At the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914, the German advance created a salient deep into France, the east-west portion of which ended at Verdun.  South of Verdun, another German advance created the St. Miheil Salient, constricting the supply of Verdun to one road, later named the Sacred Way.  A pre-war system of forts protecting Verdun had been stripped of their artillery to equip the mobile armies.  Perhaps all of these things contributed to the German decision to attack Verdun.  Using new tactics, German General Falkenhayn planned to capture terrain important to the French - important for strategic reasons or for national pride.  Then, it was hoped, the French would bleed themselves white in costly counterattacks, with German artillery being especially deadly.  Falkenhayn promised to halt his attacks if casualties proved equal or greater than French ones.  Like many other battles of the Western Front, the promise was a hollow one.  Beginning on Febraury 21, 1916, the fighting continued to December 18, including the French counterattacks.  The joint British and French attacks at the Somme were designed to ease the pressure at Verdun.

Estimates vary, but something like 380,000 French and 320,000 German casualties are frequently cited, with 230,000 of them dead.  The land is now a "Red Zone", too dangerous to restore to its original agricultural use.  The area is now a forest, and human remains are still being recovered and placed in an ossuary that holds the bones of over 130,000 men.

Lt. Col. Driant

Fort Douaumont

Fort Vaux

Fort Souville

Trench of Bayonets                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
Four Chimneys

Albri 119

Douaumont Ossuary

June 1, 1916 Trench Map From George C. Marshall Library

Copyright 2010-11 by John Hamill

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