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The Battle of Verdun, which lasted from February 21 to December 18, 1916, was a battle during World War I wherein the French defended against German offensive on the Western Front in France. The Germans believed that attacking the French would be crucial in defeating the Allied Powers, instead of attacking Great Britain directly. The battle lasting 10 months is considered to be one of the longest and most costly battles of war. There were a total of about 400,000 French casualties, and about 350,000 Germans.
See the fact file below for more information on the Battle of Verdun or alternatively, you can download our 27-page Battle of Verdun worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
GERMAN OFFENSIVE PLANS
- The Allied Powers, also known simply as the Allies, were allied countries in opposition to the countries belonging to the Central Powers in WWI. The Allied powers in WWI were Great Britain, France, and the Russian Empire. Countries belonging to the Central Powers were Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey.
- Erich von Falkenhayn, a German general, thought that Britain was the most formidable among the Allies, but that it could not be directly assaulted. The general believed that Britain’s most valuable “weapons” in the war were the French, Russian, and Italian armies, but considered Russia as already paralyzed and Italy unlikely to affect the war, concluding that only France remained.
- Through a strategy of attrition, Falkenhayn believed that Germany must exhaust French forces. Implementing a strategy of attrition will be done through constant attack and harassment of the enemy, aiming to exhaust them.
- In, choosing where to attack, Falkenhayn believed that Germany must attack France by choosing a point of offense “for the retention of which the French would be compelled to throw in every man they have.”
THE INITIAL GERMAN ATTACK
- The fortress of Verdun was chosen, as the Germans believed that its surrounding fortifications along the Meuse River were a threat to German communication lines, and losing it would greatly affect French morale. The Meuse heights would also be an excellent defensive position and could serve for good observation for fire on Verdun.
- The tactical plan was to do a series of continuous advances, to be secured by artillery bombardment.
- By early January 1916, the French were able to detect German preparations for the attack on Verdun. German troops located on the right bank of the Meuse River were found by a French intelligence officer on February 11, 1916, but as the French had made preparations focused mostly on the offensive, they were almost too late in defending Verdun.
- They hastily sent thousands of men and dozens of weapons to defend against the German offensive. Germans had cut and kept constant attacks on the main rail lines to Verdun, forcing the French to organize a motorized supply chain to transport men and matériel – military equipment – to the front. The road connecting the main rails at Bar-le-Duc to Verdun became vital to the French defense, and it became known as La Voie Sacrée, meaning “the Sacred Way”.
- Poor weather delayed the beginning of German attacks. On the morning of February 21, Germans launched their attacks, and by February 23, villages Brabant-sur-Meus, Wavrille, and Samogneux were in German possession.
- The next day, German forces swept through French defenses and captured Beaumont, the Bois des Fosses, and the Bois de Caurières.
- French Gen. Philippe Pétain then brought a fresh army to the battle, tasked with holding the right bank of the Meuse.
- As the French defenses along the east bank of the Meuse to the village of Douaumont were being reorganized, Germans took hold of Fort Douaumont.
- Despite inflicting numerous French casualties, the German advance slowed for several days. About 500,000 German troops had assaulted Douaumont village by February 26–29, but French defenses held.
THE BATTLE’S SECOND PHASE
- The Germans soon realized that an attack on the Somme was being prepared by the British Army.
- The Battle of Verdun kept going for the next four months, with the Germans aiming to disorganize the attack being prepared in Picardy. French forces defended Verdun while preparing for Somme at the same time, which exhausted the Germans.
- The Germans captured Douaumont village on March 4, and made sure it could not be rebuilt.The Germans captured the Bois de Cumières, which gave way for an attack for the Germans on Le Mort Homme, a hill that served as one of the pillars of the main French line of defense. By March 14, Le Mort Homme was in German possession, with both sides suffering from tens of thousands of casualties. By April 8, nothing remained of the French’s former front line on the left bank of the Meuse.
- Both sides rotated their commanding officers in April; Pétain was promoted as commander of Army Group Centre while his former command was divided; Robert-Georges Nivelle took charge of the right bank and Henri Berthelot took charge of the left bank.
- German command was also divided into two, with Gen. Ewald von Lochow now commanding the right bank, and Gen. Hermann von François in the left bank in July.
- German tactics changed in early May, and the French regained possession of part of Fort Douaumont; however, Germans were able to eject them and took many French prisoners. The Germans captured Bois Camard on May 8 and Fort Vaux in June.
- While the Germans focused on Verdun, Russian Gen. Aleksey Brusilov commenced a devastating attack in Volhynia (now in the Ukraine) on June 4.
- Within merely three days, this attack resulted in the capture of 200,000 Austro-Hungarian troops. With victory seeming within reach at Verdun, the Germans renewed attack on June 21, and by June 23, Pétain advised relocating to the left bank, but was ordered to hold the right bank at all costs.
- The battle continued, but preparations needed to be done by both sides for the upcoming battle in Somme, forcing the battle to its end.
THE BATTLE COMES TO ITS END
- The Allied offensive in Somme began on July 1, and on that day alone, the British suffered almost 60,000 casualties. German attacks in Verdun continued but failed, and the French were able to recapture Thiaumont and Fleury, though the Germans soon regained the latter.
- The battle continued throughout August, and the Germans made a final significant attack on September 3 but gained nothing from it.
- Charles Mangin, commanding a section of the French defensive line from Fleury to the right bank of the Meuse, proposed an offensive to free Verdun. The attack was initiated on October 21 with an artillery barrage, followed by an infantry assault. With this, the French recaptured Douaumont and the Vaux and took 6,000 German prisoners.
- Mangin proposed an attack on the right bank, but the plan was delayed due to bad weather, revealing the plan to the Germans, who commenced a violent offensive as a counter-attack attempt.
- When good weather returned, French attacks were made, and by nightfall of December 15, they had recaptured Poivre Hill. The line of advance went through Hill 478, south of the farm at Chambrettes, then turned south across the Bois d’Hardaumont and the Bois la Vauche, leading up to the defenses at Bezonvaux.
- The French recaptured Chambrettes and captured over 11,000 German prisoners on December 18.
- This became known as the Battle of Louvement. This was the end of the Battle of Verdun.
- The battle lasted for 302 days. During the battle spanning over 10 months in 1916, both sides had suffered 700,000 casualties, including 300,000 deaths.
- The villages Beaumont, Bezonvaux, Cumières, Douaumont, Fleury, Haumont, Louvemont, Ornes, and Vaux were entirely destroyed, and memorialized after the war. These villages are uninhabited and continue to be administered by mayors to preserve their existence.
- An area on the Verdun ridge was declared a Zone Rouge (meaning “Red Zone”) due to the unexploded artillery in the area. Bomb-clearing units annually remove unexploded munitions from the area, garnering around 40 tons every year. An estimated amount of over 10 million shells remained in the soil around Verdun. With the current rate of clearance, it is expected that disposal of ordnance in the Verdun area will continue for centuries.
Battle of Verdun Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Battle of Verdun across 27 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Battle of Verdun worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Battle of Verdun which was a battle during World War I wherein the French defended against German offensive on the Western Front in France. The Germans believed that attacking the French would be crucial in defeating the Allied Powers, instead of attacking Great Britain directly. The battle lasting 10 months is considered to be one of the longest and most costly battles of war. There were a total of about 400,000 French casualties, and about 350,000 Germans.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- WWI: Battle of Verdun Fact File
- The Lion of Verdun
- In Newsprint
- World War I Battles
- Verdun Vocab
- Battles in France
- The Bigger Picture
- Boosting Morale
- Winning Strategy
- Thoughts in Ink
- The Meaning of War
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