© Hendrik Meersschaert, 2002 - 2017
THE VERDUN MEDALS
PRELUDE TO THE BATTLES OF VERDUN
In the French defence system the fortified city of Verdun was one of the principal strongholds. Its commander at the outset of WW1, General Contanceau, disposed of 700 artillery pieces and a garrison that comprised the three regiments of the 72nd Reserve Infantry Division and the 108th Brigade (54th Reserve Infantry Division). On 6 September 1914 these forces were used to attack the German Crown Prince's army rearguard in order to relieve the pressure on the French 3rd Army in the area. Two days later the fortress of Troyon was severely attacked by artillery followed by night attacks. The fortress remained in French hands and, following counterattacks by the 3rd Army, the German forces abandoned the attack. Two German Army Corps did profit from the attention the fort received and captured Saint-Mihiel which had been left with only a reserve infantry division for its defence.
THE VERDUN BATTLES
On 21 February 1916, at 7.15 h, German artillery starts a bombardment with 1225 guns. Three French infantry divisions are attacked, at 16.45 h, by three German Army Corps. Resistance is fierce, particularly in Caures Wood, Haumont Wood and the Herbebois Wood.
On 24 February, the north-east defences of Verdun are succumbing to the pressures and on the next day, a Lt. Brandis (24th Brandenburg Regiment) succeeds in capturing the weakly defended Douaumont fortress. Lt. Brandis will receive the "Pour le Mérite" order for this exploit.
At this point of the battle, General Pétain is put in charge of what is now the 2nd Army at Verdun and the Germans are stopped temporarily. Pétain quickly organises supply routes, the line of defence, the use of artillery, the rear areas and Verdun is as ready as can be at such short notice when the German forces resume their attacks on 6 March. Attacks and counterattacks will follow each other till, over a month later, on 9 April the German assault is broken off. Pétain's victory leads to his appointment as Army group commander and Gerneral Nivelle takes over command of the 2nd Army.
German attacks are renewed on 1 May and will last till 12 July. Battles will be especially fierce at Douaumont fortress (captured by the French, recaptured by the Germans, 22-23 May), Vaux fortress (resisting German attacks for 5 days, early June), Souville fortress (1 July). The German Emperor intervenes personally at this point and the German offensive is slowed down until finally halted on 2 September.
On 24 December 1916, the French 2nd Army, now lead by Mangin, attacks. Douaumont fortress is captured and the Germans are forced to evacuate Vaux fortress. The defeat of the German offensive actions against Verdun is definitely sealed.
The last battle of Verdun takes place between 20 August and 8 September 1917 with the attacking French forces more or less ending up at the original front line of 21 February 1916.