21/2/1916 Verdun: it begins

The German assault on Verdun has been delayed by snow. Now weather conditions have improved sufficiently that Crown Prince Wilhelm gives the order for the offensive to begin.

German guns launch a devastating artillery bombardment of an intensity not yet seen in this conflict. Shells rain down on the town of Verdun itself and then on the frontline positions of the French. Many French positions are simply destroyed, their occupants killed or buried alive. The rest find their communications cut off as the shelling severs telephone wires. French artillery batteries to the rear are also subjected to a heavy bombardment, severely limiting their ability to fire back at the Germans (though some lucky shells land near the Crown Prince’s headquarters, forcing him to move back further to the rear).

At around midday the German shelling of the frontline suddenly halts. Surviving French troops rush out of their shelters to face the German infantry assault, but it does not come. The lull is a trick. German observers report report back to their artillery where the French are still active. Then the guns pour down fire on these positions.

Only in the late afternoon do the guns finally lift from the frontline. German troops move forward, having unscrewed the inconvenient spikes from their helmets. French positions are overrun, in many cases taken with little or no resistance. But the French are not giving up yet. Counter-attacks are launched, in many cases recovering the lost positions. From German prisoners the French now learn the terrible truth: today the Germans were just launching probing attacks. The real assault comes tomorrow.

image sources:

Explosion (Les Françaus à Verdun)

map (Michael Bourlet ( @mbourlet ), Twitter)

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