The Eighth Bloodiest: The Battle of Verdun
The Battle of Verdun was the longest battle of World War I, lasting some 300 days. Verdun involved the armies of France and Germany, and resulted in an eventual French victory, with few actual gains. While Verdun produced few significant gains, it did play a substantial role in shifting the direction of World War I, and engaging the forces of Britain in the Battle of the Somme.
The Germans made the decision to focus their attention on the Western Front quite early in World War I, and continued that plan throughout the war. As part of this plan, the town of Verdun in France was attacked by a large German force on February 21, 1916. Codenamed judgement by the Germans, the offensive against Verdun was a direct attack on the spirit of the French nation. Verdun was a historically significant region, and one that was already heavily fortified. The Germans believed that the French would be willing to devote the full resources of the French military to the defense of Verdun.
The German army, under the command of Erich von Falkenhayn, believed that a victory in Verdun would be relatively rapid. The Germans had significantly more powerful artillery, and expected to inflict significant casualties at a low overall cost. The Germans gained land initially in the February offensive, but over the course of the long battle, lost these gains. This strategy failed and both Germany and France began sending more and more men to the front in Verdun.
The Battle of Verdun was a costly one, and as noted, not a particularly successful one. Both the Germans and the French lacked access to clear and efficient supply lines, and the Germans were lacking a clear strategy for victory. Falkenhayn resigned in August, and the Germans maintained only a defense. By the end of the battle in December, the Germans had lost all of their early gains. In total, some 800,000 soldiers were wounded, killed or missing following the Battle of Verdun.