Verdun: French soldier between corpses

Verdun: scenes of carnage everywhere

The Battle of Verdun was the longest and one of the bloodiest engagements of World War I. Two million men were engaged. It began on February 21, 1916, when the Germans, commanded by Crown Prince William, launched a massive offensive against Verdun, an awkward salient in the French line.

The outlying forts of Douaumont and Hardaumont soon fell, but the French rallied under General Pétain (with the cry “They shall not pass”) and resistance stiffened. A British offensive on the Somme relieved the pressure on Verdun in July, 1916, and by December the French had recovered most of the ground lost.

The intention of the Germans had been a battle of attrition in which they hoped to bleed the French army white. In the end, they sustained almost as many casualties as the French; an estimated 328,000 to the French 348,000. The real figures are unknown.