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View series: The first World War, 1914-1918

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The Battle of Verdun

This map is part of a series of 20 animated maps showing the history of The first World War, 1914-1918.

On the Western Front, during 1915, Germany had used an essentially defensive strategy. At the beginning of 1916, General Von Falkenhayn was looking for a victory over the French army and chose to take the offensive at Verdun ‑ a stronghold near the German border ‑ and vulnerable due to its prominent position on the front.

The attack was launched on 21 February by an intense artillery bombardment aimed at eliminating any possibility of resistance. The German infantry made some progress in the course of the first few days. On 25 February, the fort of Douaumont was taken; but then this advance lost impetus, due to the effectiveness of the French artillery on the left bank of the Meuse.

General Petain was then placed in charge of the city’s defence. He organized the provision of supplies for the front and the rotation of troops by road from Bar le Duc, which was the only practicable way of reaching Verdun.

At the beginning of March, the Germans broadened their offensive on the left bank of the Meuse; fierce battles took place for control of Le Mort Homme and later of Hill 304 farther to the west.

In June, the Germans once again intensified their offensive on the right bank, seized the fort of Vaux, and attempted to make a breakthrough in the direction of Fleury. At the beginning of July, they failed to reach Belleville Hill, which overlooks Verdun.

Meanwhile, on 1 July, the allies launched an offensive on the Somme. The German army, forced to redistribute a part of its troops, now found itself on the defensive.

The summer is marked by indecisive battles.

In late October and early November, the French army regained possession of the forts at Douaumont and Vaux and later part of the territory lost at the beginning of the battle during an ultimate offensive in December.

In the end, the German offensive was a failure. The territorial gains were practically worthless, considering the horrific losses: over 300,000 killed, with both sides suffering more or less equal losses.

At Verdun, the war had reached an industrial scale and this confrontation has remained the symbol of the heroism displayed by combat troops entrenched in freezing cold and mud, under a deluge of artillery fire.