Battles typically have a lasting physical impact on the places where they occur. Here we compare historic battlefields to their modern-day counterparts to see how these landscapes have changed and healed since the conflict.
1. Battle of Verdun
The Battle of Verdun was one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the First World War. In 1916, the Germans launched a major offensive against the French army. Lasting from February 21, 1916, to December 18, 1916, both the French and Germans suffered heavy losses. No one is sure how many men perished, but it is estimated that there were around 400,000 French casualties and about 350,000 German casualties.
Of the nearly 800,000 casualties at Verdun, an estimated 70% were caused by artillery. The Germans launched 2 million shells during their opening bombardment. During the 10-month conflict, the two sides fired an estimated 40 to 60 million shells at each other. The impact of artillery shells is still very noticeable in the battlefield terrain today.
2. Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg was a major battle in the American Civil War, resulting in a crushing Southern defeat. Pictured above is Alfred Waud who was a sketch artist for Harper’s Weekly. He is sitting on a boulder-strew hill on the south end of Houck’s Ridge at the Gettysburg Battlefield known as “Devil’s Den.”
On the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 2, 1863), the area of Devil’s Den saw intense fighting as part of General Robert E. Lee’s flank attacks. Ultimately, around 5,500 Confederate soldiers who were part of Major General Bell Hood’s division captured Devil’s Den from Major General David Bell Birney’s division. Total casualties around Devil’s Den amounted to 800 deaths for the Union and more than 1,800 deaths for the Confederates.
Devil’s Den has since become a tourist attraction and the site features cannons, memorials, and walkways. Several boulders have been worn down from a large amount of foot traffic over the years.
3. Omaha Beach during D-Day
Omaha Beach linked the American and British landing sites during the Invasion of Normandy landings on June 6, 1944. It’s a five-mile (eight-kilometer) section of the coast of Normandy, France. It was the most restricted and heavily defended beach during the Invasion of Normandy. The waters and beach were heavily mined by the German Wehrmacht, with numerous fighting positions in the area supported by an extensive trench system.
Some of these fortifications on the stretch of Omaha Beach can still be seen protruding from the sand.
4. Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad stopped the German advance into the Soviet Union, and many historians consider it to be a turning point for the Allies in the Second World War. Stalingrad (now Volgograd) was a large industrial city that produced armaments and tractors for the Soviet Army.
The preliminary bombing of the campaign devastated the city. However, the rubble from this bombing actually aided the Soviets, as they could use it as cover or potential sniper perches. Pictured above is the city center with a train station in the background. In the foreground is the “Children’s dance” fountain (or Barmaley Fountain). It was restored after the Second World War, but ultimately removed in the 1950s.
In 2013, a replica of the original fountain was installed near the original railway station pictured in the above photo.
5. Battle of the Somme
The First Battle of the Somme (July to November 1916) was one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. It was an unsuccessful Allied offensive against German forces on the Western Front. By the end of the battle in November 1916, nearly one million Allied and German soldiers had been either killed or wounded.
The operational objectives of the Anglo-French armies were to capture the cities of Pèronne and Bapaume to root out the German forces, but the Allies were unsuccessful in doing so and the Germans maintained their positions in those cities over the winter. Pictured above is a German soldier walking through the destroyed city of Pèronne. Below is the rebuilt city of Pèronne in 2016.
6. Tet Offensive
The Tet Offensive consisted of multiple attacks staged by North Vietnamese forces carried out on five major South Vietnamese cities and numerous South Vietnamese villages and towns. The Cho Lon district of Saigon (pictured above) was a particularly bloody area of the fighting of the offensive.
7. Battle of Okinawa
The Battle of Okinawa (April 1 to June 21, 1945) was one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific theater during the Second World War. The battle was defined by terrible ground fighting, intense naval battles, kamikaze warfare, and a high civilian death toll.
There remains a massive American military presence in Okinawa today, although it is no longer an occupying force, but rather a symbiotic partnership with modern-day Japan.