The battle of Verdun was perhaps the most famous individual siege within the wider siege warfare that dominated the Western Front during the First World War. Most of the pre-war fortifications of France and Belgium fell rather easily to the Germans in the first few months of the war, but at Verdun the French were able to hold on against a massive German attack, despite having removed many guns from the fortress.
The fortifications that were at the heart of the First World War battle were a recent construction. After the Franco-Prussian War the French lost the important border fortifications at Metz, and had to build a new line of defences further to the west. The forts around Verdun were a key part of this new defensive line. This book traces the development of the fortifications of Verdun, starting with the original forts of the 1870s. The 1880s saw a massive rebuilding of the forts as part of the 'torpedo crisis', when new high explosive shells threatened to make fixed fortifications obsolete. Between then and the outbreak of the First World War the fortifications were repeatedly upgraded, and Donnell explores the reasons and nature of each round of modifications.
The failure of a series of border forts during the first few months of the war convinced the French that the fortifications of Verdun were now obsolete, and an active well equipped field army would be more effective. As a result many of the guns of Verdun were removed and distributed across the army, where they had little impact. The only result was to leave the fortress under-armed when the Germans made it the focus of their main offensive of 1916.
The sections on the physical development of the fortifications are followed by chapters on everyday life within the forts, the actual fighting during the First World War and the current state of preservation of the remains. Each section is well illustrated, with a good mix of maps, illustrations, contemporary and modern photographs. As a result the book gives us a good overall view of the history of these iconic French fortifications.
Design and Development
Tour of the Site
Principles of Defence
The Living Site
The Site in War
The Site Today
Author: Clayton Donnell