World War 1914 - 1918 A Pictured History Part 26

the following December. At a quarter past seven the German artillery opened out in a drum fire. Shells of every calibre and of every kind fell alike hailstorm upon the French position. The fire first concentrated on the small sector of advanced entrench­ments near Brabant on the Meuse and Haumont shells fell with terrible pre­cision every few yards, with the result that the trenches were obliterated. In each small sector of the six-mile north­ward bulge of the Verdun salient the work of destruction was done with surprising quickness. After the line from Brabant to Haumont was smashed the main firepower was directed against the other end of the bow at Herbebois, Ornes and Maucourt. Then, when both ends of the bow were severely ham­mered, the central point of the Verdun salient, Bois des Caures, was smothered in shells of all sizes, poured in from northeast, and west. In this manner almost the whole enormous force of heavy artillery was centred upon mile after mile of the French front. When the great guns lifted over the lines of craters the field artillery, placed row after row in front of the wreckage, maintained afire curtain over the communications. Fortunately the commander of the central army group, de Langle de Cary, was a wise and experienced soldier. Foreseeing the German method of attack, he had given instructions that the for­ward positions should be lightly held. “Not only must we count upon the front inline, an attack, being wiped out by the artillery,” he had said, "but even the whole of the trench system constituting the first position. Therefore one should not hasten to bring up all one’s effectives to the front lines or reinforce the first position, in order that sufficient reserves maybe maintained for the defence of the other positions.” The effect of this tactical device was to leave very few French troops exposed to the hurricane fire, and to minimize the losses which the Germans had been sure they could inflict upon the enemy. In every case the fire- trench line before Verdun was almost empty, and in many cases the real defenders of the French line were men with machine-guns hidden in dug-outs at some distance from the positions at which the German gunners aimed. The batteries of light guns, which the French handled with the flexi­bility and continuity of fire of machine-guns, were also concealed in widely scattered posi­tions. The main damage caused by the first intense bombardment was the destruction of all the telephone wires along the French front. In one hour the German guns ploughed up every yard of ground behind the THE PICCADILLY FRONT Swan &Ed gar’s shop oil the comer of Piccadilly Circus, London, suffered from a Zeppelin raid on the night of October 19,1917 ,and Piccadilly itself resembled a battle­ field on the Western Front. The damage was done by a 100 kilogram bomb Photos :Imp e rial War Museum THE SPHINX KEEPS HER SMILE In the course of an air raid on London by German machines on the night of September 4,1917, a bomb was dropped on the Thames Embankment by Cleo patra's Needle. This photograph shows some of the damage done. The Needle and the Sp h in xes were chipped. observation posts and behind the fire- trench. Communication could only be slowly re-established by messengers. B y three o’clock in the afternoon the German fire reached a terrifying in­tensity and the wooded hills behind the German trenches belched forth a con­tinuous sheet of flame. The French artillery replied heroically, but such was its inferiority in numbers and weight that its effect on the course of the battle was negligible. In their efforts to create a death zone in which no troops could possibly remain, the Germans deluged the triangle Brabant — Ornes-Verdun with some 2,000,000 shells. At 4 p.m. the fire ceased. The infantry advanced with assur­ance, but not yet in masses. At first only patrols advanced, followed by bombing parties and flame-throwers, to test the strength of the French position before the main body should move forward. In spite of the violence of the bombardment, the French troops had clung on desperately wherever they could, and the Germans saw, says Louis Madelin in his book “Verdun,” "rising from this chaos of churned-up earth, of broken trees and bloody furrows, spectres with staring eyes and hair on
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