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The Battle of Verdun: The Longest and Most Fierce Battle of World War I

Misbah has always wanted to pursue writing as a career. She loves to write on different topics, and she loves to read about history as well.

French soldiers of the 87th Regiment shelter in their trenches at Côte (Hill) 304 at Verdun

French soldiers of the 87th Regiment shelter in their trenches at Côte (Hill) 304 at Verdun

The Battle of Verdun, from February 21 to December 15, 1916, is the longest war in modern history. In 1915, the Western Front was in a stalemate when the parties started trench warfare. The attacks resulted in heavy losses and little gain, and no significant breakthrough could be achieved.

The Battle of Verdun was first planned by the German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn, to win a decisive victory on Germany's Western Front. The aim was to crush the French army before the Allies fully deployed British forces in the area. According to Germany's goal, without France's 96th Division, the Allies could no longer continue to fight in the west.

The Battle of Verdun and what happened

For Falkenhayn to achieve his goal, he had to target a part of the French front where strategic importance and national pride were at the forefront. Verdun, the ancient castle town on the Meuse (Maas) River, was just such a place.

It was on the German-French border and was one of the points strongly defended in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Besides, the foundations of Germany were laid, with the Carolingian Empire divided after the Treaty of Verdun in 843 AD.

By securing the hills on the east bank of the river, the Germans would dominate the surrounding area, making it very important for the French to reclaim the lowlands. Verdun was the key point in the plan. While Falkenhayn planned to use more than 1,200 guns to destroy French troops, he wanted limited use of German infantry to minimize his own casualties.

The Battle of Verdun began at 4 am on February 21, 1916, with the massive artillery bombardment and steady advance of the German Fifth Army troops under the command of Crown Prince Wilhelm. The attack was delayed due to bad weather. With this delay, the French managed to shift two divisions of the 30th Corps in the Verdun region before the German attack began, thanks to intelligence reports.

That morning, the Germans launched a 10-hour bombardment on French lines around the city. In the face of the storm, troops, and flamethrowers of the Germans attack with three corps, the French retreated 5 kilometers on the first day of the war. Five days after the war, German forces captured Douaumont Castle, the largest and highest of the 19 castles protecting Verdun. There were only 57 men left in the castle, and the Germans captured the entire castle without firing a bullet.

the-battle-of-verdun-the-longest-and-most-fierce-battle-of-world-war-i

The war was going as Falkenhayn had planned. French military leaders openly declared that Verdun could not be held if the east bank of Meuse was lost, and that the loss of the city would destroy the morale of the French nation.

However, Crown Prince Wilhelm and his crew pushed Falkenhayn's strategic concept aside at this point, and began deploying the Fifth Army for a larger offensive action. The German loss in Verdun began approaching the French loss at the end of February, when the seizure of the low points was made a priority.

General Philippe Petain was later placed under the command of the French Second Army in Verdun. Petain had a reputation for mastery of defense, and instead of sending all his troops to the defenseless front-line trenches.

He organized his forces deeply and formed strong defensive points that mutually supported each other. Petain also regularly exchanged troops at Verdun, and this move caused most of the French Army to go into battle while preventing the troops from staying in the front for a long time.

The French also greatly increased the number of artillery in Verdun, which resulted in the incessant bombardment of the Germans and the same pain experienced by the French. The ability of the French to continue the war was due to ammunition and supplies coming through the 'Voie Sacree' (Sacred Road), the only route to Verdun which was kept open despite the German bombardment.

On March 6, the Germans started attacking the west bank of Meuse again, this time. The battlefield, which has already taken on a terrible image, worsened in March and April as the non-stop rain turned the area into a swamp. At the end of April, General Robert Nivelle took over French command from Petain and began a large-scale counterattack.

French soldiers photographed in their trench

French soldiers photographed in their trench

Germans use phosgene gas

This move gave the Germans a chance to revert to Falkenhayn's strategy, but by that point, the perception of the original concept had disappeared and was replaced by Verdun's obsession. In early June, after a fierce battle, the Germans captured Vaux Castle. It went down into the underground tunnels of the war.

However, the difficulty of the war made the Germans suspicious. Although the Germans used the very toxic Phosgene gas, they still did not make progress towards the end of that month.

The Allied bombardment began on the Somme on 24 June. The Germans reduced the attack on Verdun to strengthen the Somme front. The French General Nivelle took this chance and went on the counterattack. The second army had the upper hand in artillery and adopted a new tactic based on specialist infantry divisions armed with submachine guns, rifle grenades, mortars, and light field weapons.

However, the Germans were not yet ready to retreat, and villages like Fleury were changing hands one after another and losses were increasing. However, the French began a terrible struggle for the fortresses captured by the Germans at the beginning of the war and took some of them.

End of the Battle of Verdun

The Battle of Verdun officially ended on December 15, as the winter conditions and the consequences of the conflict in the Somme made further moves impossible. French 161,000 dead, 101,000 missing and 216,000 wounded and 478,000 casualties had been given.

The Germans, on the other hand, suffered 329,000, casualties, with 142,000 dead and 187,000 injured. Falkenhayn failed to destroy the French army. Even worse, from the German perspective, was the result of the heavy losses at Verdun.

After the numbers combined with even greater losses at the Somme, the German army experienced a manpower crisis that became increasingly difficult to resolve as World War I continued. The French, on the other hand, fought a war they will proudly remember in their history.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Verdun

https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Verdun

https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-was-the-battle-of-verdun

https://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-battle-of-verdun

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Misbah Sheikh

Comments

Misbah Sheikh (author) from The World of Poets on April 21, 2021:

Thanks a lot for the appreciation, Moon. Haha- when I was a school-going kid. I remember I used to hide in the school library or in the nurse's room in school, telling them that I am having stomach ache to avoid history lessons,(haha--please don't take me wrong I know many others who also have done such activities to bunk a class they hate to attend) but in my university time while studying the history of fine arts. I started to take an interest in history. Now I like to learn about the history of the world

Blessings always

Misbah Sheikh (author) from The World of Poets on April 21, 2021:

Thanks a lot for your kind words, Vidya. As George Bernard Shaw said, "We learn from history that we learn nothing from history."

Yes, they fought it very bravely, even after losing so many lives

Blessings

EK Jadoon from Abbottabad Pakistan on April 21, 2021:

Salam,

Misbah, it seems that you are a history lover. Before CSS, I never wanted to read a history book. But for CSS, I had to read history of important events.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Misbah Sheikh (author) from The World of Poets on April 21, 2021:

Thanks a lot for your kind words, Peggy-- much appreciated

Yes, winter somehow served many lives. History where it is interesting, sometimes brutal, too

Much Gratitude

Blessings and Love

VIDYA D SAGAR on April 20, 2021:

A well researched and presented article Misbah. We got a good insight into the bravery of the French who fought so valiantly in spite of losing so many lives.

Misbah Sheikh (author) from The World of Poets on April 20, 2021:

Thanks, Urwa, I hope it will sort out

May God Bless You too, Ameen!

Misbah Sheikh (author) from The World of Poets on April 20, 2021:

Thanks, Amara, your WoW made my day, oops it’s night here— haha. I am glad you enjoyed. Much appreciated dear sister

I hope Ramadan is going well for you. May Allah bless you and your family, Ameen! Do Pray for me as well.

Blessings and Peace

Misbah Sheikh (author) from The World of Poets on April 20, 2021:

Thanks a lot, Devika, I am glad to know you have learned something from my hub. Yes, you are true history is not everyone’s favorite. Much appreciated dear friend

May God Bless You

Peace

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 20, 2021:

I had heard of the Battle of Verdun, but you filled in many details of those bloody encounters. There was surely a great loss of lives! It is probably a good thing that winter came along, or loss of life might have been even greater!

Misbah Sheikh (author) from The World of Poets on April 20, 2021:

Brenda: I am happy you learned something from my article. Thanks for telling me that you liked the Fake Friends article—I don't know the reason but it didn't stay on the feed, not even on mine. It went to discover straight away. It was strange but happened—I missed everyone's comment there. Even After activating it with making my own comment, still, nobody could see it on the feed, I think.

I will activate it again after a few days by making a comment.

Blessings and love, Dear Friend

Misbah Sheikh (author) from The World of Poets on April 20, 2021:

Pamela, Thanks a lot for your kind response, and for taking the time to read my work-- Much Gratitude

Blessings always

Amara from Pakistan on April 20, 2021:

Wow Misbah, its a very well researched and well written article about the battle of Verdun.

Informative and comprehensive..

Thanks for sharing history..

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 20, 2021:

Misbah An interesting and so much I have learned from this hub. History is not everybody's choice of subject. I like it and enjoyed the detailed hub on this topic. The battle is just that and you said it so well.

Iqra from East County on April 20, 2021:

Ok dear sis I'll check my notification settings. God bless you

Misbah Sheikh (author) from The World of Poets on April 20, 2021:

Hi Urwa, Thanks for your kind words, I appreciate your visit, dear sister. I don't know why you are not getting notifications regarding my articles. Do you mean via email, if yes, please check your notification settings; and if you are only facing this problem regarding my articles, then I am not sure, but yes, with my previous article on Fake Friends, there was some problem it directly went on discover and didn't appear on the feed, not even on mine. But this one was okay. Let's see if someone else makes the same complaint.

Much Gratitude

Blessings and Love

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on April 20, 2021:

I don't remember learning about this battle.

Thanks for educating me with this great article.

I enjoyed your article on fake friends, but I could not find it on the feed either.

Have a great day.

Misbah Sheikh (author) from The World of Poets on April 20, 2021:

Thanks a lot, Ravi, Much appreciated. History is always interesting

Blessings

Misbah Sheikh (author) from The World of Poets on April 20, 2021:

Thanks a lot, MsDora, I am glad you liked it. And I feel happier that I made you remember of your school days, you made me feel honored. Love you MsDora. Much Gratitude

Blessings and Peace

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 20, 2021:

This well-written article is very interesting, Misbah. This is an excellent account of a horrible battle. Thanks for sharing this bit of history.

Iqra from East County on April 20, 2021:

Battle of Verdun was a historical world war of the 19th century, Thanks for adding to our knowledge. And secondly Misbah sis I can't find the notification of your article.

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on April 20, 2021:

Interesting information on the battle of Verdun. Interesting that the French who are often wrongly labelled as poor in combat fought so bravely in this decisive battle. Thanks for sharing Misbah.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 20, 2021:

Thank you for the research and presentation of this detailed history lesson. Brings back memories of school days. You write very well, and I'm glad that I finally get to say that. Good work!

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