Comparing 7 Historic Battlefields Then And Now

(Photo Credit: Sergey Strunnikov/ Wikimedia Commons)

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

Verdun Dug Out
November 1916: Soldiers in a trench outside a dugout at Verdun. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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.

Verdun battlefield in 2005
Battlefield of Verdun, 2005. Impact of artillery shells is still evident. (Photo Credit: Oeuvre Personnelle/ Wikimedia Commons)

2. Battle of Gettysburg

Alfred Waud sitting on a rock at devils den
Artist Alfred R. Waud, an artist of Harper’s weekly, sketching the battlefield of Gettysburg. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

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.

Modern Devils Den
Modern day view of Devil’s Den. (Photo Credit: Smith Collection/ Gado/ Getty Images)

3. Omaha Beach during D-Day

D-Day, 1944
American assault troops and equipment landing on Omaha beach on the Northern coast of France, the smoke in the background is from naval gunfire supporting the attack. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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.

Stretch of sand known as Omaha Beach
The stretch of sand known as Omaha Beach, photographed in 2019. (Photo Credit: Dan Kitwood/ Getty Images)

4. Battle of Stalingrad

aftermath of Battle of Stalingrad
Aftermath of the Battle of Stalingrad, 1943. (Photo Credit: Sergey Strunnikov/ Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Modern day Battle of Stalingrad
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

5. Battle of the Somme

Battle of the Somme, 1916
Battle of the Somme, 1916. A German soldier walks through the ruined city of Peronne. (Photo Credit: ullstein bild/ Getty Images)

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.

Peronne, France, 2016
The modern-day city of Pèronne, France, in 2016. (Photo Credit: Matt Card/ Stringer/ Getty Images)

6. Tet Offensive

Tet Offensive in Saigon
Tet Offensive operation in the Cholon district of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), June 1968. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

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.

Modern day Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) skyline at night. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

7. Battle of Okinawa

U.S. Marine rifleman viewing the results of the US bombardment of Naha, during the Battle of Okinawa, circa 1943-1945. (Photo Credit: US Marine Corps/ Getty Images)
U.S. Marine rifleman viewing the results of the US bombardment of Naha, during the Battle of Okinawa, circa 1943-1945. (Photo Credit: US Marine Corps/ Getty Images)

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.

Modern City of Naha
Modern city of Naha, Okinawa, circa 2018. (Photo Credit: Carl Court/ Getty Images)

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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.