|Conflict:||Battle of Verdun|
|Partof:||the Western Front of World War I|
|Date:||21 February - 18 December 1916|
|Commander2:||Erich von Falkenhayn|
Crown Prince Wilhelm
|Strength1:||About 30,000 on 21 February 1916|
|Strength2:||About 150,000 on 21 February 1916|
|Casualties1:||378,000; of whom 163,000 died|
|Casualties2:||330,000; of whom 143,000 died|
The Battle of Verdun was one of the most critical battles in World War I on the Western Front. It was fought between the German and French armies, from 21 February to 15 December 1916, on hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse in northeastern France. The Battle of Verdun ended with a French victory as the German assailants failed to capture Verdun and were pushed back close to their initial starting lines, on the right bank of the Meuse river, by December 1916. They also lost, in August 1917, what was left of their 1916 advances on the left bank of the Meuse river.
The Battle of Verdun resulted in more than a quarter of a million battlefield deaths and at least half a million wounded. Verdun was the longest battle and one of the most devastating in World War I and more generally in human history. A total of about 40 million artillery shells were exchanged by both sides during the battle. In both France and Germany it has come to represent the horrors of war, similar to the significance of the Battle of the Somme to the United Kingdom, the Battle of Gallipoli to Australia and New Zealand, or the Battle of Gettysburg to the United States. Major General Julian Thompson, a renowned British military historian, has referred to Verdun in the History Channel's : "1916: Total War", as "France's Stalingrad.
The Battle of Verdun popularized the words of admonition "Ils ne passeront pas" ("They shall not pass") addressed to his troops by General Robert Nivelle on 23 June 1916, after the last French positions on the way to Fort Souville had been submerged. At the beginning of the Battle of Verdun, on 16 April 1916, General Philippe Pétain had also issued a stirring order of the day, but it ended with the reassuring: "Courage ! On les aura" ("Courage! We shall get them").
For centuries Verdun had played an important role in the defence of its hinterland, due to the city's strategic location on the Meuse River. Attila the Hun, for example, failed in his fifth-century attempt to seize the town. In the division of the empire of Charlemagne, the Treaty of Verdun of 843 made the town part of the Holy Roman Empire. The Peace of Munster in 1648 awarded Verdun to France. Verdun played a very important role in the defensive line that was built after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. As a protection against German threats along the eastern border, a strong line of fortifications was constructed between Verdun and Toul and between Épinal and Belfort. Verdun guarded the northern entrance to the plains of Champagne and thus the approach to the French capital city of Paris.
In 1914, during the German invasion of France and the First Battle of the Marne, Verdun held fast as a salient although some forts underwent Big Bertha's artillery bombardment. The heart of the city of Verdun was a citadel built by Vauban in the 17th century. By the end of the 19th century, an underground complex had also been built which served as quarters for the troops inside the city. About 5 miles beyond the walls of the city of Verdun was an outer circular ring of 18 large underground forts (not including 12 smaller forts or redoubts ), many of them featuring retractable/rotating artillery turrets equipped with short 75 mm and short 155 mm fortress cannons. This ring of 18 large underground forts protecting Verdun had been built at great cost during the 1880s and according to the specifications of general Sere de Rivieres. The Verdun forts were variable in quality and size and thus provided unequal potential to resist heavy artillery shelling.
The forts situated to the north and east of Verdun (e.g. Douaumont, Vaux,Moulainville) had been thoroughly hardened during the early 1900s with very thick steel reinforced concrete tops resting on a sand cushion. Those hardened forts had also been equipped with regular 75 mm field guns installed in reinforced concrete bunkers ("Casemates de Bourges") looking sideways, thus providing flanking fire across the intervals between the forts. However, several large forts built during the 1880s on the same defensive ring, but to the west and south of Verdun (e.g. La Chaume, Regret, Belrupt ), had never been improved. The prediction was that a German assault would come from the east and north and this later proved to be essentially correct.
After the German invasion of France had been halted at the First Battle of the Marne, in September 1914, the war of movement gave way to trench warfare with neither side being able to achieve a successful breakthrough.
In 1915, all attempts to force a breakthrough by the Germans at Ypres, by the British at Neuve Chapelle and by the French at Battle of Champagne and Battle of Artois had all failed, resulting only in very heavy casualties.
According to his post-war memoirs, the German Chief of Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, believed that although a major breakthrough might no longer be possible, the French army could still be defeated if it suffered a sufficient number of casualties. He explained that his motivation for the battle was to attack a position from which the French army could not retreat, both for strategic reasons and for reasons of national pride. Verdun, surrounded by a ring of forts, was a stronghold and a salient that projected into the German lines and blocked an important railway line leading to Paris.
However by early 1916, Verdun's much-vaunted impregnability had been seriously weakened. General Joffre and his staff had concluded, from the relatively easy fall of the Belgian fortresses at Liege and at Namur, that this type of defensive system could no longer withstand shelling by the German super heavy siege guns. Thus, between August and October 1915, the Verdun sector was denuded of over 50 complete batteries and 128,000 rounds of artillery ammunition. Those were then allocated to other sectors that were short in artillery. This stripping process was still in progress at the end of January 1916. By that time the 18 major forts and other batteries surrounding Verdun were left with fewer than 300 guns and limited ammunition while their garrisons had been reduced to small maintenance crews.
In choosing Verdun, Falkenhayn had opted for a location where material circumstances favoured a successful German offensive: Verdun was isolated on three sides and communications to the French rear were restricted. Conversely,a German controlled major railhead lay only twelve miles to the north of their positions. In a war where materiel trumped élan, Falkenhayn expected a favourable loss exchange ratio as the French would cling fanatically to a death trap.
Falkenhayn stated in his memoirs that rather than a traditional military victory, Verdun was planned as a vehicle for destroying the French Army. He quotes in his book from a memo he says he wrote to the Kaiser:
"The string in France has reached breaking point. A mass breakthrough—which in any case is beyond our means—is unnecessary. Within our reach there are objectives for the retention of which the French General Staff would be compelled to throw in every man they have. If they do so the forces of France will bleed to death."
However, recent German scholarship by Holger Afflerbach and others has questioned the veracity of this so-called "Christmas memo". No copy has ever surfaced and the only account of it appeared in Falkenhayn's post-war memoir. His army commanders at Verdun, including the German Crown Prince, denied any knowledge of a plan based on attrition. Afflerbach argues that it seems likely that Falkenhayn did not specifically design the battle to bleed the French Army, but proposed ex-post-facto the motive of the Verdun offensive, to justify its failure.
Current analyses follow the same trend and exclude the traditional explanation. The offensive was probably planned to overwhelm Verdun's weakened defences, thus striking a potentially fatal blow onto the French Army. Verdun's rail communications had been cut off in 1915 and the city was depending on a single narrow road (the future"Voie Sacree") and a local narrow-gauge railway (the "Chemin de Fer Meusien") to be re-supplied. This logistical bottleneck had raised German hopes that an effective French defence could not be sustained beyond a few weeks.
As previously stated, in spite of its ring of forts, Verdun was poorly defended in early 1916 because half of the artillery in the forts had been taken away leaving only the heaviest guns that were too difficult to remove from the fort's retractable gun turrets. For instance, all the lighter standard 75mm guns in the "Casemates de Bourges" had been removed. There were no effective barbed wire defences around the forts and most of the fort's machine guns were still boxed up in storage. By a fluke of bureaucratic incoherence , the forts were actually not under the direct authority of the general officer commanding the Verdun military sector. Consequently, that very same sector commander was actually refused access to Fort Douaumont, before the battle, because he did not carry the necessary papers! Fortunately, in February 1916, good French intelligence on German preparations and a delay in the attack due to bad weather gave the French High Command time to rush two divisions from the 30th Corps—the 72nd and 51st—to the area's defence. The French strength was now 34 battalions against 72 German battalions therefore about half that of the assailant. French artillery was even more at a disadvantage: about 300 guns, mostly 75 mm field guns, versus 1400 guns on the German side most of them heavy and super heavy including 14" and 16" mortars.
The German High Command aimed to launch the offensive on the 12 February; however, fog, heavy rain and high winds delayed the offensive for a week.The battle began on 21 February 1916 at 7.15 AM with a ten-hour artillery bombardment firing over 1,000,000 shells (including poison gas) by 1,400 guns, most of them heavies, on a front of 40 kilometres (25 m). This incessant pounding or " Trommelfeuer" ( "drum fire" ) was the heaviest and longest artillery preparation ever inflicted since the beginning of WW-1. The noise it produced was carried through the ground as a deep rumble that was still heard one hundred miles away. This massive preparation was followed by an attack by three army corps (the 3rd, 7th, and 18th). The Germans used flamethrowers for the first time to clear the French trenches. Newly introduced storm troops led the attack with rifles slung, the first time in the war, and went into battle with grenades in hand. Combined artillery and infantry shock tactics on that scale were new to the French defenders and caused them to lose much ground to the Germans at the beginning.
By 22 February, German shock troops had advanced three miles (5 km) capturing the Bois des Caures in the village of Flabas after two French battalions led by Colonel Émile Driant had held them up for two days, and pushed the French defenders back to Samogneux, Beaumont, and Ornes. Later that day, on the 22 February, Colonel Émile Driant was killed, rifle in hand, fighting alongside the 56th and 59th Battalion de Chasseurs a pied. Only 118 Chasseurs managed to escape. Poor communications meant that only then did the French high command realize the seriousness of the attack.
On 24 February, the French defenders of XXX Corps fell back again from their second line of defence, but were saved from disaster by the appearance of the XX Corps under General Balfourier. Intended as relief, the new arrivals were thrown into combat immediately. That evening French Army chief of staff, General de Castelnau, advised his commander-in-chief, Joseph Joffre, that the French Second Army, under General Philippe Pétain, ought to be sent to man the Verdun sector. The Germans were now in possession of Beaumont, the Bois des Fosses, the Bois des Caurieres and part of the way up the Hassoule ravine which led to Douaumont.
On 24 February, at 4:30PM, infantrymen from three companies of the German 24th (Brandenburg) regiment entered the centrepiece of the French fortification system: Fort Douaumont. The first German party to find an entry into the fort was led by a Sergeant Kunze. He was followed by other raiders led by Lieutenant Cordt Von Brandis, Lieutenant Radtke, and Captain Haupt. The whole German raiding party, made up of only 19 officers and 79 soldiers, promptly overwhelmed the small French garrison (68 men) and forced its surrender.
Douaumont was known as the largest fort of the Verdun's defensive system. It had been built before the war to hold a garrison of 477 men and 7 commissioned officers. It also featured two retractable/rotating artillery turrets plus 4 X 75 mm field guns firing from side bunkers. However, the reality of Douaumont's situation in February 1916 was quite different. Firstly a single NCO named Chenot was the highest ranking military personnel inside Fort Douaumont and the de facto commander of the fort. Ordnance wise, only one rotating gun turret, out of the four in existence, was properly armed and manned by a crew of artillerymen. The drawbridge, which had been immobilized in the down position by a German shell, had never been repaired. All the fort's 75 mm guns in side bunkers had been removed in 1915, following orders given by General Joffre. The fort's moats were basically left undefended and preparations had been made to blow up the fort from the inside. Captain Haupt, being the senior officer in the raiding party that captured Douaumont, took command of the fort. However he was wounded the next morning and had to delegate his command to Oberleutnant von Brandis CO of 8th Kompanie. Both Von Brandis and Haupt won the highest German military decoration, Pour le Mérite, for the extraordinary courage and initiative they had shown during this successful action. Von Brandis, who spoke French fluently, had also played a key role in persuading the fort's garrison to surrender. The final recapture of Fort Douaumont, on 24 October 1916, was estimated at a later date to have cost the French Army at least 100,000 casualties.
Castelnau appointed General Philippe Pétain commander of the Verdun area and ordered the French Second Army to the battle sector. Pétain took over on 25 February and decided that the Verdun forts should be strongly re-garrisoned to form the principal bulwarks of a new defence. He mapped out new lines of resistance on both banks of the Meuse and gave orders for a barrage position to be established through Avocourt, Fort de Marre, Verdun's NE outskirts and Fort du Rozellier. The line Bras-Douaumont was divided into four sectors, each sector was entrusted to fresh French troops of the 20th "Iron" Corps. Their main job was to delay the German advance with counter-attacks.
On 29 February, the German attack was slowed down at the village of Douaumont by heavy snowfall and a tenacious defence by the French 33rd Infantry Regiment which had been commanded by Pétain himself in the years prior to the war. Captain Charles de Gaulle, the future Free French leader and French President, was a company commander in this regiment and was taken prisoner near Douaumont during the battle. This slowdown gave the French time to bring up 90,000 men and 23,000 tons of ammunition from the railhead at Bar-le-Duc to Verdun. This was largely accomplished by uninterrupted, night-and-day trucking along a narrow departmental road: the so-called "Voie Sacrée". The standard gauge railway line going through Verdun in peacetime had been interrupted since 1915.
As in so many previous offensives on the Western Front, the German assailants had lost effective artillery cover by advancing too fast in the early stages of the attack. With the battlefield turned into a sea of mud through continual shelling, it was more and more difficult for German artillery to follow forward in this very hilly terrain. German infantry's southward advance also brought it into range of French field artillery on the opposite side of the Meuse river. Each new advance to the south, towards the city of Verdun, became more and more costly than the previous ones as the attacking German Fifth Army units were cut down by Pétain's artillery massed on the opposite, or west bank side of the Meuse river. When the village of Douaumont was finally captured by German infantry on 2 March 1916, four German infantry regiments had been virtually destroyed.
Unable to make any further progress against Verdun frontally, the Germans turned to the flanks, attacking on the west bank, or left bank, of the Meuse river the hills of Le Mort-Homme on 6 March and Cote (Hill) 304 on 20 March. The German artillery preparation and its follow up involved some 800 heavy guns which fired nearly 4 million shells and transformed the two hills into volcanoes of mud and rocks. The top of Cote 304 had gone down from 304 metres to 300 metres, as surveyed after the war. Mort Homme Hill sheltered active batteries of French field guns which had long hindered German progression towards Verdun on the right bank. They also provided commanding views of all the left bank battlefield.
After storming the Bois des Corbeaux and then losing it to a determined French counter-attack, the Germans launched another assault on Mort Homme on 9 March and this time from the direction of Béthincourt to the NW. They also seized the Bois des Corbeaux a second time, but at a crippling cost before they could finally occupy the crests of Mort Homme and Cote 304. During this successful advance, they had also captured the destroyed villages of Cumieres and Chattancourt.
During May 1916, the main event was the French failed attempt to reoccupy Fort Douaumont. The assault had been planned by recently promoted General Robert Nivelle and executed on a very narrow front under the direction of General Charles Mangin. It involved 3 infantry Divisions supported by 300 guns ranging from the 75 mm field gun to heavy 6inch and 12inch howitzers. The assault began on May 22 after a massive artillery preparation. Three days later the French attempt had failed, although French infantry had occupied the superstructure of Fort Douaumont for over 12 hours. Mangin was blamed for that failure and refused to carry out another attempt. Higher up, Pétain also refused to support a renewed attempt to recapture Douaumont, invoking insufficient heavy artillery availability at the time.
Then, later in May 1916, the German attacks shifted from the left bank (Mort-Homme and Cote 304) and returned to the right bank, south of Fort Douaumont. They found a focus on Fort Vaux which was shelled continuously by the heaviest German siege guns. After a final assault initiated on 1 June by nearly 10,000 German shock troops, they occupied the top of the fort on 2 June. However, the underground casemates of Fort Vaux still remained under French control. Then close fighting proceeded underground for 5 days, barricade by barricade, in the narrow corridors of the fort. The French garrison of Fort Vaux, led by a Major Raynal, finally surrendered on 7 June when the defenders had run out of water. Up to this point, losses had been appalling on both sides. General Pétain had attempted to spare his troops by remaining on the defensive, but he had been relieved on 1 May from his Verdun command and promoted to lead the overall Centre Army Group which still included the Verdun sector. General Pétain had been replaced with the more attack-minded General Robert Nivelle an artillery man by training and by previous command experiences.
The Germans next tactical move, on the right bank of the Meuse river, was to continue to press southward towards the city of Verdun. As a preliminary, on 21 June, German assault troops (60,000 men) took the redoubt of Thiaumont and the ruined village of Fleury. But just before the descent onto Verdun stood a final barrier they had to overcome: Fort Souville. It was a second line fortification whose upper levels had already been reduced to rubble by German heavy shells, sparing only the fort's deepest underground corridors. To prepare for the assault on Souville the Germans , beginning on 10 July, attempted to incapacitate French artillery with over 60,000 diphosgene gas shells (the so-called "Green Cross Gas"). This was largely ineffective since the French , quite fortuitously, had just been equipped with their latest type of gas mask (the M2).
In the meantime, German heavy guns hammered Fort Souville and its approaches with more than 300,000 shells including some 500 14" shells aimed at the fort itself. However, when the time for the assault came, the path leading to Fort Souville had narrowed down and became too tightly packed with German infantry which came under devastating fire from French artillery barrages. What was left of the German assault troops (Bavarians and Alpen Korps) was further thinned out by French machine gunners who had emerged from the fort's ruins and taken positions on its superstructure. Fewer than a hundred German infantrymen managed somehow to escape their fire and made it to the top of the fort on 12 July. From that position, they could actually see the roofs of the city of Verdun and the spire of its cathedral. But being decimated by a 75 mm artillery barrage, they had to retreat to their starting lines or chose to surrender. Thus Fort Souville, on 12 July 1916 in the morning, became the historic high mark of the unsuccessful German offensive against Verdun. Fort Souville whose deeply scarred superstructure is only partially visible today, because of large water-filled shell craters and dense vegetation, is one of the most horrifying and also one of the most hazardous sites of the old Verdun battlefield.
In the meantime, while Souville was under assault, the opening of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916, had forced the Germans to withdraw some of their artillery from Verdun to counter the combined Anglo-French offensive to the north. The battle of the Somme was launched in part by the allies to try to take some of the pressure off the French at Verdun.
By late 1916, the German troops were exhausted and Falkenhayn had been replaced as Chief of the General Staff by Paul von Hindenburg. Hindenburg's deputy, Chief Quartermaster-General Erich Ludendorff, soon acquired almost dictatorial power in Germany.
The French launched a major counter-offensive to recapture Douaumont in October 1916. Its architect was General Nivelle, an experienced commander in the use of artillery. The assault combined a fast moving infantry attack following behind a "creeping" forward artillery barrage timed to keep the enemy machine gunners down. To soften up Douaumont, two heavy railway guns had inflicted crushing blows onto the fort with high penetration 400 mm (16") 1 ton shells. At least 20 of those 16 inch shells hit the fort, 6 of them penetrating down to the lowest levels. The Germans partly evacuated Douaumont which was then recaptured on the 24 October by French marine infantry and colonials. On 2 November the Germans evacuated Fort Vaux which had also come under fire from the 400 mm railway guns. A broader offensive, planned by General Nivelle and executed by General Mangin, began on 15 December and drove the Germans back close to their initial February starting lines. Within 36 hours they had lost 11,387 prisoners, including 284 officers, plus 115 artillery pieces. To some captured German senior officers who complained to Mangin about their lack of comfort he replied (translated from the French): "We do regret it, gentlemen, but then we did not expect so many of you". Unquestionably, German morale at Verdun had begun to erode after the failure to seize Fort Souville and then later after the loss of Fort Douaumont.
In August 1917 a limited French offensive, meticulously planned by General Pétain and carried out with overwhelming heavy artillery support, rapidly recaptured the Mort-Homme Hill as well as Cote 304 on the left bank of the Meuse river. Nevertheless, the Verdun Sector remained an active battle zone where the two adversaries never ceased to confront each other in life-wasting local actions. Weariness had begun to spread after June 1916 among French combatants on the Verdun battlefield. The signs, intercepted in the soldier's mail and heard in the rest areas, progressed from a deep but quiet weariness into open manifestations of contempt for the high command and the politicians. Furthermore the departure of General Pétain from his Verdun command, on 1 June, and his replacement by General Nivelle had a less than positive effect on the soldier's morale. Two French lieutenants, Henri Herduin and Pierre Millant, were summarily executed by firing squad and without judgment on 16 June 1916, in Fleury-sous-Douaumont. They had walked back from their positions, together with the few survivors of their company, as their relief was long overdue and they had run out of ammunition. After the executions, their regiment (the 347o R.I.) was dissolved by direct order from General Joffre, in order to prevent the malaise from spreading. Ten years later in 1926 and after a long inquiry that became a "cause celebre", Lieutenant Herduin and Lieutenant Millant were fully exonerated and their official military records expunged. However and more generally, the horror of Verdun never left the battlefield until the Armistice of 11 November 1918 finally brought an end to it.
The Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) were waging war on two fronts in 1916, in Russia and on the Western Front. Their strategy was to inflict more casualties on their adversaries than they themselves suffered. The German Army had achieved this goal in Russia which finally collapsed in 1917. In the meantime, it also had to inflict casualties onto the French Army that would weaken it to the point of collapse. In order to achieve this goal, the French Army had to be attracted in a situation from which it could not escape for strategic and national pride reasons. The German general staff hesitated between Belfort and Verdun and chose the latter because of its poor railway linkage and partially disarmed fort system. It also calculated that success could be achieved by overwhelming heavy artillery superiority. German infantry would then move forward and occupy the ground with a minimum of casualties.
In reality, the German goal of inflicting disproportionate casualties onto the French Army at Verdun was never attained. The French Army's losses at Verdun were high, but only slightly higher than the German losses. General (later Marshal) Philippe Pétain was sparing of his troops and had them rotated out after only 2–3 weeks in the front lines. However, at any given time, at least 11 French divisions (over 100,000 men) were always engaged on the Verdun battlefield. As a result of the Petain rotation system, 70% of the French Army went through "the wringer of Verdun", as opposed to only 25% of the German forces. General Pétain was also a strong advocate of artillery firepower. His pre-war dictum: "le feu tue" or "firepower kills" was the centrepiece of his strategy at Verdun. By June 1916, French artillery at Verdun had grown to 2,708 guns, including 1,138 X 75 mm field guns which were particularly effective in an anti-personnel role. Invariably, Pétain's first question at the start of his morning staff meetings was: "What is our artillery doing ?"
French military casualties at Verdun, in 1916, are recorded as : 371,000 men including 60,000 killed, 101,000 missing and 210,000 wounded. Total German casualties at Verdun, between February and December 1916, are recorded as 337,000 men. The statistics also confirm that at least 70% of the Verdun casualties on both sides were the result of artillery fire. The shell consumption by French artillery at Verdun , between 21 February and 30 September at Verdun, totalled 23.5 million rounds. Most of them (16 million shells) wre fired by the French 75 batteries which lined up about 1000 guns on the Verdun battlefield. German sources document that their own artillery, mostly heavy and super heavy, fired off over 21 million shells from February to September 1916 only.
Period photographs and current visitors to the Verdun battlefield testify to the huge numbers of shell craters that overlap each other endlessly over several hundred square miles. Forests planted in the 1930s have grown up and thus hide most of the hideous fields of the "Zone Rouge" (the "Red Zone") where so many men lost their lives or limbs. The battlefield is, actually, a vast graveyard since the mortal remains of over 100,000 missing combatants are still dispersed underground wherever they fell. They are still being discovered, to this day, by the French Forestry Service which turns them over to the Douaumont ossuary where they find a final resting place.
The Battle of Verdun — also known as the Mincing Machine of Verdun or Meuse Mill — became a symbol of French determination to hold the ground and then roll back the enemy at any human cost. It was essentially a battle of materiel, however, where artillery played the dominant role. A significant factor that helped even out the odds in favour of the French Army was their use of night-and-day trucking to keep fresh troops and artillery supplies coming onto the front lines. Furthermore, during the summer of 1916, a relief standard gauge railway line (Nettancourt-Dugny) was completed and took over most of the truck traffic on the "Voie Sacree". First the intense trucking, and then later the relief standard gauge railway bypass, had not been anticipated by the German military planners.
The German General Staff had initially selected Verdun because the two standard gauge railway lines under French control and going through that city in peacetime had been interrupted. One line coming from the south into Verdun had been severed at Saint Mihiel by the German occupation of that town in 1914. The other line leading westward out of Verdun and to Paris was under their direct observation and artillery fire at Aubreville. Thus, at the outset, the German planners saw Verdun for what it was : a salient that was cut off on three sides, a cul-de-sac without effective railway communications and thus a trap onto which they could strike the fatal blow against the French Army. What they did not anticipate was that, once the initial surprise had worn out, French logistics would steadily improve with time and rob them of their initial advantage. It has often been remarked that Verdun was, in large part, a logistic victory of the French trucks over the German railways.
The perceived success of the fixed fortification system led to the adoption of the Maginot Line as the preferred method of defence along the Franco-German border during the inter-war years. In reality French field artillery, emplaced in the open on the Verdun battlefield, outnumbered turreted artillery in the forts by a factor of fifty to one and inflicted most of the casualties suffered by the German assailants.