The Battle of Verdun
The Great War 1914-18
“Every sign of humanity has been swept away. The woods and roads have vanished like chalk wiped from a blackboard; of the villages nothing remains but grey smears. During heavy bombardments and attacks I have seen shells fall like rain.“ This was the scene as witnessed by a pilot flying over the battlefield of Verdun in the later stages of the fighting, where, according to General Erich von Falkenhayn, he proposed to “...bleed the French army white...“.
It was on 15 February 1916 Falkenhayn ordered the offensive known as 'Unternehmen Gericht' (Operation Judgement) to be launched against the French town of Verdun. The attack had been many months in the planning and it was hoped it would be sufficient to knock an already weakened France out of the war. The offensive opened proper on 21 February and the fighting continued unabated for the next ten months, during which time it has been estimated that between them the French and Germans fired some 37 million shells. The French were determined the town should not fall and over two-thirds of the entire French army fought there. The Germans committed 40 Divisions to the battleground and deployed massive guns, mainly over 400mm calibre. Eventually, they realised they were not winning and pulled back. It had cost them approx. 337,000 killed and wounded whilst the French lost around 377,000 men in the defence of the town.
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