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The Great War
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Timeline Maps & Battles The Shaping of the 21st Century Historians
Historians OverviewStephane Audoin-Rouzeau

Verdun - The Battle of France
Stephane Audoin_Rouzeau
"The battle of Verdun is the battle of France.

"It's a place of the identity of France, of France-ness, I would say. There was no battle before, and no battle after, which was so important in the French memory. So, you can't understand France without understanding Verdun.

"The French troops were unprepared in Verdun. It sounds incredible, but that is the case. Why? Because the French High Command didn't expect any attack on this particular sector of the Front. So the German attack was a complete surprise for French troops, and especially for the French High Command.

"German troops had the advantage of surprise.

"Second, is the huge advantage in artillery that German troops had at the turning point of the war, especially in heavy guns. And the French Army couldn't match the German artillery.

"I think the soldiers on the battlefield of Verdun – French soldiers or German soldiers the same – felt completely lost, completely abandoned. And we have to understand why. You have no ordinary trenches in Verdun. There are no trenches anymore because of the heavy bombardments. You have only pieces of trenches, and soldiers are alone or in small groups everywhere with no officers, no tactical links. So they feel completely abandoned on the battlefield. For example, there are no stretcher-bearers. No food. No letters. Nothing at all. So that is a very specific sort of battle.

"I think that in the total war, the battle of Verdun was a total battle.

"I think that French soldiers were perfectly aware of the meaning of the battle. In their eyes, the battle was a defense of their women, their wives, the children, the French religion, the French soil. It looks very strange to us now, but for the French soldiers of 1916, it was very clear to them. The battle had real meaning."

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