Interior Today; Exterior [Insert]
History intermingles with legend concerning the Tranchée des Baionnettes. On the 12th of June 1916, this entrenched position was a part of the terrain forming a salient west of Fort Douaumont which the Germans wanted to take before launching their main offensive on the 23rd.

Two battalions of the 137th Infantry Regiment, deployed at the front since the 10th of June, were the object of appalling shelling and very soon found themselves cut off. The regiment's third company had lost 94 of its 164 men by the night of the 11th. The remainder had been placed in row of exposed trenches directly observable by German artillery spotters. The artillery fire on the position increased in the early morning hours and the remainder of 137th Regiment was annihilated almost to a man. . Author Alistair Horne tells what subsequently transpired.

It was not until after the war that French teams exploring the battlefield provided a clue as to the fate of 3 Company. The trench it had occupied was discovered completely filled in, but from a part of it at regular intervals protruded rifles, with bayonets still fixed to their twisted and rusty muzzles, On excavation, a corpse was found beneath each rifle. From that plus the testimony of survivors from nearby units, it was deduced that 3 Company had placed its rifles on the parapet ready to repel any attack and — rather than abandon their trench — had been buried alive to a man there by the German bombardment. When the story of the Tranchée des Baionnettes was told it caught the world's imagination."

Concussion from Shells Like This May
Have Killed the Men

The Colonel of the 137th had a small wooden monument erected there in January 1919. A generous American patron, Mr. Rand, funded the present-day trench covering with a paved path ending at the nearest road. This monument was opened by Alexandre Millerand, President of the Republic, in the presence of the ambassador of the United States, on the 8th of December 1920. Other theories have evolved over the years about the fate of the last men of the 3rd Company. Gas or concussion from exploding shells are alternative explanations of the mass deaths of the men. This may have been followed by Germans overrunning the position and hurriedly filling in the mass grave which would explain their unique internment. But the exact details are besides the point. As Mr. Horne points out, the legend persists because whatever happened was an epic display of gallantry and sacrifice by the Poilus and vivid documentation of the intensity of the fighting at Verdun. The Bayonet Trench symbolizes what makes Verdun a singular event in military history.

The photos used are from French tourist board flyers and from contributor Tony Langley. The Horne quote is from his book The Price of Glory, the finest work in English on the Battle of Verdun

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