• A
  • A
  • A

The Battle of Verdun

The Battle of Verdun defines waste and sacrifice for little gain better perhaps than any other battle. The area of Verdun near the Franco German border contained a series of defensive forts that held a sentimental place in the French national psyche.  The German Chief of Staff knew an attack there would ensure that the French defended the area at all costs, and so he hoped that the attack starting on 21st February 1916 would “bleed France white”.

140,000 German troops began the attack. They were supported by 1,200 artillery guns that targeted 2,500,000 shells at the Verdun region. The French had only 30,000 troops in place as the Germans swept through, taking strategic forts such as Douaumont.  French forces were reinforced and their battle cry became “Ils ne passeront pas!” The French launched counterattacks while the Germans waited for supplies and then attacked once more. The land they took was unimportant. The Germans wanted to bring the French to their knees. 

The fighting raged back and forth with the Germans employing flame throwers and gas attacks to maintain the pressure; the village of Fleury changed hands sixteen times from 23 June to 17 August, 2016. When the Battle of the Somme began on 1st July, 1916, one of the key aims for the Allies was to force the Germans to divert troops away from Verdun and bring some relief to the French.

The French were prepared to keep defending the area and 259 of the 330 infantry regiments of the French army fought at Verdun over the course of the battle. The Germans failed to make any real gains and, although French losses were high, so were German ones. A French counterattack in October began to retake ground lost the previous spring and by 18th December, 2016 the battle was deemed to be over. It had lasted 303 days; French casualties are believed to number approximately 550,000, with German casualties set at 434,000. Half of the total were fatalities.

Give us your feedback

Please tell us what you think to help us develop and progress this vital resource

London Jews in the First World War - We Were There Too

Follow us on social media:

© London Jewish Cultural Centre 2018

Website : beachshore