German troops trying to rescue a French soldier from sinking in a mud hole

German troops trying to rescue a French soldier from sinking in a mud hole, 1918

Photo taken during the Battle of Verdun, one of the most deadliest battles of Great War. Verdun is located on the border of France and Germany. Upon the recommendation of Falkenhayn, who stated that the key to winning the war was not fighting the Eastern Front (Russia), but instead to fight the Western Front. Falkenhayn argued that if France was defeated than Britain would either surrender or be defeated later. The Kaiser agreed to allow the battle to take place.

The battle of Verdun was originally intended to take place on February 12 1916 , however it was postponed to the 21st. France intelligence found out about the planned attack and readied itself accordingly. The battle at Verdun was a great struggle from the beginning. Neither side gained much ground as the days turned to weeks which turned to months. In an attempt to end the stalemate Germany used a new technological warfare, chemical warfare, or more specifically they used phosgene gas. The battle finally ended 10 bloody months late on December 18th 1916 with Germany pulling out. During this battle an estimated 698,000 soldiers died, an average of 70,000 deaths a month! This battle had no real tactical or strategic result.

The concentration of so much fighting in such a small area devastated the land, resulting in miserable conditions for troops on both sides. Rain combined with the constant tearing up of the ground turned the clay of the area to a wasteland of mud full of human remains. Forests were reduced to tangled piles of wood by constant artillery-fire and eventually obliterated.

In WWI respect for ones enemies still existed, atrocities were no where near common place as in WWII, one could say almost rare. Many times after a battle it was common for either side to help the wounded even if minutes prior they were shooting at them. Most of you have heard of the Christmas soccer game between Brits and Germans. Although this did not happen across the entire front, similar acts of respect and understanding did happen.

Interesting fact:

  • Even today the Verdun battlefield is a vast graveyard, where the mortal remains of over 100,000 missing soldiers remain where they fell, unless discovered by the French Forestry Service and laid in the Douaumont ossuary.