By attacking the fortified city of Verdun, situated on the Meuse River and for centuries a defensive outpost against France’s northern enemies, the German chief of staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, deduced correctly that France would throw all it had to stop this symbolic town from falling into German hands. After capturing the Meuse heights, Falkenhayn planned to rain heavy artillery down on the French reserves sent up to recapture Verdun. German forces launched ‘Utenrnehem Gericht’ (Operation Judgment) on February 21, 1916, firing a million shells in the first eight hours of battle, pausing at midday to try and lure out unwary survivors when the shelling resumed.

This image, of reenactors at the centenary of the Battle of Verdun watching distant shellfire, is available as part of the Magnum After Dark Collection, celebrating nighttime photography from around the world.


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