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- 04 -082016

The “hyperbataille” of Verdun, fourteenth episode : the rôle of artillery

Verdun épisode 14-1 : Une pièce d'artillerie, Scott Georges BertinThe Battle of Verdun begun with a German offensive aimed at crushing the French front-line by an unprecedented massive artillery bombardment. This offensive preluded the more important ones that followed, such as the Battle of the Somme and the assault on the Chemin des Dames during the Second Battle of the Aisne. In Verdun, the German High Command relied on the so-called «Trommelfeuer», a method of attack consisting of a barrage fire moving in a rolling pattern with the hope that the high explosives and shrapnel raining on French positions would destroy them and clear the way for the German infantry.

Verdun épisode 14-2 : Carte postal - © Musée de l'Armée These terrible heavy shelling and bombardments of some ten million artillery shells smashed into pieces the landscape in the fighting lines, destroyed the trenches and transformed the battlefield into a lunar landscape where the rare surviving soldiers resisted fiercely and bravely. This configuration lasted all throughout the ten-month battle during which multiple attacks and counterattacks took place, with the artillery backing up the infantry in the case of artillery preparations or under enemy fire in the case of a barrage. Until the Battle of the Somme where the Germans had to transfer part of their military units from the Verdun sector, their artillery was far superior to the French one, both in regards to equipment and firepower. In consequence, French artillery worn prematurely as French artillerymen who were forced to maintain a high-rate of artillery fire had to use their guns at a more sustained and rapid pace.

Verdun épisode 14-3 : Voute du fort de Douaumont percée par un obus, © Collection Bibliothèque de documentation internationale contemporaine Many sites of major combats are also linked to the devastation inflicted by artillery fire, such as the forts and the ridges should they be fortified or not as they proved to be excellent observatory points for gathering information for firing orders. Since artillery was responsible for over 80 percent of all human casualties it became the preferred means of using poison gas.

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