Great Video
#Repost @combat_learjet
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February 21, 1916 - Battle of Verdun Begins

Pictured - Three waves of German infantry are visible advancing towards the French line in Haumont Forest in the distance.

Deep in a wood near the village of Loisin, near Verdun, the sleepy crew of a massive German Krupp naval gun rolled out their weapon for another morning of practice.  For days now they and the other crews had been woken up in the pre-dawn dark to load and reload their guns and practice ranging.  As they set to work again, the battery commander’s telephone rang. The answering officer listened intently: the order had finally arrived.  The huge shell, as big as a man, was hoisted into the gun, and the crews turned their backs and covered the ears.  “FEUER!”

The first shells landed in the courtyard of the Bishop’s Palace in Verdun, twenty miles away (it was actually supposed to hit one of the vital Meuse bridges, so much for all the days of practice).  The shot woke up French soldiers all along the Verdun line.  Sentries peered over their trenches, the weather was pleasant.  All of a sudden, the world disintegrated.

210-mm shells rained down on the French trenches on a 3 mile front.  It was “a storm, a hurricane, a tempest growing ever stronger, where it was raining nothing but paving stones  Tree branches disappeared, and the trunks themselves were uprooted into the air, then blown sky-high again after they has crashed down.  The bombardment progressed methodically, sweeping slowly over each trench line.  Colonel Émile Driant‘s two battalions of chasseurs endured two hours of hell on earth, before the barrage mercifully moved on.

Around midday, the German artillery suddenly stopped, leaving nothing but a slightly disturbing silence in the air.  French soldiers warily left their shelters, taking up firing positions for the expected infantry attack.  It was exactly what the Germans had anticipated.  Just as suddenly as it stopped, the artillery barrage fell down again with equal ferocity.  Entire French companies vanished in an instant, vaporized or buried alive in their trenches.  German artillery observers watched for strong points that still contained living men, directing mortar fire against the survivors. 

Behind the lines, gas shells fell on French artillery batteries.  Some gunners dutifully tried to respond, their gas masks making the task that much more difficult, but most of them looked on helplessly.  There was little they could do; French spotter planes that took to the air reported so many guns firing that the woods containing German guns looked like one endless streak of fire.

On the other side, German soldiers emerged from their damp concrete bunkers to watch the show.  The misery of the past weeks of waiting disappeared as they watched the obliteration of their enemy.  Men prayed, or scribbled out last notes to parents, wives, and girlfriends.  “There’s going to be a battle here, the likes of which the world has not yet seen,” wrote a young Hessian home to his mother.  On landing, a German pilot met his commanding officer with a grin. “It’s done, we can pass, there’s nothing living there any more.”

At 4:00 P.M., the German infantry went over the top, the spikes unscrewed from their pickelhaubes to avoid getting tangled in brush.  Squads of German troops dashed in packets across the now-devastated landscape, taking advantage of cover, save for one regiment of Brandenburgers which advanced in lines, bellowing the battle-song Preussens Gloria. The task of the initial waves was merely to find the points of least resistance in the decimated French line; the main attack was to go forward on the 22nd.  General von Zwehel’s VII Reserve Corps, however, sent the storm troopers in on the heels of the first wave.

In the Bois des Caures, some of the survivors of Driant’s regiments had fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion.  Suddenly there was a shout from the edge of the woods, a man spotted the approaching lines of field grey infantry.  Resistance was mixed.  The French 165th Regiment was overrun in seconds, most of its men and rifles already buried in their trenches.  German troops took their machine guns and turned them around, while pioneers used blow-torches to cut through the barbed wire. 

Other French units managed to fight back.  “We shall hold against the Boche although their bombardment is infernal,” reported one commander from the front lines.  Of its 1,300 men, however, more than half were dead or wounded.  A corporal reported that out of every five men, “two have been buried alive under their shelter, two are wounded to some extent or other, and the fifth is waiting.”

Driant’s regiments had fared better, due to the colonel’s savvy defensive layout, positioning his defenses in several scattered outposts rather than one trench line, saving much of it from the worst of the bombardment.  “Voila les Boches!” went up the cry.  Driant grabbed a rifle and rushed out with the rest of his troops.  “We are here!” he shouted, “This is our place, they shall not move us from it!”

Requests for artillery support went unanswered.  The first German waves charged in with bayonets, over 150 enemy soldiers who had crept in unseen from a communications trench.  One of Driant’s officers, Lieutenant Robin, held them in a fierce hand-to-hand fight with bayonets, revolvers, and grenades.  Gradually, by weight of numbers, the Germans pushed the French platoons back.  Driant did not give up any ground without a fight though; counter-attacked every fallen spot, and his men fighting to the death to hold on to them, smashing their machine guns once they ran out of ammunition. 

When the Germans ran into one intact French machine gun post, they broke out one of their new weapons.  A searing streak of flame shot through the air, burning out the French defenders.  The Battle of Verdun was to be one of the first large-scale uses of the flamethrower. 

Night brought an end to the fighting, as well as unexpected snowy weather.  For the most part, the French had held on better than anticipated, though at terrible cost.  Most of the advancing Germans had been surprised by the amount of resistance encountered, the first of many disappointments to be had for them at Verdun.  Only the VII Reserve Corps had taken considerable ground by breaking orders to send forward the main attack on the 21st.