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Verdun, Battle of

A Dictionary of Contemporary World History

Jan Palmowski

Verdun, Battle of 

(21 Feb. – 16 Dec. 1916)

A battle of attrition in World War I. It was based on a plan of General von Falkenhayn, Chief of the German General Staff, to concentrate the whole weight of his resources against the French fortified city of Verdun. He hoped to bind all French forces to this area, and eventually overcome his opponent through sheer numbers and determination, regardless of the human cost. After the heaviest artillery bombardment to date, and with exceptionally heavy casualties, he captured the forts of Douaumont and Vaux. Nevertheless, under the inspiring leadership of Generals Nivelle and Pétain, Verdun itself did not fall. Relieved to some extent by the Battle of the Somme, the French regained their positions through counter‐attacks on 24 October and 15 December 1916. While the successful resistance proved to be crucial for French morale, it was another example of the massive human cost of trench warfare in World War I, as around 400,000 Allied and 350,000 German troops lost their lives over a few square miles of land.