Verdun

 

The battle of Verdun comprises one of the bloodiest battles of the first world war and lasted for 10 months. At February 21 1916, the Germans launched an unprecedented artillery bombardment, which lasted 9 hours and was subsequently followed by an massive infantry attack. The French defenders were annihilated and the few survivors were no match for the German infantry and were rapidly overwhelmed. The aim of this German offensive was to capture the heights around Verdun rather than the city proper. From these heights the Germans could repel all French counter attacks ultimately bleeding the French army white as the French would never give up Verdun. Before Stalingrad in 1942, the battle of Verdun was synonymous with wholesale slaughter. 

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Modern day Verdun situated along the Meuse river in the north east of France and is an ancient garrison city dating back to Roman times. With impressive medievil ramparts, gates and citadel. The city is full with memorials commemorating the pyrrhic French victory.

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The heights around Verdun are littered with shell holes and traces of trenches. The Verdun battle field was left in its 1918 condition and given back to nature. After the Franco-Prussian war in 1870-1871, in which France lost the territories of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany, Verdun became a border town and was strengthened by a ring of fortresses to prevent another German invasion from the east. 

 

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Fort Souville represents the last bulwark in front of Verdun and was never captured by the Germans despite desperate attempts in June 1916. Today Fort Souville is in ruins and is closed for the public. After the battle of Verdun, Fort Souville was modified by addition of this machine gun bunker in 1917. Almost everywhere in the dark forrests of Verdun memorials can be found, commemorating brave soldiers that died heroically for France.

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Fort Douaumont represented the strongest fortress surrounding Verdun but it was stripped in 1914 and 1915 of its armament as forts were considered obsolete. However, Fort Douaumont was seized by the Germans on the fourth day of the offensive almost without a significant fight. The capture of Douaumont was celebrated throughout Germany and was a huge boost to German morale. Unlike the French, the Germans considered Fort Douaumont of great value and upgraded its defences and facilities at once. Fort Douaumont was indeed of great value for the Germans as it offered their infantry shelter against the incessant French artillery barrages and was used as a hospital. Fort Douaumont formed an important objective throughout the battle of Verdun. The French tried to recapture the fort several times but all counter attacks were repelled by the Germans. In october 1916 the French army succeeded in recapturing the fort. 

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The inside of the fort is cold and moist, contributing to its eerie atmosphere. Inside the dark corridors of fort Douaumont. One of the first things the Germans did was to install electricity within the fort.

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On 8 may 1916 catastrophe struck the Germans inside the fort as three explosions raged through the fort, killing approximately 800 soldiers. Most of these soldiers were buried inside the fort behind this wall. It is assumed that these explosions were caused by a direct hit in the flame-thrower oil depot, which caused panick among the troops who started throwing hand grenades as they thought that an attack of the French colonial troops was imminent. This, in turn, resulted in explosions in the ammunition depot.

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 On top of the front with a view towards the French lines. The top of the front is also riddled with shell holes caused by german 420 mm shells and French 375 mm shells. The outside of the fort, which also shows the extensive battle damage caused by high-explosive shells.

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Near Douaumont are several memorials such as the bayonet trench. According to the myth it concerns soldiers who were standing inside the trench with rifles fixed with bayonets at hand ready to repel a German attack. These soldiers were buried and killed by a nearby shell impact. Most likely, the rifles were stuck upside down in the ground to mark the place of fallen soldiers, thereby invalidating the myth. After the initial rupture of the French lines and quick capture of fort Douaumont the French resistance stiffened as more heavy artillery and fresh divisions were brought up, resulting in halting of the German advance and leading to the onset of trench warfare . For several months the fighting flowed up and down in the area of fort Douaumont. A memorial for the French 137 infantry regiment who were involved in the bloody fighting around fort Douaumont. The battle of Verdun is considered one the greatest battles in history and the exact number of casualties will probably be never known. However, estimates of the number of casualties reveal that the French losses are slightly higher than the German casualties, namely 337,231 versus 337,000, respectively.

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Fleury is one of the nine villages which were completely destroyed during the battle of Verdun and were never rebuilt aterwards. After the capture of fort Vaux in may 1916, the Germans launched an all-out offensive in june-july 1916 to capture fort Souville required to seize the heights around Verdun. During this final offensive the fighting raged up and down the ruined village of Fleury, which changed hands more than a dozen times. Nowadays, the landscape still bears the scars of this fighting as everywhere around Verdun. White poles indicate the position of former buildings and houses of Fleury. After the Germans failed to seize fort Souville, the initiative passed to the French who launched a huge counter attack in October 1916, resulting in the recapture of fort Douaumont and Vaux. In august 1917 the Germans were finally pushed back to their original lines and were driven back from the Verdun sector in 1918 by the Americans.

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