On this day, 104 years ago, marked the first day of the longest battle of World War I, known as the Battle of Verdun. Being among the bloodiest battle in modern history, approximately 750,000 French and Germans were killed in just 299 days, averaging 70,000 casualties per month. The men who participated there nicknamed the battle as the “Meat-Grinder” or commonly the “Furnace”. Considering that I’ve been having a difficult time figuring out what to write about next for this blog, I thought I just go with writing about this deadly, long-lasting engagement between the French Third Republic and the German Empire during the Great War.
The ancient city of Verdun is located in northeastern France along the Meuse river. It held a historical significance for both the French and Germans during the war, for the Treaty of Verdun took place there in 843 A.D. Marking the end of Carolingian Civil War, and dividing the Empire into three separate kingdoms, resulting both countries for having deep roots with the Carolingian dynasty. Along with that, Verdun was one of the last few strongholds to have fallen during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), therefore the French, not wishing for history to repeat itself, made it vital to hold the city at all cost. As for the Germans, it was vital to breakthrough Verdun and continue their advancement toward Paris. The battle plan was conducted by General Erich von Falkenhayn, which was designed to be a battle based on attrition. Hoping to inflict mass casualties upon the French army, and breaking the people’s will to fight in order to claim victory in the Western theater. The order of battle was given the name Operation Gericht, or “Operation Judgement”.
The Barrage and the Defense of Driant
On the first day of battle, 7:15 A.M. the German 5th Army with over 800 artillery pieces, began a 10 hour bombardment on the French fortifications of Verdun. Shelling around an area of 19 miles long, and 3 miles wide area. At noon they ceased firing. Fooling the French troops, they scrambled out of hiding and started search and rescue for men who got buried alive under mud and debris. All as a method for the German field observers to point out where the heaviest of French activity is before resuming the barrage. At the end, the German field artillery had launched over 1,000,000 shells. Many French troops, and often entire platoons, perished from being buried alive under the earth turn over.
By 4:00 P.M. the German storm-troopers had begun their advancement with quick shock force tactics, with the use of flamethrowers to clear out the remaining defenders from the bunkers and trenches. The next day, February 22nd, the German main assault began with advancing 3 miles in. One of the German infantry units were on the path to take an area, known as Bois des Caures. However, they were greeted by heavy resistance from the 56th and 59th French Chasseur Battalions in the woods near the village of Flabas. The man leading the defense was Colonel Émile Driant, or commonly referred to as “Father Driant”, whom had previously warned the French Minister of War and other officials that Verdun was the next target of a German attack, but was dismissed… Leading the French Chasseurs (Hunters/Light Infantry), Driant and his men managed to hold for two days before the German infantry outflanked their positions. In the finale moments, Colonel Driant ordered the remaining survivors to retreat, in which during the action, the Colonel was killed. Only 116 Chasseurs survived and escaped after the grand defense. After the fall of Bois des Caures, the Germans gave Driant a honorable burial, along with writing to his widow to reassure her that he was buried with respect. Within these two days, the German army managed to capture Bois des Caures and the village of Haumont, and the French had repelled an attack on the village of Bois de l’Herbebois.
To be continued…