Battle of Verdun 

US #2154 honors veterans of WWI. Click image to order.

On February 21, 1916, one of the longest battles on the Western Front began at Verdun.

German general Erich von Falkenhayn considered England to be his country’s most important enemy.  Because the French shielded that nation from his reach, von Falkenhayn plotted to destroy that army first.  He sought a target so valued by the French that they would sacrifice their entire army to defend it.  Afterward, von Falkenhayn planned to march his troops swiftly on to England.

Item #M11403 includes a stamp picturing a French soldier wearing a gas mask at the Battle of Verdun. Click image to order.

In late 1915, von Falkenhayn delivered his “Christmas Memo.”  In it, he promised to not just take French territory but to make their army “bleed to death” in their defense of the Verdun fortress complex on the Meuse Heights.

US #934 – According to legend, a sword from one of the reliefs broke off on the day the Battle of Verdun began. Click image to order.

On February 21, 1916, the Germans set up an eight-mile perimeter around Verdun, a heavily fortified garrison in the northeast of France and a critical part of the defense of Paris.  The assault began with the heaviest bombing in history, with the Germans firing over 1,220 guns.  This constant shell storm would be common throughout the long battle.  And over the coming months, about three-fourths of the French Western Front divisions would serve there.

France #1481 was issued for the 60th anniversary of the battle. Click image to order.

During the first few days, the German orders quickly changed to take French positions “without regard to casualties.”  By the end of the first week of battle, the Germans had advanced six miles and took control of the undefended Fort Douaumont, the most important fortress in Verdun.  Fighting continued into June when the Germans took another important stronghold, Fort Vaux.  Despite these gains, the German offensive was generally considered a failure and many German troops were called away to reinforce the Somme front.  Falkenhayn was removed from his position shortly after.

Item #M11917 – Collection of six mint World War I stamp sheets. Click image to order.

Though the Germans abandoned their advance, they still held French forts.  By autumn, the French had retaken both forts.  Largely fought from trenches, the 10-month battle resulted in horrific casualties and more than 300,000 deaths on each side.  It was the largest and longest battles between France and Germany on the Western Front during the war and one of the costliest conflicts in history.

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  1. While the horrific battle of Verdun was going on, the British planned and began an attack on German lines further west…the equally horrific Battle of the Somme. Line after line of British troops advanced toward the German army in heavily fortified trenches only to be cut to pieces by German machine guns. The Battle of the Somme raged on for months with no appreciable gain on either side. Both battles demonstrate the futility on war at its finest.

    1. The futility of war? All wars? The British and Americans should have just cut an agreement with Mr Hitler in WW2 I take it. Futile indeed.

      1. WW1 was totally unnecessary, futile and could have been avoided. WW2 was a different story because Hitler was an evil man out to conquer Europe and the world while killing millions of people. He had to be stopped!

  2. Always remember Sergeant Alvin York of the US Army and the the fighting Marine “Devil Dogs” of Belleau Wood. Oh and the American aces Luke and Rickenbaker.

  3. WWI was a transition between the style of battle that had existed for centuries with infantry lines charging to gain ground, to one of attacks from afar on strategic positions to soften up the defenses. The machine guns and mortars just carved up human life in the centuries old infantry battle lines. My Grandfather was in one of the original ANZAC landing divisions at Gallipoli in April 1915 and a platoon leader. His military notebook shows that 75% of his platoon were lost in the first 10 days, mostly due to machine gun fire from the Turks on the cliffs above the beaches. He was shot in Mid May 1915 in a bayonet charge, suffering 4 hits, one in the shoulder, one piercing right through his throat, two in the upper chest. All from the same burst of fire. Fortunately for me – he survived.

  4. Unlike virtually all of your previous historical vignettes, illustrated by appropriate US stamps, this one seemed to be out of place, disjointed, and stamps for WWII victory mixed with a contemporary US stamp commemorating WWI Veterans, all of whom have passed on today. In example, you used the word “bombing” (which is normally reserved for bombs dropped from aircraft, when bombardment would have been more appropriate). Only the French 60th year commemorative stamp was applicable to the battle of Verdun. The Germans were fighting a war on two fronts; they had to quickly end the war in France – or Russia to consolidate their territorial gains and combine their forces. Verdun was not a rapid or decisive victory and therefore was a failure in which the German Army threw more men, more artillery, and more of their wealth at an already failed campaign. You normally name the commanders of both forces and yet you did not name the French commander at Verdun, who should have surrendered rather than see 300,000 soldiers die in vain. Someone already correctly stated that this war never should have begun, a system of alliances and conflict in a very small unimportant country (Serbia) caused this war by political leaders mobilizing their reserve armies in a show of support that led Austro-Hungarian-German forces to execute the war plans they had in place if threatened by French and British forces. A catastrophic chain of events that could not be stopped once set in motion. There is no doubt this battle, combined with that of the Somme River valley “bled the participants dry” – more than a million young men killed and probably twice that number wounded, maimed, or crippled. It was a demonstration of fixed defenses with devastating new weapons (machine guns) that made massed armies maneuver in Napoleonic style obsolete, and old generals and political leaders on all sides failing to see the futility of their efforts to produce anything more than a bloody stalemate. The war could not be won, both sides knew that by early 2016. With no clear victory for anyone, which should have precipitated a peace treaty instead of 2 more years of brutal total war that essentially wiped out a generation of European males. This conflict brought America into the war and we suffered in less than 18 months over 100,000 deaths in a conflict we did not start and did not really have any strong interest in who won or loss. My grandfather, a Texas and Oklahoma rancher, oilfield roughneck, and small town sheriff was in that war. My grandmother said he never was the same man, deeply affected by the horrors he witnessed. That war and the unjust peace treaty of Paris in 1919 basically caused the conditions in Europe that facilitated the rise of Hitler to power and the start of WWII.

    1. The U.S declared war in April of 1917, but most of the 100,000 deaths, not to count the casualties, came between June and November, 1918 when the Armistice was signed. The sudden death toll hit America like shouting fire in a crowded theater.

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