The Battle of Verdun During World War I
The Battle of Verdun During World War I

The Battle of Verdun During World War I

Larry Holzwarth - November 26, 2019

The Battle of Verdun During World War I
The remains of Fort Douaumont and the shell scarred area around it in December, 1916. Wikimedia

23. Over 100,000 men were listed as missing from both sides

During the period of fighting known as the Battle of Verdun (February – December, 1916) more than 100,000 men were officially listed as missing in action. Nearly all of them were actually killed in the fighting and their bodies never found. The artillery bombardments were so devastating that as it reshaped the soil it buried the dead and the living wounded, collapsed the walls of trenches, and the roofs of buildings. Other times it disinterred the bodies which had been hastily buried, or had been swept under the soil during preceding bombardments. In 1932 an ossuary containing the skeletal remains of at least 130,000 unknown dead from either side was dedicated.

The battle area continued to deliver up skeletal remains of the soldiers who died in the battle for decades following the end of the First World War. One of the unknown victims of the battle was chosen for interment in 1920 in France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris. Bones continued to be found during excavations for various reasons into the 21st century, and when found, they were typically placed in the ossuary, which was erected at Douaumont, near a cemetery where many of the dead were buried in the aftermath of the battle.

The Battle of Verdun During World War I
Another image of the destruction surrounding Verdun in 1916. Wikimedia

24. The French reforested some of the battlefield after the war

During the 1930s, as France recovered from what was then known as the Great War, parts of the battlefield were reforested, an effort which revealed many of the bodies which were either buried at Douaumont, or the bones discovered placed in the ossuary. Several small villages which were completely obliterated during the fighting were never rebuilt. The efforts at reforesting portions of the battlefield were largely successful in some areas, but the majority of the area remains as it did when the battle ended, though overgrown with vegetation. The existence of massive shell holes can still be seen, covered with green.

It is estimated that the battlefield still contains the remains of approximately 100,000 of the men who died during the battle. Total casualties during the fighting are still contested by historians, due to the manner casualty lists were prepared by the military commands of both armies. German lists did not include what was considered by the reporting officer to be lightly wounded, since such categorization was not defined in field manuals, and other lists specifically excluded those considered to have been slightly wounded.

The Battle of Verdun During World War I
French survivors of the battle fought alongside Americans in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive later in the war. Wikimedia

25. Like all of World War I, Verdun was a special kind of horror

The battlefields of World War I were in many ways foreseen during the siege of Petersburg and Richmond in the American Civil War; two entrenched armies possessing fire power so devastating that assaulting the other was foolhardy. During the First World War the rain of death from the sky was constant, either from artillery shells of up to then unheard-of size, bullets and bombs from aircraft, poison gas wafting on the wind, and many others. Disease was common, as were accidents as the industrial age went to war. Men lived, literally, in the ground, which was often cold, wet, mud.

During the height of the fighting at Verdun, in the spring of 1916, when German attacks were still pressing forward a French Lieutenant confided his thoughts to his diary. Alfred Joubaire wrote in his diary on May 23, 1916, “Yes, humanity has gone mad. We must be mad to do what we are doing. What massacres! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to express my feelings. Hell cannot be so terrible. Mankind has gone mad!” It was his last entry. The 21-year old French lieutenant was killed during German shelling, one more victim of the Battle of Verdun.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Paths of Glory: The French Army 1914 – 1918”. Anthony Clayton. 2003

“General Headquarters, 1914-1916 and its critical decisions”. Erich von Falkenhayn. 1919

“What Was the Battle of Verdun”. Alan Wakefield, Imperial War Museum. February 6, 2018. Online

“The Battle of Verdun”. Raoul Blanchard, The Atlantic. June, 1917. Online

“A Brief Look at the Battle of Verdun”. Memorial de Verdun, Champ de Bataille. Online

“The Battle of Verdun, 1916”. Michael Duffy, A Multimedia History of World War One. August 22, 2009

“France commemorates centenary of WW1 Battle of Verdun”. BBC News. February 21, 2016. Online

“The Price of Glory: Verdun, 1916”. Alistair Horne. 1962

“The Myth of the Great War”. John Mosier. 2001

“Battle of Verdun”. Article, Henri Bidou, Encyclopedia Britannica. Online

“Removal of WWI Battle of Verdun from French curriculum sparks outcry”. David Cazan, The Telegraph. March 24, 2019. Online

“Verdun: Hell and Patriotism” The Irish Times. May 18, 2016. Online

“Battle of Verdun Passes Hundred-Day Mark”. Henry Wood, United Press International (UPI). May 31, 1916. Online

“A Tour of the Eerie Villages France Never Rebuilt After WWI”. Mark Byrnes, Bloomberg. March 21, 2014. Online

“French Victory at Verdun”. Henry Wood, UPI. December 18, 1916. Online

“The Battle of Verdun”. Alan Axelrod. 2016

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