"VERDUN-SUR-MEUSE Sacrifice Remembered" Top 5 Page for this destination Verdun-sur-Meuse by mtncorg

Verdun-sur-Meuse Travel Guide: 79 reviews and 249 photos

Verdun is the site of the climactic battle of World War I. The battle itself was not a turning point. The goal of the German thrust was never originally meant to be decisive in terms of breaking through the French lines, but simply to be a battle of attrition - to 'bleed the French white'. By surviving, France lived to fight another day.

The city lies on the right bank of the Meuse River. Canals connect to the sea via Belgium and Holland. Forts were here in the times of both Gaul and Roman. An important medieval center of art and religion, this was the site of the Treaty of Verdun where Charlemagne divided his empire among his grandsons, much to their squabbling delight. Remnants of the medieval city remain here and there. Vauban designed a grand fortress - the Citadelle, renovating a slightly older design - lying just behind the old city, which you can visit today - walls around the city and a flood defense system using 3 lock-bridges. The city was captured by Prussians in 1792 when the despirited town garrison surrendered following a bombardment. Occupation was brief as victory at Valmy, one month later, forced the Prussians out of France. They were back in 1870, and with close artillery fire, the Prussians forced another French surrender after a prolonged siege. Following this war, the French decided against a close defense strategy and a double belt of forts was built on a 40-km perimeter centered on the underground citadelle.

Intially, at the start of World War I, the Germans bypassed Verdun and its cordon of fortifications. By late 1915 with the stalemate ongoing in the trenches, German commander, von Falkenhayn, decided that in lieu of defending against a springtime Allied assault in the Somme, he would wear down the French first. His attack on Verdun was never originally to be one aimed at breaking through the French lines, but at breaking the French will through pure attrition. The best plans always seem to get waylaid along the line though. 21 Feb 1916 saw the battle begin following a deluge of artillery. The undermanned French sector was hardpressed to defend, finding themselves forced back to their third line of defense by 24 Feb. then on 25 Feb, Fort Douamont fell leading German High Command to rethink their strategy from one of a somewhat limited offensive in scope - with the main purpose of killing more French troops than the Germans lost - to a grander scale where maybe the breakthrough that had been dreamed about since the advent of trench warfare in late 1914. However, under Petain's leadership, the French held. With a direct assault stalled, attention was turned to the flanks. All through March, the Germans attacked just to the west of Verdun at Cote 304 - the hill being reduced from the battle in height by 7 meters - and the appropriately re-named, Mort Homme - Dead Man's Hill. On 29 May, Mort Homme finally was in German hands, but at fearsome cost to both sides. On the right French flank, Fort Vaux fell on 7 June after thousands more perished. Gas was first used in attacks on the next target - Fort Souville 23 June, but the German tide was ebbing. Additional attacks took place throughout the summer and Fall, but the British assault on the Somme and latter, the Brusilov offensive in Russia forced the Germans to redirect their strength to these new threats. French counterattacks, guided now by General Nivelle and Mangin recaptured both Vaux and Douamont. By mid December, the Germans had been forced back to their original starting positions. Over 700,000 casualties - 250,000 killed - was the human cost.

The battlefield was a moonscape after the war, with an estimated 20-30 tons of hazard per hectare. In 1924, it was decided to cover the former battlefields with pine forests and these were planted between 1929 and 1933. The pines could survive on the poisoned soil and they helped rejuvenate the land allowing the former native deciduous trees to be replanted. The craters under the trees are still very evident.

Battlefield guides can make a visit much more meaningful and in English there are two books that cover Verdun in different ways. First is the “Major & Mrs. Holt’s Battlefield Guide; The Western Front – South” which has a chapter on the battlefields here at Verdun. There are also chapters on the adjacent battlefields of the St Mihiel Salient and the Meuse-Argonne. For Fort Douamont there is an excellent little book from local historian/guide Christina Holstein called simply “Fort Douaumont”. This guidebook comes from the British Publisher Pen&Sword who publish many such works mainly focusing – but not entirely – on British WWI battlefields such as Ypres (8 volumes) and the Somme (+17 volumes). The French IGN 1/25,000 scale map no. 3112ET named “Forets de Verdun et du Mort Homme; Champs de Bataille de Verdun” is also an invaluable source for use on the Verdun battlefields and for many the fields in the Meuse-Argonne to the northwest. You can get these maps locally or through IGN.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:History on a grand scale; Pleasant rural landscape belie the horrors within
  • Cons:The scope of the suffering can be difficult to comprehend
  • In a nutshell:Modern warfare truly comes of Age
  • Last visit to Verdun-sur-Meuse: May 2009
  • Intro Updated Jun 27, 2009
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Reviews (21)

Comments (8)

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Dec 14, 2009 at 3:00 AM

    An excellent page on the horrors of War! Let us hope it never happens like this again!

  • Apr 21, 2007 at 3:36 PM

    What a beautiful photo of the barbed wire. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Feb 5, 2006 at 8:31 AM

    Vivid descriptions of these important battles of 90 years ago.

  • rexvaughan's Profile Photo
    Mar 12, 2005 at 5:10 AM

    Superb job on an almost forgotten and important place. I think you understand not only the pleasure but the responsibility of traveling.

  • aussiedoug's Profile Photo
    Feb 23, 2004 at 3:06 PM

    Extremely poignant writing Mark. Thanks for reminding us of the futility of war.

  • Jonathan_C's Profile Photo
    Feb 5, 2004 at 5:58 AM

    Yes, travel can also remind us of humanities dark side. It's an important reminder of why getting to know and accept eachother is so important.

  • salinhopt's Profile Photo
    Jan 30, 2004 at 4:29 PM

    It's seems a cool historical place to explore. Thanks for sharing! ;)

  • KristaB's Profile Photo
    Jan 28, 2004 at 1:50 AM

    Amazing and sad. Do we forget or choose to ignore lessons from past? Thank you, this one really struck me.

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