Mort Homme

The West Bank of the Meuse

On 21 February 1916 the German Fifth Army under the command of Crown Prince William launched its assault on the right bank of the Meuse against the town of Verdun.

Their C-in-C Erich von Falkenhayn declared his intention that the French: Would bleed themselves white in defending the position.

Despite initial successes the Fifth Army failed to push into Verdun. The bombardment hurled at the forts and French lines, ferocious beyond all imagining, had so destroyed the land that their own advance began to bog down in the mire they had created.

A new initiative was needed.

A thorn in the side of the Crown Prince throughout his right bank offensive had been the ridge of hills to the north of Verdun on the left bank of the Meuse. Behind these the French Artillery had started to make a comeback against the supposedly all powerful German artillery.

On 6 March a Reserve Corps brought up for an attack against this ridge advanced in the aftermath of a barrage every bit as devastating as that on the opening day in February.

During the course of the fighting, the bombardments removed 12 metres from the height of the hill.

Some gains were swiftly made but the attack on Mort Homme (So named long before the war) broke in the face of a determined defence and deadly counter barrages.

The French fought back aided by flanking fire from their positions on their left at Côte 304 (Hill 304).

On 11 March the French C-in-C General Joseph Joffre finished his order of the day to the men holding the left bank with the words:

You will be the ones of whom it will be said - they barred the Germans from the road to Verdun.

Mort Homme

But it was not over. Day after day the Germans softened the French lines and then hurled their troops forward. Day after day the French tenaciously hung on to their cratered defences.

But with each passing day the French line was forced back a few metres.

The Crown Prince was now forced to try and take out Côte 304 as well as Mort Homme. His army was also active on the right bank of the Meuse, launching a renewed offensive against the forts still in French hands.

On 9 April the Crown Prince was at last (as far as he was concerned) given the go ahead by von Falkenhayn to launch a simultaneous attack on both sides of the Meuse, across the entire battlefield.

Instead of the expected breakthrough the French line just about held and the French Commander, General Philippe Pétain was able to utter his famous phrase:

On les aura !
We will have them !

Mort Homme continued to see fierce fighting on a daily basis. Both sides struggling for control over the heights, and each shell hole now filled with water from incessant rain.

On 3 May Côte 304 finally fell, following two days of a bombardment that left French pilots reporting smoke and debris rising to 750 metres.

The writing was on the wall for Mort Homme and by the end of the month it had at last fallen to the Germans. Although they took the small village of Cumières, this was as far as the Germans were ever to reach.

The flag draped skeleton

Monument to the 69th Division

Today a line of cemeteries along the southern base of the ridge graphically illustrates the tremendous fighting, whilst Cumières has disappeared for all time - one of the Villages Detruits.

It would take a new year before Mort Homme was taken back by the French 31st Division on 20 August 1917.

Today its summit is masked by a forest of fir trees, the only living thing that seemed able to take route. In the midst of the trees stands a monument to the 69th Division.

A stark skeleton draped in its shroud and carrying the colours, standing on a plinth which echoes General Robert Nivelle's words:

Ils n'ont pas passé
They did not pass.

The General's original exhortation to his men being that:
They shall not pass.


There is a large parking area near the monument with notice boards explaining the fighting and other sites in the area, including a tunnel built by the Germans to bring their men up to the front out of the reach of the French shells.

The 40th Division Memorial

Near the car park and information boards you will see this monument to the men of the 40th Infantry Division who were the other Division at the forefront of the fighting.