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Covering the villages of Wilsden and Harecroft

This Week in 1916

21st February – British Prime Minister Asquith asks Parliament to approve a further £420 million war loan (in modern money, over £18 billion)

The Battle of Verdun

On the 21st February, the German army began its assault on the historic French city of Verdun, protected by two significant outlying forts, and itself a fortification defending the road to Paris. 500,000 French defenders held the city, and over ten months, (the longest single battle in human history); over 1 million German troops were thrown against the city. It has been described as ‘the greatest battle of attrition in history’, as the German efforts to bleed France dry of soldiers met French determination to not let the city fall. In the first nine hours of battle alone, eight-hundred and fifty German heavy artillery pieces bombarded a front just 8 miles long. Of the French defenders, one corporal wrote ‘two are buried alive under their shelter, two are wounded to some extent or other, and the fifth is waiting”. Over the course of the ten months, it has been estimated that in some places 10 shells fell on every square centimetre of ground - even into the 21st century, over 40 tons of unexploded munitions are still being removed from the battlefield every year. Despite initial German successes – the surprise use of gas shells and flamethrowers in the capture of one of Verdun’s outlying forts - in the first five weeks of the battle one German soldier was killed every 45 seconds. By the end of the battle, in an area less than 50 miles square, 400,000 French soldiers had been wounded, as had 350,000 Germans. Over 300,000 French and German soldiers were killed. Both sides ended the battle in almost the same positions they had started in.

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- Verdun battlefield in 1917. Image from http://roadstothegreatwar-ww1.blogspot.co.uk


Gilbert, M First World War

Askwith, R. (ed.) A History of the Great War in 100 Moments

Longman Chronicle of the Twentieth Century