May 21, 2013

The Scarred Landscape of Verdun

"Good tactics can save even the worst strategy.  Bad tactics will destroy even the best strategy."  George Patton

Al writes:  Our travels so far have taken us in the vicinity of the WWI trench lines in Northern France and Belgium.  A visit to the WWI battlefields would not be complete without visiting Verdun.  This area is only 25 miles from the French/German border, and thus, France felt compelled to fortify the area with forts to discourage invasion.  I can only tip my hat to the incredible stupidity and stubbornness of the German and French generals.  The Germans thought, "We will attack and overcome the strongest and best French positions and demoralize their army."  The French would not give an inch and used enormous amounts of manpower to take back any part of the line or any forts that were lost.  The result was 800,000 killed in 300 days of nonstop trench warfare.  This conflict was considered the biggest battle in human history up to that time.

The landscape approaching the area was beautifully misleading.  We traveled the beautiful rolling hills covered with fields of the yellowest yellow and the greenest green we have ever seen.  Every time we hit a rise, the land was covered with a quilt-like pattern of yellow colza and what looked like green spring wheat.  The sight was breathtaking…

As we got closer to Verdun, the landscape changed.  The millions of rounds of artillery fired in this area left the ground covered with craters and moguls.  

As we continued up the "Battlefield Road," we examined some authentic communication trenches that remained after almost 100 years.

Our first planned stop was the moving Douaumont Ossuary, which is the main monument/cemetery for the French and has the tombs of over 130,000 soldiers.  There was a lot of activity with refurbishment of the monument and replacement of crosses in preparation for next year’s 100th anniversary of the commencement of WWI.

Our final stop was Fort Douaumont, which was the most strategic stronghold anchoring the entire line.  It was the site of brutal slugfests as the fort changed hands several times. 


Our travels through the WWI areas reinforced the books I have read about this conflict.  The generals conducting the war were unimaginable and impervious to logic when they sent hundreds of thousands to their death with attacks on fortified positions.  Tactics had not caught up to the technology of machine guns, artillery, and gas.  All wars are sad, horrific endeavors, but this war should never have happened.  A generation of men from France, UK, and Germany were decimated for little gain, and history shows that the seeds of the Second World War were sewn with the millions put to rest in the grounds of these battlefields.

"Fixed fortifications are monuments to man's stupidity."  George Patton

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