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Why did Germany not achieve victory at Verdun in 1916

656 bytes added, 03:50, 20 September 2021
In 1914, Germany came close to repeating the success of the Franco-Prussian War. It invaded France via Belgium and pressed onward towards Paris. However, at the battle of Marne in 1914, the French were able to defend Paris and even managed to push the Germans back.<ref>Clayton, A. <i>[ Paths of Glory: The French Army 1914–18]</i>. (London: Cassell, 2003), p. 117</ref> The French army had saved Paris but its country was still under grave threat and much of northern France was under the control of the Germans. After the Autumn of 1914, the war became a stalemate. Both sides dug in and they engaged in bloody attempts to seize each other trenches. By 1916, both sides had suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties and all the participants began to feel the strain of waging absolute war.  The Germans did not have the resources of the allies, mainly as they had no colonies and also the western allies had the tacit support of the Americans.<ref>Clayton, p. 116</ref> Some in the German High Command became concerned that if Germany could not deal a blow to the allies and force them to the negotiating table that the Imperial Army would eventually collapse, as it struggled against the allies with their superior numbers and resources. The German commander on the western front, Erich von Falkenhayn, believed that a German victory would not be possible in a set piece battle because of the nature of the war. He argued that if the French suffered enough casualties then they could be forced to the negotiating table. Von Falkenhayn believed that if the Germans killed enough of their soldiers that the French would simply give up. This was based on the idea that the French would not be able, to fight the Germans by themselves and had only been able to continue the war with the support of the British.<ref> Clayton, p. 120</ref>
The strategy adopted by the Germans was to force the French into a battle of attrition.<ref> Jankowski, P. <i>[ Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War]</i> (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 118 </ref> The Germans believed that they were the best soldiers and that in any battle, all things being equal, that they would emerge victorious. The Germans tactics at Verdun was as follows. They hoped to seize the key fortress of Verdun, which had great symbolic and strategic importance for the French. Von Falkenhayn provided five corps from the strategic reserve for the offensive at Verdun in the early spring of 1916<ref> Jankowski, p. 135</ref>. He and other members of the General Staff believed that the French would not take any offensive aimed at Verdun lightly. but only for an attack on the east bank of the Meuse. Falkenhayn considered it unlikely the French would not do all they could to recapture the fortress. He and other generals estimated that the French would do all they could to recapture the area. The Germans expected that the French would send all their strategic reserves to the battle.
The Germans believed that once they had captured Verdun, they could fortify it and establish a strong strategic position. They then wanted to adopt a defensive posture and they would allow the French to destroy their army on repeated assaults in fruitless attempts to recapture Verdun.<ref> Philpott, W. <i>[ Attrition: Fighting the First World War]</i>. London: Little, Brown, 2014, p. 201</ref> The Germans in their secure defensive positions would out-kill the French. In particular, they Germans believed that their superior artillery would allow them to inflict devastating casualties on the French and this would ultimately either lead them to collapse or to see a negotiated peace. The strategy of Von Falkenhayn was a simple and brutal one- he wanted to turn Verdun into a killing ground in order to gain a decisive advantage over the French.<ref> Philpott, p. 234</ref> Verdun was identified as a potential target by the Germans because of geography and its strategic importance. The Verdun region was a salient in the western front and the Germans had surrounded it on three sides. In order to protect it, the French had devoted many soldiers and resources to the area. They had established a series of defensive lines at Verdun and this became known as the Fortified Region of Verdun (RFV). <ref>Phillpott, p. 234</ref>. Within this region there were a series of forts, these were massive structures made of concrete and much of them lay underground. The Verdun forts had a network of concrete shelters, reinforced observation posts, batteries, concrete trenches, command posts and underground stunnels that connected the forts. The primary objective of the German offensive was these forts, especially Fort Douamount and the Fortress of Verdun. This fortress became the symbol of the battle for the French.
==Preparing for the Battle==
[[File: Verdun.jpg|thumbnail|300px350px|left|The Famous Long Max cannon used at Verdun]]As it was early spring, poor weather delayed the beginning of the German attack by two weeks. It was eventually launched on February 21st. However, the Germans did not know that the French had been made aware of the build-up by the Germans in the area. They had been ignored by British intelligence that a German attack was imminent and had prepared for an assault. Despite this the Germans enjoyed initial success, capturing Fort Douaumont in the first week of the offensive. However, because of unexpected resistance and the weather, which turned the battlefield into a quagmire, the German advance ground to a halt. However, they did manage to inflict heavy casualties on the French. As anticipated by the German High Command the French rushed in reinforcements and they also build up their defences. The French were led by a man who was a born fighter Pétain.<ref> Keegan, J. <i>[ The First World War]</i> (London: Hutchinson, 1998), p. 234</ref> He ordered that no withdrawals were to be made and that counter-attacks were to be staged at every opportunity. This involved exposing French infantry to withering artillery fire. The French artillery then began a bombardment of their own and this inflicted massive casualties on the French.
In March, the German offensive was switched to the left of the Meuse River , to deny the French artillery the observation posts they were using to target German positions. The German divisions advanced by the French were able to deny the Germans of their objectives.<ref> Clayton, p. 232</ref> This was the opportunity that Petain sought, and he ordered the French to attack positions in and around Fort Douaumont. The French managed to penetrate the actual fortress but a German counter-attack drove them back and they suffered many casualties.<ref> Philpott, p 214</ref> The Germans then launched a counterattack and in June captured Fort Vaux, which they had hoped to capture in February. The Germans continued the offensive beyond Vaux, and they drove a wedge between the French forces and neared the fortress of Verdun. This was the main objective of the offensive and according to Petain, the most ‘dangerous period for France in the entire battle.’<ref> Pétain, H. P. <i>Verdun</i> (trans. M. MacVeagh ed.) (London: Elkin Mathews & Marrot, 1939)</ref>
In July 1916, the German offensive slowed as forces had to be moved to the Somme in order to withstand the British advance. The fighting was brutal one village was to change hands over a dozen times during the summer. This was the bloodiest period of the battle. A German attempt to capture Fort Souville in early July was thwarted because of the bravery of the French garrison. The Somme battle meant that more and more German troops had to be transferred to fight the British and Empire forces. This was to drastically reduce the ability of the Germans to undertake offensive operations. The battle then went into a new phase and the French began a massive counter-attack and the French began to regain lost ground and they even recovered the key forts of Fort Douaumont and Fort Vaux. The battle petered out in the rain and frosts of winter and the French lines had held.<ref> Petain,p.111 </ref>
==Consequences of the Battle==
[[File: Battelfield Verdun.jpg|thumbnail|left|300px|The battlefield in 2005]]Verdun was a very bloody battle even by the standards of WW I. The name of Verdun has become a by-word for butchery. A modern estimate found that there was in total, 714,231 casualties, 377,000 of these were French and some 330,000 German. This translates into an average of 70,000 casualties per month. However, even more, recent estimates indicated that the numbers were even greater and higher than even the battlefields of the Somme. The Battle of Verdun lasted for 300 days and became the longest and one of the most costly battles in modern warfare. At the end of the battle little territory had been gained by either side and the situation after the battle was much the same as it had been a year earlier. To many it appeared that the battle had been inconclusive however, the French had thwarted the Germans and they had weakened them and they had not been knocked out of the war. France won the battle by not being beaten and because it was able to continue the war and this helped the western allies to prevail on the western front.
==Military Reasons for the Failure==
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