On this day, 18th of December 1916 the battle of Verdun ended after almost exactly 10 months.
The number of casualties are disputed but numbers go up to 300,000 deaths and maybe another 500,000 severely wounded. The German strategic plan to either break through or at least grind down the French army in an industrialised battle failed. At the end the frontline was largely unchanged with some positions having changed hands 4 times.
The battle of Verdun has a huge significance in France and Germany similar to the battle of the Somme in Great Britain.
In France it was seen as one of the great moments of resistance. The French general Robert Nivelle coined the phrase “Ils ne passeront pas” (they shall not pass). The term was not only picked up by Tolkien, but also by the Spanish in the civil war “No pasaran!” remains a key slogan of the left in Spain and elsewhere today.
In Germany Verdun became a symbol of the pointlessness and mechanised nature of the battle of materials in World War I. It was known as the “Bloodmill” or “Hell of Verdun”. Art lovers mourn the painter Franz Marc (1880-1916) whose vibrant pictures of horses were a million miles from the horror of the trenches.
On September 22, 1984 the two heads of state, Francois Mitterrand, President of France and Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany met at Verdun to commemorate the fallen. In a spontaneous gesture of reconciliation the two stood hand in hand before a monument to soldiers on both sides.