The French now desired to eliminate the German threat to Verdun completely, Monsieur Poincare, President of the French Republic, on 13 September 1916, awarded the Legion of Honor to the City of Verdun. With this award began the new phase of dislodging the German threat and pushing them back.
General Mangin, called from the battlefield in June to take command of Group "D" which manned the front between the Meuse River and Fleury, planned the counter-attacks which proved successful. On 17 September, he sent General Nivelle a report which outlined a plan to free the German threat from the Verdun area.
The plan outlined advances on a series of limited objectives. The first objective was 300 meters north of Thiaumont Farm (Hardaumont Quarry) with the operation scheduled for 21 September. The second, scheduled for 24 September, included the advance to Fort Douaumont. And the third, to be carried out 9 October, included the capture of Fort Douaumont and Fort de Vaux.
The plan was approved on 21 September. This late date precluded the implementation of the plans on the first objective as scheduled. Exactly one month after the approval of the plan, French artillery began the counter-attack with a three day continuous shelling. On the 24th , the first waves of the 38th, 133rd and 74th Divisions moved forward under a creeping barrage following a precise time table and with artillery lending maximum protection. An account of Douaumont's recapture runs as follows: "On 24 October, a dense fog overhung the entire plateau. Nevertheless, General Mangin decided to attack. At 1140 hours, marching by compass, without hurrying, in good order, and with assurance, his troops proceeded over muddy terrain. Observation points were useless. Only several planes, flying very low, followed the progress of the battle and kept the French commanders informed.
The 38th Division sharpshooters captured Thiaumont Redoubt in the first assault. While the 38th was consolidating their positions, Zouave Infantrymen went through them, and attacked the village of Douaumont. Simultaneously, the 133rd Division, after crossing Bazil Ravine without meeting opposition, moved towards Hardaumont Hill, capturing Bois de Caillette on the way.
The Zouave Regiment then received orders to take Fort Douaumont. There was some confusion caused by heavy fog to get to their new positions in the line of departure. Commander Nicolay, in command of the battalion assigned to charge the fort, to drive out the Germans, and the established position there, wrote in his report: "With the French planes cruising just over the fort, the battalion approached the moats in single file, rifles slung, their leaders in the front. They climbed the steep slopes of the rampart from where they saw the gaping ends of the casement of the fort behind the incredibly torn-up court. The heads of the columns stood and gazed at the great chaos which the fort, symbol of determination and power, had become. The commander of the battalion (Nicolay himself) after checking on the movements in the moat, rejoined those in the lead, and while rendering homage to this consecrated and unforgettable sight gave the order to take the machine guns which began firing from the bottom of the casemates. The third resistance was overcome, and everyone reached his objective (the operation having been fully rehearsed before the attack). Each turret was taken, one after the other.
Commander Nicolay conquered the superstructure of 'the fort. By morning of the 25th the entire fort, including about 6,000 German prisoners, fell into his hands.
An interesting sidelight on the German defense of the fort is pointed out by the present guardian and guide. He states, with a certain superiority, that because of the acoustics in the interior of the fort, the "Boches" had a serious incidence of nervous hysteria and insanity due to the echoing and re-echoing in the corridors and tunnels from the explosions of the shells on the outside.
The French forces did not succeed in taking Fort de Vaux that same day. Therefore, General Mangin made new plans to assault it with an additional division on 3 November. When the French moved on the fort as planned, they found that the Germans had evacuated it the day before. The front line had now been restored to the approximate position it held on 25 February.
General Mangin next planned an attack along a ten mile front on 5 December, thus hoping to regain at once the entire French second line lost on 24 February.
In preparation for this attack, he ordered the construction of thirty kilometers of road, including one of logs for artillery, ten kilometers of narrow gauge railway, numerous delivery and return trenches (some of which may still be seen near Douaumont) and depots for ammunitions, bombs, and supplies. The army of Verdun accomplished this construction, much under heavy shell-fire.
With four divisions in place (37th , 38th , 126th and 1334th), four more in reserve and two lines of artillery, against five German divisions in the line and four in reserves on a six mile front between Vacherauville and Bezonvaux, General Mangin's artillery opened fire with 750 guns in preparation of a new attack on 29 November. Bad weather intervened, forcing him to halt the firing. On 9 December, the weather having improved, the artillery resumed its preparatory fire. At 1000 hours on 15 December, while the Germans were inviting the French to sue for peace, the French attacked Louvemont. There, the French succeeded in capturing more than 11,000 prisoners and 115 cannons.
One of the captured officers is reported to have complained to General Mangin about the scantiness of the accomodations allotted him. The General replied, "You must forgive me, sir, but I was not expecting you to turn up in such large numbers".
By the 18th of December 1916, the French line had progressed to a position in front of Talou Hill, north of Poivre Hill, Louvemont and Chambrettes, then south across the Bois d'Hardaumont and La Vaucheup to the outskirts of Bezonvaux.
General Mangin congratulated his troops on their recent victory and also on having been "Good Ambassadors of the Republic" in view of the recent German overture for peace.
The battlefields at Verdun remained relatively quiet for the next eight months, while the focal point of the war moved to the field of Flandres. However, both German and French were fortifying their positions in preparation for the final battles to come. The Germans retained three excellent observation Points-Talou Hill in the east sector west of Poivre Hill; Mort Homme and Hill 304 in the west sector. These they heavily fortified at their leisure. Observing the French preparations, they increased their strength in the front line 'to nine divisions with five in reserves and with additional gun batteries.
In the summer of 1917, Petain planned a series of limited offensives to raise the spirit of the Army. He planned to take Mort Homme, Samogneux and Beaumont, with artillery playing the leading role. On 18 August 1917, 2,500 artillery pieces in line manned by 40,000 artillerymen opened a systematic and methodical shelling on the German defenses. A week later, with US Army officers as observers, eight French divisions carried out a dawn attack on these objectives. Four days later, the French were in possession of Mort Homme and Hills de L'Oie, Talou and 304 to bring the new front line in the west sector to Forges Creek. On the east side of the Meuse, the French recaptured Samogneux. German counterattacks failed to repel the French and the new front line remained as it had been on the second day of the initial battle until the end of hostilities. During these offensives, more than 10,000 prisoners were taken with 39 cannons, 100 mortars and 242 machine guns.
Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain