4/9/1916 Verdun: the Tavannes Tunnel disaster

At Verdun the crisis for the French is over. Though they cannot be certain of German intentions, it appears unlikely now that the Germans will make any further attempt to capture the town that has cost so many lives. Instead the French are slowly preparing a great counter-attack to recapture as much of the ground they have lost as possible.

Early in the battle the French lost the great fort of Douaumont, which has served the Germans as a secure forward base since then. On the French side, a similar role is served by the Tavannes Tunnel. Running under the last line of fortifications before Verdun, this railway tunnel has become a field hospital and forward shelter from German artillery.

Unfortunately for the French, the same kind of disaster strikes the French in the tunnel as befell the Germans in Fort Douaumont in early May. Rockets being carried into the tunnel by mules are somehow ignited. They set off a chain reaction, detonating grenades, more munitions and inflammable fuel stores. The result is a series of explosions and then an uncontrollable fire, with men killed by flame or blast, or trampled to death as they attempt to flee to safety. More than 500 men lose their lives in the inferno.

image sources (Les Français à Verdun)

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