WWI Battle of Verdun: Victory Declared 100 Years Ago

French train horses resting in a river on their way to Verdun.

The WWI Battle of Verdun has come to symbolize the horrors of war in the minds of the German and French public.

Famously, Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand joined hands as they stood before a war memorial in Verdun and both stated that they would do all they could to prevent another conflict in Europe.

370 mm French Filloux mortar firing.
370 mm French Filloux mortar firing.

Victory was declared at the Battle of Verdun after 10 months of ceaseless combat and 300,000 casualties.

The French army eventually managed to reclaim most of the territories that they had lost to the Germans, but this is regarded as merely a moral, rather than pragmatic, victory.

However, some have argued that Verdun was a critical point in the war and that if the French had not retained it that their morale would have collapsed and that they would have sought terms with the Germans.

Both sides fought relentlessly and savagely and turned what had initially been deemed a secondary operation by the chief of the German staff and his French counterpart into the primary focus of their two armies.

The battle became nightmarish, uncontrollable and incredibly destructive. The ultimate effects of the battle, are still not entirely clear one hundred years after the fighting ended at Verdun.

French long gun battery (155 L or 120 L) overrun by German forces, possibly the 34 Infantry Division at Verdun.
French long gun battery (155 L or 120 L) overrun by German forces, possibly the 34 Infantry Division at Verdun.

It is difficult for France to commemorate a battle that some say was politically and strategically meaningless. All those lives pointlessly wasted and a town destroyed in a fight that had no clear impact on the final outcome of WWI. Even Hitler used Verdun as an example of military strategies that should be avoided and never repeated.

The Germans dropped one million shells onto the rural areas surrounding the ancient town during the first day of battle alone, with a total of 70 million shells dropped throughout the brutal campaign for supremacy.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE