Page 3637


the guns stood almost wheel to wheel.

That went on for hours, and at four

o'clock in the afternoon, the firing became

still more intense; it was as if thousands

of rockets were being sent up for the 'bouquet of the show. In order to make our

positions untenable, asphyxiating and lachrymatory bombs were mingled with the

heavy projectiles, while six captive balloons

floated over the German lines and directed

their aim. Our first lines were almost

leveled by this avalanche of steel-trenches,

parapets, shelters, no matter how well

made, were utterly destroyed."

When the German leaders deemed the

time opportune, they launched infantry

attacks against the French intrenchments

to the north of Verdun. From cunningly

hidden positions the French infantry,

machine guns, and artillery slaughtered

the assailants by tens of thousands, but,

such was the power of the German drive

that, in the course of a few days, the

Teutons managed to advance several miles

along a considerable front, capturing some

thousands of prisoners and even effecting

a temporary lodgment in Fort Douaumont, one of the outer permanent defenses

of Verdun.

The German General Staff" at once

trumpeted over the world that "the armored fort of Ft. Douaumont, the cornerstone of the French defense at Verdun,

has been carried by the Brandenburg

regiment." The gain was, however, in

no sense decisive. Fort Douaumont had

been dismantled, and the real strength of

the French position lay in the intrenchments and underground works and the

artillery, the positions of which were

carefully hidden and which were changed

from time to time.

General Joffre and his advisers, having

decided to defend Verdun at all costs,

had hurried up reserves. Major General

de Castelnau, who commanded the group

of French armies in that part of the front,

examined the situation in person, while

General Petain arrived on the 24th with

his staff" to take the active command.

This officer, who ultimately became one

of the chief leaders on the French side,

was, at the beginning of the war, merely

a colonel, but he was a man of remarkable

qualities and had risen with great rapidity.

A fellow officer describes him at this time

as being "tall, slim, young-looking, with an

air of extreme distinction, quick, incisive

speech and resolute blue eyes."

The French reserves, after bitter fighting,

managed to halt the German advance,

and though the Teutons, in the next few

weeks, made some slight progress around

Vaux and near Ft. Douaumont, they were

unable to make any marked advance in

this quarter of the field.

Attacks in this sector were varied by

attempts to advance from the east and

northwest. The natural strength of the

French position to the eastward, however,

was so great as to bid defiance to the German efforts in this direction, and, during

March, the only noteworthy progress the

assailants were able to make was on the

west side of the Meuse to the northwest

of Verdun.

During all these weeks, the Germans

continued to expend their shells most