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The “ghost forest” on the French battlefield

The “Red Zone”, where the bloody battle between France and Germany took place in 1916, contained so many dangers that no one dared to live for over 100 years.

On the surface, most of the “Red Zone”, which stretches for nearly 1,200 square kilometers, is located near Verdun commune in the Grand Est region, northeast of France, is primeval forest. This is a place bearing a lot of history when witnessing one of the bloodiest battles of World War I between France and Germany, which lasted from February 21 to December 18, 1916.

The Battle of Verdun was the largest and longest lasting war in World War I on the Western Front. The force that initiated the fighting was the German Empire’s 5th Army, with the aim of capturing the Verdun Defense Area (RFV) and the garrison positions of the French 2nd Army, arranged along the right bank of the river. Meuse.

An area of forest deep within the “Red Zone” in Verdun commune, Grand Est region, France. Photo: War History Online.

Verdun has long held great significance to the French, as the area surrounding it has about 20 large fortresses and 40 small forts, helping to protect the eastern border of France for centuries. Before the battle, the Germans believed that if they captured Verdun, the French would lose their temper and put all their strength into defending the area, thereby “squeezing out their own blood”.

This tactic worked, but did not quite go in the direction that Germany had expected. The Battle of Verdun lasted up to 303 days, taking the lives of 377,231 French and 337,000 German soldiers, or about 70,000 deaths a month. Recent figures show that actual damage could be much higher, with a total of 976,000 dead and 1,250,000 seriously injured if civilians are included.

While the French mainly relied on 75 mm cannons at the beginning of the Battle of Verdun, German soldiers used new inventions, especially flamethrowers. Grenades, machine guns and poison gas were also included in the war, but their favorite weapons were powerful artillery shells, designed to obliterate trenches and stone fortifications.

World War I is said to be where technology surpasses all tactics and strategy. The Battle of Verdun seemed to have no end when soldiers on both sides were continuously massacred by machine guns and artillery in daily skirmishes. Millions of bullets were used, causing the landscape to change forever.

After World War I ended in 1918, France realized it would take several centuries to completely clean up war remnants in the area. Some experts even claim that this process could take 300-700 years or more. Small villages once appeared scattered in the area, but in the end all were relocated as the government considered the option to be cheaper and more practical than clearing explosives underground.

Although no longer inhabited, the tour “Battle of Verdun” is still in operation, with a completely reconstructed village of trenches, memorial areas, even restaurants inside ” Red Zone “. This area is considered a “ghost forest” attracting many tourists.

Still, danger lurked in the area as millions of explosives were lurking somewhere in the woods, including exploded bullets as well as those just waiting for outside impact to explode.

The French government has set up the Landmine and Mine Clearance Bureau, but so far they have handled a very small part of the war remains in the “Red Zone”. Weapons, helmets and bone fragments are still found and will probably remain in the “Red Zone” for many more decades.

An artillery shell in the forest near Verdun. Photo: War History Online.

Residual explosives are made from dangerous chemicals. Along with the poison gas that French and German soldiers used to use in a small area, the soil and groundwater in the forest were severely contaminated, causing animals to die and many places where vegetation was underdeveloped.

The situation was getting worse and worse. In 2004, when rangers and hunters with special permits were still allowed to enter the “Red Zone”, the scientific community made a terrifying discovery. Soil analysis results at several locations in the “Red Zone” showed arsenic concentrations up to 17%, several thousand times higher than in previous decades, meaning that toxins in the soil are increasing instead of reduced.

Arsenic concentration in water sources is also 300 times higher than what the science considers “acceptable”. In addition, experts also discovered an increase in lead from fragments not only in the water, but also in the bodies of some animals, especially wild boars.

The study also found alarming levels of mercury and zinc in the “Red Zone”. It is estimated that these substances can contaminate soil and water for up to 10,000 years.

The agricultural products harvested in the region and the fringes are monitored by the French government and European Union (EU) officials. However, many people still doubt the effectiveness of this activity. Some comments even said that officials do nothing because they fear adversely affecting the local economy.

Even in the “Red Zone” fringes, the farmers are not safe. No years have passed without someone accidentally stepping a tractor over one

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