On 21 February, 1916, a seven mile stretch of the Western Front
erupted into battle
. Without any warning the German artillery
opened up. They rained a staggering 100,000 shells an hour down on the French
. The Battle of Verdun
The French front lines were flattened and their troops
slaughtered. The French reserves could not be brought up through the chaos in front of them. On 25 February, the famous Brandenburg Regiment
captured Fort Douaumont, the key to the French defences of Verdun.
Realising the extent of the unexpected German attack, the French poured troops into Verdun. General Pétain was placed in command of the sector. The determination of the French defenders was summed up in the phrase: "They shall not pass."
The terrible carnage of Verdun continued for weeks as the Germans attacked and the French counterattacked. All the time the artillery shells continued to fall and cause havoc
. By the time winter
fell nearly a million men had died around Verdun. Neither side had broken through the other's lines.