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Verdun: Fort Douaumont (Paperback)

Revised Edition

WWI Verdun 1916

By Christina Holstein
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 192
ISBN: 9781848843455
Published: 26th May 2010
Last Released: 7th September 2016

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Verdun The Sacred Wound

1 of 2 BBC radio 4 programmes to coincide with Christina Holstein's Verdun titles, click here to listen to the first episode.

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This fully revised second edition of Christina Holstein's acclaimed Battleground guide to Fort Douaumont will be essential reading for students of the Battle of Verdun, for visitors to the battlefield, and for anyone who is interested in the history of twentieth-century fortifications.

The battle, which lasted from 21 February to 15 December 1916, was a turning point in the First World War, and Fort Douaumont was at the heart of it. In 1914 the fort was the strongest and most modern of the fortifications around Verdun and it formed the keystone of the French defence in the area.

Using both French and German sources, Christina Holstein introduces the reader to the fortress system around Verdun, explains the construction, reinforcement and armament of Fort Douaumont and describes its surprise capture by the Germans in February 1916. Its loss was a terrible blow to French morale and their repeated attempts to retake the fort are portrayed in graphic detail. As the months ground on and the Battle of Verdun turned into stalemate, the desire to keep or to recapture Fort Douaumont, whatever the cost, became the reason for both sides to go on fighting.

This invaluable, and now fully up-to-date, Battleground guide gives a compelling insight into the brutal nature of the struggle – and into the soldiers, French and German, who took part in it.

Christina Holstein is a leading authority on the Battle of Verdun. For many years she lived close to the battlefield and has explored it in detail. She regularly conducts tours of the battlefield for individuals or groups and, with her specialized knowledge of the terrain, has acted as consultant to a number of other historians, TV producers and TV and radio journalists. Her most recent book is Walking Verdun: A Guide to the Battlefield. She was the founding chairman of the Luxembourg branch of the Western Front Association.

Second, revised edition of a fine guide and history book by WFA a member who specializes in the Verdun battlefields.

WWI Historical Association

I have visited the nearby Fort Vaux and this guide is certainly prompting me to want to go back and explore the area more fully, and definitely to go and see Fort Douaumont as well...

... These Battlefield guides are well presented and are a valuable resource to have in the car with you if you travel in this area of France. In my view they also provide good value for money and are well worth having.

Military Modelling - Robin Buckland

Holstein's account is rich in personal experiences from French and German sources which paint a vivid, yet sometimes ghastly, account of the fighting for the fort. British visitors to the region could do a lot worse than to include Holstein's guides with them should they visit.

Burton Mail

Fort Douaumont was the mst important fort in the chain built to protect the city of Verdun following France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. The loss of Alsace-Lorraine meant that Verdun was now in the front line of defence against any future German Invasion. Build on a hill 395.5 meters above sea-level, Douaumont dominated the approach to the city from the north-east.

This book is much more than a battlefield guide, and more than half of it is taken up with telling the story of the fort itself; why and how it was built, its defence, capture and final recapture during the battle, and its post 1916 history. The plans and campaign maps are clear and easy to follow, and the text is accompanied by some excellent photographs.

The guide is very well researched and very readable.

Fortress Study Group

Even though the First World War ended over ninety years ago it is still fresh in the minds of those lucky enough to survive it and those still alive today. The passage of time did not cover over this terrible tragedy instead it only encouraged a fascination that continues to grow stronger every year. Fort Douaumont explores one particular area of interest to historians and civilians alike, the battleground and one that seems to have been forgotten is Fort Douaumont. It may not have resulted in as many casualties as the Somme nor the immortality of Passchendaele however what the French army endured there ensures it a place in history. Christina Holstein walks the reader through every tragic part from the shell damage upon soldier's barracks to the observation of a minutes silence in 1936. Through invaluable images of individual soldiers, plans of the main barracks and incredibly detailed text, the book provides an understanding of just one part of an event no one will ever forget.

JB (Customer Review)

The toil of the French army is an area often overlooked in World War I literature, and Christina Holstein aims to bridge this gap with a painstakingly researched account of the arduous battle at Verdun's Fort Douaumont throughout 1916. The author leaves no stone unturned in her guide, which attempts to provide balance and clarity to a period where source material was scarce and, at times, conflicting in French and German accounts of the same events. Such details give the reader unrivaled insight into the technicalities of battle, and for those lucky enough to visit the site at Verdun, even serves as an essential 'tour guide' complete with maps, walks and advice. For the rest of us, we learn how the fight for control of the barracks became almost a 'war within a war', such was its local importance. Technical analysis of the fort's construction and design is cleverly juxtaposed with the (often graphic) accounts of how it all too easily fell but was subsequently recaptured by the French. I found this a fascinating insight and commendable not least because it allows war enthusiasts an opportunity to read in detail not known before the grueling events at which were trodden into history at Verdun.

Carl (customer review)

Fought over the course of 1916, the struggle between the French and German armies at Verdun proved to be one of the most intense and bloody battles of the First World War. As the highest and strongest of the forts which formed a ring around the town, Fort Douaumont was supposed to be the linchpin in the French defences, capable to throwing back any German attack. Its almost accidental capture on the fourth day of the battle by a small party of German troops destined the fort to become the central point in this titanic battle of wills between the French and German military machines; the very eye of the storm of steel which raged from February until December. Fort Douaumont's role in the Battle of Verdun surpassed tactical or strategic considerations, and it became the focus of national pride and both sides' will to continue the struggle, as each sought to take or retake this highly symbolic prize. Christina Holstein addition to the Battleground series is unique in its comprehensive use of both French and German sources, giving an unprecedented level of detail and insight into a complex and evocative event rarely dealt with by English-speaking authors. Clearly written and illustrated throughout, this work is essential reading for those wishing to explore this decisive episode on the Western Front.

Roger Fielding

In 1914 Fort Douaumont formed the cornerstone of the French city of Verdun's defensive fortifications. The capture of the fort, left virtually un-garrisoned, by German forces in 1916 and subsequent battle by French forces to recapture it had far reaching consequences. The ferocity and length of the conflict leading to the battle for Verdun becoming synonymous with human loss, in a manner similar to the Somme although the casualties were substantially less, Cordt von Brandis became a national hero in Germany for his role in the fort's capture, and the fort's effectiveness as a defensible position in the hands of the enemy led the French military to draw upon its architectural example in the formation of the ill-fated Maginot Line. While the battle also left it's mark on the defenses and the surrounding landscape (particularly the infamous French artillery bombardment), so too has time; obscured by landscape change, the battlefield is difficult to read to all but the well-trained eye. This is where Christina Holstein's guide comes in. Holstein outlines in intricate detail the architecture of Fort Douaumont and the associated defenses, and how these were employed over the course of the battle to provide an unparalleled guide to this battlefield. As well as the battlefield, Holstein also offers comparable detail into the battle itself, drawing upon the records of both the French and German forces. An invaluable guide to anyone planning to visit the site, and almost as essential to anyone who simply seeks to better understand one of the most infamous battles of the First World War.

Customer Review

Fort Douaumont, a name that unless you are a World War one enthusiast may not have any meaning to you, as was the case for me. however Christina Holstein creates a clear understanding as to how it was used, and compiles information for any tourist that's thinking of visiting that can be applied today. History tells us that Fort Douaumont was a vital asset in the French armoury and that when seized by the Germans it was essential that it be recaptured.

Matt
 Christina Holstein

About Christina Holstein

Christina Holstein is an independent, multilingual historian now based in Britain. A long period of residence in Luxembourg allowed her to develop her historical interests in a part of the Western Front which saw serious fighting in WWI but which is relatively unknown in the UK. She is fortunate in being able to research the battlefield with local people whose relatives either fought there or returned to live in the area after 1918, as well as with German historians and researchers. In addition to publishing four books on the Battle of Verdun, Christina regularly conducts tours of the battlefield for individuals or groups and, with her specialized knowledge of the terrain, has acted as consultant to a number of other historians and to the BBC.

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