Saturday, 20 December 2014

World War One Remembered: Verdun

On 21 February 1916, after a massive bombardment the German Army advanced on Verdun. Its Commander, Erich von Falkenhayn believed the French would sacrifice everything to defend this fortress town on its eastern frontier, its legendary bastion against Germanic incursion.

He told the Kaiser:

"The strain in France has just about reached breaking point, a mass breakthrough which is in any case beyond our means, is unnecessary. Within our reach are objectives for the retention of which the French General Staff would be compelled to throw in every man they have. If they do then the forces of France will bleed to death."

He believed that as the French counter-attacked time and again to recapture the sacred soil around Verdun he would break up and destroy their army with his heavy artillery, the more than 1,200 howitzers, trench mortars and other assorted guns.

He would bleed the French Army white.

It was to be the great clash of Teuton against Gaul.

It had never been von Falkenhayn's intention to capture Verdun but merely compel the French to defend it but early success including breaking through the French second line on the third day of the advance and the capture on the 27th of Fort Douamont, supposedly the most formidable fortress in the world without a shot being fired enthused those Commanders on the ground with the prospect of imminent victory.

The strategy changed accordingly, but it wasn't to be.

By the battles conclusion ten months later on 20 December, 362,000 Frenchmen had fallen, as also had 337,000 Germans.

They had bled each other white,.

In the end - nothing had changed.

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