23/6/1916 Verdun: “Ils ne passeront pas!”

Brutal fighting continues at Verdun, with the Germans pressing the French hard. They hope that this final onslaught will carry them all the way to Verdun itself, shattering French morale. The Germans are using a new secret weapon: phosgene gas, code-named “Green Cross”, against which French gas masks are not fully effective.

By late afternoon the Germans have secured the village of Fleury. The fortified position at Thiaumont is also in their hands. They are now only two and a half miles from Verdun. There are more reports of desertions on the French side, an indication that French resolve is beginning to break.

Pétain attempts to project calmness to his subordinates, but he telephones Joffre’s headquarters, to warn that the army is on the brink of collapse. He calls again for the British offensive on the Somme to be brought forward. Joffre likes people to think that nothing worries him, but he fears the consequences of German victory at Verdun. He diverts another four divisions from the Somme to stop the Germans, making the forthcoming offensive there an almost entirely British affair.

Nivelle is the local French commander at Verdun. As the day closes, he attempts to rally the French with an order of the day making the usual threats of harsh measures against anyone who fails to do their duty. He ends with an exhortation to hold the line and halt the Germans: “Ils ne passeront pas!”

image sources:

German assault troops at Verdun (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

French reinforcements (Les Français à Verdun)

23 June map (Les Français à Verdun)

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