Battle of Verdun Begins
The 21st of February 1916 AD
The Battle of Verdun is generally thought of as the longest continuous military action in history, and one of the most costly in human terms: France suffered 380,000 casualties, Germany 340,000.
Perhaps the most appalling aspect of the battle was that Germany deliberately set about it in order to drain the French army of resources, in the often used phrase to bleed France white. Verdun in the Lorraine was a heavily fortified town beyond which the plains rolled invitingly towards far distant Paris. The German command reasoned that France could not for reasons of prestige as well as security allow the town to fall, and this indeed proved the case. But when French General Petain took charge and adopted a defensive strategy rather than wasteful if noble attacks on the enemy, Germany’s army suffered almost as badly.
Petain was replaced by General Nivelle on June 1 (Nivelle’s political allies included David Lloyd George ) as France wanted to move from defence to aggression. Petain’s experience of the horrors of Verdun contributed to his decision to surrender to the Nazis early in WWII . The British shared in the misery of Verdun at second hand, as the continuation of Haig's Somme offensive was partly to stretch the German forces in order to support the French efforts in Lorraine.
The battle was largely an artillery exchange, tens of millions of rounds fired from February 21 1916 to December 18 that year when the engagement is deemed to have ended. Much of the cramped battleground was so cratered, so fouled with bones, so dangerous because of unexploded munitions, that what had been villages and fields was allowed to revert to woodland, as most remains today.
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