The Battle of Verdun is one of the most well known and infamous battles in history. While the battle is remembered for acts of horror, bravery, and honor, it is also closely entwined with the ring of fortifications built to defend the key town of Verdun on the Meuse River that lay in the path of the German attack.
When one thinks of Verdun, one also thinks of Douaumont and Vaux, two forts on the far edge of the battlefield that came to symbolize the French struggle to regain their land from the Germans. In the months after its capture, Fort Douaumont's turtle-shaped heights stood as an ultimate objective and driving force for the French Army. The terrible combat that took place in the tunnels of Fort Vaux serves as an example of how the French attempted to hold on to the last inch of land to the last man.
From 1874 to the outbreak of World War I in 1914, construction and improvement of the fortifications of Verdun continued non-stop. It was considered by military engineers to be the strongest place in Europe and indeed it may have been in terms of flanking fire coverage of the battlefield, firepower from its 155mmnn and 75mm guns and howitzers, and its concrete protection. However, none of this came to the mind of General PEtain when, after the unanticipated and successive destruction of the forts of LiEge, Namur, Antwerp, and Maubeuge by the German heavy siege guns, he decided that permanent forts were no longer of great value.
As a result, all of Verdun's artillery pieces not in fixed turrets were removed and the fortress garrisons stripped down to maintenance crews. Thus, it was a very different fortress that faced the Germans in 1916. However, as the battle progressed and the value of the forts, not only as patriotic symbols but strategic objectives and powerful strongholds was regained, the tide turned again, affecting not only the outcome of the battle, but future military engineering concepts and ideas that would ultimately produce the Maginot Line.
About the Author
CLAYTON DONNELL recently retired from the U.S. Air Force. He spent several years in Europe doing field research on the Maginot Line and other French fortification systems. In 1996 he created one of the first internet sites in the world devoted to the Maginot line. He is an avid military historian and is especially versed in the period of the European conflicts from 1870 to 1945.
Reverend Dr. Stephen Motyer is a lecturer at the London Bible College. He has written numerous books and articles about the Bible, including Who's Who in the Bible, and was a consultant for the highly acclaimed Children's Illustrated Bible and Illustrated Family Bible, all published by DK Publishing, Inc. Brian Delf has illustrated many children's books for DK Publishing, Inc., including the best-selling Picture Atlas of the World.
"Certainly one of the best books in English on the Verdun fortifications... This is one of those books in the series that can be listed as a “must have” for the fortification enthusiast." - J.E. Kaufmann, SITEO