The Battle of Verdun, was recorded as being fought from 21 February to 19 December 1916 around the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse in northeast France. It was one of the most important battles in World War I on the Western Front. The battle was fought between the German and French armies.
It resulted in more than a quarter of a million deaths and about half a million wounded. It was the longest battle and one of the bloodiest in World War I. In both France and Germany it has come to represent the horrors of war, similar to the Somme in Britain.
The battle popularised the phrase “Ils ne passeront pas” (“They shall not pass”), uttered by Robert Neville, but often incorrectly attributed to Pétain.
It was crucial that the less populous Central Powers inflict many more casualties on their adversaries than they themselves suffered. At Verdun, Germany did inflict more casualties on the French than they incurred—but not in the 2:1 ratio that they had hoped for, despite the fact that the German Army grossly outnumbered the French.
France’s losses were appalling, however. It was the perceived humanity of Field Marshal Philippe Pétain who insisted that troops be regularly rotated in the face of such horror that helped seal his reputation. The rotation of forces meant that 70% of France’s Army went through “the wringer of Verdun”, as opposed to the 25% of the German forces who saw action there.