October 24  This Day During World War l

October 24, 1916 – The French recapture Fort Douaumont near Verdun. Douaumont, the keystone of the system of forts that was to protect Verdun against a German invasion, had been given up without a fight. In the words of one French divisional commander, its loss would cost the French army 100,000 lives. Douaumont’s easy fall was a terrible setback for the French armed forces and a glaring example of the lack of judgment prevailing in the General Staff at the time, under General Joffre. The French General Staff had decided in August 1915 to partially disarm all the Verdun forts, acting under the erroneous assumption that the forts could not resist the effects of modern heavy artillery. After its capture, Douaumont became an invulnerable shelter and operational base for German forces just behind their front line. The German soldiers at Verdun came to refer to the place as “Old Uncle Douaumont”. The French Second Army made a first attempt to recapture the fort in late May 1916. They occupied the western end of the fort for 36 hours but were dislodged after suffering heavy losses, mostly from German artillery and trench mortars that had been brought at proximity. The Germans stubbornly held onto the fort, as it provided shelter for troops and served as first aid station and logistics centre. Afterwards, French artillery continued to shell the fort, turning the area into a pockmarked moonscape, traces of which are still visible today. Earlier, on 8 May 1916, a careless cooking fire had detonated grenades and flamethrower fuel. This in turn had detonated an ammunition cache. Apparently some of the soldiers tried to heat coffee using some of the fuel from flamethrowers, which proved to be too flammable and spread to shells which were without caution placed right next to such environments. A firestorm ripped through the fort, killing hundreds of soldiers instantly, including the entire 12th Grenadiers regimental staff. Worse, some survivors attempting to escape the inferno were mistaken for attacking French infantry and were fired upon by their comrades. Six hundred and seventy nine (679) German soldiers perished in this fire. Their remains were gathered inside the fort at the time and placed into a casemate which was then permanently walled off . The site is underground, inside the fort, and has long been an official German War Grave. A commemorative plaque in German and a cross stand at the foot of the grave’s sealing wall. This site is visitable today. A French offensive involving three infantry divisions began on 24 October 1916. Its goal was to recapture the fort. This took place on the same day and was carried out by the elite Regiment of Colonial Infantry of Morocco. Douaumont had been pounded for days by two super heavy 400 mm (16-inch) long-range French railway guns emplaced at Baleycourt, to the southwest of Verdun. Douaumont had become untenable under their fire and was in the process of being evacuated when it was recaptured. Up to that point, millions of lesser-caliber shells had been fired at the fort since its capture by the Germans to little avail, and tens of thousands of men had died in attempts to recapture it. 

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