22/2/1916 Verdun: storm of steel

The Germans have launched their Verdun offensive, with which they hope to knock France out of the war. Yesterday after a devastating military bombardment they launched probing attacks. Now, supported by their artillery, the main infantry assault begins. They overrun French frontline positions, bringing up flamethrowers to eliminate areas where stubborn resistance continues.

Yet the Germans do not have it all their way. In fact, they are a bit disconcerted to be doing any fighting at all, as they had expected that the artillery bombardment would have exterminated the French soldiers in front of them. Instead they are facing pockets of French troops who fight on for as long as they can, together with counter-attacks that challenge their possession of captured positions.

Some of the toughest fighting takes place among what is left of the trees in the Bois des Caures. Here two battalions under Colonel Émile Driant stage a desperate stand against overwhelming odds. They continue fighting even after being outflanked by the enemy, but eventually their position becomes untenable. Driant orders what is left of his command to retreat, but as they pull back they are cut up by enfilading fire. Driant himself is shot and killed. Very few of his men make it back to the relative safety of the main French lines, but they have severely disrupted the German assault.

image sources:

German flame throwers & Colonel Driant

22/2/1916 map

(all from Les Français à Verdun)

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