“Operation Judgement” – Verdun
Date to be confirmed
This Tour starts in
Max. Walking Distance
The Battle of Verdun
In 1915, the German High Command saw the opportunity to regain the initiative on the Western Front. Several locations for an offensive were considered, but finally the choice fell upon Verdun. The Battle of Verdun would see the dawn of mechanized warfare. Huge stockpiles of ammuniton and equipment, five Corps of Infantry and the largest number of artillery pieces the world had ever seen were concentrated in and along the deployment areas. What followed became what soldiers of both sides knew as “the Hell of Verdun”.
“Marching from Ypres we arrived here at Verdun on 28 July and were immediately hurried into our positions. There we experienced days that defy the description. There are no trenches, only shell crater upon shell crater and a hail of shells. Living or dying the misery here has no comparison. The severely wounded can not be recovered, the die a slow death in the glowing heat. The dead can’t be buried, they are stacked up high. Sometimes upright, sometimes five or six men on top of one another. The heavy shells then tear them apart, cover the remains with earth, and mince everything through. The 124th regiment lost 1235 men in only 10 days. My company alone lost 107 men.” – German letter, unknown author.
Between the early phase of the First World War, during Battle of the Marne in 1914 and the German spring offensive in 1918, the German Empire launched only one major offensive in an aim to break the murderous deadlock of trench warfare on the Western Front: at Verdun on 21 February 1916. Verdun doesn’t have place in British remembrance, yet more than any other battleground of the Great war, the ghosts of Verdun refuse to die. They live in the national conscience of Germany and France where the battle is remembered as not only the longest, but the most intense, sanguine and horrible of them all. This sinister reputation is based on a number of reasons with the size of the central battleground being one of the most important. Measuring only about 20 square kilometers, the battlefield is small, yet the area was subjected to one of the most intense artillery bombardments the world has ever experienced. Herded into the small and constricted killing grounds of the forests and ravines of Verdun, most of the men who died there did so without ever seeing an enemy. About 80.000 of them, both French and German, still lie unburied somewhere in the shell torn landscape. Whereas on the battlegrounds of the Somme and other areas of the Western Front the old trench lines have faded away and the landscape has been reclaimed by agriculture, at Verdun craters, trenches, collapsed dug-outs and most of all the remains of the 19 enormous forts around which the fighting swirled, still remain as silent witnesses of the Knochenmühle, the bone-grinder, the mother of all battles. Deep in the forests around Verdun the ground, untouched by human hands for more than a century, is still littered with the debris of battle. During the Battle of Verdun, one of history’s longest and deadliest battles around 300000 French and German troops died for a few acres of French soil. Their ghosts still linger.
300 days of incessant artillery fire, millions of shells, attacks and counter attacks under unbearable conditions – a nightmare of a battle fought by the living amongst the dead. A battle in which groundbreaking new tactics and weapons were introduced and where chemical warfare reached a new, horrifying climax.
‘Operation Judgement’ is a unique tour – with your German guide Christoph, who has devoted his life to the study of the Verdun battlefield, you will be able to experience the battle through the eyes of a German soldier following in the footsteps of the Kaiser’s “Fieldgreys” through the entire course of the Battle of Verdun, a name that has become a byword for the totality of industrial war. With Christoph you will learn not only about the battle, the fighting and life in the trenches and rearward areas, you will also discover insight into the mindset of the German soldier and, by making used of never before published or translated personal accounts, about his fears, hopes and motivations. In the trenches and cemeteries of Verdun you will have the opportunity to taste proper German Army rations and you will learn about German culture in life and death.
The Plan of Operations
This Tour is the perfect mixture of battlefield exploration and holiday – allowing you to enjoy the landscape, wine and delicous food of the Lorraine. As the Battle of Verdun was the longest battle of the First World War, there are more than enough stories to tell and a vast number of things to see. You will get the full picture, from rearward positions and German infrastructure to the heavy artillery sectors and the central battlefield with the iconic French forts that were fought over so hard. ‘OP Judgement’ is a walking tour, so we will walk up to 4 miles on woodland paths and in the actual trenches of the battlefield. There will be some dense undergrowth to negotiate and in wet conditions the ground might be challenging to walk, so we strongly recommend proper Goretex lined walking shoes or boots. As we might have the opportunity to enter shelters of the battle, a little torch will be necessary. Taking the magnitude of the battle in consideration, the central battlefield itself is relatively small. You will learn about the protagonists and their actions in a battle which became a defining moment for the nations of France and Germany.
What to bring:
– Waterproof Jacket / Trousers, little hand torch, proper walking shoes for wet conditions
Verdun central battlefield
You will be staying in the 3-Star hotel 'Les Orchidees' which lies within a comfortable driving distance of our tour sites.
Rest assured that every Zeitgeist Tours hotel has been very carefully selected with your comfort in mind.
The Zeitgeist Team take great pride in the quality of our tour accommodation!
Day OneAfter boarding the Tour Bus in Maidstone, we will enter Europe by the Eurotunnel and drive on to our destination. On the first evening, a nice glass of wine and an evening meal will be waiting for us.
Day TwoWe will start our day two with the Memorial Museum in Fleury. The Museum offers a perfect overview on the battle, topography, equipment and the chronology of events. After moving into the German rear area you will see a hidden German forest camp set up by 5th Army to develop and test pillboxes, bunkers and other frontline installations. We will continue to the artillery deployment areas from where the very first shot into Verdun was fired and learn about the importance of long range, heavy artillery. After lunch we will enter the central battlefield in the footsteps of the 87th Infantry Regiment during early days of the battle. We finish the day in iconic Fort Douaumont, which German soldiers called the “Sargdeckel” – the coffin lid.
Day ThreeWe will return to the central battlefield and visit Haumont-pres-Sagomneux. There we will meet the 87ers again, looking at their capture of the village in 1916. Our way then leads us to the Ossuare, the House of Bones, and the National Cemetery, where it is time to follow another regiment, the Royal Bavarian Infantry Regiment No. 10 and the large offensive of 21st-25th of June 1916. We will be walking along Froideterre ridge and exploring the bunkers and forts along the way. After lunch on the battlefield we shift sides and visit the destroyed village of Bexonvaux, initial position for the later attack on Fort Vaux. We will follow the German attack to the Vaux Pond and finally reach Fort Vaux – the place of unspeakable human bravery and tragedy. We end the day with a stroll and dinner in Verdun.
Day FourAfter seeing the east bank yesterday, today we will visit the other side of the meuse; Hill 304 and Mort Homme being the first places we will encounter. We will then drive on to the west and visit the Hill of Vauquois. If you think Lochnagar is something – wait and see… After lunch we’ll be visiting Hill 285, another site of mine warfare; continuing to Ravin du Genie, we will explore a French Engineer camp, finishing the day in Montfaucon de Argonne. On top of the American memorial you will have a spectacular overview of the whole battlefield of Verdun and the Argonne.
Day FiveTravelling back to the UK.
Christoph Höpfer, a former German combat medic, joined the German Bundeswehr in 1990. After his basic infantry training, he specialized in the ABC decontamination unit of his mountain medic batallion. It was during his studies on chemical warfare that he learned about the use of chemical agents in the First World War. Reading of the “Grünkreuz” attack of 21.6.1916 led him visit Verdun for the first time and caused him to develop an ongoing fascination for the battle that draws him back to the battlefield at every available opportunity. As a member of his hometown Regimental Association, he follows the regiment’s engagement in the First World War on the ground and visits the archives of Munich and Stuttgart on a regular basis.
Book Your Tour Now!
Prices for this tour start from £852 per person for two people sharing a double/twin room. All meals are included. You will also receive the Zeitgeist TourPal, an extensive booklet that will help you to understand the battle, the events and men who fought in Verdun.
This is a highly exclusive tour with a maximum of only 25 guests.
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