Crown Prince of Prussia Launches His First Attack on Verdun
French Forces, 160,000
German Forces, 500,000
Crown Prince of Prussia
General von Strautz
While the "Race to the Sea" was progressing further west, Verdun on the Eastern frontier of France was the scene of terrific battles. It will be recalled that, during the Battle of the Marne, and on the very eve of the Gefman retreat, the Crown Prince of Prussia had reduced Fort Troyon and almost taken Verdun. During the general German retreat his army had fallen back to the pass of Grand Pre. This withdrawal enabled General Sarrail to clear the town of 7000 German civilians and fortify every height within a radius of 20 miles of Verdun.
Coupling up with the army of the Crown Prince, in the Woevre district, was a new German army, commanded by General von Strautz. Together, they numbered 350,000 first line troops, with several corps held in reserve, an effective force of perhaps 500,000 rifles. To meet the onslaughts of this great army, General Sarrail could count on only four army corps—160,000 men.
Returning to the assault on Fort Troyon, on September 20, 1914 the combined armies of the Crown Prince and von Strautz reduced the fort to a dust heap, but the garrison nevertheless held out until relieved by Generals Sarrail and Dubail. All advances of the German infantry were repulsed by the French gunners on the nearby fortified heights.
Hoping to take Verdun by an attack in rear through the little town of St. Mihiel, the Germans advanced in full force on September 23, 1914 occupied the Hatton-Chattel spur, silenced the small fort of Paroches, destroyed the Roman Camp, and seized the bridgehead of St. Mihiel on the west bank of the Meuse. They had hoped to push due west to Revigny and complete the envelopment of Sarrail's Army, but the dauntless French would not let them pass. A French cavalry detachment drove them back, compelling them to entrench on the edge of the river.
A last desperate effort to pierce the French center was made on October 3, 1914. With the odds three to one in his favor, and with superior artillery, the Crown Prince attempted a turning movement through the woods of the Argonne against St. Menehold, but the French fell savagely upon his army and drove the Prussians back north of Varennes, capturing that town and gaining the road across the Argonne, which brought them in touch with Langle de Carey's army.
By this great victory, the French straightened their line, which now ran from Verdun due west to Souain and then along the Roman road to Rheims.
The Germans, however, held the salient at St. Mihiel and continued to hold it until General Pershing's Yankee Boys "ironed it out," in September, 1918. A stalemate now set in on the eastern end of the battle line, while the great battles in Flanders were being fought.