Saturday, July 23, 2011
I saved Verdun for last.
Pic 1 is the biggest cemetary I have ever seen - and that's just some of the French soldiers they could identify.
1) Attacking the salient from the E required attacking the range of French hills from a plain - the build up and supply lines would have been in plain French view.
2) Attacking the salient down the west side of the Meuse was hampered by successive rows of hills (see Butt de Vauquois in an earlier post).
Pic 3 is a typical example of the shape of the ground.
Pic 4 is the remains of a reinforced communication trench.
The main features are well signposted and have interpretation signs in French, German & English, so it's easy to find your way and to appreciate the site. At Fort Douaumont you get an excellent Ipod guide with the price of admission. (E6.50 gets you into both Vaux & Douaumont).
As well as the main forts there are lesser ones all over the place. Stop the car & wander into the scrub anywhere & you find probably find pillboxes, trenches, gun emplacement, and always the shell holes.
Amazingly, before the German attacked the forts of Verdun had been partly decommisioned. The French high command having decided in their wisdom that because the Germans took the Belgian forts, such forts were obsolete. They had only just begun to undo the damage when the Germans attacked. When the Germans attacked Fort Douaumont, the advance guard of pioneers found a door, walked in and rounded up the small garison without a shot. It took untold rounds of heavy artillery and dead soldiers to get it back.
In some ways the Verdun Forts are not as good to see as the Maginot line. The Maginot Forts are pretty well as they were left in 1940. The Verdun Forts were generally repaired & upgunned in 1917 after the French took them back (the high command had realised the error of their ways re forts by then). They have also been extensively cleaned up and sanitised to make them safe for public access. But the overall effect of the Verdun battlefield is simply awesome in the true sense of the word.