Now two books and six pages of notes into my detailed reading about Verdun, a few themes and observations are presenting themselves to me.
I have a greater appreciation of the scale and logistics of the battle. I had an idea from reading and viewing histories of the war in its totality, but there is nothing like looking in depth and considering how to represent it to really appreciate these aspects.
The aim German aims. Having always heard it presented as ‘bleed the French white’ it is interesting to discover that there is some doubt about what Falkenhayn had intended in planning the attack. Buckingham refers often to Falkenhayn’s aim of ‘verblutung’. He has been greatly influenced by Foley’s “German strategy and the path to Verdun: Erich Von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870-1916” (which is now on my reading list). Clearly to wear the French down was part of the plan, whether it was the ultimate aim or part of a major ‘diversionary’ attack to distract and to reduce capacity to respond to attack(s) elsewhere on the front. We can never know for sure, given the need for secrecy, verbal-only meetings and knowing that memoirs are written to justify actions. While it seems a strange ‘justification’, I suppose to say that I aimed for 5:1 casualties is a little easier to digest than, I planned a major diversionary attack, when justifying ‘wasting’ the cream of Germany’s military capacity. I look forward to learning more as my ‘study’ progresses. I’ll have to try to get hold of the English translation of Falkenhayn’s memoirs, as well as that of Crown Prince Wilhelm.
Joffre’s vindictive and vengeful nature in moving on anyone who opposed or questioned him or ‘failed’/provided a scapegoat. Perhaps the biggest exception to this was Pétain whom Joffre promoted out of the way due to the former’s standing with army and populace (although, perhaps the rationale of providing Pétain with a greater understanding of the ‘bigger picture’ may have been part of it).
Pétain’s performance to stabilise the front, set-up a system to bring in matériel and to rotate men was quite remarkable—all while suffering from double-pneumonia.
The remarkable heroism, doggedness and stoicism of the soldiers of both sides and the unimaginable effects on the bodies and minds of those involved.
The sheer numbers of non-combatants involved and logistics of provisioning so many men and horses.
The real attempts by the senior commanders to adapt and to innovate
their methods, even if relatively minor and with little effect, mixed
with flagrant and repeated use of “flesh against steel” that has given
them the terrible reputation for uncaring aloofness to this day.
Having read two more recently written accounts, I will now go back and read the highly rated ‘original’: The Price of Glory by Alistair Horne which was first published in 1962. I have read many comments and reviews rating it as the ‘best version in English’. Both Kaufmann & Kaufmann and Buckingham referred to Horne’s book on numerous occasions. Buckingham in particular was strong influenced by it. I am expecting that the book will live up to expectations as Horne’s Napoleon: Master of Europe is one of my all-time favourites. My expectation that I will agree wholeheartedly with the effusive assessments has increased as I have cheated a bit and pre-read a few pages!
Buckingham, WF (2018) Verdun 1916 : the deadliest battle of the First World War. First Published 2016. Amberley Publishing, Merrywalks, Stroud, England. 320 pp.
Foley, RT (2005) German strategy and the path to Verdun: Erich Von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870-1916. Cambridge Military History Series Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 301 pp.
Horne, A (1993) The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916. First Published 1962. Penguin Press, London. Revised Edition edition. 372 pp.
Kaufmann, JE and Kaufmann, HW (2016) Verdun 1916 The Renaissance of the Fortress. Pen & Sword Military (an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Ltd), Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK. 255 pp.