Over the last few weeks, I have been enjoying the new maps in Battlefield 1. These maps featured some key French battlefields during World War I. One such map sets you in the interior of Fort Vaux and after researching about the actual battle, I was shocked to learn that it was one of the war’s bloodiest battles. On June 1, 1916, the Germans set out to conquer the fort by commencing Operation May Cup. This operation’s goal was to take lands surrounding Verdun. Fort de Vaux was the first obstacle in the way.
The fort had barely any artillery so it was only protected by a French garrison and their machine guns. The Germans surely had enough artillery and constantly bombarded the area which created multiple breaches. This allowed their troops to begin overwhelming the French positions. A French officer recalled the madness by stating, “These explosions stupefy the brain; you feel as if your entrails were being torn out, your heart twisted and wrenched; the shock seems to dismember your whole body. And then the wounded, the corpses! Never had I seen such horror, such hell. I felt that I would give everything if only this would stop long enough to clear my brain. Twelve hours alone, motionless, exposed, and no chance to risk a leap to another place, so closely did the fragments of shell and rock fall in hail all day long.”
The bombardments surely had a psychological effect on the French soldiers specifically. Yet I’m sure the Germans felt apprehensive approaching the entrenched machine guns defending the fort. Despite their heavy casualties, they managed to fit grenades and flamethrowers into the machine gun slits. That seemed to turn the tide of the battle and allowed the Germans to enter the interior of the fort. This was where the fighting turned hellish due to the tight passageways. According to Erik Sass, “The conditions were beyond imagination, even by the horrifying standards of the First World War: in addition to machine guns and rifles, both sides made liberal use of grenades in the narrow corridors, blowing out men’s eardrums and often killing them through shockwaves alone, and the Germans employed flamethrowers to send fire down vents and through doorways, burning French (and occasionally by accident German soldiers) alive and filling enclosed spaces with toxic smoke.” (mentalfloss.com)
The fighting continued for a few days and the Germans only gained a few feet at a time with heavy casualties. Victory for the Germans seemed imminent especially when the French began running out of water and hails for relief and reinforcements went unanswered. The French garrison surrendered and a day later, they sent a final attack on the fort but the troops were rebuffed by German artillery. This battle was very interesting to me because it showed the true horrors of World War I. I find it crazy that so many soldiers were basically thrown into slaughter and only gained little ground. This battle has certainly peaked my interest in the war and I hope to learn more about battles such as Fort Vaux. Also I cannot wait for the new maps featured on Battlefield 1.