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The old town of Verdun, 1916
A view of the damage caused by the German bombardment of the old part of Verdun, 1916.
Primary Documents - General Dubois on the Battle of Verdun, October 1916
Reproduced below is a statement on the course of the Battle of Verdun by French General Pierre Dubois, given the day before German setbacks towards the close of the battle, namely the loss of Forts Douaumont and Vaux.
With the appointment of Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff to the military high command in Berlin in August 1916 - and Erich von Falkenhayn's dismissal - a decision was promptly taken to bring to an end the enormous German Verdun offensive. While Falkenhayn saw it as a useful means of sapping French resources and morale, Ludendorff in particular regarded it as a largely pointless endeavour which had failed.
Click here to read Falkenhayn's justification for the offensive. Click here to read Crown Prince Wilhelm's summary of the battle. Click here to read Wilhelm's summary of its abandonment. Click here to read von Hindenburg's decision to call off the offensive. Click here to read Erich Ludendorff's dismissive view of the battle. Click here to read Joseph Joffre's August 1916 summary of the battle. Click here to read British newspaper baron Lord Northcliffe's despatch during the early days of the battle.
Click here to read a French memoir of the German attack on Le Mort Homme in May 1916. Click here for a memoir of the struggle for Fort Douaumont the same month. Click here for a memoir of the German assault upon Fort Vaux in June 1916. Click here to read General Millerand's official account of the see-saw fighting at Thiaumont in July and August 1916. Click here to read a semi-official German historian's account of the end of the battle. Click here to read General von Zwehl's memorandum issued immediately before the French recapture of Forts Vaux and Douaumont. Click here to read Ludendorff's statement regarding the loss of Forts Vaux and Douaumont. Click here to read a French staff officer's account of the recapture of Fort Douaumont in October 1916.
General Pierre Dubois on the Battle of Verdun, October 1916
The most striking thing at Verdun is the pitiable and lamentable failure of the German effort against all the military organizations of the town.
Their present certainty that they will soon be definitely compelled to retire leads them from time to time, as has happened again within the last few days, to redouble the fury of their bombardment. But it is trouble lost.
During eight months nothing has given way, nothing has been seriously injured in the vitals of the defences. The old enceinte of Vauban and the citadel itself are unharmed, in spite of the storm of 380 shells and projectiles of other calibres which have been showered upon them.
Quite the contrary - and it is hardly necessary to say so - the whole time which has passed since the beginning of the attack has been made wonderful use of in putting Verdun in a state of solidity of resistance of which the Germans have no idea.
This considerable reinforcement of the means of defence would have very much surprised them if their assault had succeeded.
Lastly, the bombardment itself - a detail which is not without its piquancy - has on more than one occasion facilitated the execution of important works. A 380 shell is sometimes very valuable it can do the work of 50 men for eight days.
That is the way in which the Germans, without suspecting it, have collaborated in the defence of the fortress. It is also one of the reasons, and not one of the least original, why they will never take Verdun.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. V, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
Saturday, 22 August, 2009 Michael Duffy
A 'Tracer' was a phosphorescent machine-gun bullet which glowed in flight, indicating course as an aid to artillery.
- Did you know?
Few could have imagined, when the Germans stormed the town of Verdun, near the border with Belgium, on February 21, 1916, what the repercussions would be down the generations.
On the first day alone, the Germans - who sent 140,000 soldiers to attack the French town at the start - had 1,000 guns pummeling the earth, and the French soldiers.
The aim, said Erich von Falkenhayn, the German chief of the general, was to 'bleed the French army white'.
One French officer recalled: 'When the first wave of the assault is decimated, the ground is dotted with heaps of corpses, but the second wave is already pressing on.
'Once more our shells carve awful gaps in their ranks. Then our heavy artillery bursts forth in fury. The whole valley is turned into a volcano, and its exit blocked by the barrier of the slain.'
Another remembered how the 'men were squashed. Cut in two or divided from top to bottom. Blown into showers bellies turned inside out skulls forced into the chest as if by a blow from a club'.
This would continue for another 300 days: when it ended, the French victorious, they had moved only a few hundred yards from where they began, having obliterated a piece of earth larger than the city of Paris.
More than 300,000 families lost their sons in this battle of attrition have to come to terms with their loss, and nine villages had been blasted into oblivion, 'submerged in soldier's blood, crammed with dead bodies gnawed by rats', according to contemporary Abbot Thellier de Poncheville.
What they could not have known then, as they counted the cost, was the damage they had done to the land.
PICTURES FROM HISTORY: Rare Images Of War, History , WW2, Nazi Germany
The Battle of Verdun was the longest battle of World War I and the world history. It was fought from February 21 to December 18, 1916, between the French and German armies around the town of Verdun, France. The battle involved more than two and a half million men and it developed in a space less that 8 sq miles and consisted of a ring of underground fortifications which the German attempted to take.
Germans on the way to the front
The origen of the Battle of Verdun is in a letter sent by the German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn to the Kaiser Wilhelm II in December 1915. In the letter Falkenhayn recommended that Germany should fully attack on the Western Front not on the Eastern Russia had internal problems and could withdraw from the war at any moment. He argued that if France could be defeated in a major battle, Britain would then seek terms with Germany or else be defeated in turn. Acting on Falkenhayn’s recommendation, the Kaiser ordered the implementation of a set-piece siege against Verdun, which was Falkenhayn’s choice of target.
In early 1916, Verdun was poorly defended, despite its ring of forts. Half of the artillery in the forts had been removed from its turrets, including all 75mm guns. In February 1916, the French military strength was 34 battalions against 72 German. At first, the German High Command intended to launch the offensive on the February 12, but bad weather and strong high winds delayed the attack for a week. Finally, the Battle of Verdun started at 07:15 hours on the morning of February 21, 1916, with an artillery bombarment that lasted 10 hours, firing around one million shells by 1,400 cannons packed along the eight-mile front.
Under the command of Crown Prince Wilhelm, the German heavy guns quickly reduced the French trench system into isolated pieces, which forced French soldiers to fight in small groups with no tactical links. The attack drew French troops from other places on the Western Front to the defence of Verdun. Falkenhayn had stated that he wanted to bleed France white in the defence of the old fortress. The massive bombardment was followed by an attack by three army corps, the 3rd, 7th, and 18th. The Germans used flamethrowers for the first time in the war.
French attackers struggling with the barnbed wire
On February 22, German storm troops had advanced three miles, capturing the French front line trenches, pushing the French defenders back to Samogneux, Beaumont, and Ornes. The 56th and 59th Hunters battalions led by Colonel Emile Driant, who was killed in action, put up strong heroic resistance. By February 25, the Germans took Fort Douaumont. Under the command of Philippe Petain, French reinforcements arrived and managed to to slow the German advance with a series of counter-attacks.
During March and April there were ferocious fighting and fierce close quarters combats with bayonets, knives, and lineman shovels in the hills and ridges north of Verdun as heavy bombardment tore up the martial terrain, turning it into a surreal twilight zone from hell. Meanwhile, Petain organized repeated counter-attacks to slow the German advance, ensuring that the Bar-le-Duc road into Verdun remained open. This road became known as ‘the Sacred Way’ because it carried vital supplies and reinforcements into the Verdun front despite constant artillery attack.
German gains continued but slowly. By mid June they had assaulted and taken Fort Vaux, which was located on the east bank of the Meuse River. Encouraged by the success in capturing Fort Vaux, German troops almost succeeded in breaking through the French line, getting close to Belleville Heights, which was the last stronghold before the town of Verdun. At this stage Philippe Petain was preparing to evacuate the east bank of the Meuse River when the Allies’ offensive on the Somme River began on July 1, to the relief of the French as the Germans could no longer afford to commit more troops to Verdun. German units were shifted to the trenches of the Somme.
From early October to December 1916, the French regained the forts and territory they had lost earlier through a series of counter-attacks. Falkenhayn was replaced by Paul von Hindenburg as Chief of Staff as Philippe Petain became a hero, eventually replacing General Nivelle as French commander-in-chief. In the Battle of Verdun that lasted almost a year, 300,000 men were killed and almost 400,000 were wounded.
|French troops detraining on their way to the Verdun front|
Battle of Verdun: summary
Belligerents. France against Germany
Location. Verdun, France
Date. February 21 to December 18, 1916
Result. Stalemate with France retaining Verdun
Commanders. French: Philippe Petain/Robert Nivelle
German: Erich von Falkenhayn/Crown Prince Wilhelm
“The Slaughterhouse of the World” – The Battle of Verdun at 100
The Battle of Verdun started 100 years ago this February, and lasted through the year, finishing in December 1916.
At 7:15 a.m. on February 21, the 1,200 guns of the German Fifth Army began a bombardment to signal the beginning of the Battle of Verdun. “Every new explosion is a new attack, a new fatigue, a new affliction,” related a French soldier about the experience of a barrage, leaving men with “hardly enough strength left to pray to God.” The affliction of the German barrage was beyond anything yet experienced in the Great War. Over the next 10 hours, literally a million shells were fired against French positions along a 19-mile front.
Verdun, in and of itself, was an inconsequential French hamlet in 1914. The name Verdun, however, became synonymous with the Great War because the town was vitally important in terms of where it lay. Ringed by modern fortifications, built at a furious pace by the French government to protect against a future German invasion, Verdun was the lynchpin of the French defensive system on the Western Front. Had Verdun fallen, there was little, at least in the way of natural obstacles let alone fortified positions, between the German army and the environs of Paris.
Read: WWI and the Second Fall of Man
To General Eric Falkenhayn, chief of the German general staff, Verdun represented an opportunity to break the stalemate of the Western Front. His motivations remain cloudy mostly due to his post-war reminiscences in which he seemingly tried to justify his effort as a strategy to “bleed the French white.” Rather than capturing Verdun, he argued after the war, he intended to simply threaten it to such an extent that the French would be forced to commit massive numbers of troops in costly offensives to regain their position. The hoped-for grand maneuvers of masses of men, which still danced like phantoms in the minds of military planners as the means to total victory, would be replaced by a brutal war of attrition. Regardless of his motivation, a costly attritional struggle was what he would produce.
The Battle of Verdun contained the whole gamut of human experience, from bravery to cowardice, from heroism to horror. Like all human affairs, it even had elements of a farce. The most modern of the French defensive fortifications, Fort Douamont, was captured by sheer happenstance. A group of Brandenbergers, as much looking to find an entrance to the fort to take shelter from their own artillery as to capture it, were able to surprise the paltry defensive force of French reservists armed with antiquated rifles. This critical fort, whose loss one French commander believed would cost the French 100,000 lives to retake, was left in the hand of reservists because no clear orders to defend Douamont had been delivered to active French units.
As much as Verdun symbolized the human element of war, it also encapsulated the particular horrors of the Great War. It showed what was possible when humanity melded national will alongside the ingenuity of industry. The opening German barrage was just a precursor of what was to come. During the battle the Germans would fire nearly 22 million shells with the French replying in kind. A French soldier wrote, “It’s an unending hell … in a word, it is solitude in all its horror when will this veritable martyrdom end?” The end would come after 303 days of unimaginable slaughter. The French and German forces engaged would suffer over 700,000 casualties all to achieve, fundamentally, stasis. The end of the fighting had brought a shift to the lines but no victory. The Germans were not able to take Verdun, but were not pushed out of their positions around it until 1918.
Read: Revisiting the Guns of August
In Barbara Tuchman’s magisterial work, “The Guns of August,” she argued that the funeral of Edward VII of England in 1910, attended by nine kings of Europe, represented the end of an era as “the sun of the old world” set in “a dying blaze of splendor.” If she was correct, Verdun stands as the piercing brightness of the dawn of the 20 th century. This century would see man’s military capabilities reach near apocalyptic levels matched only by man’s ingenuity creating new and more potent rationales for killing their fellow men.
The Ossuary at Douamont is perhaps the most striking and fitting symbols of the Battle of Verdun. Not only is it the largest French military cemetery, containing the graves of over 16,000 men, it also grisly illustrates the ultimate result of all of the Verduns in human history. Beneath the towering ossuary, visible through small windows, are the piled bones of over 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers. United by death in grim solidarity, these bones chillingly relate that man has much more in common in death than ever was different in life.
An American ambulance driver described Verdun as “the slaughterhouse of the world.” The bones of these forgotten men serve as a noble challenge to every visitor to count the cost of any future struggle lest we permit another slaughterhouse to be created in our names.
About Robert H. Clemm
Dr. Robert H. Clemm is an assistant professor of history at Grove City College.
5. The French Kept Up Defense of Verdun Thanks to a &aposSacred&apos Road
The Sacred Way, Verdun. (Credit: UIG/Getty Images)
Due to a lack of secure railways and constant enemy bombardments, the French were forced to rely on a lone, 20-foot-wide road to supply their stand at Verdun. Upon taking command of French forces in late-February 1916, General Philippe Petain took steps to keep the lifeline open. Troops were put to work laying gravel and making repairs to the roadway, and a fleet of 3,000 military and civilian trucks was marshaled to serve as transport vehicles.
During just one week of operations, more than 190,000 French troops and 25,000 tons of munitions, food and supplies were ferried to the front. Petain also used the road to rotate more than 40 divisions in and out of the Verdun sector, which kept the French troops fresh and helped combat the effects of shell shock. The road was later renamed “La Voie Sacrພ” (“the Sacred Way”) to commemorate its vital contribution to the war effort.
Verdun: the battle that unites France and Britain
"Pockets of French forces hung on, against the gas and flame-throwers. 'They shall not pass,' was the cry, and they didnâ€™t."
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We were having a beer in a bar in Verdun, a group of senior Canadian fellows and myself. Ex-military men, they were on a Great War pilgrimage to the place whose name tolls through French history as that of the Somme tolls through the history of Britain and the Commonwealth. We had met earlier that evening. I was now voicing doubts about the memorials dotted around the locality, notably the massive Victory Monument, which towers over Verdun itself. There are 73 steps, then a 100ft stone column topped by a knight leaning on a sword. The town of Verdun is modest. The monument isn’t.
“Isn’t it just a bombastic statement of the nationalism that provoked the fight in the first place?” I wondered.
“No,” said a Canadian. “That’s nonsense. I’ve been close to this kind of s--- in Bosnia. Memorials are thank-yous. These guys did it. They lived it. They died. We say thank you. It’s simple.”
With that cleared up, let us contemplate Verdun. It’s a good thing to do when annoyance with the French runs high, as it does permanently these days. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a few positive lines about France – and was then swept aside by a tsunami of wrath raging out from Britain’s cities and shires. Visiting Verdun induces a corrective balance. With Remembrance Day just around the corner, we could probably use it.
Despite the ire, the fury, the barbs, the “bloody Frogs” and the “perfidious Rosbifs”, it becomes evident at Verdun that we’re actually in this together, Frenchman and Briton, and have been for generations. By “this” I mean the struggle for decency, democracy, freedom and keeping other people’s mitts off what’s ours. It goes without saying that we’ve had gigantic lapses, but most often the British and the French united have ended up being the good guys. We’ve sacrificed a great deal to give tyranny a kicking.
In and around Verdun, the weight of this past is palpable. This is no place for tart remarks about French waiters or France’s scatterbrained economy.
Respect is imposed – in the forests that now cover the killing fields and along whose lanes even locals drive judiciously around the former forts still stubborn but now forlorn, like diminished old veterans and in vanquished villages now vanished.
The Verdun district, flanking the River Meuse in the far north east of France, re-entered the narrative of its nation at 7.15 on the snowy morning of February 21 1916. Few on the French side expected it. They had been stripping Verdun of importance, men and munitions for months. That morning, though, the Germans let rip with the most ferocious bombardment ever witnessed. About 1,200 big guns launched almost a million shells during a relentless nine-hour barrage. Trommelfeuer, the Germans called it.
In and around Verdun, the weight of the past is palpable (Photo: Getty)
Subsequently, the German Fifth Army – under the Kaiser’s son, the famed “little Willy” – swept through the first French lines.
Pockets of French forces hung on, against the gas and flame-throwers. After two days, the Germans were stopped short of Verdun town. They had taken some of the high ground, and would shortly take the key Fort Douaumont. But the rolling advance was held up. Thus began the ebb and flow of a battle of attrition. The Germans continued attacking through to summer. The French resisted. “They shall not pass,” was the cry, and they didn’t. In July, the tide turned. The launch of the Somme campaign meant German reinforcements were drained off west. The French went on the offensive. Fort Douaumont was retaken on October 24. Weary Germans surrendered by the thousand.
By mid-December, about 300 days on, the respective lines were back to where they had been in February. Getting nowhere had caused 300,000 deaths between the two sides, most brought about by artillery. (“The heroism of the foot soldier is defeated by the steelworker,” wrote military chaplain Abbé Thellier de Poncheville.) It had reduced 40,000 acres of fields and forest to mush, and erased nine villages from the map. It had also seared “Verdun” into the national psyche, a byword for extraordinary valour and industrial slaughter.
The remains of a supply trench (Photo: Getty)
After the war, the former battlefields were polluted, dangerous due to unexploded ordnance, and hallowed by both death and bodies undiscovered deep down. The landscape became a zone rouge, where neither development nor farming was permitted. Instead, the acres were forested.
Five miles out of town, the Verdun Mémorial Museum stands where battle roared. It’s a fine and clear introduction to the subject. Or was. It is closed until the end of next year, when it will doubtless emerge even finer. Just up the road is what’s left of the village of Fleury-devant-Douaumont, which is very little. Before the war, Fleury was an agricultural settlement of 433 souls. In 1916, it lay smack in the middle of the war zone, a strategic target for both sides. By May it was described as “ruins submerged in soldiers’ blood, crammed with dead bodies, gnawed by rats”. Like the eight other destroyed villages, it was deemed to have “died for France”, so was not rebuilt. It is now overcome with trees and other greenery, though the old streets have been marked out and signs note where farmers lived, and where the grocer’s and the café stood.
Nearby, the huge hill-topping Douaumont fort had its outer works blown to smithereens, but the underground galleries remain. One may clank along damp tunnels on three levels, through living quarters and past big guns, and be just as happy to get out as French and German squaddies were to get in. The same is true at sister Fort Vaux, where, among much else, you’ll note that the last carrier pigeon sent by the indescribably courageous French defenders rates a plaque from the French Pigeon Fanciers’ Association.
France’s most celebrated ossuary crowns another hill not far away, its 150ft, shell-shaped tower and rounded Art Deco building suggesting a Twenties space shot. Beneath the building are the bones of 130,000 unidentified soldiers. Kneel down to the little windows and you may stare in at them.
Getting nowhere caused 300,000 deaths between the two sides (Photo: Getty)
Skulls stare back. Stripped of uniforms and flesh, French and Germans are, of course, indistinguishable. On the lawns in front, 15,000 graves roll away in lines of unworldly neatness. As on the Somme, or at Ypres or Tyne Cot, it is overwhelming. One seeks light relief. Fortunately, the little ossuary shop has shake’n’snow ornaments. As far as I know, nobody has yet spotted this gap in the market on the Somme.
Back to the Canadian chaps. “The reality that hits you, it’s the number of graves,” said a former navy man. “You died here. Your whole life, your loves, your mother, your damned dog, your entire history, it’s a whole universe – and you’re one of 130,000.”
“Think we’d do it again, if we had to?” asked one of his friends.
“Yeah, I reckon it’d be like last time,” said the navy fellow. “The kids would come through, they generally do. And all of us, Canadians, Americans, you British, the French – we all squabble about every damned thing, until something vital shows up. Something that really annoys us. Then we discover that what unites us goes a lot deeper than what divides us.”
I’ll take that thought with me to my local war memorial at 11am next Tuesday. I only wish I’d said it myself.
Medals for the WWI Battle of Verdun
Historians consider the 1916 Battle of Verdun in northeast France as the longest single battle of WWI. Prior to the massive conflagration, the French city of Verdun represented historical significance to the nation. The French reinforced the area around Verdun with twenty major forts as well as numerous smaller ones along the eastern border of the nation.
The Battle of Verdun was fought from 21 February to 18 December 1916, was the largest and longest battle of the First World War on the Western Front. Casualties of the German and French armies is estimated at around 770,000. The drawing, 𠇏ighting in a crater during the Battle of Verdun, France” was done by J Simont for the L’Illustrazione Italiana, (XLIII, No 17, April 23, 1916).
J Simont for the L’Illustrazione Italiana, (XLIII, No 17, April 23, 1916).
Chief of the German General Staff Erich von Falkenhayn rationalized initiating the battle in a memo sent on Christmas, 1915. He determined he could inflict maximum casualties on the French by forcing a battle that would require them to defend the area around Verdun.
The battle opened on February 21, 1916, when more than 12,200 German guns opened fire on an eight mile perimeter around Verdun. The ensuing stalemate in the trenches would suck in three fourths of French divisions to serve there.
Within six weeks, the Germans walked into an undefended Fort Douaumont, marking the low point in the battle for the French. They were forced into an impromptu — but successful — defense of the area, utilizing shell holes and trenches for cover.
The Vernier version of the medal is the only one to incorporate the date of ” in the design. It can be seen to the left of the female figure with Vernier maker’s mark.
While many French prisoners were taken during the course of the battle, Falkenhayn did not achieve the five to two kill ratio he promised in Christmas memo that would force the French army to bleed to death. Having underestimated the French defense, the battle degenerated into a terrible carnage on both sides. By April 1916, the French had suffered 133,000 casualties. The Germans had lost more than 120,000.
By late spring, the battles around Verdun continued to rage. On June 1, 1916, the Germans launched a massive attack on Verdun, advancing to within 2 miles of the city’s cathedral.
At this time, however, the British opened a battle for the Somme that would dominate the area. The German Army had given all that it had — and yet, their attack faltered. By July 14, the Germans called off their offensive, and Falkenhayn was dismissed. The French recaptured many of their forts and, by December, the German’s efforts ground to a halt. This was after 600,000 to 700,000 German and French troops were lost (in equal proportions), however.
The reverse of the Vernier Medal shows the Verdun town gate with two fortified towers.
COMMEMORATING A BATTLE
As the situation at Verdun improved, it was decided an unofficial French commemorative medal would be issued. Whereas the French government issued campaign medals, it did not issue medals for battles or events within a campaign. For this reason, any Verdun medal is considered a commemorative medal issued by the City of Verdun as a gesture of honoring the courageous soldiers who saved the city.
In November 1916, the Mayor of Verdun instituted the design of a medal to be awarded to veterans of the French or Allied armies who served between July 31, 1914, and November 11, 1918, in the Verdun sector between the Argonne and Saint-Mihel. Where confusion arises for collectors is that the official medal was designed by S.E. Vernier. While it is the most commonly found version of a Verdun medal, many other engravers saw fit to produce their own designs that were commercially available (rather than given by the City of Verdun). At least 8 different wearable versions as well as table medals exist that can be collectively called “Verdun Medals.”
THE ONLY “OFFICIAL” VERDUN MEDAL
The “Golden Book Commission” issued a medal and certificate (without charge) to those who qualified. The first medal was a non-wearable 37mm example in a leather pouch. It was presented along with a certificate. This was the only official medal that the Commission issued.
The City Council of Verdun presented the original Verdun medal in a leather pouch along with a certificate.
The obverse of the Gold Commission Medal depicts a long- haired women with a sword in her right hand wearing an Adrian helmet used by the French Army. The famous motto On ne passé pas (They Shall Not Pass) is found on this medal (as well as on most other Verdun medals).
The reverse shows an image of the city gates and the main entrance into the city of Verdun. This is imposed on a sunburst of rays and the name “Verdun.”
A later, wearable Vernier medal ( 26.5 mm diameter) was suspended from a ribbon comprised of the French national colors,red, white, and blue. The obverse of the wearable version did not have the ” date as did the unwearable variety. Many of the wearable Vernier medals were presented in small red boxes marked “Medaille de Verdun” in gold letters.
AND ALL THE OTHERS
Beyond the common Vernier strikes, collecting Verdun medals gets more complicated. Many popular medals were sold as mementos to the general public for the benefit of Verdun veterans and veteran societies. They are often found with tri-color ribbons of red, white, and blue with many adopting the Verdun ribbon. Types include the Vernier, Augier, Prudhomme, Revillon, Anonymous, Rene, Rasumny, and Steiner versions. In an attempt to help the Verdun collector, the difference between each will be explored.
Most of the wearable Vernier medals were awarded within red presentation boxes.
The Prudhomme Medal is 27mm bronze circular planchet with the head and shoulders of a helmeted uniform figure representing the French Republic facing left on the obverse. A laurel branch and Verdun 1916 can be seen. The reverse is inscribed Aux Glorieux Defenseurs de Verdun (To the glorious defenders of Verdun) below a plaque imposed on roses.
A second Verdun Medal designed by G. Prudhomme helped meet the demand for commemorative medals.
An unofficial award, the Prudhomme version is hard than most variants to find.
The wearable Vernier version was suspended from a red ribbon, edged in red, white, and blue stripes.
The Augier Medal is a 30mm bronze planchet with the obverse depicting a soldier holding a rifle with cannon in background. The inscription On Ne Passe Pas runs along the left side. The reverse shows the Verdun City gates with open laurel branch and Verdun above the towers.
The Augier obverse is easily identified by the French soldier and cannon. Verdun clasps have been seen in both bronze and silver.
The reverse of the Augier Medal shows the typical double pins used on many French medals.
The Revillon Medal is somewhat smaller than the first three examples, with the silver planchet measuring 22mm across. It shows a crowned female figure holding a sword and scepter with Verdun at the top and On Ne Passe Pas along bottom border. The medal exhibits high relief on both the obverse and reverse. The reverse depicts a charging soldier holding rifle with the inscription En Avant at top. Both sides have Revillon’s maker’s mark.
The Revillon version is a bit smaller than most, measuring only 22mm in diameter.
The Revillon reverse features a charging soldier in high relief.
Another version of the Verdun Medal is named, “Anonymous,” since it carries no maker’s mark. The 27mm silver medal depicts a French soldier in helmet in high relief against a stone wall with Verdun at top. The reverse has a rectangular tablet in the center and the motto, On Ne Passe Pas, imposed on laurel wreath around the top and sides.
Referred to as the 𠇊nonymous Medal,” this silver version has no maker’s mark.
The Rene Medal is strikingly similar to the Prudhomme version. The circular gilt medal has a laterally pierced ball suspension. The obverse depictsthe head and shoulders of a helmeted uniformed figure facing left. The helmet has laurel branches with Verdun – On Ne Passe Pas around edge. The date 1916 is seen at lower left. The reverse has a plaque imposed on a flaming torch with oak and laurel wreath inscribed, Aux Heros De Verdu (To the Heroes of Verdun). All of these later versions are harder to find. To add to the confusion, the Rene Medal is sometimes called the “Marie Stuart” version.
The harder-to-find Rene version is quite similar to other Verdun medals.
One of the rarest versions is the Rasumny Medal. This 28mm bronze medal shows an extremely high relief soldier holding a rifle across chest with the gates of Verdun in the background. At the top is theinscription, Verdun – On Ne Passe Pas. The maker’s name is found under the city gate on the left side of the medal. The reverse is a simple open wreath. Some examples show the date 1914-1918 with a Verdun shield inside the wreath.
The Rasumny version is one of the rarest Verdun medals. With close inspection, the F. Rasumny mark is visible at the lower left of the obverse.
Even the rare Rasumny reverse can be found in many variations.
One of the hardest to find is the Steiner Medal. Measuring 29mm in diameter, the bronze medal has the typical Verdun legend in addition to “Steiner” marked on the lower right of the obverse. The reverse shows a stylized fortress under a mural crown with a Legion of Honor Cross on some ruins.
The Steiner version tends to be very difficult to find, indicating that quantities produced were not as great as other variations.
The most common of the table medals is the Heroes of Verdun by Charles Pillet. This table medal is noteworthy since it was made by the Paris Mint to honor the heroes of Verdun. The 68mm medal is dramatic when compared to wearable Verdun commemoratives. The obverse has two female figures representing the French Army and the French Republic. They stand united fending off the Imperial German eagle. The town of Verdun lies in the background. The inscription translates to Verdun They Shall Not Pass 1916. The reverse has medallions featuring General Petain, General Nivelle, and General Castelnac. The inscription translates, “The Glory of Heroes Verdun 1916.”
The Pillet Verdun Table medal is striking both in terms of design and size.
The high relief of the Pillet medal reverse commemorates“Many heroes of the Verdun battlefield.”
Not only a turning point in WWI, Verdun represents a large loss of life and casualties on both sides. It only seems fitting that so many commemorative medals were produced to memorialize the longest battle of the war.
Russian Offensives on the Eastern Front
Committed to offensives in 1916 by the Chantilly conference, the Russian Stavka began preparations for attacking the Germans along the northern part of the front. Due to additional mobilization and the re-tooling of industry for war, the Russians enjoyed an advantage in both manpower and artillery. The first attacks began on March 18 in response to French appeals to relieve pressure on Verdun. Striking the Germans on either side of Lake Naroch, the Russians sought to retake the town of Vilna in Eastern Poland. Advancing on a narrow front, they made some progress before the Germans began counterattacking. After thirteen days of fighting, the Russians admitted defeat and sustaining 100,000 casualties.
In the wake of the failure, the Russian Chief of Staff, General Mikhail Alekseyev convened a meeting to discuss offensive options. During the conference, the new commander of the southern front, General Aleksei Brusilov, proposed an attack against the Austrians. Approved, Brusilov carefully planned his operation and moved forward on June 4. Using new tactics, Brusilov's men attacked on a wide front overwhelmed the Austrian defenders. Seeking to take advantage of Brusilov's success, Alekseyev ordered General Alexei Evert to attack the Germans north of the Pripet Marshes. Hastily prepared, Evert's offensive was easily defeated by the Germans. Pressing on, Brusilov's men enjoyed success through early September and inflicted 600,000 casualties on the Austrians and 350,000 on the Germans. Advancing sixty miles, the offensive ended due to a lack of reserves and the need to aid Romania (Map).
Notre-Dame de l'Assomption church in Phalsbourg
Phalsbourg was built around 1570 as a fortified town and was an important stronghold in the Duchy of Lorraine. The town fell to France in 1662, and its defenses were considerably strengthened by renowned military engineer Vauban in 1680.
The remains of the fortifications created by Vauban include the Porte de France and Porte d'Allemagne. These defensive city gates are registered as Historic Monuments.
A museum of the town's history is found at the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall). The museum displays collections of military history, folk costumes, and literature.
Phalsbourg has a strong Catholic heritage and previously was home to a small Jewish community. The town's Neo-Gothic Catholic church was rebuilt after the Siege of 1870, and the synagogue dates to 1857.
Nearby is the Parc Naturel Régional des Vosges du Nord, a great place for hiking and nature walks.