One hundred years ago, in 1916, the longest battle in history was fought on the border of France and Germany. The 10-month Battle of Verdun became a symbol of the senseless slaughter of World War I: Nearly 800,000 soldiers were killed or wounded—yet by December the two opposing lines were almost exactly where they had been in February.
Within a few months of the start of the war in August 1914 the western front, stretching from the English Channel through France to the Swiss Alps, had become bogged down in trench warfare, a stalemate in which little ground would be won and both sides would sustain horrific casualties.
In February 1916, the German army under the command of General Erich von Falkenhayn attempted to break the stalemate by attacking Verdun, a medieval fortress city astride the Meuse River in eastern France, some 150 miles from Paris. Both sides considered Verdun vital to winning the war and decided to fight for it at all cost.
A prime example of a battle of attrition, the armies fired some 20 million artillery shells—1.7 million tons of steel at each other. By the time the battle ended, an estimated 300,000 men had perished, about the same number on each side.
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