Australian History Curriculum


The Battle of Verdun - 21st February 1916 to the 18th December 1916 - blog post image

The Battle of Verdun - 21st February 1916 to the 18th December 1916

Posted On: Sunday, November 27, 2016  By:  John Guilly

This month marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most bloody and pointless battles ever fought. On the 18th December 2016 services will be held to commemorate the Battle of Verdun which ended on that date.

Australian soldiers were not involved in this battle as they had not yet arrived in France. They did, however, take part in the Somme offensive which was launched in July to take pressure off the French forces at Verdun.

Verdun was the longest single battle of World War 1. It involved a series of attacks and counter attacks which became the hallmark of the war and which wreaked havoc on both sides.

Figures vary in the sources but it is estimated that the French suffered over 360,000 casualties and the Germans 340,000 casualties. The casualty figures are damning evidence of what it means to engage in a war of attrition. This was certainly the aim of the German commander, General Erich Von Falkenhayn, who was of the belief that the war could only be won by inflicting enormous casualties on the French and without regard for his own casualties. This total disregard for human life needs to be recalled on the anniversary.

Over the 10 months of the battle both sides are estimated to have fired between 40 to 60 million artillery shells which would account for the fact that approximately 70% of the casualties resulted from this artillery fire.

Verdun was chosen because it was an ancient city of historical significance to the French and because it was the most heavily fortified stronghold along the French-German border. Its loss would have had a devastating impact on the French army and the morale of the French people.

One notable feature of the battle is that the supply of reinforcements and equipment to the French forces was by way of a single road 20 foot wide and which was later named, "The Sacred Way" ( La Voie Sacree).

By the time the slaughter came to an end the French remained in control of Verdun, the Germans were back to where they had been and Falkenhayn was replaced by Generals Paul Von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff.

The Battle of the Somme which was launched on July, 1916 may have contributed to the outcome at Verdun to the extent that the Germans had to divert men and artillery to counter the move. Verdun does not command the same attention from Australian tourists as do other battlefields but it is important to realise that there is this important connection between the two battles.

The major memorial to the Battle of Verdun is the Douaumont Ossuary. The word "Ossuary" means a receptacle for the bones of the dead. There is a poignancy to this as the memorial contains the remains of 130,000 casualties from both sides.