel is a term used in English to refer to the equipment and supplies in military and commercial supply chain management....

 trumped élan, Falkenhayn expected a favourable loss exchange ratio
Loss Exchange Ratio
Loss-Exchange Ratio is a military term that calculates the comparative casualties suffered by each combatant from a battle, engagement or extended conflict. For example, at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War, the Union forces suffered approximately 23,000 casualties against...

, as he believed that the French would cling fanatically to what would become a death trap.

Falkenhayn claimed in his memoirs that, rather than a traditional military victory, Verdun was planned as a vehicle for destroying the French Army. He quotes in his book from a memo he says he wrote to the Kaiser:
However, recent German scholarship by Holger Afflerbach and others has questioned the authenticity of this so-called "Christmas memo". No copy has ever surfaced and the only account of it appeared in Falkenhayn's post-war memoir. His army commanders at Verdun, including the German Crown Prince, denied any knowledge of a plan based on attrition. Afflerbach argues it likely that Falkenhayn did not specifically design the battle to bleed the French Army dry, but instead proposed ex-post-facto the motive for the Verdun offensive in order to justify its failure.

Current analyses follow the same trend and exclude the traditional explanation. The offensive was probably planned to overwhelm Verdun's weakened defences, thus striking a potentially fatal blow at the French Army. Verdun's peacetime rail communications had been cut off in 1915 and thus the city and its ring of forts were depending on a single narrow road (the future "Voie sacrée"
Voie Sacrée
The Voie Sacrée is a road that connects Bar-le-Duc to Verdun , France. It was given its name after the end of World War I because of the vital role it played during the Battle of Verdun.-History:...

) and a local narrow-gauge railway (the "Chemin de fer Meusien") to be re-supplied. This logistical bottleneck had raised German hopes that the French could not sustain an effective defence of the Verdun sector beyond a few weeks.

Prelude

As explained above, the Verdun sector was poorly defended in 1916 because half the artillery in the forts had been taken away during 1915, leaving only the heavy guns in the retractable gun turrets. The fort's garrisons had also been reduced to small maintenance crews and some of the forts were readied for partial destruction with explosive charges. Furthermore, the small maintenance garrisons in the Verdun forts had to report to the central military bureaucracy in Paris. When the general in command of the Verdun sector showed up to inspect Fort Douaumont in January 1916, he was refused entry because he did not carry the necessary authorizations emanating from Paris. In February 1916, French intelligence on German preparations and a delay in the attack due to bad weather gave the French High Command time to rush two divisions from the 30th Corps—the 72nd and 51st—to the area's defence. The French strength at Verdun was now 34 battalions against 72 German battalions: about half that of the assailant. French artillery was even more at a disadvantage: about 300 guns, mostly 75 mm (2.95 in) field guns, versus 1,400 guns on the German side, most of them heavy and super heavy, including 14 in (355.6 mm) and 16 in (406.4 mm) mortars.

February–April 1916

The German High Command aimed to launch the offensive (codename Gericht, "Judgment") on the 12 February; however, fog, heavy rain and high winds delayed the offensive for a week. Because of this delay, the battle began on at 07:15 on 21 February 1916 with a 10-hour artillery bombardment by 808 guns. They eventually fired close to 1,000,000 shells along a front about 30 km (18.6 mi) long by 5 km (3.1 mi) wide. The highest concentration of that fire was aimed at the French positions situated on the right (east) bank of the Meuse river. More than half of the German artillery firing on 21 February was heavy, the most numerous guns (470 guns) being 210 mm (8.3 in) and 150 mm (5.91 in) howitzers. Twenty-six super-heavy, long-range guns—up to 420 mm (16.5 in) in caliber—were also aimed at some of the forts and the city of Verdun itself. This incessant pounding or "Trommelfeuer" ("drum fire"—a barrage
Barrage (artillery)
A barrage is a line or barrier of exploding artillery shells, created by the co-ordinated aiming of a large number of guns firing continuously. Its purpose is to deny or hamper enemy passage through the line of the barrage, to attack a linear position such as a line of trenches or to neutralize...

 fired not as salvo
Salvo
A salvo is the simultaneous discharge of artillery or firearms including the firing of guns either to hit a target or to perform a salute.Troops armed with muzzleloaders required time in which to refill their arms with gun powder and shot...

s but rather by each gun in random succession) was the heaviest and longest artillery preparation ever inflicted since the beginning of the First World War. The ground carried the noise it produced as a rumble that was heard 160 km (99.4 mi) away. This massive preparation was followed by an attack by three army corps (the 3rd, 7th, and 18th). The Germans used flamethrower
Flamethrower
A flamethrower is a mechanical device designed to project a long controllable stream of fire.Some flamethrowers project a stream of ignited flammable liquid; some project a long gas flame. Most military flamethrowers use liquids, but commercial flamethrowers tend to use high-pressure propane and...

s for the first time to clear the French trenches. Newly-introduced storm troops
Stormtrooper
Stormtroopers were specialist soldiers of the German Army in World War I. In the last years of the war, Stoßtruppen were trained to fight with "infiltration tactics", part of the Germans' new method of attack on enemy trenches...

 followed closely with rifles slung and used mostly hand grenades to clear the remaining defenders. Combined artillery and infantry shock tactics on that scale were new to the French defenders and caused them to lose much ground at the beginning. The bombardment completely pulverized the French trenches, phone lines and machine gun positions. As French infantry took massive losses during this bombardment, German shock troops then moved forward. Although the few French survivors resisted from all sides, by the end of the first day the German assault troops had only suffered about 600 casualties.

By 22 February, German shock troops had advanced 5 km (3.1 mi) capturing the Bois des Caures, at the edge of the village of Flabas
Moirey-Flabas-Crépion
Moirey-Flabas-Crépion is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France.-See also:*Communes of the Meuse department...

, after two French battalions led by Colonel Émile Driant
Émile Driant
Émile Augustin Cyprien Driant was a French nationalist writer, politician, and army officer. He was the first high ranking casualty of the Battle of Verdun during World War I.-Biography:...

 had held them up for two days, and pushed the French defenders back to Samogneux
Samogneux
Samogneux is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France....

, Beaumont
Beaumont-en-Auge
Beaumont-en-Auge is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France. The city hosts one of the last kaleidoscope manufacturers in France.-Population:-Personalities:...

, and Ornes
Ornes
Ornes is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France. The village is one of the nine French villages destroyed in the First World War and one of six that was never rebuilt...

. Later that day, on 22 February, Colonel Driant was killed, rifle in hand, fighting alongside the 56th and 59th Bataillon de chasseurs à pied. Only 118 Chasseur
Chasseur
Chasseur [sha-sur; Fr. sha-sœr] is the designation given to certain regiments of French light infantry or light cavalry troops, trained for rapid action.-History:...

s
managed to escape. Poor communications meant that only then did the French High Command realise the seriousness of the attack. The Germans managed to take the village of Haumont, but French forces repulsed a German attack on the village of Bois de l'Herbebois.

On 23 February, a French counterattack at Bois des Caures was repulsed. Fierce fighting at Bois de l'Herbebois continued, but the Germans managed to outflank the French defenders from Bois de Wavrille and capture the position. The Germans also suffered heavy casualties during their attack on Bois de Fosses. French forces managed to retain control of the village of Samogneux, despite heavy fighting. However, German shock troops continued to drive French infantrymen from their first line of defense.

On 24 February, the French defenders of XXX Corps fell back again from their second line of defense, but were saved from disaster by the appearance of the XX Corps under General Balfourier. Intended as relief, the new arrivals were thrown into combat immediately. That evening, French Army chief of staff, General de Castelnau
Noël Édouard, vicomte de Curières de Castelnau
Noël Marie Joseph Édouard, Vicomte de Curières de Castelnau was a French general in World War I, one of the leading proponents of the philosophy of attaque à outrance that dominated French military thinking in the early part of the war.Born in Gascony to a family with a long history of military...

, advised his commander-in-chief, General Joffre, that the French Second Army
Second Army (France)
The Second Army was a Field army of the French Army during World War I and World War II. The Army became famous for fighting the Battle of Verdun in 1916 under Philippe Pétain.-World War I:*General de Curières de Castelnau...

, under General Philippe Pétain
Philippe Pétain
Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain , generally known as Philippe Pétain or Marshal Pétain , was a French general who reached the distinction of Marshal of France, and was later Chief of State of Vichy France , from 1940 to 1944...

, ought to be urgently brought up to reinforce the Verdun sector. In the meantime, the Germans were now in possession of Beaumont, the Bois des Fosses, the Bois des Caurières and were moving up the Hassoule ravine which led directly to Fort Douaumont
Fort Douaumont
Fort Douaumont was the largest and highest fort on the ring of 19 large defensive forts protecting the city of Verdun, France since the 1890s. However, by 1915 the French General Staff had concluded that even the best protected forts of Verdun could not resist bombardments from the German 420mm ...

.

At 16:30 on 24 February, infantrymen from three companies of the German 24th (Brandenburg
Brandenburg
Brandenburg is one of the sixteen federal-states of Germany. It lies in the east of the country and is one of the new federal states that were re-created in 1990 upon the reunification of the former West Germany and East Germany. The capital is Potsdam...

) regiment entered the centrepiece of the French fortification system: Fort Douaumont
Fort Douaumont
Fort Douaumont was the largest and highest fort on the ring of 19 large defensive forts protecting the city of Verdun, France since the 1890s. However, by 1915 the French General Staff had concluded that even the best protected forts of Verdun could not resist bombardments from the German 420mm ...

. The first German raiding party to enter the fort was led by Leutnant Eugen Radtke, Hauptmann Hans Joachim Haupt and Oberleutnant Cordt von Brandis (after the war, a certain Feldwebel Kunze claimed to have been first to enter Fort Douaumont but this was never confirmed officially). The whole German raiding party, made up of only 19 officers and 79 soldiers, promptly overwhelmed the small French maintenance garrison (68 men) and forced its surrender. There was,actually, no exchange of gunfire from both sides. Being the highest ranking officers in the raiding party, both von Brandis and Haupt won the highest German military decoration, Pour le Mérite
Pour le Mérite
The Pour le Mérite, known informally as the Blue Max , was the Kingdom of Prussia's highest military order for German soldiers until the end of World War I....

, for their success in this extraordinary action.

Douaumont was the largest fort of Verdun's defensive system. It had been built before the war to hold a garrison of 477 men and seven commissioned officers. It also featured two retractable/rotating artillery turrets as well as four 75 mm (2.95 in) field guns firing from side bunkers ("Casemates de Bourges") and two retractable twin Hotchkiss machine gun
Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun
The Mle 1914 Hotchkiss machine gun became the standard machine gun of the French Army during World War I. It was manufactured by the French arms company Hotchkiss et Cie, which had been established in the 1860s by American industrialist Benjamin B. Hotchkiss...

 turrets. The deep moat around the fort could be swept by intensive gunfire from five wall casemates ("coffres") each holding an anti-personnel 37 mm (1.46 in) Hotchkiss gun
Hotchkiss gun
The Hotchkiss gun can refer to different products of the Hotchkiss arms company starting in the late 19th century. It usually refers to the 1.65-inch light mountain gun; there was also a 3-inch Hotchkiss gun...

 revolving cannon. However, the reality of Douaumont's situation in February 1916 was altogether different. Firstly, a non-commissioned officer named Chenot was the highest ranking French personnel inside Fort Douaumont and the de facto commander of the fort's technical maintenance garrison (68 men). Ordnance wise, only one rotating gun turret (the 155 mm (6.1 in) turret), out of the two rotating artillery turrets on the fort, was partially manned. The fort's four 75 mm (2.95 in) guns in the side bunkers ("Casemates de Bourges") had all been removed in 1915. The drawbridge, which had been immobilized in the down position by a German shell, had never been repaired. The "coffres" ("wall bunkers") protecting the fort's moats had been left unmanned and thus the moats were wide open to enemy entry. Over 900kg of explosive charges had already been emplaced inside the fort in order to eventually disable it. The penalty of these acts of negligence which can be attributed to the fateful decision,in July 1915, to disarm the Verdun forts was estimated at a later date to have cost the French Army at least 100,000 casualties.

Castelnau appointed General Philippe Pétain
Philippe Pétain
Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain , generally known as Philippe Pétain or Marshal Pétain , was a French general who reached the distinction of Marshal of France, and was later Chief of State of Vichy France , from 1940 to 1944...

 commander of the Verdun area and ordered the French Second Army to the battle sector. Pétain took over on 25 February and appointed Colonel Maurice de Barescut, a long time associate and proven executive, as the permanent Chief of Staff in charge of the Verdun sector. Pétain decided that the Verdun forts should be strongly re-garrisoned to form the principal bulwarks of a new defence. He mapped out new lines of resistance on both banks of the Meuse and gave orders for a barrage position to be established through Avocourt, Fort de Marre, Verdun's north-east outskirts and Fort du Rozellier. The line Bras-Douaumont was divided into four sectors, each sector was entrusted to fresh French troops of the 20th "Iron" Corps. Their main job was to delay the German advance with counter-attacks.

On 29 February, the German attack was slowed down at the village of Douaumont
Douaumont
Douaumont is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France.The village was destroyed during World War I. Today the Douaumont ossuary, which contains the remains of more than 100,000 unknown soldiers of both French and German nationalities found on the battlefield, stands...

 by heavy snowfall and a tenacious defence by the French 33rd Infantry Regiment which had been commanded by Pétain himself in the years prior to the war. Captain Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969....

, the future Free French leader and President of France, was a company commander in this regiment and was wounded and taken prisoner near Douaumont during the battle. This slowdown gave the French time to bring up 90,000 men and 23000 ST (20,865.2 t) of ammunition from the railhead at Bar-le-Duc
Bar-le-Duc
Bar-le-Duc, formerly known as Bar, is a commune in the Meuse département, of which it is the préfecture . The department is in Lorraine in north-eastern France-Geography:...

 to Verdun. This was largely accomplished by uninterrupted, night-and-day trucking along a narrow departmental road: the so-called "Voie Sacrée
Voie Sacrée
The Voie Sacrée is a road that connects Bar-le-Duc to Verdun , France. It was given its name after the end of World War I because of the vital role it played during the Battle of Verdun.-History:...

". The standard gauge railway line going through Verdun in peacetime had been interrupted since 1915.

As in so many previous offensives on the Western Front, the German assailants had lost effective artillery cover by advancing too fast in the early stages of the attack. With the battlefield turned into a sea of mud through continual shelling, it was more and more difficult for German artillery to follow forward in this very hilly terrain. German infantry's southward advance also brought it into range of French field artillery on the opposite side of the Meuse river. Each new advance to the south, towards the city of Verdun, became more and more costly than the previous ones as the attacking German Fifth Army
German Fifth Army
The 5th Army was a field army of Imperial Germany during World War I and of the Wehrmacht during World War II.-World War I:In August 1914 the command of 5th Army was assigned to Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany, heir to the Hohenzollern throne, with General Schmidt von Knobelsdorf serving as his...

 units were cut down by Pétain's artillery massed on the opposite, or the west bank of the Meuse river. When the village of Douaumont was finally captured by German infantry on 2 March 1916, the Germans had suffered 2,000 casualties. Four German infantry regiments had been decimated.
Unable to make any further progress against Verdun frontally, the Germans turned to the flanks, attacking on the west bank, or left bank, of the Meuse river at the hills of Le Mort Homme
Cumières-le-Mort-Homme
Cumières-le-Mort-Homme is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France.Since the end of the Battle of Verdun in 1916, it has been unoccupied along with Bezonvaux, Beaumont-en-Verdunois, Haumont-près-Samogneux, Louvemont-Côte-du-Poivre, and...

 on 6 March and Côte (Hill) 304 on 20 March. The German artillery preparation and its follow up involved some 800 heavy guns which fired nearly shells and transformed the two hills into volcanoes of mud and rocks. The top of Côte 304 had gone down about 12 feet from 304 meters to 300 meters, as surveyed after the war. Mort Homme Hill sheltered active batteries of French field guns which had long hindered German progress towards Verdun on the right bank. They also provided commanding views of all the left bank battlefield.

After storming the Bois des Corbeaux, and then losing it to a determined French counter-attack, the Germans launched another assault on Le Mort Homme on 9 March and this time from the direction of Béthincourt
Béthincourt
Béthincourt is a commune in the Meuse department in the Lorraine region in north-eastern France....

 to the north-west. They also seized the Bois des Corbeaux a second time, but at a crippling cost before they could finally occupy the crests of Le Mort Homme and Côte 304. During this successful advance, they had also captured the destroyed villages of Cumières and Chattancourt
Chattancourt
Chattancourt is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France....

.

May–June 1916

In May 1916, the main event was the French failed attempt to reoccupy Fort Douaumont. The assault had been planned by recently promoted General Robert Nivelle
Robert Nivelle
Robert Georges Nivelle was a French artillery officer who served in the Boxer Rebellion, and the First World War. In May 1916, he was given command of the French Third Army in the Battle of Verdun, leading counter-offensives that rolled back the German forces in late 1916...

 and executed on a very narrow front under the direction of General Charles Mangin
Charles Mangin
Charles Emmanuel Marie Mangin was a French general during World War I.-Early career:...

. It involved three infantry divisions supported by 300 guns ranging from the 75 mm field gun to heavy 6 in (152.4 mm) and 12 in (304.8 mm) howitzers. The assault began on 22 May after a massive artillery preparation. Three days later, the French attempt had failed, although French infantry had occupied the superstructure of Fort Douaumont for over 12 hours. Mangin was blamed for that failure and refused to carry out another attempt. Higher up, Pétain also refused to support a renewed attempt to recapture Douaumont, invoking insufficient heavy artillery availability at the time.

Then, later in May 1916, the German attacks shifted from the left bank (Mort-Homme and Côte 304) and returned to the right bank, south of Fort Douaumont. They found a focus on Fort Vaux which was shelled continuously by the heaviest German siege guns. After a final assault initiated on 1 June by nearly 10,000 German shock troops, they occupied the top of the fort on 2 June. However, the underground casemates of Fort Vaux still remained under French control. Then close fighting proceeded underground for five days, barricade by barricade, in the narrow corridors of the fort. The French garrison of Fort Vaux, led by a Major Raynal, finally surrendered on 7 June when the defenders had run out of water. Up to this point, losses had been appalling on both sides. General Pétain had attempted to spare his troops by remaining on the defensive, but he had been relieved on 1 May from his Verdun command and promoted to lead the overall Centre Army Group which still included the Verdun sector. General Pétain had been replaced with the more attack-minded General Robert Nivelle
Robert Nivelle
Robert Georges Nivelle was a French artillery officer who served in the Boxer Rebellion, and the First World War. In May 1916, he was given command of the French Third Army in the Battle of Verdun, leading counter-offensives that rolled back the German forces in late 1916...

, an artillery man by training and by previous command experiences.

June–July 1916

The Germans' next tactical move, on the right bank of the Meuse river, was to continue to press southward towards the city of Verdun. As a preliminary, on 21 June, German assault troops (60,000 men) took the redoubt of Thiaumont and the ruined village of Fleury
Fleury-devant-Douaumont
Fleury-devant-Douaumont is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France.Since the end of the Battle of Verdun in 1916, when it had been captured and recaptured by the Germans and French 16 times, it has been unoccupied along with Bezonvaux, Beaumont-en-Verdunois,...

. But just before the descent onto Verdun stood a final barrier they had to overcome: Fort Souville. It was a second line of fortification whose upper levels had already been reduced to rubble by German heavy shells, sparing only the fort's deepest underground corridors. To prepare for the assault on Souville, the Germans, beginning on 10 July, attempted to incapacitate French artillery with over 60,000 diphosgene
Diphosgene
Diphosgene is a chemical compound with the formula ClCO2CCl3. This colorless liquid is a valuable reagent in the synthesis of organic compounds...

 gas shells (the so-called "Green Cross Gas"). This was mostly ineffective since French troops had been equipped in early 1916, with a better type of gas mask
Gas mask
A gas mask is a mask put on over the face to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne pollutants and toxic gases. The mask forms a sealed cover over the nose and mouth, but may also cover the eyes and other vulnerable soft tissues of the face. Some gas masks are also respirators, though the word...

 (the M2).

In the meantime, German heavy guns hammered Fort Souville and its approaches with more than 300,000 shells including some five hundred 14 in (355.6 mm) shells aimed at the fort itself. However, when the time for the assault came, the path leading to Fort Souville became too tightly packed with German infantry which came under heavy fire from French artillery . What was left of the German assault troops (Bavarians and Alpen Korps) was further thinned out by less than sixty French machine gunners, led by a lieutenant Kleber Dupuy, who had emerged from the fort's ruins and taken positions on its superstructure. Fewer than a hundred German infantrymen managed somehow to escape their fire and made it to the top of the fort on 12 July. From that position, they could actually see the roofs of the city of Verdun and the spire of its cathedral. But being decimated by hand grenades and by a 75 mm artillery barrage, they had to retreat to their starting lines or chose to surrender. Thus, Fort Souville, on 12 July 1916 in the morning, became the high mark of the unsuccessful German offensive against Verdun. Today, the deeply scarred superstructure of Fort Souville is only partially visible because of large water-filled shell craters and very dense vegetation. It is one of the most horrifying and most hazardous sites of the old Verdun battlefield.

In the meantime, while Souville was under assault, the opening of the Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Somme (1916)
The Battle of the Somme , also known as the Somme Offensive, took place during the First World War between 1 July and 14 November 1916 in the Somme department of France, on both banks of the river of the same name...

 on 1 July, had forced the Germans to withdraw some of their artillery from Verdun to counter the combined Anglo-French offensive to the north. The battle of the Somme was launched in part by the allies to try to take some of the pressure off the French at Verdun.

By late 1916, the German troops were exhausted, and Falkenhayn had been replaced as Chief of the General Staff by Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg , known universally as Paul von Hindenburg was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934....

. Hindenburg's deputy, Chief Quartermaster-General Erich Ludendorff
Erich Ludendorff
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff was a German general, victor of Liège and of the Battle of Tannenberg...

, soon acquired almost dictatorial power in Germany.

French counter-offensives in late 1916 and August 1917

The French launched a major counter-offensive to recapture Douaumont in October 1916 (the First Offensive Battle of Verdun ). Its architect was General Nivelle, an experienced commander in the massive use of artillery. The preparation which lasted six days consumed 530,000 75 mm artillery shells plus 100,000 155 mm shells, not counting the heavier calibers. The final assault on Fort Douaumont combined an infantry attack following behind a "creeping" forward artillery barrage timed to keep the enemy machine gunners down.

To soften up Douaumont before this assault, two French Saint-Chamond railway guns located 13 km (8.1 mi) to the southwest at Baleycourt had inflicted crushing blows onto the fort with 400 mm (15.7 in) shells, each weighing 1 ST (0.90718474 t). At least 20 of those shells hit the fort, six of them penetrating down to the lowest levels before exploding. The Germans partly evacuated Douaumont which was then recaptured on 24 October by French marines and colonial infantry. On 2 November, the Germans evacuated Fort Vaux which had also come under fire from the 400 mm railway guns.

A broader offensive, planned by General Nivelle and executed by General Mangin, began on 15 December and drove the Germans back close to their initial February starting lines. Within 36 hours the French had taken 11,387 prisoners, including 284 officers, and captured 115 artillery pieces. To some German senior officers who complained to Mangin about their lack of comfort in captivity he replied (translated from the French): "We do regret it, gentlemen, but then we did not expect so many of you". Unquestionably, German morale at Verdun had begun to deteriorate after the failure to seize Fort Souville and then later after the loss of Fort Douaumont.

A limited French offensive on the left bank in August 1917 (the Second Offensive Battle of Verdun ), planned by General Pétain and carried out with overwhelming heavy artillery, rapidly recaptured Mort-Homme Hill as well as Côte 304. It is during that offensive that deep and long underground tunnels (the Bismarck, the Kronprinz and the Gallwitz tunnels) that connected the German front lines to the rear were taken over by French infantry on August 20th. Otherwise and later on, during 1918 and until the Armistice, the Verdun Sector remained an active battle zone where the two adversaries never ceased to confront each other in life-wasting local actions.

A certain discontent had begun to spread among the French combatants on the Verdun battlefield during the summer of 1916. The departure of General Pétain from his Verdun command on 1 June 1916 and his replacement by General Nivelle had a negative impact on the soldiers' morale to a point that five infantry regiments were affected by short-lived episodes of collective indiscipline. Furthermore, only ten days after Nivelle had replaced Pétain , two French lieutenants, Henri Herduin and Pierre Millant had been summarily executed by firing squad, on 11 June 1916, at Fleury-devant-Douaumont
Fleury-devant-Douaumont
Fleury-devant-Douaumont is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France.Since the end of the Battle of Verdun in 1916, when it had been captured and recaptured by the Germans and French 16 times, it has been unoccupied along with Bezonvaux, Beaumont-en-Verdunois,...

. The executions were not only unjustified but illegal as well, since they had been carried out without court martial judgements.

Ten years later, in 1926, after an inquiry that became a "cause célèbre
Cause célèbre
A is an issue or incident arousing widespread controversy, outside campaigning and heated public debate. The term is particularly used in connection with celebrated legal cases. It is a French phrase in common English use...

", the late Lieutenant Herduin and Lieutenant Millant were exonerated, and their official military records expunged.
More generally, the horror of Verdun never left the battlefield until the Armistice of 11 November 1918
Armistice with Germany (Compiègne)
The armistice between the Allies and Germany was an agreement that ended the fighting in the First World War. It was signed in a railway carriage in Compiègne Forest on 11 November 1918 and marked a victory for the Allies and a complete defeat for Germany, although not technically a surrender...

 finally put an end to it. The last major combat in the Verdun sector took place during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, successfully carried out by the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) from 12 September to the Armistice.

French and German casualties

The Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) were waging war on two fronts in 1916, in Russia and on the Western Front. Their strategy was to inflict more casualties on their adversaries than they themselves suffered. The German Army had achieved this goal in Russia in 1914-1915. Beyond this result, it also had to inflict casualties on the French Army that would weaken it to the point of collapse. In order to reach this objective, the French Army had to be drawn into a situation from which it could not escape for strategic and national pride reasons. The German Army also counted on their larger numbers of heavy and super heavy guns to deliver higher casualty counts than French artillery which relied mostly upon the 75 mm field gun.

In reality, the German goal of inflicting disproportionate casualties on the French Army at Verdun was never achieved. The French Army's losses at Verdun were high, but only slightly higher than the German losses. General (later Marshal) Philippe Pétain
Philippe Pétain
Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain , generally known as Philippe Pétain or Marshal Pétain , was a French general who reached the distinction of Marshal of France, and was later Chief of State of Vichy France , from 1940 to 1944...

 was sparing of his troops and rotated them out after only two to three weeks in the front lines. Nevertheless, he managed to keep at least eleven French divisions (over 100,000 men) fully deployed on the Verdun battlefield at any given time. Thanks to Pétain's rotation system, 70% of the French Army went through "the wringer of Verdun", as opposed to only 25% of the German forces. General Pétain had always been a strong supporter of artillery firepower. His pre-war dictum: "le feu tue" or "firepower kills" was also the heart of his strategy at Verdun. By June 1916, French artillery at Verdun had grown to 2,708 guns, including 1,138 75 mm field guns.

French military casualties at Verdun, in 1916, are recorded as: 371,000 men including 60,000 killed, 101,000 missing and 210,000 wounded. Total German casualties at Verdun, between February and December 1916, are recorded as 337,000 men. The statistics also confirm that at least 70% of the Verdun casualties on both sides were the result of artillery fire. The shell consumption by French artillery at Verdun, between 21 February and 30 September at Verdun, totalled 23.5 million rounds. Most of them (16 million shells) were fired by the French 75
Canon de 75 modèle 1897
The French 75mm field gun was a quick-firing field artillery piece adopted in March 1898. Its official French designation was: Matériel de 75mm Mle 1897. It was commonly known as the French 75, simply the 75 and Soixante-Quinze .The French 75 is widely regarded as the first modern artillery piece...

 batteries which lined up about 1,000 guns (250 batteries) on the battlefield. German sources document that their own artillery, mostly heavy and super heavy, fired off over 21 million shells from February to September 1916 only.

Period photographs and current visitors to the Verdun battlefield testify to the huge numbers of shell craters that overlap each other endlessly over about 100 km². Forests planted in the 1930s have grown up and thus hide most of the hideous fields of the "Zone Rouge
Zone rouge (First World War)
The Zone rouge is the name given to about of land in northeastern France that was physically and environmentally destroyed during the First World War...

" (the "Red Zone") where so many men lost their lives or limbs. The Verdun battlefield itself is actually a vast graveyard since the mortal remains of over 100,000 missing combatants are still dispersed underground wherever they fell. To this day they are still being discovered by the French Forestry Service which turns them over to the Douaumont ossuary
Douaumont ossuary
The Douaumont ossuary is a memorial containing the remains of soldiers who died on the battlefield during the Battle of Verdun in World War I. It is located in Douaumont, France, within the Verdun battlefield.-History:...

 where they find a final resting place.

Notable deaths

  • Émile Driant
    Émile Driant
    Émile Augustin Cyprien Driant was a French nationalist writer, politician, and army officer. He was the first high ranking casualty of the Battle of Verdun during World War I.-Biography:...

     (French career officer, writer and politician)
  • Kiffin Rockwell
    Kiffin Rockwell
    Kiffin Yates Rockwell was an early aviator whose major claim to fame is as the first American to shoot down an enemy aircraft in World War I....

     (American pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille
    Lafayette Escadrille
    The Lafayette Escadrille , was an escadrille of the French Air Service, the Aéronautique militaire, during World War I composed largely of American volunteer pilots flying fighters.-History:Dr. Edmund L...

    , Verdun (Bar-le-Duc
    Bar-le-Duc
    Bar-le-Duc, formerly known as Bar, is a commune in the Meuse département, of which it is the préfecture . The department is in Lorraine in north-eastern France-Geography:...

    ), 1916).
  • Franz Marc
    Franz Marc
    Franz Marc was a German painter and printmaker, one of the key figures of the German Expressionist movement...

     (German painter)

Significance

The Battle of Verdun—also known as the "Mincing Machine of Verdun" or Meuse Mill—became a symbol of French determination to hold the ground and then roll back the enemy at any human cost. However, it is quite clear that the French High Command had been caught unprepared by the assault in February 1916. As time passed, Verdun became a battle of attrition in which artillery played the dominant role. The intensive use of trucking to maintain the supply of troops and materiel to the front lines was a significant factor that helped level the odds between the two armies. Furthermore, during the summer of 1916, a standard gauge railway bypass (the Sommeilles-Nettancourt
Nettancourt
Nettancourt is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France.-Geography:The village lies on the right bank of the Chée, which flows southward through the eastern part of the commune.* Elevation : 158.573928 Yards ....

 to Dugny line) was completed and took over from the traffic on the "Voie Sacrée
Voie Sacrée
The Voie Sacrée is a road that connects Bar-le-Duc to Verdun , France. It was given its name after the end of World War I because of the vital role it played during the Battle of Verdun.-History:...

" and from the narrow gauge " Chemin de fer meusien". The German military planners had neither anticipated the intense trucking on the Voie sacrée nor the later opening of the Sommeilles-Nettancourt to Dugny standard gauge railway line.

The German General Staff had chosen Verdun as a strategic target, instead of Belfort
Belfort
Belfort is a commune in the Territoire de Belfort department in Franche-Comté in northeastern France and is the prefecture of the department. It is located on the Savoureuse, on the strategically important natural route between the Rhine and the Rhône – the Belfort Gap or Burgundian Gate .-...

, because the peacetime standard gauge railway lines going through Verdun had long been interrupted. One line coming from the south into Verdun had been severed when the Germans occupied Saint-Mihiel
Saint-Mihiel
Saint-Mihiel is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France.-History:Saint-Mihiel was captured by the Germans in the first year of World War I, and was re-captured during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel from 12 September to 19 September 1918, during World War...

 in 1914, while the other, leading westward out of Verdun towards Paris, was under direct German observation and artillery fire at Aubreville
Aubréville
Aubréville is a commune in the Meuse department in the Lorraine region in north-eastern France....

. Thus, at the outset, the German planners saw Verdun for what it was: a salient cut off on three sides, a cul-de-sac
Cul-de-sac
A cul-de-sac is a word of French origin referring to a dead end, close, no through road or court meaning dead-end street with only one inlet/outlet...

without standard gauge railway communications and thus an ideal opportunity for springing a trap to strike a fatal blow against the French Army. What they did not anticipate was that once the initial surprise had worn out, French logistics would improve with time and rob them of their initial advantage. It has often been remarked that Verdun was in large part a logistic victory of French trucks over German railways.

Marshal Pétain praised what he saw as the success of the fixed fortification system at Verdun in his war memoir: "La Bataille de Verdun" published in 1929. One year later, in 1930, this acclaim led France to adopt the Maginot Line
Maginot Line
The Maginot Line , named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, was a line of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, artillery casemates, machine gun posts, and other defences, which France constructed along its borders with Germany and Italy, in light of its experience in World War I,...

 (Ligne Maginot) as the basic inter-war defensive system along its border with Germany. In reality, during the Battle of Verdun, French conventional field artillery deployed in the open outnumbered turreted guns in the Verdun forts by a factor of at least two hundred to one. It was massed French field artillery ( over 2,000 guns after May 1916 ) which inflicted about 70% of the German casualties at Verdun. Infantry small arms and grenades, plus a handful of functional turreted guns in the forts account for the rest. Some twenty years later, the Maginot line displayed the same conceptual flaw as the Verdun forts : insufficient turreted artillery in relation to the enormous tonnage of concrete and steel needed to support these largely underground installations. Verdun remained a symbol of French determination for many years. At the Battle of Dien Bien Phu
Battle of Dien Bien Phu
The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was the climactic confrontation of the First Indochina War between the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps and Viet Minh communist revolutionaries. The battle occurred between March and May 1954 and culminated in a comprehensive French defeat that...

 in 1953–54, General Christian de Castries
Christian de Castries
Christian Marie Ferdinand de la Croix de Castries was the French commander at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Castries was born into a distinguished military family and enlisted in the army at the age of 19. He was sent to the Saumur Cavalry School and in 1926 was commissioned an officer but...

 remarked that the situation was "somewhat like Verdun.". This was not a valid analogy, since French forces besieged at Dien Bien Phu were entirely resupplied by air on an unsafe landing strip that was well within range of Viet Minh artillery fire. In contrast, the French forces at Verdun were resupplied by roads and railways that were completely beyond the reach of German long range artillery.

On 22 September 1984, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl
Helmut Kohl
Helmut Josef Michael Kohl is a German conservative politician and statesman. He was Chancellor of Germany from 1982 to 1998 and the chairman of the Christian Democratic Union from 1973 to 1998...

 (whose father had fought near Verdun in World War One) and French President François Mitterrand
François Mitterrand
François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand was the 21st President of the French Republic and ex officio Co-Prince of Andorra, serving from 1981 until 1995. He is the longest-serving President of France and, as leader of the Socialist Party, the only figure from the left so far elected President...

 (who had been taken prisoner nearby in World War Two) stood at the Douaumont cemetery, holding hands for several minutes in the driving rain as a gesture of Franco-German reconciliation (}).

See also

  • Émile Driant
    Émile Driant
    Émile Augustin Cyprien Driant was a French nationalist writer, politician, and army officer. He was the first high ranking casualty of the Battle of Verdun during World War I.-Biography:...

  • French villages destroyed in the First World War
    French villages destroyed in the First World War
    During the First World War, specifically at the time of the Battle of Verdun in 1916, many villages in the French département of Meuse were destroyed by the fighting...

     which were ruined during the Battle of Verdun, and six of which have not subsequently been rebuilt
  • Douaumont ossuary
    Douaumont ossuary
    The Douaumont ossuary is a memorial containing the remains of soldiers who died on the battlefield during the Battle of Verdun in World War I. It is located in Douaumont, France, within the Verdun battlefield.-History:...

  • Verdun Memorial
    Verdun Memorial
    The Verdun Memorial is a war memorial to commemorate the Battle of Verdun, fought in 1916 as part of the First World War. It is situated on the battlefield, close to the destroyed village of Fleury-devant-Douaumont in the département of Meuse in north-eastern France.It was built during the 1960s...

  • Voie Sacrée
    Voie Sacrée
    The Voie Sacrée is a road that connects Bar-le-Duc to Verdun , France. It was given its name after the end of World War I because of the vital role it played during the Battle of Verdun.-History:...

  • Zone rouge (First World War)
    Zone rouge (First World War)
    The Zone rouge is the name given to about of land in northeastern France that was physically and environmentally destroyed during the First World War...

  • Rue Verdun
    Rue Verdun
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    , Beirut
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    , Lebanon
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    .
  • Fort Douaumont
    Fort Douaumont
    Fort Douaumont was the largest and highest fort on the ring of 19 large defensive forts protecting the city of Verdun, France since the 1890s. However, by 1915 the French General Staff had concluded that even the best protected forts of Verdun could not resist bombardments from the German 420mm ...

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    Reverse salient
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Further reading

  • Brown, Malcolm Verdun 1916, Tempus Publishing, 1999, ISBN 0-7524-1774-6
  • Clayton, Anthony, Paths of Glory – The French Army 1914–18, ISBN 0-304-36652-8
  • Denizot, Alain, Verdun, 1914–1918, Nouvelles Éditions Latines. Paris, 1996, ISBN 2-7233-0514-7.( in French ). Detailed statistical tables including all French troop movements as well as French artillery shell consumptions by type of gun, on a month-by-month basis, are annexed. German artillery shell consumptions are reported as well but not as detailed.Original sources at "Service Historique de la Défense" (Defence Historical Service
    Defence Historical Service
    In France, the Defence Historical Service is the archives centre of Ministry of Defence and its armed forces. It was set up by decree in 2005....

    ) at Vincennes were extensively consulted for this purpose. This volume is based on Denizot's Ph. D. Thesis (1990) on the Battle of Verdun, published by the Université de Paris-Sorbonne.
  • Foley, Robert, German Strategy and the Path to Verdun, Cambridge University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-521-84193-3
  • Holstein, Christina, Walking Verdun, Pen and Sword Books Ltd, 2009, ISBN 978-1-84415-867-6
  • Horne, Alistair, The Price of Glory, 1962, ISBN 0-14-017041-3
  • Keegan, John, The First World War, ISBN 0-375-70045-5
  • Le Halle, Guy, Verdun, les Forts de la Victoire, CITEDIS, Paris, 1998, ISBN 2-911920-10-4. Contains highly detailed technical descriptions of all the Verdun region forts. (French)
  • Martin, William, Verdun 1916, London: Osprey Publishing, 2001, ISBN 1-85532-993-X
  • Mosier, John, The Myth of the Great War, ISBN 0-06-008433-2
  • Pétain, Marshal Henri Philippe, Verdun (English translation of Pétain's "La Bataille de Verdun", 1929) Elkin Mathews & Marrot, London, 1930.
  • Ousby, Ian, The Road to Verdun, 2002, ISBN 0-385-50393-8
  • General J.Rouquerol, Le Drame de Douaumont", Payot, Paris, 1931 (French).
  • Holstein, Christina, Fort Douaumont (Revised Edition), Pen and Swords Books Ltd, Barnsley, S702AS, UK., 2010, ISBN 978-1-84884-345-5. Highly recommended for its thoroughness, accuracy and use of German as well as French archival sources. Furthermore, a must for those planning to visit the overall Verdun battlefield (English).
  • Pedroncini ,Guy, Petain.Le soldat et la gloire, Perrin, 1989, ISBN 2-262-00628-8 (French)

External links

La place forte de Verdun 1870–1918 sur www.fortiffsere.fr http://fortiffsere.fr/verdun/
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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