Verdun Must Not Fall!

As the battle for Verdun - and its surrounding forts - grew ever-more costly, the French defenders rallied around this charge:  "Verdun Must Not Fall!"

That, however, was far-more difficult than anyone could have imagined.

This clip, from a BBC documentary on the Battle of Verdun, helps us to understand why the fighting lasted for so long.

These words, from the town of Verdun's website, gives us a glimpse into the personal horror experienced by so many soldiers:

The early days of the battle were horrific, with a deluge of fire and toxic gas [mustard gas at that stage] raining down on just 5km of front for over eight hours. [Later, British troops wore PH-type gas helmets (during the Battle of the Somme) and Australians wore Small Box Respirators (at the Battle of Ypres) as they also endured gas attacks.]

Nearly 80,000 Germans were mobilized to carry out the offensive, the likes of which had never before been witnessed in such a small area, and for the first time on such a large scale (an experiment had already been carried out in Malancourt) the flame gun, a truly fearsome weapon, was used by German doughboys. 

The light cavalry soldiers positioned at outposts in the Bois des Caures area returned fire as best they could, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Driant, who was also deputy in Nancy.  He had attempted, the previous month, to alert the highest levels of the state to the weaknesses in the Verdun defense but was killed in battle on 22nd February leaving his units decimated.

On the 11th of June - nearly four months into the fighting - Philippe Pétain (then Commanding General of the Central Army Group) wrote to Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre, expressing grave concerns about France losing Verdun:

Verdun is menaced and Verdun must not fall.  The capture of this city would constitute for the Germans an inestimable success that would greatly raise their morale and correspondingly lower our own.  (See Almanac of World War I, by David F. Burg and L. Edward Purcell, at page 102.)

At about the time Pétain wrote this letter, Germany added phosgene gas as one of its chemical weapons.  Phosgene (which can cause death by choking) was intended to "defeat existing French respirators." (See Verdun 1916:  "They Shall Not Pass" - by Ian Drury - at page 48.)

See, also:

Verdun - A Vicious Battle

Verdun - "Bleed France White"

Verdun - "You Will Not Let Them Pass"


Media Credits

Clip from BBC documentary, "Road to Verdun," copyright BBC, all rights reserved.  Clip online, via YouTube, and provided here as fair use for educational purposes and to acquaint new viewers with the documentary.

Excerpted quote, "The Battle of Verdun," from the French-language website Verdun la Vie Communauté de Communes de Verdun - Ville de Verdun.


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"Verdun Must Not Fall!" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. May 23, 2019.
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