Race to the Sea
3rd Ypres (Passchendaele)
The Battle of
Verdun (Bataille de Verdun, IPA: [bataj də
vɛʁdœ̃], Schlacht um Verdun, IPA: [ʃlaxt ˀʊm ˈvɛɐdœŋ]),
fought from 21 February to 18 December 1916, was the largest and
longest battle of the
First World War
First World War on the Western Front between the
German and French armies. The battle took place on the hills north of
Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France. The German 5th Army attacked
the defences of the Fortified Region of
Verdun (RFV, Région
Fortifiée de Verdun) and those of the French Second Army on the right
bank of the Meuse. Inspired by the experience of the Second Battle of
Champagne in 1915, the Germans planned rapidly to capture the Meuse
Heights, an excellent defensive position with good observation for the
artillery to bombard Verdun. The Germans hoped that the French would
commit their strategic reserve to recapture the position and suffer
catastrophic losses in a battle of annihilation, not costly for the
Germans because of their tactical advantage.
Poor weather delayed the beginning of the German attack until 21
February, but the Germans enjoyed initial success, capturing Fort
Douaumont in the first three days of the offensive. Afterwards the
German advance slowed, despite many French casualties. By 6 March,
20 1⁄2 French divisions were in the RFV and a more extensive
defence in depth had been constructed. Pétain ordered that no
withdrawals were to be made and that counter-attacks were to be
conducted, despite exposing French infantry to fire from the German
artillery. By 29 March, French artillery on the west bank had begun a
constant bombardment of German positions on the east bank, which
caused many German infantry casualties.
In March, the German offensive was extended to the left (west) bank of
the Meuse, to gain observation of the ground from which French
artillery had been firing over the river onto the Meuse Heights. The
Germans were able to advance at first but French reinforcements
contained the attacks short of their objectives. In early May, the
Germans changed tactics and made local attacks and counter-attacks,
which gave the French an opportunity to begin an attack against Fort
Douaumont. Part of the fort was occupied, until a German
counter-attack recaptured the fort and took numerous prisoners. The
Germans changed tactics again, alternating their attacks on both banks
of the Meuse and in June captured Fort Vaux. The Germans continued the
offensive beyond Vaux, towards the last geographical objectives of the
original plan, at
Fleury-devant-Douaumont and Fort Souville. The
Germans drove a salient into the French defences, captured Fleury and
came within 4 km (2.5 mi) of the
In July 1916, the German offensive was reduced to provide artillery
and infantry reinforcements for the Somme front and during local
operations, the village of Fleury changed hands sixteen times from 23
June to 17 August. A German attempt to capture Fort Souville in early
July was repulsed by artillery and small arms fire. To supply
reinforcements for the Somme front, the German offensive was reduced
further and attempts were made to deceive the French into expecting
more attacks, to keep French reinforcements away from the Somme. In
August and December, French counter-offensives recaptured much of the
ground lost on the east bank and recovered
Fort Douaumont and Fort
The Battle of
Verdun lasted for 303 days and became the longest and
one of the most costly battles in human history. An estimate in 2000
found a total of 714,231 casualties, 377,231 French and 337,000
German, for an average of 70,000 casualties a month; other recent
estimates increase the number of casualties to 976,000 during the
battle, with 1,250,000 suffered at
Verdun during the war.
1.1 Strategic developments
1.2 Région Fortifiée de Verdun
2.1 German offensive preparations
2.2 German plan of attack
2.3 French defensive preparations
3.1 First phase, 21 February – 1 March
3.1.1 21–26 February
3.1.2 27–29 February
3.2 Second phase, 6 March – 15 April
3.2.1 6–11 March
3.2.2 11 March – 9 April
3.3 Third phase, 16 April – 1 July
3.3.2 4–24 May
3.3.3 22–24 May
3.3.4 30 May – 7 June
3.3.5 22–25 June
3.4 Fourth phase 1 July – 17 December
3.4.1 9–15 July
3.4.2 1 August – 17 September
3.4.3 20 October – 2 November
3.4.4 15–17 December 1916
4.4 Subsequent operations
4.4.1 20–26 August 1917
4.4.2 7–8 September
4.4.3 Meuse–Argonne Offensive
6 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Brusilov Offensive and Battle of the Somme
French commemorative medal for the battle
After the German invasion of
France had been halted at the First
Battle of the Marne in September 1914, the war of movement ended at
Battle of the Yser
Battle of the Yser and the First Battle of Ypres. The Germans
built field fortifications to hold the ground captured in 1914 and the
French began siege warfare to break through the German defences and
recover the lost territory. In late 1914 and in 1915, offensives on
the Western Front had failed to gain much ground and been extremely
costly in casualties.[a] According to his memoirs written after the
war, the Chief of the German General Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn,
believed that although victory might no longer be achieved by a
decisive battle, the French army could still be defeated if it
suffered a sufficient number of casualties. Falkenhayn offered five
corps from the strategic reserve for an offensive at
Verdun at the
beginning of February 1916 but only for an attack on the east bank of
the Meuse. Falkenhayn considered it unlikely the French would be
complacent about Verdun; he thought that they might send all their
reserves there and begin a counter-offensive elsewhere or fight to
Verdun while the British launched a relief offensive. After the
war, the Kaiser and Colonel Tappen, the Operations Officer at Oberste
Heeresleitung (OHL, General Headquarters), wrote that Falkenhayn
believed the last possibility was most likely.
By seizing or threatening to capture Verdun, the Germans anticipated
that the French would send all their reserves, which would then have
to attack secure German defensive positions supported by a powerful
artillery reserve. In the
Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive (1 May – 19
September 1915), the German and Austro-Hungarian Armies attacked
Russian defences frontally, after pulverising them with large amounts
of heavy artillery. During the Second Battle of Champagne
(Herbstschlacht autumn battle) of 25 September – 6 November 1915,
the French suffered "extraordinary casualties" from the German heavy
artillery, which Falkenhayn considered offered a way out of the
dilemma of material inferiority and the growing strength of the
Allies. In the north, a British relief offensive would wear down
British reserves, to no decisive effect but create the conditions for
a German counter-offensive near Arras.
Hints about Falkenhayn's thinking were picked up by Dutch military
intelligence and passed on to the British in December. The German
strategy was to create a favourable operational situation without a
mass attack, which had been costly and ineffective when it had been
tried by the Franco-British, by relying on the power of heavy
artillery to inflict mass losses. A limited offensive at
lead to the destruction of the French strategic reserve in fruitless
counter-attacks and the defeat of British reserves in a futile relief
offensive, leading to the French accepting a separate peace. If the
French refused to negotiate, the second phase of the strategy would
begin in which the German armies would attack terminally weakened
Franco-British armies, mop up the remains of the French armies and
expel the British from Europe. To fulfil this strategy, Falkenhayn
needed to hold back enough of the strategic reserve for the
Anglo-French relief offensives and then conduct a counter-offensive,
which limited the number of divisions which could be sent to the 5th
Army at Verdun, for Unternehmen Gericht (Operation Judgement).
The Fortified Region of
Verdun (RFV) lay in a salient formed during
the German invasion of 1914. The Commander-in-Chief of the French
Army, General Joseph Joffre, had concluded from the swift capture of
the Belgian fortresses at the
Battle of Liège
Battle of Liège and at the Siege of
Namur in 1914 that fixed defences had been made obsolete by German
siege guns. In a directive of the General Staff of 5 August 1915, the
RFV was to be stripped of 54 artillery batteries and 128,000 rounds of
ammunition. Plans to demolish forts Douaumont and Vaux to deny them to
the Germans were made and 5,000 kilograms (11,000 lb) of
explosives had been laid by the time of the German offensive on 21
February. The 18 large forts and other batteries around
left with fewer than 300 guns and a small reserve of ammunition while
their garrisons had been reduced to small maintenance crews. The
railway line from the south into
Verdun had been cut during the Battle
of Flirey in 1914, with the loss of Saint-Mihiel; the line west from
Verdun to Paris was cut at
Aubréville in mid-July 1915 by the German
3rd Army, which had attacked southwards through the Argonne Forest for
most of the year.
Région Fortifiée de Verdun
Map of the battlefield
For centuries, Verdun, on the Meuse river, had played an important
role in the defence of the French hinterland.
Attila the Hun
Attila the Hun failed to
seize the town in the fifth century and when the empire of Charlemagne
was divided under the Treaty of
Verdun (843), the town became part of
the Holy Roman Empire; the
Peace of Westphalia
Peace of Westphalia of 1648 awarded Verdun
to France. At the heart of the city was a citadel built by
the 17th century. A double ring of 28 forts and smaller works
(ouvrages) had been built around
Verdun on commanding ground, at least
150 m (490 ft) above the river valley, 2.5–8 km
(1.6–5.0 mi) from the citadel. A programme had been devised by
Séré de Rivières in the 1870s to build two lines of fortresses from
Belfort to Épinal and from
Verdun to Toul as defensive screens and to
enclose towns intended to be the bases for counter-attacks.[b] Many
Verdun forts had been modernised and made more resistant to
artillery, with a reconstruction programme begun at Douaumont in the
1880s. A sand cushion and thick, steel-reinforced concrete tops up to
2.5 m (8.2 ft) thick, buried under 1–4 m
(3.3–13.1 ft) of earth, were added. The forts and ouvrages were
sited to overlook each other for mutual support and the outer ring had
a circumference of 45 km (28 mi). The outer forts had 79
guns in shell-proof turrets and more than 200 light guns and
machine-guns to protect the ditches around the forts. Six forts had
155 mm guns in retractable turrets and fourteen had retractable twin
75 mm turrets.
Long Max mounted on its combined railway and firing platform.
In 1903, Douaumont was equipped with a new concrete bunker (Casemate
de Bourges), containing two 75 mm field guns to cover the
south-western approach and the defensive works along the ridge to
Ouvrage de Froidterre. More guns were added from 1903–1913, in four
retractable steel turrets. The guns could rotate for all-round defence
and two smaller versions, at the north-eastern and north-western
corners of the fort, housed twin Hotchkiss machine-guns. On the east
side of the fort, an armoured turret with a 155 mm short-barrelled gun
faced north and north-east and another housed twin 75 mm guns at the
north end, to cover the intervals between forts. The fort at Douaumont
formed part of a complex of the village, fort, six ouvrages, five
shelters, six concrete batteries, an underground infantry shelter, two
ammunition depots and several concrete infantry trenches. The
Verdun forts had a network of concrete infantry shelters, armoured
observation posts, batteries, concrete trenches, command posts and
underground shelters between the forts. The artillery comprised
c. 1,000 guns, with 250 in reserve and the forts and ouvrages were
linked by telephone and telegraph, a narrow-gauge railway system and a
road network; on mobilisation, the RFV had a garrison of 66,000 men
and rations for six months.[c]
German offensive preparations
Verdun and the vicinity (commune FR insee code 55545)
Verdun was isolated on three sides and railway communications to the
French rear had been cut except for a light railway; German-controlled
railways lay only 24 km (15 mi) to the north of the front
line. A corps was moved to the 5th Army to provide labour for the
preparation of the offensive. Areas were emptied of French civilians
and buildings requisitioned, thousands of kilometres of telephone
cable were laid, thousands of tons of ammunition and rations were
stored under cover with hundreds of guns installed and camouflaged.
Ten new rail lines with twenty stations were built and vast
underground shelters (Stollen) were dug 4.5–14 m
(15–46 ft) deep, each to accommodate up to 1,200 German
infantry. The III Corps, VII Reserve Corps and XVIII Corps were
transferred to the 5th Army, each corps being reinforced by 2,400
experienced troops and 2,000 trained recruits. V Corps was placed
behind the front line, ready to advance if necessary when the assault
divisions were moving up and the XV Corps, with two divisions, was in
the 5th Army reserve, ready to advance to mop up as soon as the French
Special arrangements were made to maintain a high rate of
artillery-fire during the offensive, 33 1⁄2 munitions trains
per day were to deliver ammunition sufficient for 2,000,000 rounds to
be fired in the first six days and another 2,000,000 shells in the
next twelve. Five repair shops were built close to the front to reduce
delays for maintenance; factories in Germany were made ready, rapidly
to refurbish artillery needing more extensive repairs. A redeployment
plan for the artillery was devised, for field guns and mobile heavy
artillery to be moved forward, under the covering fire of mortars and
the super-heavy artillery. A total of 1,201 guns were massed on the
Verdun front, two thirds of which were heavy and super-heavy
artillery, which had been obtained by stripping the modern German
artillery from the rest of the Western Front and substituting it with
older types and captured Russian guns. The German artillery could fire
Verdun salient from three directions, yet remain
German plan of attack
The 5th Army divided the attack front into areas, A occupied by the
VII Reserve Corps, B by the XVIII Corps, C by the III Corps and D on
Woëvre plain by the XV Corps. The preliminary artillery
bombardment was to begin in the morning of 12 February. At 5:00 p.m.,
the infantry in areas A to C would advance in open order, supported by
grenade and flame-thrower detachments. Wherever possible, the
French advanced trenches were to be occupied and the second position
reconnoitred, for the artillery fire on the second day. Great emphasis
was placed on limiting German infantry casualties, by sending them to
follow up destructive bombardments by the artillery, which was to
carry the burden of the offensive in a series of large "attacks with
limited objectives", to maintain a relentless pressure on the French.
The initial objectives were the Meuse Heights, on a line from Froide
Terre to Fort Souville and Fort Tavannes, which would provide a secure
defensive position from which to repel French counter-attacks.
Relentless pressure was a term added by the 5th Army staff and created
ambiguity about the purpose of the offensive. Falkenhayn wanted land
to be captured, from which artillery could dominate the battlefield
and the 5th Army wanted a quick capture of Verdun. The confusion
caused by the ambiguity was left to the corps headquarters to sort
Control of the artillery was centralised by an Order for the
Activities of the Artillery and Mortars, which stipulated that the
corps Generals of Foot Artillery were responsible for local target
selection, while co-ordination of flanking fire by neighbouring corps
and the fire of certain batteries, was determined by the 5th Army
headquarters. French fortifications were to be engaged by the heaviest
howitzers and enfilade fire. The heavy artillery was to maintain
long-range bombardment of French supply routes and assembly areas;
counter-battery fire was reserved for specialist batteries firing gas
shells. Co-operation between the artillery and infantry was stressed,
with accuracy of the artillery being given priority over rate of fire.
The opening bombardment was to build up slowly and Trommelfeuer (a
rate of fire so rapid that the sound of shell-explosions merged into a
rumble) would not begin until the last hour. As the infantry advanced,
the artillery would increase the range of the bombardment to destroy
the French second position. Artillery observers were to advance with
the infantry and communicate with the guns by field telephones, flares
and coloured balloons. When the offensive began, the French were to be
bombarded continuously, harassing fire being maintained at night.
French defensive preparations
East bank of the Meuse, February–March 1916
In 1915, 237 guns and 647 long tons (657 t) of ammunition in the
forts of the RFV had been removed, leaving only the heavy guns in
retractable turrets. The conversion of the RFV to a conventional
linear defence, with trenches and barbed wire began but proceeded
slowly, after resources were sent west from
Verdun for the Second
Battle of Champagne (25 September – 6 November 1915). In October
1915, building began on trench lines known as the first, second and
third positions and in January 1916, an inspection by General Noël de
Castelnau, Chief of Staff at French General Headquarters (GQG),
reported that the new defences were satisfactory, except for small
deficiencies in three areas. The fortress garrisons had been
reduced to small maintenance crews and some of the forts had been
readied for demolition. The maintenance garrisons were responsible to
the central military bureaucracy in Paris and when the XXX Corps
commander, General Chrétien, attempted to inspect
Fort Douaumont in
January 1916, he was refused entry.
Douaumont was the largest fort in the RFV and by February 1916, the
only artillery left in the fort were the 75 mm and 155 mm turret guns
and light guns covering the ditch. The fort was used as a barracks by
68 technicians under the command of Warrant-Officer Chenot, the
Gardien de Batterie. One of the rotating 155 mm (6.1 in)
turrets was partially manned and the other was left empty. The
Hotchkiss machine-guns were stored in boxes and four 75 mm guns in the
casemates had already been removed. The drawbridge had been jammed in
the down position by a German shell and had not been repaired. The
coffres (wall bunkers) with Hotchkiss revolver-cannons protecting the
moats, were unmanned and over 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) of
explosive charges had been placed in the fort to demolish it.
West bank of the Meuse, 1916
In late January 1916, French intelligence had obtained an accurate
assessment of German military capacity and intentions at
Joffre considered that an attack would be a diversion, because of the
lack of an obvious strategic objective. By the time of the German
offensive, Joffre expected a bigger attack elsewhere but ordered the
VII Corps to
Verdun on 23 January, to hold the north face of the west
bank. XXX Corps held the salient east of the Meuse to the north and
north-east and II Corps held the eastern face of the Meuse Heights;
Herr had 8 1⁄2 divisions in the front line, with
2 1⁄2 divisions in close reserve. Groupe d'armées du centre
(GAC, General De Langle de Cary) had the I and XX corps with two
divisions each in reserve, plus most of the 19th Division; Joffre had
25 divisions in the strategic reserve. French artillery
reinforcements had brought the total at
Verdun to 388 field guns and
244 heavy guns, against 1,201 German guns, two thirds of which were
heavy and super heavy, including 14 in (360 mm) and 202
mortars, some being 16 in (410 mm). Eight specialist
flame-thrower companies were also sent to the 5th Army.
Woëvre region of Lorraine (in green)
Castelnau met De Langle de Cary on 25 February, who doubted the east
bank could be held. Castelnau disagreed and ordered General
Frédéric-Georges Herr the corps commander, to hold the right (east)
bank of the Meuse at all costs. Herr sent a division from the west
bank and ordered XXX Corps to hold a line from Bras to Douaumont, Vaux
and Eix. Pétain took over command of the defence of the RFV at 11:00
p.m., with Colonel Maurice de Barescut as chief of staff and Colonel
Bernard Serrigny as head of operations, only to hear that Fort
Douaumont had fallen. Pétain ordered for the remaining
to be re-garrisoned. Four groups were established, under the
command of generals Guillaumat, Balfourier and Duchêne on the right
bank and Bazelaire on the left bank. A "line of resistance" was
established on the east bank from Souville to Thiaumont, around Fort
Douaumont to Fort Vaux,
Moulainville and along the ridge of the
Woëvre. On the west bank, the line ran from Cumières to Mort Homme,
Côte 304 and Avocourt. A "line of panic" was planned in secret as a
final line of defence north of Verdun, through forts Belleville, St.
Michel and Moulainville. I Corps and XX Corps arrived from 24–26
February, increasing the number of divisions in the RFV to
14 1⁄2. By 6 March, the arrival of the XIII, XXI, XIV and
XXXIII corps had increased the total to 20 1⁄2
First phase, 21 February – 1 March
Main article: Fort Douaumont
Fort Douaumont before the battle (German aerial photograph)
Unternehmen Gericht (Operation Judgement) was due to begin on 12
February but fog, heavy rain and high winds delayed the offensive
until 7:15 a.m. on 21 February, when a 10-hour artillery bombardment
by 808 guns began. The German artillery fired c. 1,000,000 shells
along a front about 30 km (19 mi) long by 5 km
(3.1 mi) wide. The main concentration of fire was on the
right (east) bank of the Meuse river. Twenty-six super-heavy,
long-range guns, up to 420 mm (16.5 in), fired on the forts
and the city of Verdun; a rumble could be heard 160 km
(99 mi) away. The bombardment was paused at midday, as a ruse to
prompt French survivors to reveal themselves and German
artillery-observation aircraft were able to fly over the battlefield
unmolested by French aircraft. The 3rd, 7th and 18th corps
attacked at 4:00 p.m.; the Germans used flamethrowers for the first
time and storm troops followed closely with rifles slung, to use hand
grenades to kill the remaining defenders. This tactic had been
developed by Captain
Willy Rohr and Sturm-Bataillon Nr. 5 (Rohr),
which battalion conducted the attack. French survivors engaged the
attackers, yet the Germans suffered only c. 600 casualties.
Douaumont fortress after the battle
By 22 February, German troops had advanced 5 km (3.1 mi) and
captured Bois des Caures, at the edge of the village of Flabas. Two
French battalions led by Colonel
Émile Driant had held the bois
(wood) for two days but were forced back to Samogneux, Beaumont and
Ornes. Driant was killed, fighting with the 56th and 59th Bataillons
de chasseurs à pied and only 118 of the Chasseurs 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
counter-attack at Bois des Caures was repulsed. Fighting for Bois de
l'Herbebois continued until the Germans outflanked the French
defenders from Bois de Wavrille. The German attackers had many
casualties during their attack on Bois de Fosses and the French held
on to Samogneux. German attacks continued on 24 February and the
French XXX Corps was forced out of the second line of defence; XX
Corps (General Maurice Balfourier) arrived at the last minute and was
rushed forward. That evening Castelnau advised Joffre that the Second
Army, under General Pétain, should be sent to the RFV. The Germans
had captured Beaumont, Bois des Fosses and Bois des Caurières and
were moving up ravin Hassoule, which led to Fort Douaumont.
At 3:00 p.m. on 25 February, infantry of
Brandenburg Regiment 24
advanced with the II and III battalions side-by-side, each formed into
two waves composed of two companies each. A delay in the arrival of
orders to the regiments on the flanks, led to the III Battalion
advancing without support on that flank. The Germans rushed French
positions in the woods and on Côte 347, with the support of
machine-gun fire from the edge of Bois Hermitage. The German infantry
took many prisoners as the French on Côte 347 were outflanked and
withdrew to Douaumont village. The German infantry had reached their
objectives in fewer than twenty minutes and pursued the French, until
fired on by a machine-gun in Douaumont church. Some German troops took
cover in woods and a ravine which led to the fort, when German
artillery began to bombard the area, the gunners having refused to
believe claims sent by field telephone that the German infantry were
within a few hundred metres of the fort. Several German parties were
forced to advance to find cover from the German shelling and two
parties independently made for the fort.[d] They did not know that
the French garrison was made up of only a small maintenance crew led
by a warrant officer, since most of the
Verdun forts had been partly
disarmed, after the demolition of Belgian forts in 1914, by the German
super-heavy Krupp 420 mm mortars.
Verdun, east bank of the Meuse, 21–26 February 1916
The German party of c. 100 soldiers tried to signal to the artillery
with flares but twilight and falling snow obscured them from view.
Some of the party began to cut through the wire around the fort, while
French machine-gun fire from Douaumont village ceased. The French had
seen the German flares and took the Germans on the fort to be Zouaves
retreating from Côte 378. The Germans were able to reach the
north-east end of the fort before the French resumed firing. The
German party found a way through the railings on top of the ditch and
climbed down without being fired on, since the machine-gun bunkers
(coffres de contrescarpe) at each corner of the ditch had been left
unmanned. The German parties continued and found a way inside the fort
through one of the unoccupied ditch bunkers and then reached the
central Rue de Rempart. After quietly moving inside, the Germans heard
voices and persuaded a French prisoner, captured in an observation
post, to lead them to the lower floor, where they found Warrant
Officer Chenot and about 25 French troops, most of the skeleton
garrison of the fort, and took them prisoner. On 26 February, the
Germans had advanced 3 km (1.9 mi) on a 10 km
(6.2 mi) front; French losses were 24,000 men and German losses
were c. 25,000 men. A French counter-attack on Fort Douaumont
failed and Pétain ordered that no more attempts were to be made;
existing lines were to be consolidated and other forts were to be
occupied, rearmed and supplied to withstand a siege if surrounded.
The German advance gained little ground on 27 February, after a thaw
turned the ground into a swamp and the arrival of French
reinforcements increased the effectiveness of the defence. Some German
artillery became unserviceable and other batteries became stranded in
the mud. German infantry began to suffer from exhaustion and
unexpectedly high losses, 500 casualties being suffered in the
fighting around Douaumont village. On 29 February, the German
advance was contained at Douaumont by a heavy snowfall and the defence
of French 33rd Infantry Regiment.[e] Delays gave the French time to
bring up 90,000 men and 23,000 short tons (21,000 t) of
ammunition from the railhead at
Bar-le-Duc to Verdun. The swift German
advance had gone beyond the range of artillery covering fire and the
muddy conditions made it very difficult to move the artillery forward
as planned. The German advance southwards brought it into range of
French artillery west of the Meuse, whose fire caused more German
infantry casualties than in the earlier fighting, when French infantry
on the east bank had fewer guns in support.
Second phase, 6 March – 15 April
Mort Homme and Côte 304
Before the offensive, Falkenhayn had expected that French artillery on
the west bank would be suppressed by counter-battery fire but this had
failed. The Germans set up a specialist artillery force to counter
French artillery-fire from the west bank but this also failed to
reduce German infantry casualties. The 5th Army asked for more troops
in late February but Falkenhayn refused, due to the rapid advance
already achieved on the east bank and because he needed the rest of
the OHL reserve for an offensive elsewhere, once the attack at Verdun
had attracted and consumed French reserves. The pause in the German
advance on 27 February led Falkenhayn to have second thoughts to
decide between terminating the offensive or reinforcing it. On 29
February, Knobelsdorf, the 5th Army Chief of Staff, prised two
divisions from the OHL reserve, with the assurance that once the
heights on the west bank had been occupied, the offensive on the east
bank could be completed. The VI Reserve Corps was reinforced with the
X Reserve Corps, to capture a line from the south of
Avocourt to Côte
304 north of Esnes, Mort-Homme, Bois des Cumières and Côte 205, from
which the French artillery on the west bank could be destroyed.
The artillery of the two-corps assault group on the west bank was
reinforced by 25 heavy artillery batteries, artillery command was
centralised under one officer and arrangements were made for the
artillery on the east bank to fire in support. The attack was planned
Heinrich von Gossler in two parts, on Mort-Homme and Côte
265 on 6 March, followed by attacks on
Avocourt and Côte 304 on 9
March. The German bombardment reduced the top of Côte 304 from a
height of 304 m (997 ft) to 300 m (980 ft);
Mort-Homme sheltered batteries of French field guns, which hindered
German progress towards
Verdun on the right bank; the hills also
provided commanding views of the left bank. After storming the
Bois des Corbeaux and then losing it to a French counter-attack, the
Germans launched another assault on Mort-Homme on 9 March, from the
Béthincourt to the north-west. Bois des Corbeaux was
captured again at great cost in casualties, before the Germans took
parts of Mort-Homme, Côte 304, Cumières and
Chattancourt on 14
11 March – 9 April
German dispositions, Verdun, 31 March 1916
After a week, the German attack had reached the first-day objectives,
to find that French guns behind Côte de Marre and Bois Borrous were
still operational and inflicting many casualties among the Germans on
the east bank. German artillery moved to Côte 265, was subjected to
systematic artillery-fire by the French, which left the Germans
needing to implement the second part of the west bank offensive, to
protect the gains of the first phase. German attacks changed from
large operations on broad fronts, to narrow-front attacks with limited
objectives. On 14 March a German attack captured Côte 265 at west
end of Mort-Homme but the French 75th Infantry Brigade managed to hold
Côte 295 at the east end. On 20 March, after a bombardment by
13,000 trench mortar rounds, the 11th Bavarian and 11th Reserve
divisions attacked Bois d'
Avocourt and Bois de Malancourt and reached
their initial objectives easily. Gossler ordered a pause in the
attack, to consolidate the captured ground and to prepare another big
bombardment for the next day. On 22 March, two divisions attacked
"Termite Hill" near Côte 304 but were met by a mass of
artillery-fire, which also fell on assembly points and the German
lines of communication, ending the German advance.
The limited German success had been costly and French artillery
inflicted more casualties as the German infantry tried to dig in. By
30 March, Gossler had captured Bois de Malancourt but had lost 20,000
casualties and the Germans were still short of Côte 304. On 30 March,
the XXII Reserve Corps arrived as reinforcements and General Max von
Gallwitz took command of a new Angriffsgruppe West. Malancourt village
was captured on 31 March, Haucourt fell on 5 April and
8 April. On the east bank, German attacks near Vaux reached Bois
Caillette and the Vaux–Fleury railway but were then driven back by
the French 5th Division. An attack was made on a wider front along
both banks by the Germans at noon on 9 April, with five divisions on
the left bank but this was repulsed except at Mort-Homme, where the
French 42nd Division was forced back from the north-east face. On the
right bank an attack on Côte-du-Poivre failed.
In March the German attacks had no advantage of surprise and faced a
determined and well-supplied adversary in superior defensive
positions. German artillery could still devastate French defensive
positions but could not prevent French artillery-fire from inflicting
many casualties on German infantry and isolating them from their
supplies. Massed artillery fire could enable German infantry to make
small advances but massed French artillery-fire could do the same for
French infantry when they counter-attacked, which often repulsed the
German infantry and subjected them to constant losses, even when
captured ground was held. The German effort on the west bank also
showed that capturing a vital point was not sufficient, because it
would be found to be overlooked by another terrain feature, which had
to be captured to ensure the defence of the original point, which made
it impossible for the Germans to terminate their attacks, unless they
were willing to retire to the original front line of February
By the end of March the offensive had cost the Germans 81,607
casualties and Falkenhayn began to think of ending the offensive, lest
it become another costly and indecisive engagement similar to the
First Battle of Ypres
First Battle of Ypres in late 1914. The 5th Army staff requested more
reinforcements from Falkenhayn on 31 March with an optimistic report
claiming that the French were close to exhaustion and incapable of a
big offensive. The 5th Army command wanted to continue the east bank
offensive until a line from Ouvrage de Thiaumont, to Fleury, Fort
Souville and Fort de Tavannes had been reached, while on the west bank
the French would be destroyed by their own counter-attacks. On 4
April, Falkenhayn replied that the French had retained a considerable
reserve and that German resources were limited and not sufficient to
replace continuously men and munitions. If the resumed offensive on
the east bank failed to reach the Meuse Heights, Falkenhayn was
willing to accept that the offensive had failed and end it.
Third phase, 16 April – 1 July
Death works "
Verdun the World-blood-pump", German propaganda medal,
The failure of German attacks in early April by Angriffsgruppe Ost,
led Knobelsdorf to take soundings from the 5th Army corps commanders,
who unanimously wanted to continue. The German infantry were exposed
to continuous artillery fire from the flanks and rear; communications
from the rear and reserve positions were equally vulnerable, which
caused a constant drain of casualties. Defensive positions were
difficult to build, because existing positions were on ground which
had been swept clear by German bombardments early in the offensive,
leaving German infantry with very little cover. The XV Corps
Berthold von Deimling
Berthold von Deimling also wrote that French heavy
artillery and gas bombardments were undermining the morale of the
German infantry, which made it necessary to keep going to reach safer
defensive positions. Knobelsdorf reported these findings to Falkenhayn
on 20 April, adding that if the Germans did not go forward, they must
go back to the start line of 21 February.
Knobelsdorf rejected the policy of limited piecemeal attacks tried by
Mudra as commander of Angriffsgruppe Ost and advocated a return to
wide-front attacks with unlimited objectives, swiftly to reach the
line from Ouvrage de Thiaumont to Fleury, Fort Souville and Fort de
Tavannes. Falkenhayn was persuaded to agree to the change and by the
end of April, 21 divisions, most of the OHL reserve, had been sent to
Verdun and troops had also been transferred from the Eastern Front.
The resort to large, unlimited attacks was costly for both sides but
the German advance proceeded only slowly. Rather than causing
devastating French casualties by heavy artillery with the infantry in
secure defensive positions, which the French were compelled to attack,
the Germans inflicted casualties by attacks which provoked French
counter-attacks and assumed that the process inflicted five French
casualties for two German losses.
In mid-March, Falkenhayn had reminded the 5th Army to use tactics
intended to conserve infantry, after the corps commanders had been
allowed discretion to choose between the cautious, "step by step"
tactics desired by Falkenhayn and maximum efforts, intended to obtain
quick results. On the third day of the offensive, the 6th Division of
the III Corps (General Ewald von Lochow), had ordered that Herbebois
be taken regardless of loss and the 5th Division had attacked Wavrille
to the accompaniment of its band. Falkenhayn urged the 5th Army to use
Stoßtruppen (storm units) composed of two infantry squads and one of
engineers, armed with automatic weapons, hand grenades, trench mortars
and flame-throwers, to advance in front of the main infantry body. The
Stoßtruppen would conceal their advance by shrewd use of terrain and
capture any blockhouses which remained after the artillery
preparation. Strongpoints which could not be taken were to be
by-passed and captured by follow-up troops. Falkenhayn ordered that
the command of field and heavy artillery units was to be combined,
with a commander at each corps headquarters. Common observers and
communication systems would ensure that batteries in different places
could bring targets under converging fire, which would be allotted
systematically to support divisions.
In mid-April, Falkenhayn ordered that infantry should advance close to
the barrage, to exploit the neutralising effect of the shellfire on
surviving defenders, because fresh troops at
Verdun had not been
trained in these methods. Knobelsdorf persisted with attempts to
maintain momentum, which was incompatible with the methods of casualty
conservation, which could be implemented only with limited attacks,
with pauses to consolidate and prepare. Mudra and other commanders who
disagreed were sacked. Falkenhayn also intervened to change German
defensive tactics, advocating a dispersed defence with the second line
to be held as a main line of resistance and jumping-off point for
counter-attacks. Machine-guns were to be set up with overlapping
fields of fire and infantry given specific areas to defend. When
French infantry attacked, they were to be isolated by Sperrfeuer
(barrage-fire) on their former front line, to increase French infantry
casualties. The changes desired by Falkenhayn had little effect,
because the main cause of German casualties was artillery-fire, just
as it was for the French.
From 10 May German operations were limited to local attacks, either in
reply to French counter-attacks on 11 April between Douaumont and Vaux
and on 17 April between the Meuse and Douaumont, or local attempts to
take points of tactical value. At the beginning of May, General
Pétain was promoted to the command of Groupe d'armées du centre
(GAC) and General
Robert Nivelle took over the Second Army at Verdun.
From 4–24 May, German attacks were made on the west bank around
Mort-Homme and on 4 May, the north slope of Côte 304 was captured;
French counter-attacks from 5–6 May were repulsed. The French
defenders on the crest of Côte 304 were forced back on 7 May but
German infantry were unable to occupy the ridge, because of the
intensity of French artillery-fire. Cumieres and Caurettes fell on 24
May as a French counter-attack began at Fort Douaumont.
Front line at Mort-Homme, May 1916
In May, General Nivelle, who had taken over the Second Army, ordered
General Charles Mangin, commander of the 5th Division to plan a
counter-attack on Fort Douaumont. The initial plan was for an attack
on a 3 km (1.9 mi) front but several minor German attacks
captured Fausse-Côte and Couleuvre ravines on the south-east and west
sides of the fort. A further attack took the ridge south of the ravin
de Couleuvre, which gave the Germans better routes for counter-attacks
and observation over the French lines to the south and south-west.
Mangin proposed a preliminary attack to retake the area of the
ravines, to obstruct the routes by which a German counter-attack on
the fort could be made. More divisions were necessary but these were
refused, to preserve the troops needed for the forthcoming offensive
on the Somme; Mangin was limited to one division for the attack with
one in reserve. Nivelle reduced the attack to an assault on Morchée
Trench, Bonnet-d'Evèque, Fontaine Trench, Fort Douaumont, a
machine-gun turret and Hongrois Trench, which would require an advance
of 500 m (550 yd) on a 1,150 m (1,260 yd)
III Corps was to command the attack by the 5th Division and the 71st
Brigade, with support from three balloon companies for
artillery-observation and a fighter group. The main effort was to be
conducted by two battalions of the 129th Infantry Regiment, each with
a pioneer company and a machine-gun company attached. The 2nd
Battalion was to attack from the south and the 1st Battalion was to
move along the west side of the fort to the north end, taking Fontaine
Trench and linking with the 6th Company. Two battalions of the 74th
Infantry Regiment were to advance along the east and south-east sides
of the fort and take a machine-gun turret on a ridge to the east.
Flank support was arranged with neighbouring regiments and diversions
were planned near
Fort Vaux and the ravin de Dame. Preparations for
the attack included the digging of 12 km (7.5 mi) of
trenches and the building of large numbers of depots and stores but
little progress was made due to a shortage of pioneers. French troops
captured on 13 May, disclosed the plan to the Germans, who responded
by subjecting the area to more artillery harassing fire, which also
slowed French preparations.
370 mm French
Filloux mortar firing
The French preliminary bombardment by four 370 mm mortars and 300
heavy guns, began on 17 May and by 21 May, the French artillery
commander claimed that the fort had been severely damaged. During the
bombardment the German garrison in the fort experienced great strain,
as French heavy shells smashed holes in the walls and concrete dust,
exhaust fumes from an electricity generator and gas from disinterred
corpses polluted the air. Water ran short but until 20 May, the fort
remained operational, reports being passed back and reinforcements
moving forward until the afternoon, when the Bourges
isolated and the wireless station in the north-western machine-gun
turret burnt down. Conditions for the German infantry in the vicinity
were far worse and by 18 May, the French destructive bombardment had
obliterated many defensive positions, the survivors taking post in
shell-holes and dips on the ground. Communication with the rear was
severed and food and water ran out by the time of the French attack on
22 May. The troops of Infantry Regiment 52 in front of Fort Douaumont
had been reduced to 37 men near Thiaumont Farm and German
counter-barrages inflicted similar losses on French troops. French
aircraft attacked eight observation balloons and the 5th Army
Stenay on 22 May. Six balloons were shot down but the
German artillery fire increased and twenty minutes before zero hour, a
German bombardment began, which reduced the 129th Infantry Regiment
companies to about 45 men each.
French long gun battery (155 L or 120 L) overrun by German forces,
possibly the 34 Infantry Division at Verdun.
The assault began at 11:50 a. m. on 22 May on a 1 km
(0.62 mi) front. On the left flank the 36th Infantry Regiment
attack quickly captured Morchée Trench and Bonnet-d'Evèque but was
costly and the regiment could advance no further. The flank guard on
the right was pinned down, except for one company which disappeared
and in Bois Caillette, a battalion of the 74th Infantry Regiment was
unable to leave its trenches; the other battalion managed to reach its
objectives at an ammunition depot, shelter DV1 at the edge of Bois
Caillette and the machine-gun turret east of the fort, where the
battalion found its flanks unsupported. Despite German small-arms
fire, the 129th Infantry Regiment reached the fort in a few minutes
and managed to get in through the west and south sides. By nightfall,
about half of the fort had been recaptured and next day, the 34th
Division was sent to reinforce the fort. The reinforcements were
repulsed and German reserves managed to cut off the French troops in
the fort and force them to surrender, 1,000 French prisoners being
taken. After three days, the French had lost 5,640 casualties from the
12,000 men in the attack and German casualties in Infantry Regiment
52, Grenadier Regiment 12 and Leib-Grenadier Regiment 8 were 4,500
30 May – 7 June
Main article: Fort Vaux
Verdun battlefield from Fort de la Chaume, looking north–east, 1917
Later in May 1916, the German attacks shifted from the left bank at
Mort-Homme and Côte 304 and returned to the right bank, south of Fort
Douaumont. A German offensive began to reach Fleury Ridge, the last
French defensive line and take Ouvrage de Thiaumont, Fleury, Fort
Fort Vaux at the north-east extremity of the French line,
which had been bombarded by c. 8,000 shells a day since the
beginning of the offensive. After a final assault on 1 June, by
c. 10,000 German troops, the top of the fort was occupied on 2 June.
Fighting went on underground until the garrison ran out of water and
surrendered on 7 June. In five days the German attack had advanced
65 m (71 yd) for a loss of 2,700 killed against 20 French
casualties. When news of the loss of
Fort Vaux reached Verdun, the
Line of Panic was occupied and trenches were dug on the edge of the
city. On the left bank, the German advanced from the line Côte 304,
Mort-Homme and Cumières and threatened
Chattancourt and Avocourt.
Heavy rains slowed the German advance towards Fort Souville, where
both sides attacked and counter-attacked for the next two months.
Ground captured by the German 5th Army at Verdun, February to June
On 22 June, German artillery fired over 116,000
Cross) gas shells at French artillery positions, which caused over
1,600 casualties and silenced much of the French artillery. Next
day the German attack on a 5 km (3.1 mi) front at 5:00 a.m.,
drove a 3 km × 2 km (1.9 mi × 1.2 mi)
salient into the French defences, without opposition until 9:00 a.m.,
when some French troops were able to fight a rearguard action. The
Ouvrage de Thiaumont and the Ouvrage de Froidterre at the south end of
the plateau were captured the village of Fleury and Chapelle
Sainte-Fine were overrun. The attack came close to Fort Souville,
which since April, had been hit by c. 38,000 shells and brought the
Germans to within 5 km (3.1 mi) of the
Chapelle Sainte-Fine was quickly recaptured by the French and the
German advance was halted. The supply of water to the German infantry
broke down, the salient was vulnerable to fire from three sides and
the attack could not go on without more
Chapelle Sainte-Fine became the furthest point reached by the Germans
Verdun offensive and on 24 June the preliminary
Anglo-French bombardment began on the Somme. Fleury changed hands
sixteen times from 23 June to 17 August. Four French divisions were
Verdun from the Somme and the French artillery recovered
sufficiently on 24 June to cut off the German front line from the
rear. By 25 June, both sides were exhausted and Knobelsdorf suspended
Fourth phase 1 July – 17 December
By the end of May French casualties at
Verdun had risen to
c. 185,000 and in June German losses had reached c. 200,000
men. The opening of the
Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Somme on 1 July, forced the
Germans to withdraw some of their artillery from Verdun, which was the
first strategic success of the Anglo-French offensive.
French troops attacking under artillery fire, at the Fleury ravine
Fort Souville dominated a crest 1 km (0.62 mi) south-east of
Fleury and was one of the original objectives of the February
offensive. The capture of the fort would give the Germans control of
the heights overlooking
Verdun and allow the infantry to dig in on
commanding ground. A German preparatory bombardment began on 9
July, with an attempt to suppress French artillery with over 60,000
gas shells, which had little effect since the French had been equipped
with an improved M2 gas mask. Fort Souville and its approaches
were bombarded with more than 300,000 shells, including about 500
360 mm (14 in) shells on the fort. An attack by three German
divisions began on 11 July but German infantry bunched on the path
leading to Fort Souville and came under bombardment from French
artillery. The surviving troops were fired on by sixty French
machine-gunners, who emerged from the fort and took positions on the
superstructure. Thirty soldiers of Infantry Regiment 140 managed to
reach the top of the fort on 12 July, from where the Germans could see
the roofs of
Verdun and the spire of the cathedral. After a small
French counter-attack, the survivors retreated to their start lines or
surrendered. On the evening of 11 July, Crown Prince Wilhelm was
ordered by Falkenhayn to go onto the defensive and on 15 July, the
French conducted a larger counter-attack which gained no ground; for
the rest of the month the French made only small attacks.
1 August – 17 September
On 1 August a German surprise-attack advanced 800–900 m
(870–980 yd) towards Fort Souville, which prompted French
counter-attacks for two weeks, which were only able to retake a small
amount of the captured ground. On 18 August, Fleury was recaptured
and by September, French counter-attacks had recovered much of the
ground lost in July and August. On 29 August Falkenhayn was replaced
as Chief of the General Staff by
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg and First
Quartermaster-General Erich Ludendorff. On 3 September, an attack
on both flanks at Fleury advanced the French line several hundred
metres, against which German counter-attacks from 4–5 September
failed. The French attacked again on 9, 13 and from 15–17 September.
Losses were light except at the Tavannes railway tunnel, where 474
French troops died in a fire which began on 4 September.
20 October – 2 November
French counter-offensive, 24 October 1916
In October 1916 the French began the 1ère Bataille Offensive de
Verdun (First Offensive Battle of Verdun), to recapture Fort
Douaumont, an advance of more than 2 km (1.2 mi). Seven of
the 22 divisions at
Verdun were replaced by mid-October and French
infantry platoons were reorganised to contain sections of riflemen,
grenadiers and machine-gunners. In a six-day preliminary bombardment,
the French artillery fired 855,264 shells, including 532,926
seventy-five mm field-gun shells, 100,000 155 mm medium shells and 373
370 mm and 400 mm super-heavy shells, from more than 700 guns and
howitzers. Two French Saint-Chamond railway guns, 13 km
(8.1 mi) to the south-west at Baleycourt, fired the 400 mm
(16 in) super-heavy shells, each weighing 1 short ton
(0.91 t). The French had identified about 800 German guns on
the right bank capable of supporting the 34th, 54th, 9th and 33rd
Reserve divisions, with the 10th and 5th divisions in reserve. At
least 20 of the super-heavy shells hit Fort Douaumont, the sixth
penetrating to the lowest level and exploding in a pioneer depot,
starting a fire next to 7,000 hand-grenades.
French infantry recapturing Douaumont
The 38th Division (General Guyot de Salins), 133rd Division (General
Fenelon F.G. Passaga) and 74th Division (General Charles de
Lardemelle) attacked at 11:40 a.m. The infantry advanced 50 m
(55 yd) behind a creeping field-artillery barrage, moving at a
rate of 50 m (55 yd) in two minutes, beyond which a heavy
artillery barrage moved in 500–1,000 m (550–1,090 yd)
lifts, as the field artillery barrage came within 150 m
(160 yd), to force the German infantry and machine-gunners to
stay under cover. The Germans had partly evacuated Douaumont,
which was recaptured on 24 October by French marines and colonial
infantry; more than 6,000 prisoners and fifteen guns were captured by
25 October but an attempt on
Fort Vaux failed. The Haudromont
quarries, Ouvrage de Thiaumont and Thiaumont Farm, Douaumont village,
the northern end of Caillette Wood, Vaux pond, the eastern fringe of
Bois Fumin and the Damloup battery were captured. The heaviest
French artillery bombarded
Fort Vaux for the next week and on 2
November, the Germans evacuated the fort, after a huge explosion
caused by a 220 mm shell. French eavesdroppers overheard a German
wireless message announcing the departure and a French infantry
company entered the fort without firing a shot; on 5 November, the
French reached the front line of 24 February and offensive operations
ceased until December.
15–17 December 1916
French offensive, 15 December 1916
The 2ième Bataille Offensive de
Verdun (Second Offensive Battle of
Verdun) was conducted by the 126th Division (General Paul J. H.
Muteau), 38th (General Guyot de Salins), 37th Division (General Noël
Garnier-Duplessix) and the 133rd Division (General Fenelon F. G.
Passaga), with four more in reserve and 740 heavy guns in support. The
attack was planned by Pétain and Nivelle and commanded by Mangin.
The attack began at 10:00 a.m. on 15 December, after a six-day
bombardment of 1,169,000 shells, fired from 827 guns. The final French
bombardment was directed from artillery-observation aircraft, falling
on trenches, dugout entrances and observation posts. Five German
divisions supported by 533 guns held the defensive position, which was
2,300 m (2,500 yd) deep, with 2⁄3 of the infantry in
the battle zone and the remaining 1⁄3 in reserve 10–16 km
(6.2–9.9 mi) back; two of the German divisions were
understrength with only c. 3,000 infantry, instead of their normal
establishment of c. 7,000. The French advance was preceded by a
double creeping barrage, with shrapnel-fire from field artillery
64 m (70 yd) in front of the infantry and a high-explosive
barrage 140 m (150 yd) ahead, which moved towards a standing
shrapnel bombardment along the German second line, laid to cut off the
German retreat and block the advance of reinforcements. The German
defence collapsed and 13,500 men of the 21,000 in the five front
divisions were lost, most having been trapped while under cover and
taken prisoner when the French infantry arrived.
The French reached their objectives at
Vacherauville and Louvemont
which had been lost in February, along with Hardaumont and Côte du
Poivre, despite attacking in very bad weather. German reserve
battalions did not reach the front until the evening and two Eingreif
divisions, which had been ordered forward the previous evening, were
still 23 km (14 mi) away at noon. By the night of 16/17
December, the French had consolidated a new line from
Côte du Poivre, 2–3 km (1.2–1.9 mi) beyond Douaumont
and 1 km (0.62 mi) north of Fort Vaux, before the German
reserves and Eingreif units could counter-attack. The 155 mm turret at
Douaumont had been repaired and fired in support of the French
attack. The closest German point to
Verdun had been pushed
7.5 km (4.7 mi) back and all the dominating observation
points had been recaptured. The French took 11,387 prisoners and 115
guns. Some German officers complained to Mangin about their lack
of comfort in captivity and he replied, We do regret it, gentlemen but
then we did not expect so many of you.[f] Lochow, the 5th Army
commander and General Hans von Zwehl, commander of XIV Reserve Corps,
were sacked on 16 December.
Falkenhayn wrote in his memoir that he sent an appreciation of the
strategic situation to the Kaiser in December 1915,
The string in
France has reached breaking point. A mass
breakthrough—which in any case is beyond our means—is unnecessary.
Within our reach there are objectives for the retention of which the
French General Staff would be compelled to throw in every man they
have. If they do so the forces of
France will bleed to death.
The German strategy in 1916 was to inflict mass casualties on the
French, a goal achieved against the Russians from 1914 to 1915, to
French Army to the point of collapse. The
French Army had
to be drawn into circumstances from which it could not escape, for
reasons of strategy and prestige. The Germans planned to use a large
number of heavy and super-heavy guns to inflict a greater number of
casualties than French artillery, which relied mostly upon the 75 mm
field gun. In 2007, Foley wrote that Falkenhayn intended an attrition
battle from the beginning, contrary to the views of Krumeich, Förster
and others but the lack of surviving documents had led to many
interpretations of Falkenhayn's strategy. At the time, critics of
Falkenhayn claimed that the battle demonstrated that he was indecisive
and unfit for command; in 1937, Förster had proposed the view
"forcefully". In 1994, Afflerbach questioned the authenticity of
this "Christmas Memorandum" in his biography of Falkenhayn; after
studying the evidence that had survived in the Kriegsgeschichtliche
Forschungsanstalt des Heeres (Army Military History Research
Institute) files, he concluded that the memorandum had been written
after the war but that it was an accurate reflection of much of
Falkenhayn's thinking in 1916.
French train horses resting in a river on their way to Verdun
Krumeich wrote that the Christmas Memorandum had been fabricated to
justify a failed strategy and that attrition had been substituted for
the capture of Verdun, only after the city was not taken quickly.
Foley wrote that after the failure of the Ypres Offensive of 1914,
Falkenhayn had returned to the pre-war strategic thinking of Moltke
the Elder and
Hans Delbrück on Ermattungsstrategie (attrition
strategy), because the coalition fighting Germany was too powerful to
be decisively defeated by military means. German strategy should aim
to divide the Allies, by forcing at least one of the Entente powers
into a negotiated peace. An attempt at attrition lay behind the
offensive against Russia in 1915 but the Russians had refused to
accept German peace feelers, despite the huge defeats inflicted by the
Austro-Germans that summer.
With insufficient forces to break through the Western Front and to
overcome the Entente reserves behind it, Falkenhayn attempted to force
the French to attack instead, by threatening a sensitive point close
to the front line. Falkenhayn chose
Verdun as the place to force the
French to begin a counter-offensive, which would be defeated with huge
losses to the French, inflicted by German artillery on the dominating
heights around the city. The 5th Army would begin a big offensive with
limited objectives, to seize the Meuse Heights on the right bank of
the river, from which German artillery could dominate the battlefield.
By being forced into a counter-offensive against such formidable
French Army would "bleed itself white". As the French
were weakened, the British would be forced to launch a hasty relief
offensive, which would be another costly defeat. If such defeats were
not enough to force negotiations on the French, a German offensive
would mop up the remnants of the Franco-British armies and break the
Entente "once and for all".
In a revised instruction to the French army of January 1916, the
General Staff (GQG) had stated that equipment could not be fought by
men. Firepower could conserve infantry but a battle of material
prolonged the war and consumed the troops which had been preserved in
earlier battles. In 1915 and early 1916, German industry quintupled
the output of heavy artillery and doubled the production of
super-heavy artillery. French production had also recovered since 1914
and by February 1916, the army had 3,500 heavy guns. In May 1916,
Joffre implemented a plan to issue each division with two groups of
155 mm guns and each corps with four groups of long-range guns. Both
Verdun had the means to fire huge numbers of heavy shells to
suppress the opposing defences before taking the risk of having
infantry move in the open. At the end of May, the Germans had 1,730
heavy guns at
Verdun against 548 French, which were sufficient to
contain the Germans but not enough for a counter-offensive.
German infantry found that it was easier for the French to endure
preparatory bombardments, since French positions tended to be on
dominating ground, not always visible and sparsely occupied. As soon
as German infantry attacked, the French positions "came to life" and
the troops began machine-gun and rapid field artillery fire. On 22
April, the Germans had suffered 1,000 casualties and in mid-April, the
French fired 26,000 field artillery shells during an attack to the
south-east of Fort Douaumont. A few days after taking over at Verdun,
Pétain told the air force commander, Commandant Charles Tricornot de
Rose, to sweep away the German air service and to provide observation
for the French artillery. German air superiority was challenged and
eventually reversed, using eight-aircraft Escadrilles for
artillery-observation, counter-battery and tactical support.
German propaganda medal dated 1917
The fighting at
Verdun was less costly to both sides than the war of
movement in 1914, which cost the French c. 850,000 and the Germans
c. 670,000 men from August to December. The 5th Army had a lower
rate of loss than armies on the Eastern Front in 1915 and the French
had a lower average rate of loss at
Verdun than the rate over three
weeks during the
Second Battle of Champagne
Second Battle of Champagne (September–October
1915), which were not fought as battles of attrition. German loss
rates increased relative to French rates from 1:2.2 in early 1915 to
close to 1:1 by the end of the battle and rough parity continued
Nivelle Offensive in 1917. The main cost of attrition
tactics was indecision, because limited-objective attacks under an
umbrella of massed heavy artillery-fire could succeed but created
battles of unlimited duration.
Pétain used a "Noria" (rotation) system, to relieve French troops at
Verdun after a short period, which brought most troops of the French
army to the
Verdun front but for shorter periods than for the German
troops. French will to resist did not collapse, the symbolic
Verdun proved a rallying point and Falkenhayn was forced
to conduct the offensive for much longer and commit far more infantry
than intended. By the end of April, most of the German strategic
reserve was at Verdun, suffering similar casualties to the French
army. The Germans believed that they were inflicting losses at a rate
of 5:2; German military intelligence thought that French casualties up
to 11 March, had been 100,000 men and Falkenhayn was confident that
German artillery could easily inflict another 100,000 losses. In May,
Falkenhayn estimated that the French had lost 525,000 men against
250,000 German casualties and that the French strategic reserve had
been reduced to 300,000 troops. Actual French losses were c. 130,000
by 1 May and the
Noria system had enabled 42 divisions to be withdrawn
and rested, when their casualties reached 50 percent. Of the 330
infantry battalions of the French metropolitan army, 259 (78 percent)
went to Verdun, against 48 German divisions, 25 percent of the
Westheer (western army). Afflerbach wrote that 85 French divisions
Verdun and that from February to August, the ratio of German
to French losses was 1:1.1, not the third of French losses assumed by
Falkenhayn. By 31 August, 5th Army losses were 281,000 and French
casualties numbered 315,000 men.
French trench at Côte 304, Verdun
In June 1916, the amount of French artillery at
Verdun had been
increased to 2,708 guns, including 1,138 seventy-five mm field guns;
the French and German armies fired c. 10,000,000 shells, with a
weight of 1,350,000 long tons (1,370,000 t) from
February–December. The German offensive had been contained by
French reinforcements, difficulties of terrain and the weather by May,
with the 5th Army infantry stuck in tactically dangerous positions,
overlooked by the French on the east bank and the west bank, instead
of secure on the Meuse Heights. Attrition of the French forces was
inflicted by constant infantry attacks, which were vastly more costly
than waiting for French counter-attacks and defeating them with
artillery. The stalemate was broken by the
Brusilov Offensive and the
Anglo-French relief offensive on the Somme, which had been expected to
lead to the collapse of the Anglo-French armies. Falkenhayn had
begun to remove divisions from the armies on the Western Front in
June, to rebuild the strategic reserve but only twelve divisions could
be spared. Four divisions were sent to the 2nd Army on the Somme,
which had dug a layered defensive system based on the experience of
the Herbstschlacht. The situation before the beginning of the battle
on the Somme was considered by Falkenhayn to be better than before
previous offensives and a relatively easy defeat of the British
offensive was anticipated. No divisions were moved from the 6th Army,
which had 17 1⁄2 divisions and a large amount of heavy
artillery, ready for a counter-offensive when the British offensive
had been defeated.
The strength of the Anglo-French offensive surprised Falkenhayn and
the staff officers of OHL despite the losses inflicted on the British;
the loss of artillery to "overwhelming" counter-battery fire and the
policy of instant counter-attack against any Anglo-French advance, led
to far more German infantry casualties than at the height of the
fighting at Verdun, where 25,989 casualties had been suffered in the
first ten days, against 40,187 losses on the Somme. The Brusilov
Offensive had recommenced as soon as Russian supplies had been
replenished, which inflicted more losses on Austro-Hungarian and
German troops during June and July, when the offensive was extended to
the north. Falkenhayn was called on to justify his strategy to the
Kaiser on 8 July and again advocated sending minimal reinforcements to
the east and to continue the "decisive" battle in France, where the
Somme offensive was the "last throw of the dice" for the Entente.
Falkenhayn had already given up the plan for a counter-offensive near
Arras, to reinforce the Russian front and the 2nd Army, with eighteen
divisions moved from the reserve and the 6th Army front. By the end of
August only one division remained in reserve. The 5th Army had been
ordered to limit its attacks at
Verdun in June but a final effort was
made in July to capture Fort Souville. The effort failed and on 12
July, Falkenhayn ordered a strict defensive policy, permitting only
small local attacks, to try to limit the number of troops the French
took from the RFV to add to the Somme offensive.
Falkenhayn had underestimated the French, for whom victory at all
costs was the only way to justify the sacrifices already made; the
pressure imposed on the French army never came close to making the
French collapse and triggering a premature British relief offensive.
The ability of the German army to inflict disproportionate losses had
also been exaggerated, in part because the 5th Army commanders had
tried to capture
Verdun and attacked regardless of loss; even when
reconciled to Falkenhayn's attrition strategy, they continued to use
the costly Vernichtungsstrategie (strategy of annihilation) and
tactics of Bewegungskrieg (manoeuvre warfare). Failure to reach the
Meuse Heights, forced the 5th Army to try to advance from poor
tactical positions and to impose attrition by infantry attacks and
counter-attacks. The unanticipated duration of the offensive made
Verdun a matter of German prestige as much as it was for the French
and Falkenhayn became dependent on a British relief offensive and a
German counter-offensive to end the stalemate. When it came, the
collapse of the southern front in Russia and the power of the
Anglo-French attack on the Somme reduced the German armies to holding
their positions as best they could. On 29 August, Falkenhayn was
sacked and replaced by Hindenburg and Ludendorff, who ended the German
Verdun on 2 September.
In 1980, Terraine gave c. 750,000 Franco-German casualties in 299
days of battle; Dupuy and Dupuy gave 542,000 French casualties in
1993. Heer and Naumann calculated 377,231 French and 337,000
German casualties, a monthly average of 70,000 casualties in 2000.
Mason wrote in 2000 that there had been 378,000 French and 337,000
German casualties. In 2003, Clayton quoted 330,000 German
casualties, of whom 143,000 were killed or missing and 351,000 French
losses, 56,000 killed, 100,000 missing or prisoners and 195,000
wounded. Writing in 2005, Doughty gave French casualties at
Verdun, from 21 February to 20 December 1916 as 377,231 men of 579,798
Verdun and the Somme; 16 percent of
Verdun casualties were
known to have been killed, 56 percent wounded and 28 percent missing,
many of whom were eventually presumed dead. Doughty wrote that other
historians had followed Churchill (1927) who gave a figure of 442,000
casualties by mistakenly including all French losses on the Western
Front. (In 2014, Philpott recorded 377,000 French casualties, of
whom 162,000 men had been killed, German casualties were 337,000 men
and a recent estimate of casualties at
Verdun from 1914 to 1918 was
Souvenir of the battle showing a French soldier.
In the second edition of The World Crisis (1938), Churchill wrote that
the figure of 442,000 was for other ranks and the figure of "probably"
460,000 casualties included officers. Churchill gave a figure of
278,000 German casualties of whom 72,000 were killed and expressed
dismay that French casualties had exceeded German by about 3:2.
Churchill also stated that an eighth needed to be deducted from his
figures for both sides to account for casualties on other sectors,
giving 403,000 French and 244,000 German casualties. Grant gave a
figure of 434,000 German casualties in 2005. In 2005, Foley used
calculations made by Wendt in 1931 to give German casualties at Verdun
from 21 February to 31 August 1916 as 281,000, against 315,000 French
casualties. Afflerbach used the same source in 2000 to give
336,000 German and 365,000 French casualties at Verdun, from February
to December 1916.
In 2013, Jankowski wrote that since the beginning of the war, French
army units had produced états numériques des pertes every five days
for the Bureau of Personnel at GQG. The health service at the Ministry
of War received daily counts of wounded taken in by hospitals and
other services but casualty data was dispersed among regimental
depots, GQG, the État Civil, which recorded deaths, the Service de
Santé, which counted injuries and illnesses and the Renseignements
aux Familles, which communicated with next of kin. Regimental depots
were ordered to keep fiches de position to record losses continuously
and the Première Bureau of GQG began to compare the five-day field
reports with the records of hospital admissions. The new system was
used to calculate losses since August 1914, which took several months
but the system had become established by February 1916. The états
numériques des pertes were used to calculate casualty figures
published in the Journal Officiel, the French Official History and
The German armies compiled Verlustlisten every ten days, which were
published by the Reichsarchiv in the deutsches Jahrbuch of
1924–1925. German medical units kept detailed records of medical
treatment at the front and in hospital and in 1923 the Zentral
Nachweiseamt published an amended edition of the lists produced during
the war, incorporating medical service data not in the Verlustlisten.
Monthly figures of wounded and ill servicemen that were treated were
published in 1934 in the Sanitätsbericht. Using such sources for
comparisons of losses during a battle is difficult, because the
information recorded losses over time, rather than place. Losses
calculated for particular battles could be inconsistent, as in the
Statistics of the Military Effort of the
British Empire during the
Great War 1914–1920 (1922). In the early 1920s, Louis Marin reported
to the Chamber of Deputies but could not give figures per battle,
except for some by using numerical reports from the armies, which were
unreliable unless reconciled with the system established in 1916.
Some French data excluded those lightly wounded but some did not. In
April 1917, GQG required that the états numériques des pertes
discriminate between the lightly wounded, treated at the front over a
period of 20–30 days and severely wounded evacuated to hospitals.
Uncertainty over the criteria had not been resolved before the war
ended, Verlustlisten excluded lightly wounded and the Zentral
Nachweiseamt records included them. Churchill revised German
statistics, by adding 2 percent for unrecorded wounded in The World
Crisis, written in the 1920s and the British official historian added
30 percent. For the Battle of Verdun, the Sanitätsbericht contained
incomplete data for the
Verdun area, did not define "wounded" and the
5th Army field reports exclude them. The Marin Report and Service de
Santé covered different periods but included lightly wounded.
Churchill used a Reichsarchiv figure of 428,000 casualties and took a
figure of 532,500 casualties from the Marin Report, for March to June
and November to December 1916, for all the Western Front.
The états numériques des pertes give French losses in a range from
348,000 to 378,000 and in 1930, Wendt recorded French Second Army and
German 5th Army casualties of 362,000 and 336,831 respectively, from
21 February to 20 December, not taking account of the inclusion or
exclusion of lightly wounded. In 2006, McRandle and Quirk used the
Sanitätsbericht to adjust the Verlustlisten by an increase of c. 11
percent, which gave a total of 373,882 German casualties, compared to
the French Official History record by 20 December 1916, of 373,231
French losses. A German record from the Sanitätsbericht, which
explicitly excluded lightly wounded, compared German losses at Verdun
in 1916, which averaged 37.7 casualties for each 1,000 men, with the
9th Army in Poland 1914 average of 48.1 per 1,000, the 11th Army
average in Galicia 1915 of 52.4 per 1,000 men, the 1st Army Somme 1916
average of 54.7 per 1,000 and the 2nd Army average on the Somme of
39.1 per 1,000 men. Jankowski estimated an equivalent figure for the
French Second Army of 40.9 men per 1,000, including lightly wounded.
With a c. 11 percent adjustment to the German figure of 37.7 per
1,000 to include lightly wounded, following the views of McRandle and
Quirk, the loss rate is analogous to the estimate for French
The battlefield in 2005
The concentration of so much fighting in such a small area devastated
the land, resulting in miserable conditions for troops on both sides.
Rain, combined with the constant tearing up of the ground turned the
clay of the area to a wasteland of mud full of human remains. Shell
craters filled, becoming so slippery that troops who fell into them or
took cover in them could drown. Forests were reduced to tangled piles
of wood by constant artillery-fire and eventually obliterated. The
effect on soldiers in the battle was devastating and many broke down
with shell shock. Some French soldiers attempted to desert to Spain,
those caught being court-martialled and shot. On 20 March, French
deserters disclosed details of the French defences to the Germans, who
were able to surround 2,000 men and force them to surrender.
A French lieutenant at Verdun, who would be killed by a shell, wrote
in his diary on 23 May 1916, "Humanity is mad. It must be mad to do
what it is doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage!
I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so
terrible. Men are mad!" Discontent began to spread among French
Verdun during the summer of 1916. Following the promotion of
General Pétain from the Second Army on 1 June and his replacement by
General Nivelle, five infantry regiments were affected by episodes of
"collective indiscipline". Two French Lieutenants, Henri Herduin and
Pierre Millant, were summarily shot on 11 June; Nivelle then published
an Order of the Day forbidding French troops to surrender. In
1926, after an inquiry into the cause célèbre, Herduin and Millant
were exonerated and their military records expunged.
20–26 August 1917
French attack, August 1917
An attack on 9 km (5.6 mi) fronts on both sides of the Meuse
was planned, the XIII and XVI corps to attack on the left bank with
two divisions each and two in reserve. Côte 304, Mort-Homme and Côte
de l'Oie were to be captured in a 3 km (1.9 mi) advance and
on the right bank, the XV and XXXII corps were to advance a similar
distance to capture Côte de Talou, hills 344, 326 and the Bois de
Caurières. About 34 km (21 mi) of road was rebuilt 6 m
(6.6 yd) wide and paved for the supply of ammunition to each
corps, along with a branch of the 60 cm (2.0 ft) light
railway. The French artillery prepared the attack with 1,280 field
guns, 1.520 heavy guns and howitzers and 80 super-heavy guns and
howitzers. The Aéronautique Militaire crowded 16 fighter escadrilles
into the area to escort reconnaissance aircraft and protect
observation balloons. The 5th Army had spent the previous year
improving their defences at Verdun, including the excavation of
tunnels linking Mort-Homme with the rear, for supplies to be carried
and infantry to move with impunity. On the right bank, the Germans had
developed four defensive positions, the last on the French front line
of early 1916.
The French had no possibility of strategic surprise; the Germans had
380 artillery batteries in the area, bombarded frequently French
positions with the new Mustard gas and made several spoiling attacks
to disrupt French preparations. Counter-attacks were made to regain
lost ground but Fayolle eventually limited ripostes to important
ground only, the rest to be retaken during the main attack. The French
preliminary bombardment began on 11 August and after two days, the
destructive bombardment began but weather delays led to the infantry
attack being postponed until 20 August. The assembly of the 25th,
16th, Division Marocaine and 31st divisions was obstructed by German
gas bombardments but their attack captured all but Hill 304, which was
encircled and captured on 24 August. On the right bank, XV Corps had
to cross the Côte de Talou in the middle of no man's land which was
3 km (1.9 mi) wide at this point. The attacking divisions
reached their objectives except for a trench between hills 344, 326
and Samogneux, which was taken on 23 August. XXXII Corps reached its
objectives in a costly advance but the troops found themselves too
close to German trenches and under the guns on high ground between
Bezonvaux and Ornes. The French took 11,000 prisoners for the loss of
14,000 men, 4,470 being killed or posted missing.
Verdun Tableau de guerre, 1917 (Félix Vallotton, 1865–1925)
After the success of the attack in August, Guillaumat was ordered to
plan an operation to capture several trenches and a more ambitious
offensive on the east bank to take the last ground from which German
artillery-observers could see Verdun. Pétain questioned Guillaumat
and Fayolle, who criticised the selection of objectives on the right
bank and argued that the French could not remain in their present
positions but must go on or go back. The Germans counter-attacked
several times in September from higher ground and holding the ground
captured in August proved more costly to the French than taking it.
Fayolle advocated a limited advance to make German counter-attacks
harder, improve conditions in the front line and deceive the Germans
about French intentions. XV Corps attacked on 7 September which failed
and XXXII Corps the next day which was a costly success. The attack
continued and the trenches necessary for a secure defensive position
were taken but not the last German observation point. Further attempts
to advance were met by massed artillery-fire and counter-attacks; the
French commanders ended the operation. On 25 November after a
five-hour hurricane bombardment, the 128th and 37th divisions,
supported by 18-field artillery, 24 heavy and 9 trench artillery
groups, conducted a raid in appalling weather. The operation on a
4 km (2.5 mi) front reached a line of pillboxes which were
demolished and then the infantry retired to their own positions.
Main article: Meuse-Argonne Offensive
Meuse–Argonne Offensive, 26 September – 11 November 1918
The French Fourth Army and the American First Army attacked on a front
Moronvilliers to the Meuse on 26 September 1918 at 5:30 a.m.,
after a three-hour bombardment. American troops quickly captured
Malancourt, Bethincourt and Forges on the left bank of the Meuse and
by midday the Americans had reached Gercourt, Cuisy, the southern part
of Montfaucon and Cheppy. German troops were able to repulse American
attacks on Montfaucon ridge, until it was outflanked to the south and
Montfaucon was surrounded. German counter-attacks from 27–28
September slowed the American advance but Ivoiry and Epinon-Tille were
captured, then Montfaucon ridge with 8,000 prisoners and 100 guns. On
the right bank of the Meuse, a combined Franco-American force under
American command, took Brabant, Haumont, Bois d'Haumont and Bois des
Caures and then crossed the front line of February 1916. By November,
c. 20,000 prisoners, c. 150 guns, c. 1,000 trench mortars and
several thousand machine-guns had been captured. A German retreat
began and continued until the Armistice.
Memorial at the Trench of the Bayonets (Tranchée des Baïonnettes),
where according to legend, a unit of French troops was buried alive by
shell bursts, leaving only their rifles protruding above the ground,
with bayonets fixed.
In April 1916, Pétain had issued an Order of the Day, "Courage! On
les aura" (Courage! We will get them) and on 23 June 1916, Nivelle
ordered, "They shall not pass".
Vous ne les laisserez pas passer, mes camarades (You will not let them
pass, my comrades).
Nivelle had been concerned about diminished French morale at Verdun;
after his promotion to lead the Second Army in June 1916,
manifestations of indiscipline occurred in five front line
regiments. Défaillance reappeared in the French army mutinies
that followed the
Nivelle Offensive (April–May 1917).
Denizot published statistical tables including French troop movements,
as well as monthly French artillery ammunition consumption by type of
gun (German artillery ammunition consumption is reported in lesser
detail) and period photographs show overlapping shell craters in an
area of about 100 km2 (39 sq mi). Forests
planted in the 1930s have grown up and hide most of the Zone rouge
(Red Zone) but the battlefield remains a vast graveyard, where the
mortal remains of over 100,000 missing soldiers lie, unless discovered
by the French Forestry Service and laid in the Douaumont ossuary.
Pétain praised what he saw as the success of the fixed fortification
Verdun in La Bataille de
Verdun published in 1929 and in
1930, while construction of the
Maginot Line (Ligne Maginot) began
along the border with Germany. At Verdun, French field artillery in
the open outnumbered turreted guns in the
Verdun forts by at least
200:1. It was the mass of French field artillery (over 2,000 guns
after May 1916) that inflicted about 70 percent of German infantry
casualties. In 1935, a number of mechanised and motorised units were
deployed behind the Maginot line and plans were laid to send
detachments to fight a mobile defence in front of the
Verdun remained a symbol and at the Battle of
Dien Bien Phu (1953–1954), General
Christian de Castries
Christian de Castries said that
the situation was "somewhat like Verdun". French forces at Dien Bien
Phu were supplied by transport aircraft, using a landing strip in
range of Viet Minh artillery; the French forces at
supplied by road and rail, beyond the reach of German artillery.
Verdun Memorial on the battlefield near Fleury-devant-Douaumont,
opened 1967: to the fallen soldiers and civilians
Verdun has become for the French the representative memory of World
War I. Antoine Prost wrote, "Like Auschwitz,
Verdun marks a
transgression of the limits of the human condition". From 1918 to
1939, the French expressed two memories of the battle, a patriotic
view embodied in memorials built on the battlefield and the memory of
the survivors who recalled the death, suffering and sacrifice of
others. In the 1960s,
Verdun became a symbol of Franco-German
reconciliation, through remembrance of common suffering and in the
1980s it became a capital of peace. Organisations were formed and old
museums were dedicated to the ideals of peace and human rights.
On 22 September 1984, the German Chancellor
Helmut Kohl (whose father
had fought near Verdun) and French President
François Mitterrand (who
had been taken prisoner nearby in World War II), stood at the
Douaumont cemetery, holding hands for several minutes in driving rain
as a gesture of Franco-German reconciliation.
List of French villages destroyed in World War I
Rue Verdun, Beirut, Lebanon
World War I
World War I portal
First Battle of Champagne
First Battle of Champagne (20 December 1914 – 17 March 1915),
First Battle of Artois
First Battle of Artois (December 1914 – January 1915), Second Battle
of Ypres (21 April – 25 May), Neuve Chapelle (10–13 March), Second
Battle of Artois (9 May – 18 June),
Second Battle of Champagne
Second Battle of Champagne (25
September – 6 November),
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Battle of Loos (25 September – 14
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Third Battle of Artois (25 September – 4 November).
^ Forts in the outer ring were (clockwise) Douaumont, Vaux,
Moulainville, Le Rozelier, Haudainville, Dugny, Regret and Marre. The
inner ring included Souville, Tavannes, Belrupt and Belleville.
^ In September and December 1914, the 155 mm gun at Fort Douaumont
bombarded German positions north of
Verdun and a German observation
post at the Jumelles d'Ornes. In February 1915, Douaumont was
bombarded by a 420 mm mortar known as Big Bertha and Long Max, a 380
mm naval gun.
^ The first party to enter the fort was led by Leutnant Eugen Radtke,
Hauptmann Hans Joachim Haupt and Oberleutnant Cordt von Brandis.
Brandis and Haupt were awarded the highest German military decoration,
Pour le Mérite
Pour le Mérite but Radtke was overlooked. Attempts to remedy this led
to Major Klüfer of Infantry Regiment 24 being transferred and to
controversy after the war, when Radtke published a memoir and Klüfer
published a detailed examination of the capture of the fort, naming
Feldwebel Kunze as the first German soldier to enter Fort Douaumont,
which was considered improbable since only one report mentioned
^ Captain Charles de Gaulle, 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.
^ Mangin paraphrased
Frederick the Great
Frederick the Great after his victory at the
battle of Rossbach (5 November 1757): "Mais, messieurs, je ne vous
attendais pas sitôt, en si grand nombre." (But, gentlemen, I did not
expect you so soon, in so great number.)
^ a b Falkenhayn 1919, pp. 217–218.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 191–192.
^ Foley 2007, p. 192.
^ Foley 2007, p. 193.
^ a b Holstein 2010, p. 35.
^ Doughty 2005, pp. 275–276.
^ Holstein 2010, p. 20.
^ Le Hallé 1998, p. 15.
^ a b Holstein 2010, p. 32.
^ Holstein 2010, pp. 31–32.
^ Holstein 2010, pp. 25–29.
^ Holstein 2010, pp. 33–34.
^ Mason 2000, pp. 21, 32.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 214–216.
^ Foley 2007, p. 211.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 211–212.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 213–214.
^ Doughty 2005, pp. 265–266.
^ a b Holstein 2010, p. 36.
^ Foley 2007, p. 217.
^ Doughty 2005, p. 267.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 215, 217.
^ Doughty 2005, pp. 272–273.
^ Mason 2000, pp. 107–109.
^ Doughty 2005, p. 274.
^ Mason 2000, pp. 48–49.
^ Mason 2000, pp. 49–51.
^ Schwerin 1939, pp. 9–12, 24–29.
^ Mason 2000, pp. 54–59.
^ Mason 2000, pp. 60–64.
^ a b Holstein 2010, pp. 43–44.
^ Holstein 2010, pp. 54–55, 148.
^ Holstein 2010, pp. 45–50.
^ Foley 2007, p. 220.
^ Holstein 2010, pp. 57–58.
^ Mason 2000, pp. 114–115.
^ Williams 1998, p. 45.
^ Mason 2000, p. 115.
^ Foley 2007, p. 223.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 224–225.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 225–226.
^ Doughty 2005, p. 283.
^ a b Michelin 1919, p. 29.
^ Foley 2007, p. 226.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 226–227.
^ Foley 2007, p. 228.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 228–229.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 230–231.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 232–233.
^ Foley 2007, p. 234.
^ Michelin 1919, pp. 17–18.
^ Holstein 2010, pp. 76–78.
^ Holstein 2010, p. 78.
^ Holstein 2010, pp. 79–82.
^ Holstein 2010, p. 91.
^ Mason 2000, pp. 150–159.
^ Ousby 2002, p. 229.
^ Ousby 2002, pp. 229–231.
^ Mason 2000, pp. 183–167.
^ Samuels 1995, p. 126.
^ Philpott 2009, p. 217.
^ Doughty 2005, p. 288.
^ Doughty 2005, p. 298.
^ a b Holstein 2010, pp. 94–95.
^ a b Doughty 2005, p. 299.
^ Holstein 2010, p. 95.
^ Doughty 2005, pp. 305–306.
^ Holstein 2010, p. 99.
^ a b Petain 1930, p. 221.
^ Holstein 2010, pp. 102–103.
^ Doughty 2005, p. 306.
^ Michelin 1919, pp. 19–20.
^ Doughty 2005, pp. 306–308.
^ Petain 1930, p. 227.
^ Wynne 1976, pp. 166–167.
^ Holstein 2010, pp. 112–114.
^ Doughty 2005, pp. 308–309.
^ a b Durant & Durant 1967, p. 50.
^ Wynne 1976, p. 168.
^ Foerster 1937, pp. 304–330.
^ Afflerbach 1994, pp. 543–545.
^ Krumeich 1996, pp. 17–29.
^ a b Foley 2007, pp. 206–207.
^ Jankowski 2013, pp. 109–112.
^ Jankowski 2013, pp. 112–114.
^ Jankowski 2013, pp. 114–120.
^ a b c Clayton 2003, pp. 120–121.
^ Chickering & Förster 2000, pp. 130, 126.
^ Foley 2007, p. 256.
^ a b Mason 2000, p. 185.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 235–236.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 249–250.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 251–254.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 254–256.
^ Foley 2007, p. 258.
^ Terraine 1992, p. 59.
^ Dupuy and Dupuy 1993, p. 1052.
^ Heer & Naumann 2000, p. 26.
^ Clayton 2003, p. 110.
^ Doughty 2005, p. 309.
^ Philpott 2014, p. 226.
^ Churchill 1938, pp. 1003–1004.
^ Grant 2005, p. 276.
^ a b Foley 2007, p. 259.
^ Chickering & Förster 2000, p. 114.
^ Jankowski 2013, pp. 257–258.
^ Jankowski 2013, pp. 258–259.
^ Jankowski 2013, pp. 259–260.
^ Jankowski 2013, p. 261.
^ Horne 2007, p. 236.
^ Mason 2000, p. 160.
^ Clayton 2003, p. 122.
^ Greenhalgh 2014, p. 237.
^ Greenhalgh 2014, pp. 237–238.
^ Doughty 2005, pp. 382–282.
^ Greenhalgh 2014, pp. 238–239.
^ Michelin 1919, pp. 24–25.
^ Denizot 1996, p. 136.
^ Pedroncini 1989, pp. 150–153.
^ Doughty 2005, pp. 361–365.
^ Denizot 1996.
^ Holstein 2010, p. 124.
^ Wynne 1976, p. 329.
^ Windrow 2004, p. 499.
^ Jackson 2001, p. 28.
^ Barcellini 1996, pp. 77–98.
^ Murase 2002, p. 304.
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