On This Day

battle of verdun
Kriegs-Bild- und Filmamt
The German infantry makes an attack in March 1916 during the Battle of Verdun.

On This Day: France Wins Battle of Verdun

December 18, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Dec. 18, 1916, the French troops defeated the Germans in the Battle of Verdun, the longest battle of World War I.

The Battle of Verdun

Verdun was a town in northeastern France with a large fortress and many outlying forts. The town held great symbolic value for the French, and the German leadership anticipated that the French would go to great lengths to defend it, diverting troops from other parts of the battlefield. Furthermore, the town lay in the middle of a French salient, and the Germans hoped to surround French forces and destroy them.

Germany launched an attack on Verdun on Feb. 21, 1916, conducting a bombardment of the town and its outlying forts. The French defenders suffered heavy losses and became disorganized, and the Germans managed to advance to within only a few miles from the town. However, the French received reinforcements and were able to launch several successful counter-attacks that checked the German advance.

Over the next several months, German forces advanced very slowly and both sides suffered a large number of casualties. In June, the Germans launched a concentrated offense on the town, but the French held. On July 1, the Battle of Somme began in northern France, which forced Germany to divert troops and artillery, diminishing its chances to capture Verdun.

In October, the French began a counter-offensive that began to drive back the German line. In the final push of Dec. 15-18, the French pushed the Germans back two miles and reclaimed all of the forts surrounding Verdun.

In total, more than 160,000 French troops and 140,000 German troops were killed or went missing. Though it was technically a French victory, little was gained by either side.

Historical Context: World War I

World War I, originally known as “The Great War,” began in the spring of 1914 and raged through Europe until November 1918. The war cost 9 million lives and billions of dollars in damages. World War I demonstrated the magnitude and destructive power of modern warfare.

PBS’ “The Great War” and the BBC’s “World War One” describe the battles and events of the war and provide commentary from noted historians.

The U.S. Army Center of Military History gives detailed accounts of the U.S. Army’s action during the war, along with a prologue explaining the war prior to U.S. involvement.

First World War.com provides a battle-by-battle history of the war.

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