World War I, 1914-1918. The Western Front, The Battle of Verdun, North-Eastern France. “The Road to Verdun”. Verdun in 1638, when the t own was just beginning to be fortified. . Marshal Vauban (1633-1707) Ordered the construction of forts around Verdun in 1670.
The Western Front, The Battle of Verdun, North-Eastern France
Ordered the construction of forts around Verdun in 1670.
The construction was not completed until the early 1800s.
By World War I there were 20 large forts and 40 small forts.
Verdun straddles a river, and is surrounded by high hills on all sides. This makes it a natural strong point.
Why does the circle of hills make Verdun a natural strong point?
The War Was One of ATTRITION and STALEMATE
Three reasons why the Germans attacked Verdun…
1) Germans were looking to punch through the Entente Power’s Trenches. Verdun was a salient, so it was vulnerable
2) Verdun was 162 miles from Paris.
3) A break through at Verdun meant that the German Army could march on Paris, as they had attempted to do at the war’s outset
“The infantry of the Third, Eighteenth and Seventh Reserve Corps performed marvels of courage. The taking of Fort Douaumont crowned everything. Indeed, we should, after all, have succeeded in rushing the entire east front of Verdun, if the reserves promised us had arrived on time. Why they failed to do so is not within my knowledge.”
The Capture of Fort Douaumont“crowned” the opening achievements of the Battle.
Douaumont was the most important fort.
The Germans were able to capture the fort without a struggle on the part of the French who had almost no troops stationed there.
“I was told by Captain von Brandis, who stormed Fort Douaumont, that, on the fourth day, he had observed a complete absence of Frenchmen in the whole district of Douaumont-Souville-Tavannes. But our own troops had exhausted their strength; the weather was horrible, and rations could not everywhere be brought up as needed.”
CP Wilhelm tells us after only three days the German offensive started to bog down.
Troops become exhausted
Food is not making it to the Troops on the front line
Rain and bad weather turns the hills around Verdun to mud, making it hard to move
Fresh troops did not make it to the front
“Within a few weeks, I perceived clearly that it would not be feasible to break through the … defense, and … I soon did everything in my power to stop the attacks; ...n this matter I stood somewhat opposed to my then Chief of Staff, General Schmidt von Knobelsdorf, and my representations were at first put aside; the orders ran, "Continue to attack."
Why did the Crown Prince begin to oppose the attacks? Did people listen to the Crown Prince?
The Prince realized that it was impossible to defeat the French soldiers who were protected in their trenches and the sixty forts around Verdun.
The Prince’s opposition to the attacks on Verdun were ignored.
Problems with the French Defenses.
1) The Forts had been filled with big guns to defend them. MarshalJoffre had taken a way many of these guns.
2) French had also taken away much of the ammunition for the guns
3) The forts were undermanned. Verdun, the most important fort, was taken by the Germans’ without any resistance from the French.
“Now and then the heavy long-distance guns of Germans lengthened their fire in an attempt to reach our batteries and their communications. At eight o'clock in the evening, when we arrived in auto-buses behind the second or third lines, several shells reached our wagons, and killed men.
The excellent spirit of the battalion suffered not at all, and this is the more to be noted, since it is far easier to keep one's dash and spirit in the heat of actual battle than when one is just approaching it.”
What effect did the German Bombardment have on the spirit of the French troops?
- According to the other it had no effect. The French troops, the polius, remained confident and in high sprits.
“Where we were there were hardly any trenches or communication trenches left. Every half-hour the appearance of the earth was changed by the unflagging shell fire. It was a perfect cataract of fire. We went forward by fits and starts, taking cover in shell-holes, and sometimes we saw a shell drop in the very hole we had chosen for our next leap forwards.”
What was the impact of German Artillery?
German artillery was so powerful that it obliterated the trench defenses.
The Germans massed artillery in absolutely huge numbers
“The Germans attacked in massed formation, by big columns of five or six hundred men, preceded by two waves of sharpshooters…
Fortunately the flank batteries succeeded in catching the Boches on the right. It is absolutely impossible to convey what losses the Germans must suffer in these attacks… Whole ranks are mowed down, and those that follow them suffer the same fate. Under the storm of machine gun, rifle and 75 fire, the German columns were ploughed into furrows of death. Imagine if you can what it would be like to rake water. Those gaps filled up again at once. That is enough to show with what disdain of human life the German attacks are planned and carried out…
It was behind ramparts of the dead left by the first five attacks, on May 24th, that we saw the Boches take shelter while they organized their next rush.”
What was the Result of the German Attack?
The Germans were massacred, their strategy showed little regard for human life.
They attacked at least six times, and would use their bodies of their own dead for protection.
German attacks were useless against the power of modern weapons and the trenches
“In the Battle of the Somme the English and the French indeed succeeded as far as their avowed object of relieving the French defenders of Verdun was concerned. The Germans, in order successfully to resist the onslaughts at the Somme, were compelled to draw heavily upon their artillery before Verdun, thus enabling the French there to proceed to counter-attacks.”
How did the Battle of the Somme Help the French at Verdun?
British and French Pressure elsewhere along the line meant that Germans had to move troops to defend against this attack.
This meant that the Germans now did not have enough troops to continue to attack the French.
“Against the troops stationed within the area Douaumont-Vaux, consisting of 28 battalions and 10 reserve battalions, together with 130 batteries, the French launched three divisions with an additional infantry regiment joined to each wing.
The attack of the troops, which had been long and carefully detailed, succeeded. On the 26th the German position, including the third line, was in the hands of the French. Fort Douaumont, which, in consequence of the bombardment was afire and had become untenable, had already been evacuated on the evening of the 23rd. Only Fort Vaux held out until November 2nd.”
What Important Position did the French Recapture in this attack?
They recaptured Fort Douaumont, the most important fort around Verdun.
The Germans abandoned the fort when the French started to bombard it with artillery
“A cessation of the combat, now supervened, the Germans meanwhile occupying positions farther back, their operations remaining unmolested by the enemy. The French wished to renew the attack with the utmost rapidity, yet the artillery fire accompanying the attack of the 24th had so devastated the region to be traversed that it was found necessary first to make the roads leading to the newly won positions passable.”
What Stopped the French from continuing their attack?
French artillery had blasted so many holes in the ground it was impossible for the French to continue to advance.
Germans wanted to capture Verdun because it would allow them to march to Paris and defeat the French
After three days of success, Verdun became a battle of Stalemate and Attrition
The Battle see-sawed for ten months, draining man power and resources from both sides. For much of the time MarshalPetain was the key commander who conducted the French defense.
337,000 German casualties & 377,231 French casualties
The Battle of the Somme, a British led offensive, force the Germans to draw troops away to strengthen their defenses elsewhere. This meant the French won a Punic Victory.
Punic Victory- A victory in which winner forced their enemy to leave the field of battle but achieved no objectives and lost more troops than the defeated army.
German Victory Leads to the Russian Revolution