In his post-war memoir 'General Headquarters 1914-1916 and its Critical Decisions' General Von Falkenhayn identified the flaw in the German plan for Operation Gericht (the attack on Verdun); namely that the danger that as we got forward on the east bank of the Meuse we should come under a harassing, long-range flanking fire from the enemy artillery on the west bank was recognised. Despite this concern the initial attack at Verdun went in on the east bank only, and the risk apparently identified, soon turned in to reality. Opinions differ as to why the German Army didn't attack on both sides simultaneously but the answer would seem to be a desire to concentrate the attack on one axis and a degree of complacency about the strength of the French defences.
|The Mort Homme from Chattancourt (Phil Curme Collection)|
Sure enough as the German assault butted up against the forts on the right bank, the French artillery on the Mort Homme, the Cote de l'Oie and Cote 295 exacted a heavy toll on the attackers. Within a couple of weeks of the initial attack, the German planners realised that in order to make progress, it would be necessary to eliminate the French artillery on their western flank. The key to the Mort Homme was Cote 304 and from late March until May both hills were repeatedly attacked.
|The southern face of the Mort Homme (Phil Curme Collection)|
Using our trusty Michelin Guide 'Verdun and the battles for its possession' we left our hotel in the ideally situated town of Vacherauville and headed up towards the village of Chattancourt which sits just in front of the furthest point that the Germans advanced to during the battle - on the 24th May 1916. The top picture above shows the road up from the village to a French military cemetery (mainly containing North African troops). The French front line in May was on the edge of the tree line which can be seen just beyond the graves. A few hundred metres beyond the tree line is the high-point of the Mort Homme, now reputedly several metres lower than it was in 1916 due to the huge number of artillery strikes on the ridge. Indeed, if the nadir of the British experience during the First World War was Passchendaele in 1917 then the fight for the Mort Homme, eighteen months earlier might be considered the French equivalent.
|The Iron Harvest - Mort Homme (Phil Curme Collection)|
|Fuses - Mort Homme (Phil Curme Collection)|
|Cote 304 - Then & Now (Phil Curme Collection)|
|They Shall Not Pass (Phil Curme collection)|