Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Battle of Verdun One hundred Years Ago

On February 21, 1916 begun the battle of Verdun, considered to be one of the bloodiest battles and the most emblematic of the World War I conflict.  This battle lasted for 300 days and 300 nights of uninterrupted fighting (February 21 till December 18) between French and German forces.  Verdun is situated in Northeastern France on the bank of the river Meuse in the region of Lorraine.  The First World War had already begun a year and half earlier in August 1914 and battles had been fought in Flanders (Belgium), the  Marne, the Somme and Picardy regions of France involving on the Allied side: French, Belgium,  British and Commonwealth troops.

Fort of Douaumont
In the early hours of February 21, the German army undertook a sudden and brutal offensive attack, in the Verdun  sector which had been relatively calm until this time.  Unprepared, the French positions were attacked by a non-stop barrage of heavy  artillery (some one million and half shells fell in one day); four days later, the German captured the Douaumont fortress. As the French fought  back to hold onto their positions, the conflict became a bloody stalemate - soldiers fought in an area of 20 km2 to gain a few meters and then losing some. Total hell on earth.

Shell Craters of the Verdun Battlefield.
It is estimated that there were 700,000 casualties (170,000 French and 150, 000 Germans died plus countless injured and those lost in action who could not be identified). Not mentioning the hundreds of thousands of horses who died in the battlefield.  About  40 million artillery rounds were expended in the course of the ten month battle making it one of the costliest in men, horses and material in the history of humanity.

Verdun Battlefield can be visited from Paris as a day trip by minibus tours or as a private guided or self-drive tour.  A visit of the Verdun battlefields should include:

  • Fort of Douaumont- A heavily armed concrete fort built in the rock used as a system of defense.  You can tour 3 levels of galleries , observations platforms, gun turrets, barrack rooms. As a young officer,  Charles de Gaulle was stationed and fought at the Douaumont Fort.
  • Douaumont Ossuary- It contains the remains of 130,000 unknown soldiers French, German and others. 
  • Douaumont Military Cemetery-facing the Douaumont Memorial,  here lay over 16,000  French soldiers who died on the battle field making it the largest French military cemetery.
  • Bayonets Trench Monument-symbolizing the soldiers who fought and died in the trenches.
  • Verdun Memorial-newly reopened. It displays photos, memorabilia, armament, uniforms, and vehicles used during the batttle.
  • Destroyed Villages - Nine villages in the fighting zone were totally razed during the battle of Verdun. All that remain are markers symbolizing the outlines of the houses and public buildings. These ghost villages  are moving memorials of the ravage of war. 
  • Underground Citadel in Verdun- The logistic and command center during the Battle of Verdun.  After the war, it is in the underground citadel that the selection of the unknown soldier to be buried under the Arc de Triomphe took place.  On a tour of the Citadel, you can view a reconstitution of this ceremony. 

Images: Douaumont  Ossuary.

In 1984, French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, met at the Douaumont Memorial and held hand for a brief moment as a sign of European reconciliation and friendship.

To book your tour of Verdun and other WWI  battlefields, contact Enchanted France or call us toll free 866 313 2856.

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