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France marks the centenary of the Battle of Verdun

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France marks the centenary of the Battle of Verdun

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At zero seven fifteen on the morning of February 21 1916. German artillery launched a fusillade of shells on the Caures wood. It was a battle tactic to prepare the ground for the armies to follow.

The Germans had surprised the French. The battle of Verdun had begun well for them.

A century later Verdun remains the most famous battle of the First World War.

France will hold commemorations on Sunday, May 29, to mark the centenary.

“My grandfather was a German soldier in 1914 because Alsace was part of the German Empire so it is in great part in memory to him,” Luc Heinrich a volunteer at the battlefield site explained while another added: “Maybe the young will forget tomorrow but it is thanks to these people that we are free.”

The battle which cost the lives of 300,000 lasted 300 days. One hundred and thirty thousand of these soldiers, Germans and French are buried in the impressive Douaumont Ossuary.

Verdun was a ruthless battle fought exclusively between the French and Germans. The Germans believed that by launching their tactic of “Trommelfeuer”, rolling fire and storms of steel at the start of the battle it would soon be over. But this was trench warfare and the two sides dug in.

During the 300 days and nights between that February morning and December 1916 26 million shells pounded the battlefield that is six shells per square metre.

It is considered as the most terrible of battles in the history of warfare. The losses though were less than at the Somme.

The difference was that the Allies were also in action at the Somme where the English lost 19,250 soldiers on the first day of fighting.

New weapons like the tank were deployed for the first time at the Somme. It was also the first battle where film – which was to become an exceptional witness to conflicts – was first used to capture the horrors.

But it is Verdun which remains the most potent symbol of the futility of war. After 300 days of fighting the battle lines had hardly moved, the Germans never got within five kilometres of the city of Verdun.

In 1984 the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and former French President Francois Mitterand chose these killing fields to seal friendship between the two countries as they stood hand in hand.

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