1

According to several sites - none of which offer sources or citations - the Arc De Triomphe de l'Étoile was damaged on or near the same day that the Battle of Verdun began in February 1916. These sites, including this one, claim that the Sword held by the Republic on the La Marseillais relief broke off.

Some accounts go on to say that the damage was immediately concealed behind a tarp to prevent people from treating the damage as an omen portending disaster:

The sword carried by the Republic in the Marseillaise relief broke off on the day, it is said, that the Battle of Verdun began in 1916. The relief was immediately hidden by tarpaulins to conceal the accident and avoid any undesired ominous interpretations.
- Wikipedia

Note: The footnote citation in the Wikipedia article links to the page I linked above, which offers no sources or citations

Is there any evidence that this story is true, and if so, when and how did the damage occur?

2

Just like the curtain in the temple when Jesus died?
English Wikipedia has a shady reference, Italian Wikipedia a [citation needed] attached to this tidbit.

The other languages pages of Wikipedia never mention this, not even the French! Not for the Arc de Triomphe, not for "The Departure of the Volunteers 1792"/"Le Marseillaise", not for the sculptor Rude. All instances on the web that mention this sword incidence at the day the battle of Verdun began do that in conspicuously similar language.

That looks like copypasta served medium rare.

If we look at pictures (click to enlarge) the relief today:

A copy in Dijon at the Musée Rude:

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As it looks on the arc today (WP: Rude):

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As it look in 1920 (source Wikipedia Arc):

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As it looked in 1919 when the famous flight was made victory parade passed through it:

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Carte postale - Paris Paris - Paris place de l'Arc de Triomphe - Défilé du 14 juillet 1919 Déposée par : dhoudebine

And as it was used on a book cover for 1916 Voyages au front

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And one from ~1914:

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Edouard Baldus "Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile"

Compare a colour photographs from much later:

enter image description here enter image description here

There it seems to be missing a sword? Well in 1988 it had to undergo a full reconstruction/restauration. But it is just the perspective shortening the sword.

Wherever you look closely enough, there is no real reference for the claim.
Wherever you look closely enough, the sword is there.

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