The before and after photos below feature a little village named Malancourt, which is about 8 miles northwest of Verdun. As you can see it was almost pounded flat during the First World War – a fate shared by many villages of northern France. However, Malancourt shows up in history books much more often than most of its sister communities because three memorable events occurred there.
Malancourt was the site of the first use of flamethrowers on 26 February 1915. Their successful deployment by German engineers in assisting with the capture of a French trench insured their expanded use by all the combatants, thus giving warfare one of its most frightful weapons.
The roadside memorial below is located just south of Malancourt. Built around a machine gun pillbox, it commemorates the other two events for which the village is known. In late March 1916, as part of their expansion of the Verdun offensive to the west side of the Meuse, German forces were attempting to capture the high ground in the area, including Hill 304, located just a couple of miles east of Malancourt. The 69th Regiment of Infantry was positioned around the village to defend the hill. In less than a week every man of the regiment's six companies, over 1,300 in total, was lost. By 5 April the village fell and was held by the Germans until 26 September 1918.
The plaque on the memorial also recognizes the third event, the capture of the village by the American 79th Division in the opening the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Malancourt was the division's first obstacle in their advance to their main target — the single most important objective in the opening of the battle — the enemy strong point and observation post at Montfaucon.