Battle of Verdun From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia This article is about the Battle of Verdun 1916. For the battle during the French Revolution, see Battle of Verdun (1792).
|Battle of Verdun|
|Part of the Western Front of the First World War|
Map: Battle of Verdun 1916
|Commanders and leaders|
General Joseph Joffre
General Noël Édouard, vicomte de Curières de Castelnau
General Fernand de Langle de Cary
General Frédéric-Georges Herr
General Henri Philippe Pétain
General Robert Nivelle
General Adolphe Guillaumat
General Auguste Hirschauer
General Charles Mangin
General Erich von Falkenhayn
Crown Prince Wilhelm
General Schmidt von Knobelsdorf
General Ewald von Lochow
General Max von Gallwitz
General Georg von der Marwitz
|1,140,000 soldiers in c. 75–85 divisions||1,250,000 soldiers in c. 50 divisions|
|Casualties and losses|
|315,000–542,000; c. 156,000 killed February–December 1916||281,000–434,000; c. 143,000 killed February–December 1916|
The Battle of Verdun (Bataille de Verdun, IPA: [bataj də vɛʁdœ̃], Schlacht um Verdun, IPA: [ʃlaxt ˀʊm vɛɐdœŋ]) was fought from 21 February – 18 December 1916 during the First World War on the Western Front between the German and Frencharmies, on hills north of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France. The German Fifth Army attacked the defences of theRégion Fortifiée de Verdun (RFV) and the Second Army on the right bank of the Meuse, intending rapidly to capture theCôtes de Meuse (Meuse Heights) from which Verdun could be overlooked and bombarded with observed artillery-fire. The German strategy intended to provoke the French into counter-attacks and counter-offensives to drive the Germans off the heights, which would be relatively easy to repel with massed artillery-fire from the large number of medium, heavy and super-heavy guns, supplied with large amounts of ammunition on excellent pre-war railways, which ran within 24 kilometres (15 mi) of the front-line.
The German strategy assumed that the French would attempt to hold onto the east bank of the Meuse, then commit the French strategic reserve to recapture it and suffer catastrophic losses from German artillery-fire, while the German infantry held positions easy to defend and suffered few losses. The German plan was based on the experience of the September – October 1915 battles in Champagne (Herbstschlacht) when after early success the French offensive was defeated with far more French than German casualties. Poor weather delayed the beginning of the German offensive (Unternehmen Gericht/Operation Judgement) until 21 February; French construction of defensive lines and the arrival of reinforcements before the opening attack, were able to delay the German advance despite many losses. By 6 March 20½ French divisions were in the RFV and defence in depth had been established. Pétain ordered that no withdrawals were to be made and that counter-attacks were to be conducted, despite exposing French infantry to fire from the German artillery massed in the area. By 29 March French artillery on the west bank had begun a constant bombardment of German positions on the east bank, which caused many German infantry casualties.
In March the German offensive was extended to the left (west) bank, to gain observation of the ground from which French artillery had been firing over the river into the flank of German infantry attacks on the east bank. The German troops were able to make substantial advances but French reinforcements contained the attacks, before the artillery positions were brought under observation. In early May the Germans changed tactics and made local attacks and counter-attacks, which gave the French an opportunity to begin an attack against Fort Douaumont which was partially occupied, until a German counter-attack reoccupied the fort and took numerous prisoners. The Germans changed tactics again, alternating attacks between both banks of the Meuse and in June captured Fort Vaux. The Germans continued the offensive beyond Fort Vaux, towards the last geographical objectives of the original plan at Fleury and Fort Souville, drove a salient into the French defences, took Fleury and brought the front line within 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) of the Verdun citadel.
The German offensive was reduced to provide artillery and infantry reinforcements for the Somme front, where the Anglo-French relief offensive began on 1 July; during the fighting Fleury changed hands sixteen times from 23 June – 17 August.A final German attempt to capture Fort Souville in early July, reached the fort but was then repulsed by French counter-attacks. The German offensive was reduced further, although an attempt was made to deceive the French into expecting more attacks, to keep French troops away from the Somme front. In August and December French counter-offensives recaptured much of the ground lost on the east bank and recovered forts Douaumont and Vaux. An estimate in 2000 found a total of 714,231 casualties, 377,231 French and 337,000 German, an average of 70,000 casualties for each month of the battle. It was the longest and one of the most costly battles in human history; other recent estimates increase the number of casualties to 976,000.