10 Things You May Not Know About the Battle of Verdun

10 Things You May Not Know About the Battle of Verdun



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In a war known for its brutality, the Battle of Verdun, (February 21–December 18, 1916), was among the longest and most bloodiest conflicts of World War I. In the battle that slogged on for 10 months, the French held off a major German offensive. By the end, casualties numbered to about 400,000 for the French and 350,000 for the Germans. In total, about 300,000 were killed.

1. The Germans Designed Verdun to be a Battle of Attrition.

World War I battles often started with tactical objectives and devolved into bloody stalemates, but most historians believe that Verdun was intended to be a “meat grinder” from the very beginning. In late-1915, German General Erich von Falkenhayn wrote a memorandum to Kaiser Wilhelm II in which he argued that the war would only be won by inflicting mass casualties on the French army and sapping its will to fight, which would then force the British to sue for peace.

Rather than outmaneuvering them or breaking through their lines, Falkenhayn planned to lure the French into a trap that would force them to throw troops into a battle of attrition where the conditions favored the Germans. “If they do so,” he wrote in his memo, “the forces of France will bleed to death.” Falkenhayn called his ruthless scheme Operation Gericht—a term loosely translated as “judgment” or “place of execution.”

WATCH: World War I: The First Modern War on HISTORY Vault

2. Verdun Had Symbolic Value for Both Sides

The Germans selected Verdun as their target not only because it was nestled in a salient, or bulge, in the Western Front, but also because it was steeped in political history. Verdun was an ancient city that had been among the last to fall during France’s humiliating defeat in 1870-71’s Franco-Prussian War, and it had since been built into one of the most heavily fortified strongholds along the border with Germany.

Falkenhayn knew that any threat to it was likely to be fiercely contested, since its fall would come as a serious blow to French morale. Interestingly, the city also had sentimental value for the Germans thanks to 843 A.D.’s Treaty of Verdun, which had divided the Carolingian Empire and created the core of what later became Germany.

3. The Attack Caught the French by Surprise

Germany’s preparations for the Battle of Verdun involved one of World War I’s largest buildups of men and equipment. Using rugged terrain and a huge air presence to screen their movements, Falkenhayn’s men spent seven weeks constructing new railway lines, assembling heavy concrete bunkers to house troops, and stockpiling more than 1,200 artillery pieces.

A staggering 2.5 million shells were shipped to the front using 1,300 munitions trains. Despite the massive engineering project going on right under their noses, the French were largely unprepared for a German attack. The forts surrounding Verdun had seen little action during the early stages of the war, and many of their garrisons and artillery pieces had been moved to hotter sectors.

The French managed to make last-minute preparations after poor weather delayed the German onslaught, but they still found themselves on their back foot during the early stages of the battle. By February 24—just three days after the initial bombardment—the Germans had advanced several miles and overrun the first two French defensive lines.

4. German Forces Seized a Crucial French Fort Without Firing a Shot

On February 25, German forces approached Fort Douaumont, the most sprawling of the several dozen French bastions surrounding Verdun. Douaumont would have been all but impregnable under normal circumstances, but its garrison had been reduced to just 57 men in the months before the battle.

After gaining access to the fort through an undefended passage, a small party of Germans led by Lt. Eugen Radtke was able to wander its subterranean chambers and round up French defenders one after the other. They soon captured the entire garrison without suffering a single casualty or firing a shot.

News of Douaumont’s fall was met with impromptu celebrations and even a school holiday in Germany, but it came as a severe blow to the already wounded French morale. It would take eight months and tens of thousands of casualties before the French finally recaptured the fort in October 1916.

5. The French Kept Up Defense of Verdun Thanks to a 'Sacred' Road

Due to a lack of secure railways and constant enemy bombardments, the French were forced to rely on a lone, 20-foot-wide road to supply their stand at Verdun. Upon taking command of French forces in late-February 1916, General Philippe Petain took steps to keep the lifeline open. Troops were put to work laying gravel and making repairs to the roadway, and a fleet of 3,000 military and civilian trucks was marshaled to serve as transport vehicles.

During just one week of operations, more than 190,000 French troops and 25,000 tons of munitions, food and supplies were ferried to the front. Petain also used the road to rotate more than 40 divisions in and out of the Verdun sector, which kept the French troops fresh and helped combat the effects of shell shock. The road was later renamed “La Voie Sacrée” (“the Sacred Way”) to commemorate its vital contribution to the war effort.

6. The Battle Included Devastating Uses of Artillery

Of the 800,000 casualties at Verdun, an estimated 70 percent were caused by artillery. The Germans launched two million shells during their opening bombardment—more than in any engagement in history to that point—and the two sides eventually fired between 40 and 60 million shells over the next 10 months.

Rumbles from the barrages were heard as far as 100 miles away, and soldiers described certain hills as being so heavily bombed that they gushed fire like volcanoes. Those lucky enough to survive were often left with severe shell shock from the constant drumroll of falling bombs.

“I arrived there with 175 men,” wrote one Frenchman whose unit fell victim to a German artillery attack at Verdun. “I left with 34, several half mad…not replying anymore when I spoke to them.”

7. The French Air Force at Verdun Included American Pilots

Germany seized command of the skies during the early stages of the Battle of Verdun, but the tables later turned after the French assembled a force of 226 planes and organized them into some of history’s first fighter squadrons. One of the most storied of these “escadrilles” was the Lafayette Squadron, an outfit composed largely of American pilots.

The unit was commissioned in April 1916—a year before the United States officially entered the war—and its roster eventually included 38 “Yankee” expatriates and veterans of the French Foreign Legion. The squadron won fame for the Indian brave emblems on its Nieuport fighters and a pair of lion cub mascots named “Whiskey” and “Soda,” but it also held its own in the air.

All told, Lafayette pilots chalked up some three-dozen aerial victories, most of them during five months of intermittent service at Verdun.

8. The Battle of the Somme May Have Helped Turn the Tide

The Battle of the Somme is one of the few World War I engagements that matched Verdun for sheer bloodshed, but it may have relieved pressure on the French at a time when their forces were on the verge of collapse. Spurred on by French General Joseph Joffre’s pleas that his army would soon “cease to exist,” the Allies launched their costly assault at the Somme River on July 1, 1916.

Combined with Russia’s Brusilov Offensive, which led to the capture of hundreds of thousands of Austro-Hungarian troops on the Eastern Front, the attack forced the Germans to divert men and artillery away from the Verdun sector at a crucial juncture. The Germans continued attacking Verdun all the same, but following a failed final assault that July, they ceded the initiative to the French, who responded with a ferocious counterattack. By the time the battle finally sputtered out in late-December, the French had regained their lost forts and effectively pushed the Germans back to where they started.

9. The Battle Left Nine French Towns in Ruin

Ten months of shelling left the city of Verdun in shambles and resulted in the complete annihilation of the nearby towns of Beaumont, Bezonvaux, Cumières, Douaumont, Fleury, Haumont, Louvemont, Ornes, and Vaux.

The wealth of bodies and live shells in the ground ensured that these “villages détruits” (“destroyed villages”) were never rebuilt, but they still appear on French maps and are even administered by unelected volunteer mayors. Outside of a few scattered bits of rubble, all that remains of most of them today are signs that show where main roads and buildings were once located.

10. Verdun’s Unidentified Dead Are Housed in a Battlefield Ossuary

Despite the Germans’ plan to “bleed France white,” the Battle of Verdun resulted in roughly equal casualties for both sides. The German death toll was 143,000 (out of 337,000 total casualties) while the French lost 162,440 (out of 377,231).

Since artillery blasts buried many of the fallen or rendered their remains unidentifiable, most of the recovered bodies have since been placed in the Douaumont Ossuary, a sobering memorial that contains the mixed bones of at least 130,000 French and German soldiers.


10 Things You May Not Know About The Battle Of The Bulge

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The German Panzer and Tiger tanks were devastating war machines but they were gas guzzlers. By early-to-mid January of 1945, the Axis forces could not advance due to fuel shortages because it was becoming harder and harder to get the fuel supplies they needed. Despite the fuel shortages that Axis forces were experiencing Hitler made sure to set aside 5 million gallons just for the Battle of the Bulge. However, the road network in the Ardennes was narrow and rough making it difficult for suppliers to reach the armies in time. Supply lines got shorter and could not re-supply the troops. The 5 million gallons of fuel destined for the battle were insufficient once inclement weather, poor road conditions, and missteps did not allow them to reach those in need. Because of that, and the Ardennes&rsquo terrain, the German infantry was forced to use around 50,000 horses to bring in fuel and supplies.

It did not help that even when the army stopped, trucks still had to be run every thirty minutes to keep them from freezing in the cold. The offensive was taking more fuel than estimated and fuel was taking longer to get to the front lines. Therefore, German high command changed their battle plans to revolve around capturing American fuel depots as they advanced. But as Allied forces retreated, they preferred to burn thousands of gallons of gas than to give it to the enemy. By the end of December, many German tanks were out of gasoline. With no possible way to advance the Germans were forced to pull back as there was no way to advance across the Meuse river without fuel or supplies.


10 Things You May Not Know About The Battle Of The Bulge

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Due to the desperate need of soldiers during the battle, U.S General Dwight Eisenhower decided to desegregate the U.S. military. Prior to this battle the African Americans who joined the war effort, approximately 1 million of them, were typically kept in their own noncombatant divisions. These divisions were white-led and kept from fighting alongside their white comrades. Despite the fact that African American men had fought alongside white soldiers during the Civil War. When Allied American troops were caught by surprise by a German force that doubled their own, the need for reinforcements were desperate. So Eisenhower decided it was time to experiment with using African American divisions in combat and alongside their white comrades.

More than 2000 African Americans were involved in the conflict, fighting alongside the white divisions, with only a few hundred dying. Black battalions such as the 578th Field Artillery, and 969th and 333rd Field Artillery Battalions sustained heavy damage by assisting the 106th Golden Lions Division and helping mount a defense in Bastogne, respectively. The so-called 761st &ldquoBlack Panthers&rdquo were the first black tank unit to participate in the war with General Patton in command. Many of them received awards and distinctions.

It was after this battle that Generals spoke that the African American men performed very well and that there was no reason that why they would not perform as well as white infantrymen if they were giving the same training. This battled combined with the performance of the Tuskeegee Airmen during the war and the hard work of the truck drivers and mechanics of the black divisions led to new respect for African Americans in the military. After the war when President Truman saw that returning African American men were being attacked in South Carolina and Georgia, he passed sweeping Civil Rights reforms that included desegregation of the armed forces.


The Battle of Verdun and what happened

For Falkenhayn to achieve his goal, he had to target a part of the French front where strategic importance and national pride were at the forefront. Verdun, the ancient castle town on the Meuse (Maas) River, was just such a place.

It was on the German-French border and was one of the points strongly defended in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Besides, the foundations of Germany were laid, with the Carolingian Empire divided after the Treaty of Verdun in 843 AD.

By securing the hills on the east bank of the river, the Germans would dominate the surrounding area, making it very important for the French to reclaim the lowlands. Verdun was the key point in the plan. While Falkenhayn planned to use more than 1,200 guns to destroy French troops, he wanted limited use of German infantry to minimize his own casualties.

The Battle of Verdun began at 4 am on February 21, 1916, with the massive artillery bombardment and steady advance of the German Fifth Army troops under the command of Crown Prince Wilhelm. The attack was delayed due to bad weather. With this delay, the French managed to shift two divisions of the 30th Corps in the Verdun region before the German attack began, thanks to intelligence reports.

That morning, the Germans launched a 10-hour bombardment on French lines around the city. In the face of the storm, troops, and flamethrowers of the Germans attack with three corps, the French retreated 5 kilometers on the first day of the war. Five days after the war, German forces captured Douaumont Castle, the largest and highest of the 19 castles protecting Verdun. There were only 57 men left in the castle, and the Germans captured the entire castle without firing a bullet.

The war was going as Falkenhayn had planned. French military leaders openly declared that Verdun could not be held if the east bank of Meuse was lost, and that the loss of the city would destroy the morale of the French nation.

However, Crown Prince Wilhelm and his crew pushed Falkenhayn&aposs strategic concept aside at this point, and began deploying the Fifth Army for a larger offensive action. The German loss in Verdun began approaching the French loss at the end of February, when the seizure of the low points was made a priority.

General Philippe Petain was later placed under the command of the French Second Army in Verdun. Petain had a reputation for mastery of defense, and instead of sending all his troops to the defenseless front-line trenches.

He organized his forces deeply and formed strong defensive points that mutually supported each other. Petain also regularly exchanged troops at Verdun, and this move caused most of the French Army to go into battle while preventing the troops from staying in the front for a long time.

The French also greatly increased the number of artillery in Verdun, which resulted in the incessant bombardment of the Germans and the same pain experienced by the French. The ability of the French to continue the war was due to ammunition and supplies coming through the &aposVoie Sacree&apos (Sacred Road), the only route to Verdun which was kept open despite the German bombardment.

On March 6, the Germans started attacking the west bank of Meuse again, this time. The battlefield, which has already taken on a terrible image, worsened in March and April as the non-stop rain turned the area into a swamp. At the end of April, General Robert Nivelle took over French command from Petain and began a large-scale counterattack.


8 Churchill Remembered One French Word: “Aucune”

The Battle of France began on the same day that Winston Churchill became Prime Minister, on May 10 th , 1940. Only four days later, Churchill made his way to France. During this time, the people of Paris were prepping for evacuation. Churchill states his fear for France when he found out that the French army had no troops in reserve in this famous passage:

“I then asked ‘Where is the strategic reserve?’ and, breaking into French … ‘Ou est la mass de manoeuvre?’ General Gamelin turned to me and, with a shake of the head and a shrug, replied. ‘Aucune.’ [There is none] … I was dumbfounded. What were we to think of the Great French Army and its highest chief? It had never occurred to me than any commanders … would have left themselves not provided with a mass of maneuver… This was one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life.”

Churchill made an iconic speech just after the Battle of Dunkirk, eliciting one of his most famous lines, “We shall fight them on the beaches.” He spent the speech reminiscing on the successes of the Battle of Dunkirk but reminding them that the war was not over and that invasion could even be imminent. Churchill finished delivering one of his best speeches of all time, explaining that the fight would continue no matter what, that the Allies would continue the struggle until the war was over. The reviews of this speech were wonderful, with many people calling it prophetic and inspirational.


10 Things You May Not Know About The Battle Of The Bulge

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During the early German advance through the Ardennes, the town of Bastogne stood in their way to cross the Meuse River. The small Belgian town rested at a crucial road junction, all seven roads through the Ardennes converged there. On December 19th the Germans attacked and had the town under siege by December 20th. The 101st Airborne Division under the command of Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe and other divisions were surrounded by German troops by December 21st and outnumbered 5 to 1. The men were low on supplies, had no cold weather gear, little ammunition, and no senior leadership as most of the commanders had been dispatched elsewhere. With terrible weather conditions reinforcements were slow and there was no way for planes to drop supplies or provide tactical support.


5 A Bathroom Break Causes A War

The Marco Polo Bridge Incident took place on July 7&ndash9, 1937. The Bridge, located in Beijing, was right on the border between the Empire of Japan and China. Since it was a period of high tension, the buffer zone was being occupied by both Japanese and Chinese troops. After unplanned night maneuvers by the Japanese on the night of the 7th, there was a brief exchange of gunfire. After the fire ceased, Private Shimura Kikujiro, of the Japanese Army, failed to return to his post.

After the Chinese allowed a search for Kikujiro, the Japanese, thinking the private had been captured and looking for any excuse, attacked the Chinese positions during the early morning hours of July 8. Both sides took numerous casualties. This battle eventually resulted in the Second Sino-Japanese War, which itself eventually blended into World War II. Private Shimura returned to his position later that day, bewildered at the claims that he&rsquod been captured and saying that he&rsquod become lost after going to the toilet in a secluded spot.


 He and his older sister were raised as twins

When Hemingway was a toddler, his mother decided to raise him and Marcelline, his 18 months older sister, as twins. The two switched between living as boy twins and as girl twins, but always mirrored each other. They were dressed in similar clothes, sported matching Dutch boy haircuts, and played with identical dolls and air rifles. This treatment continued for years Marcelline was even held back in kindergarten so she and Hemingway could be in the same class.

This forced twinning didn&apost foster a lasting bond — as adults, Hemingway came to loathe his sister.


2 Evolution Methods

Eevee's branched evolution tree doesn't just mean it evolves into more Pokémon than any other 'mon — it also requires a wide variety of evolutionary methods, from Evolutionary Stones to friendship-based evolution and more.

But, these methods have changed for some of the Eeveelutions over time. Since their introduction, Glaceon and Leafeon were achieved by leveling up an Eevee near an Ice Rock or a Moss Rock, respectively. However, Game Freak has seemingly grown tired of including these locations in every game, since Eevee now evolves into Glaceon or Leafeon with an Ice Stone or a Leaf Stone, respectively, in Sword & Shield.

Interestingly, this isn't the first case of an alternate method being used. Espeon and Umbreon would evolve with a Sun or Moon Shard in Pokémon XD, whereas Sylveon was changed from Affection-based to friendship-based evolution.


Vikings And Their Warfare: 10 Things You Should Know

There is more to the fascinating scope of Viking warfare than just shooing away the misconception about their horned-helmets. So, without further ado, let us take a gander at ten things one should know about these fearsome Scandinavian raiders and their warfare – a potent historical ambit that dominated the northwestern swathes of Europe for over 200 years.

1) The Fundamental Military Unit of Vikings Was The Family –

The Scandinavian society had always relied on tribes as their nominal units of warfare. As historian Ian Heath noted, the ‘sub-division’ of such a unit mostly pertained to the extended family or the clan. In essence, the family was considered as the fundamental combat group, and these interwoven clans were known as aett. Suffice it to say, the intrinsic relation between familial ties and combat rather aided in the induction of a warrior culture within the societal fabric of the Vikings. Simply put, the aett trained together, raided together and even fought together in battles. There are also mentions of mass burial grounds that were specifically reserved for the members of the aett who died in combat.

2) The Artificial Tribes And The Jomsvikings –

As can be gathered from the Viking reliance on tribal structure, the basic framework of such a body was centered around the relation between the leader and his followers (who tended to be free members of an extended family). However, there were also instances of ‘artificial tribes’ that adhered to the notion of the non-blood related loyalty that was expected between a warlord and his band. These artificial clans were mainly forged by landless men who probably belonged in the fringes of the Viking society.

And gradually such artificial tribes morphed into warrior-brotherhoods who made their living through banditry and warfare. Also known as Viking-laws (derived from Vikinge-lag), these organizations/clans became critical to the success of overseas Viking warfare, mainly due to the expansionist tendencies of the later Scandinavian warlords. As a result, they were organized as free companies of mercenaries – with their members comprising experienced soldiers who lived under a strict code of conduct. Interestingly, these military brotherhoods never undertook campaigns on their own instead, they presented themselves during summers and relied on patrons like Viking kings and princes who paid high sums for their services in upcoming conflicts – thus initiating a private military contract of sorts.

One of the famed (and often historically disputed) Viking-laws were the Jomsvikingelag or Jomsvikings, who were supposedly founded by none other than Harald Bluetooth. Though not mentioned in contemporary sources, their tales were made renowned by later Danish accounts and the famed Jomsviking Saga.

According to many such literary tidbits, their mighty home fortress of Jomsborg was situated near Wollin, by the mouth of the Oder river. As for their might, the members (ranging from 900 to 2,000 warriors) were always chosen from between the ages of 18 to 50, and they had to prove their prowess in a tough fighting duel known as Holmgang. And after induction, the Jomsvikings were expected to show no fear or tendency to flee even when they were hopelessly outnumbered in actual battles.

3) Shield Walls Might Not Have Been As Defensive As One Would Think –

The Viking shield wall (or skjaldborg in Old Norse) was a pretty conventional tactic used by the Norsemen in land battles. It entailed a phalanx-like formation of warriors who were up to five ranks deep. The front line was composed of the most well-armored troops, and their closely-held, upraised shields faced the enemy onslaught. Judging from this simplified description, one would be inclined to think that the Viking shield wall was a purely defensive maneuver.

Now while initially, such a tight formation might have depended on the reactive charge of the enemy, there are other dynamic factors to take into account on a battlefield. For example, practical observations have proven that in hand-to-hand combat, an extra room (elbow length) could turn the tide of engagement, as it endows the warrior with space to swing his ax or melee weapon.

So in the case of the shield-wall, the seasoned warriors in the front ranks probably overlapped their shields, and this interlocking ‘facade’ absorbed the first impact of the enemy charge. But once the charge ran out of steam, the Vikings generated their own momentum by pushing off the enemy forces with the help of their shields. This in turn automatically loosened their own formation and allowed for the elbow-length room that was needed for a good-ole, lusty swing of their axes.

4) Vikings Sometimes Initiated Specially Prearranged Battles That Were Akin To Duels –

With warfare being ingrained intrinsically in their culture, the Vikings looked forth to new ways to conduct their conflicts. According to historian Ian Heath, one of these military measures of the Viking Age pertained to the ‘hazelled field’. In basic terms, it was a chosen battlefield which was intentionally fenced with hazel branches on all sides. So if one side issues a challenge to their opponents, the enemy forces were bound by their warrior-code to answer the challenge on this prearranged battlefield on a specified date and time. Failure to do so was considered dishonorable, especially before any invasion was to take place.

Interestingly, it seems even the English were aware of such a tradition inculcated among the Vikings. And probably in one instance, King Athelstan took advantage of this warrior-norm and issued a challenge to his Viking opponents (whose forces were swelled by Welsh and Scottish allies) at the Battle of Brunanburh, which was supposedly fought in a hazel field in 937 AD. There was a strategic angle to this challenge, with the English king possibly trying to delay the assorted enemy forces from pillaging his territory before their invasion commenced.

5) Most Viking Battles Took Place At Seas, And They Played Out Like Land Warfare –

Considering the popular image of Vikings being associated with dragon-headed longships, it might not come as a surprise that marine-based expertise is what the Norsemen excelled at. However quite interestingly, when two opposing fleets met at a naval battle, the Vikings made sure that the encounter played out like a land-based battle.

How so? Well, before the start of the battle, the Vikings arranged their fleets in lines, with the largest ships being roped together gunwale to gunwale – thus resulting in enormous floating platforms. In such a ‘formation’, the biggest and longest ships, commanded by the king and other warlords, were kept in the middle and their prows extended beyond other ships. Suffice it to say, these prows (also called bardi in Norse) faced the thick of the battle and were therefore reinforced with armor plates and even iron spikes known as skegg that were designed to puncture holes into enemy ships.

These huge floating platforms were obviously supported by smaller vessels on their flanks. They were tactically deployed for additional reinforcements and for pursuing the defeated enemy in flight. Now given the arrangement of the slightly wedge-shaped formation of the platforms, the main battle was conducted with the two naval forces (in their platforms) meeting almost head-on and then trying to grapple and board their enemy ships.

Before such a chaotic action commenced, the archers were handy in peppering the enemy with arrows, javelins and even stones. So simply put, the Vikings didn’t employ (at least intentionally) the classic naval tactic of ramming their prows into the enemy ship’s oars-section. Instead, they mainly relied on the ferocity of their crew members for fighting the purely naval engagements – just like land battles.

6) Initially, The Vikings Didn’t Differentiate Much Between Their Warships and Merchant Ships –

While Viking raiding ships were one of the defining features of Viking raids and military endeavors, these vessels had variance in their designs – which is contrary to our popular notions. According to historians, this scope of variance can be credibly hypothesized from the sheer number of technical terms used in contemporary sources to describe them. To that end, the Vikings before the 10th century made very few distinctions between their varied merchant ships and warships – with both (and other) types being used for overseas military endeavors.

Simply put, the first Viking raids along the English coasts (including the plundering of the Lindisfarne monastery in 793 AD, that marks the beginning of the Viking Age) were probably made with the aid of such ‘hybrid’ ships that were not specifically tailored to military purposes – as opposed to the ‘special’ ships showcased in The Vikings TV series.

However, in the post 10th century period, the Viking raiders boosting their organized numbers by military establishments or ledungen, did strive to specifically design military warships, with their structural modifications tailored to both power and speed. Known as snekkja (or thin-like), skeid (meaning – ‘that cuts through water’) and drekar (or dragon – derived from the famed dragon-head on the prow) these streamlined longships tended to be longer and slimmer while accounting for a greater number of oars. On the other hand, increased trading also demanded specialized merchant ships or kaupskip that were broader with high freeboards, and depended on their greater sail-power.

7) Few Viking ships Could Even Carry Over 300 Men!

Given their svelte design credentials, the Viking longship traditionally required only a single man per oar when cruising through the neutral waters. But when the battle was at hand, the oarsman was joined by two other soldiers whose job was to not only give a lending hand (for increasing the ship’s speed) but also to protect the oarsman from enemy missiles. And as the Viking raids became more profitable and organized, the wealth was translated to even bigger and better warships.

One good example would pertain to King Olaf Tryggvason’s (who ruled Norway from 995 to 1000 AD) aptly named Long Serpent. According to legends, this ship supposedly carried eight men per half-room (or oar) at the naval Battle of Svolder, which would equate to over 550 men overboard if we also count the other combatants. Now in practical terms, this scenario might have been a bit exaggerated with probable translation issues. But even if we account 8 men per room (or 4 men per oar), the total number of men that Long Serpent could carry would have gone beyond 300!

8) The ‘Great Heathen Army’ Of The Vikings –

As the renowned Anglo-Saxon Chronicle documented, the ‘Great Heathen Army’ (or hæþen here in Old English) of the Vikings descended upon the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms starting in 865 AD. Unlike most Scandinavian raiders, these Vikings entailed a coalition of sorts, with the Norse warriors originating from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, fighting under a unified banner. According to some legends, they were commanded by the so-called sons of Ragnar Lothbrok (the very same character portrayed in The Vikings TV series). Now while the contemporary source talks about an army of a substantial size, they don’t really delve into the actual numbers of the invading forces.

However, some modern historians like Pete Sawyer have taken the etymological route in defining what actually constituted an ‘army’. In that regard, one of the law codes of King Ine of Wessex (issued in 694 AD), defines an here or army as consisting of only 35 men (sourced from The Vikings by Ian Heath)! Now historically, as the conflict dragged on – after joined by two other Viking invasion forces in the coming decades, the Heathen Army grew restless with various stalemates in the actual battlefields.

Finally, in 896 AD, most of their forces dispersed, with one major group making way for the profitable Seine in ships. According to accounts, this group traveled in only five vessels and thus may have numbered less than 400 men. This once again alludes to the total number of men in the actual invasion force, which may have ranged from just 2,000 to 3,000 men – as opposed to their apparent ‘greatness’ in numbers.

9) Berserkers Might Have Thought Of Themselves As Lycanthropes or Werewolves –

A big chunk of the Viking Age coincided with paganism among the Vikings, and during these centuries, the berserkir or berserkers were seen as humans who possessed supernatural powers by the blessing of Odin himself. In that regard, much had been said about their so-called berserk fury which allowed such men to forgo pain and demonstrate fanatical levels of strength, like killing well-armored enemies in just a single stroke.

However, in reality, going ‘berserk’ was probably just a form of delusion/paranoia also known as lycanthropy. In medical terms, lycanthropy is defined as the rare psychiatric syndrome that encompasses a delusion that the affected person can transform (or has transformed) into a non-human animal. Literary pieces of evidence do point to such cases of lycanthropy – like in the example of the Volsunga Saga where Sigmund wears wolf skins, howls when aggravated, and even goes on to use the speech of wolves.

Other possibilities of going berserk might have entailed hereditary conditions and even epileptic seizures. There may also have been some pretty mundane reasons for taking up the role of a berserker – with some vagabond outlaws preferring the theatrics that would have intimidated the passers-by. Some researchers have also put forth the hypothesis that berserk fury may have been induced by the ingestion of materials with psychoactive properties. In any case, berserkers did project an aura of awe and fear even during Viking times – as is evident from their frequent postings as high-level bodyguards of pagan Viking chieftains (as described in Hrafnsmal and Harald Fairhair’s Saga).

10) The Raven Standards Were Believed By Vikings To Have Magical Properties –

As Ian Heath suggests, one of the defining features of the invading Vikings other than their renowned longships is associated with their rampant use of banners. These war-flags or gunnefanes had fantastical depictions ranging from winged monsters to serpents. But the most widely recorded of all Viking standards pertains to their bearing of some raven device. Known as Reafan (or Raven), these flags were given a special status within the pagan Scandinavian religion. In fact, according to most contemporary accounts, the Vikings believed that the raven standards had the ‘power’ to impart victory as long as they kept fluttering proudly in the battlefield.

Now from the perspective of religion, this shouldn’t be too surprising, since the raven was considered as the bird of Odin, the All-Father (or Alföðr) associated with the supreme god of war and slaughter in various Germanic traditions. To that end, many Vikings believed the raven standards to be imbued with pure magical energy, and henceforth were the works of sorceresses who supposedly knitted and embroidered such war-flags. And intriguingly enough, the motif of the raven continued long after Christianity arrived in Scandinavia. For example, it was said that Harald Hardrada (a Viking who fought as a Varangian Guard for the Eastern Roman Empire) proudly displayed his famed Landeythan (‘Landwaster’) flag with the raven device.

Book References:The Vikings (by Ian Heath) / Viking Hersir (by Mark Harrison) / The Viking Ship (by Per Bruun).


9. Memorial dream

(Photo by General Photographic Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A great monument now stands at the site of the victory in Northern France as a tribute to all of the brave Canadian soldiers and to symbolize Canada's long commitment to peace in the world. Canadian architect Walter Seymour Allward said that the design for the monument came to him in a dream!


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