Year
1916
Month Day
December 18

Battle of Verdun ends

The Battle of Verdun, the longest engagement of World War I, ends on this day after ten months and close to a million total casualties suffered by German and French troops.

The battle had begun on February 21, after the Germans—led by Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn—developed a plan to attack the fortress city of Verdun, on the Meuse River in France. Falkenhayn believed that the French army was more vulnerable than the British, and that a major defeat on the Western Front would push the Allies to open peace negotiations. From the beginning, casualties mounted quickly on both sides of the conflict, and after some early gains of territory by the Germans, the battle settled into a bloody stalemate. Among the weapons in the German arsenal was the newly-invented flammenwerfer, or flamethrower; that year also saw the first use by the Germans of phosgene gas, ten times more lethal than the chlorine gas they previously used.

READ MORE: Life in the Trenches of World War I

As fighting at Verdun stretched on and on, German resources were stretched thinner by having to confront both a British-led offensive on the Somme River and Russia’s Brusilov Offensive on the Eastern Front. In July, the Kaiser, frustrated by the state of things at Verdun, removed Falkenhayn and sent him to command the 9th Army in Transylvania; Paul von Hindenburg took his place. By early December, under Robert Nivelle, who had been appointed to replace Philippe Pétain in April, the French had managed to recapture much of their lost territory, and in the last three days of battle took 11,000 German prisoners before Hindenburg finally called a stop to the German attacks.

The massive loss of life at Verdun—143,000 German dead out of 337,000 casualties, to France’s 162,440 out of 377,231—would come to symbolize, more than that of any other battle, the bloody nature of trench warfare on the Western Front.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

President Donald Trump impeached

After weeks of discussions among legislators, the House of Representatives voted to impeach the 45th President, Donald Trump, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on December 18, 2019. The vote fell largely along party lines: 230 in favor, 197 against and 1 present. ...read more

Japan invades Hong Kong

Japanese troops land in Hong Kong on December 18, 1941, and slaughter ensues. A week of air raids over Hong Kong, a British crown colony, was followed up on December 17 with a visit paid by Japanese envoys to Sir Mark Young, the British governor of Hong Kong. The envoys’ message ...read more

Slavery abolished in America with adoption of 13th amendment

Following its ratification by the requisite three-quarters of the states earlier in the month, the 13th Amendment is formally adopted into the U.S. Constitution, ensuring that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject ...read more

Mayflower docks at Plymouth Harbor

On December 18, 1620, the British ship Mayflower docks at modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, and its passengers prepare to begin their new settlement, Plymouth Colony. The famous Mayflower story began in 1606, when a group of reform-minded Puritans in Nottinghamshire, England, ...read more

The Tokens earn a #1 hit with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”

The song that topped the Billboard pop chart on December 18, 1961, was an instant classic that went on to become one of the most successful pop songs of all time, yet its true originator saw only a tiny fraction of the song’s enormous profits. The story begins in Johannesburg, ...read more

Fraudulent “Piltdown Man” fossil discovered

After three years of digging in the Piltdown gravel pit in Sussex, England, amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson announces the discovery of two skulls that appear to belong to a primitive hominid and ancestor of man, along with a canine tooth, a tool carved from an elephant’s ...read more

Woodrow Wilson marries Edith Bolling Galt

On December 18, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson marries Edith Galt in Washington, D.C. The bride was 43 and the groom was 59. It was the second marriage for Wilson, whose first wife died the year before from a kidney ailment. Edith, who claimed to be directly descended from ...read more

Last member of Irish secret society is executed

John Kehoe, the last of the Molly Maguires, is executed in Pennsylvania. The Molly Maguires, an Irish secret society that had allegedly been responsible for some incidences of vigilante justice in the coalfields of eastern Pennsylvania, defended their actions as attempts to ...read more

Nixon announces start of “Christmas Bombing” of North Vietnam

Following the breakdown of peace talks with North Vietnam just a few days earlier, President Richard Nixon announces the beginning of a massive bombing campaign to break the stalemate. For nearly two weeks, American bombers pounded North Vietnam. On December 13, peace talks ...read more