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Colorized Photograph of French Troops in a Former German Trench on Le Mort Homme (Dead Man's Hill) That They Had Just Retaken, 1916
Colorized Photograph of French Troops in a Former German Trench on Le Mort Homme (Dead Man’s Hill) That They Had Just Retaken, 1916

Le Mort Homme (Dead Man’s Hill) is one of two strategic hills, known on official maps as hills 265 and 295 which were the site of heavy fighting during World War 1. Hill 295 came to be known as Le Mort Homme by the French and Toter Mann in German because of the high price in men paid by both sides.

The hills are close the fort of Verdun and were a key battleground during the Battle of Verdun. between German and French forces. The French had established artillery batteries on Dead Man’s Hill which dominated the attacking German forces. The hill also gave the French an excellent vantage point and allowed them to monitor German movements over a wide area.

German Troops on the Mort Homme, Battle of Verdun
German Troops on the Mort Homme, Battle of Verdun, World War 1

Despite severe counter battery bombardments, the Germans were unable to neutralize the French guns and so they resolved to take Hill 295, despite the heavy cost of attacking the entrenched French infantry holding the high ground. The casualties were so heavy that the place acquired the nickname, on both sides, of Dead Man’s Hill. It says something about the carnage on this hill that it would earn such a nickname, considering how heavy casualties were around the Verdun battlefield; that it stood out from the rest of the battlefield as a place specially marked by death is remarkable and sobering.

Dead Man’s Hill Today

The Germans weer able to take Dead Man’s Hill (Le Mort Homme), only to be pushed back several times. Finally, on May 24, 1916 the Germans were able to capture the hill. Their victory came after a 26 hour artillery bombardment followed by hand to hand fighting on the summit. However in August 1916 the French counterattacked and expelled the Germans from this position.

Today there is a war cemetery nearby and a large monument honoring the French defenders. At the base of the monument there is a slogan in French: “They Did Not Pass!” (Ils n’ont pas passe).

A monument to the French Soldiers of the 68th Infantry Division Who Died at Dead Man's Hill During the Battle of Verdun
They Did Not Pass! A monument to the French Soldiers of the 68th Infantry Division Who Died at Dead Man’s Hill During the Battle of Verdun

So many decades later, the hills have regained their beauty and the are coated in green forests. There is an interpretative path that takes you through the site of the battle, with plaques telling the hiker about the history of the place.