Monday, April 5, 2021

Verdun 105 (6) Reflections to date

Now two books and six pages of notes into my detailed reading about Verdun, a few themes and observations are presenting themselves to me.

Douaumont Ossuary and Verdun Memorial (Wikimedia commons)

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!

References

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.

Verdun 105 (5): Book Review "Verdun 1916 The deadliest battle of the First World War"

On reading the first page of this book I was struck with two aspects. Buckingham commences with a wonderfully vivid and descriptive word-picture of the town of Verdun and surrounding geography. This immediately demonstrates the high-degree of readability of the book, thanks to Buckingham's excellent prose, and also the details of the content, so helpful to understanding the battle and providing useful information for wargaming-related activities.

The remainder of the first chapter is a pocket history of Verdun from settlement in 450 BC to the end of the Franco-Prussian war, including developments of the fortifications and the first two significant sieges of 1792 and 1871. The chapter concludes with a brief history of the Franco-Prussian War, setting up a changed France at the end of the 19th century.

The second chapter picks up from end of Franco-Prussian war and how it influenced French military thinking. Initially in construction of a new defensive line, including the camp rétranche de Verdun, at huge expense; up to 60–78 million francs once it had been updated several times in response to changing military technology. He describes how the French were at the forefront of military technology in terms of machine gun, field artillery and aircraft (although not so in heavy artilllery), but were stuck in a former age (revolutionary zeal and Napoleonic glory mixed with post 1829 ‘tradition’) when it came to uniforms (les pantalons garances) and particularly philosophy. His telling of the ‘battle’ over military philosophy and the victory of exponents of the attaque à outrance (including one General Joffre, appointed in July 1911 as chief of staff of the army making him head of the army in peace and supreme commander in time of war) is astounding in hindsight, but also given developments in other nations. Buckingham concludes, in a salutary note “…an operational philosophy tailored to solve the problems of 1870… attaque à outrance and Plan XVII were set to provide an equally updated method of feeding manpower into the maw” (p. 53).

Chapter three: It is war! From the declarations of war to the mobilisation and initial attacks of French troops. I'd not read nor heard perviously the amazing statistic of how hugely successful French mobilisation was in 1914 with only 1.5% (or about 1 600) failing to report (as opposed to the expected 13%). Buckingham praises Joffre’s organisation for this, but I suspect that the bravado of the populace in supporting the war in August 1914 was also a contributing factor. Initial diversionary attacks by the French into Alsace-Lorraine and Ardennes met with some success, but were soon blunted. We learn of the first of the French general’s to suffer from Joffre’s limoges (his tendency to sack generals who were unsuccessful and transfer to Limoges so as to not have disgruntled generals in Paris). The statistics of the first weeks' fighting for the French; 260 000 casualties, 75 000 dead, 27 000 killed on 22 August. The dead included 4 778 officer (1/10th of the army’s officer corps). This was not, however, really related to attaque à outrance or gaudy uniforms as German casualties were similar. Rather it was due to the killing power of rapid firing artillery, rifles and machine guns and the power of defence over attack. In leading us to Verdun, Buckingham describes the bombardment and capture of Fort Manonviller in some detail, the incorrect conclusion of the French that it was destroyed by artillery, when in fact blown up after capture to prevent use by French—was an important lead in to Verdun (an important note that I had also read in "Verdun 1916: renaissance of the fortress"). Having until  now focussed chiefly from French perspective, Buckingham now switches to introduce German plans for war.

He describes the Schlieffen Plan and its implementation by von Moltke and how it contradicted French expectations, thinking and planning. The logistics of the planned movements are astounding, but, of course, it did not quite go according to plan and was adjusted due to needs in the east and revisions of von Moltke. He briefly covers the Battle of The Marne, race to the sea and establishment of the lines of the western front, pointing out that Germans held the most advantageous geography, leading to wasteful French and British attacks in 1915. The exception to this was the Verdun salient. Buckingham goes back to describing its formation along with the Saint-Mihiel salient. The chapter ends with the German destruction of two of the three railways feeding Verdun, leaving a “30-mile long narrow gauge military railway and parallel road running south-west to Bar-le-Duc as its line of communications. This rather tenuous link was to become more vital than its builders could ever have imagined” (p. 80).

In chapter 4 he describes events leading to the Battle of Verdun. Changes at German HQ after the failure of Schlieffen plan, defensive strategy in the west by Falkenhayn to allow attacks in the east. The fruitless French and British attacks in 1915 in attempts to wrest the high ground. This demonstrated clearly the power of the defence and that, while they would not lose war, Germany could not win by defense alone. So we have the development of Falkenhayn’s plans for attack in the west. The choices of Verdun or Belfort. Settling on Verdun. Buckingham describes the planning and logistics of the operation in great detail which, thanks to his fine prose, makes for easy, interesting and impactful reading.

From chapter 5 on Buckingham describes the battle in detail, comencing with the initial Geramn attack of 21–28 February 1916. As with Kaufmann and Kaufmann in "Verdun 1916: renaissance of the fortress", Buckingham provides an overview of the entire front, but he focusses more on the actions of smaller formations with more detail of sections of the battle. This includes units involved down to regiments, battalions and sometimes companies. This is complimentary and helps with the building picture of the battle that I am getting. His details of the unit numbers of men and locations are particularly useful to understanding events but also in planning any sort of re-fight (once again this compliments Kaufmann and Kaufmann which provided insights into the more detached outlook of the C-in-C (wargamer) for whom the lowest level of formation of note is the division).

Above and below, two of the double-pages of plates showing contemporary and modern images of the battlefield.

Buckingham continues this approach over the remaining five chapters, combining a strategic and tactical overview, with detailed descriptions and plenty of eyewitness accounts/recollections. These cover events of 6 March–29 May, the escalation of the attack to include the west bank (chapter 6); 29 April–1 June, attacks on both banks (chapter 7),; 1 June–8 June the German capture of Fort Vaux (chapter 8);  8 June–12 July final German attacks (chapter 9). The book's final chapter describes from the effective end of German offensive operations, the recapture of Fort’s Douaumont and Vaux in October-November 1916 through to the final recapture, in October 1918, of all territory lost in those ‘five days in February’. Along the way Buckingham tells us of the fate of the generals of both sides post-Verdun; the transfer to lesser fronts and eventual fading into obscurity of Falkenhayn, von Knobelsdorf and Joffre, the eventual reconciliation and interment in Les Invalides of Nivelle and Magnin (despite their leading part in the disastrous Battle of Aisne and mutiny of the Chemin des Dames in May-June 1917) and the sad tale of Pétain’s ‘transformation’ from hero and saviour of '16–'18 to villain and scapegoat of '40–'45. He concludes by telling us of the post-war clean-up (or covering) of the battlefield, establishment of memorials, shrines and visitor’s centres and dedication of Verdun as the World Capital of Peace, Freedom and Human Rights by the United Nations.

The anecdotes/recollections and detail in the chapters provides numerous interesting, moving and/or amazing pieces of information for the reader. A few examples will serve to illustrate this point

This from Feldwebel Karl Garner Infanterie  Regiment 243 on 4th March:

All I have told you, dear mother, is false. We have been badly informed by our officers. We are just maintaining our position on the ground we have won after fearful losses and we must give up hope of taking Verdun. The war will continue for an indefinite period, and in the end there will be neither victors nor vanquished (p. 158).

For the bombardment of Fort Vaux, the Germans gathered 2 200 guns, but
…their performance had been severely downgraded by this point because the gun barrels were approaching the limit of their useful life, having had more shells put through them than the manufacturers envisaged (p. 191).

Despite this,
…the intensity of the German preparatory bombardment did much of the assault troop’s work for them. The 28e Régiment d’Infanterie’s 3e Bataillon manning the Ravin de Bazil sector of the front line was virtually wiped out in the course of the night for example, and the unrelenting shelling reduced the 1er Bataillon to just eight men when it attempted to counter-attack the position from the support trench line (p. 192).
The description of the German attack and eventual capture of Fort Vaux in June is particularly engrossing, awe-inspiring. The combat above the fort and in the tunnels was described in some detail by Kaufmann and Kaufmann, but Buckingham dedicates an entire chapter to it and so tells the tale of this horrible and heroic fight in more detail, with numerous quotes. The word-picture is astounding. Men inside the fort, resisting desperately against attackers also in the fort’s interior, others outside and on top, desperately trying to break-through, while repulsing French counter-attacks. The deliberate calling down of ‘friendly fire’ upon the fort so as to try to dislodge or at least to disrupt the attacker s without. Then, the eventual surrender of the beaten but unbroken, wretched and parched survivors of the garrison who were well treated by their captors, despite the latter having suffered some 2 742 casualties in seven days of desperate fighting to wrest the fort from its 300-odd strong garrison (support from Fort Souville and under-manned relief attempts).
 
A final example on the state of the battlefield not long after the capture of Ft Vaux:
… the physical state of the battlefield, which constant shelling had ploughed into a cratered, milky brown desert bereft of foliage or shade. Water was therefore a key requirement but had to be brought forward by hand with the limitations and risk that entailed; only twenty-eight of ninety-five water bearers from the Bayerische Leib Regiment despatched to Fleury during the night of 23/24 June got through, for example (p. 227).

One of the maps in appendix 1, this showing the front lines before the initial German offensive and the firing lines of the German batteries.

Book includes two appendices. The first contains six maps showing the Verdun front, city of Verdun, initial German offensive with locations of gun batteries and firing lines, supply lines of Verdun, area of the initial German attack indicating the front line on each day, and both the east and west banks with German lines in March. All of these maps are clear and sufficiently detailed, but, amazingly, only the map of Verdun has a scale! The second appendix is a listing of the approximate strengths of different levels of formation in each army, from section/platoon to division. 

Each chapter has a large number of notes on the text. These relate chiefly to the sources used which, in Buckingham’s case, are mainly secondary sources. They are well-respected histories all, but nevertheless indicate that he has not returned to archival or other primary sources himself. 

I began by praising Buckingham’s prose. The book is a most readable account. Unfortunately though, some repetition occurs around the middle of the book. I am not sure whether this is proof-reading fatigue, poor editing or related to the deadline of having it published in the centenary year, but it is both annoying and disappointing. For example, on page 174 we read that “… Nivelle and Magnin started as they intended to go on”, only to be told on page 175 that “Nivelle and Magnin had begun as they intended to continue…”. Then, on page 180, regarding the General Magnin's planning of the (failed) French attack to retake Fort Douaumont in May, we learn that Magnin was “…less than impressed when the fort’s [Fort Moulainville] commander, Capitaine Léon Harispe, respectfully pointed out that the 370 mm howitzers were likely to prove inadequate as Moulainville had withstood two weeks of regular bombardment by more powerful German 420 mm pieces without suffering significant damage. Magnin was reportedly less than impressed with the news.” There are a few other examples in the chapter, though mainly words repeated in a sentence so not as bad, and I did not detect such poor proof-reading in any of the other chapters.

Overall, this is a fine book about ‘the infamous western front battle’ (to cite the promo. on the back cover) and one which provides the reader with copious detail and richness in a most readable account. On opening the book I was surprised to see that the chapters began back in ancient times, but it became clearly evident why Buckingham had provided this level of background and it is in fact critical to the reader’s understanding of the epic struggle of 1915.

I borrowed this book courtesy of the State Library service through our ever-helpful local library. I would not have been disappointed in the least had I purchased a copy.

Rating


Reference

Buckingham, WF (2018) Verdun 1916 : the deadliest battle of the First World War. First Published 2016. Amberley Publishing, Merrywalks, Stroud, England. 320 pp.



Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Verdun 105 (4): German Army

Having painted nearly six hundred figures* in a month, I am pretty chuffed and feeling nearly as productive as Dean at WAB Corner. 

There are a couple of 'minor' differences;

 - mine were 2 mm scale, and

- they are an abstract version compared to Dean's works of art!

 

*The actual count was 598, plus 26 horses, 16 guns & heavy mortars and 17 vehicles.

I really enjoy this tiny scale. It's great fun identifying what is what (glasses a necessity) and trying to bring them out in their best light. Looking at the photos you may well ask why I bothered, but the types are clear enough even to the naked eye and there is some remarkable detail that becomes evident on closer inspection. 

As well as the pleasure, challenge and sense of achievement in painting them, they are fit for purpose—to represent the entire Battle of Verdun in its entirety (and later other, huge battles of the First World War).

Trucks and headquarters: generic models for 'modern' periods

Looking closer at the headquarters (note two officers sitting at desk).

Trucks and a staff car

Machine guns. Clearly identifiable.

Infantry, from the front (stormtroopers at left—a bit of green and brown camo. on helmets).

Infantry from rear. Note the packs.

Cavalry column from the front.

A clearer photo taken under natural light

Above and below: cavalry from the rear under artificial and natural light. Note the leather belts.

 
Above and below: 21 cm mörser in artificial and natural light

Their big brothers. I threw these into the same 'production line'. They need final touch-up and then will be set for the larger-scale representation of sections of Verdun.


Field artillery

Heavy mortars

Trench mortars. Not such good figures in either natural or artificial light, but 'okay' and clearly differentiated.

Probably my favourites of all: the A7Vs and captured MkIVs (beutepanzers). Not for Verdun, of course, but for later battles.


One can try to photograph these figures and models too closely and this large-scale complete army effect is probably a better way to look at them!


It's interesting when the sand grains that I use in my basign mix are almost as big as the figures, but I am happy with the mud effect and smatterings of men and matériel in the mire.

Next is the French army and then I'll put them to the 'test'.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Verdun 105 (3): Book Review: Verdun 1916 The of Renaissance of the Fortress

Just like the participants of the real thing, particularly those forming grand strategy, I am learning as I go along. The serendipity of having it to hand meant that the Kaufmanns' book has marked the beginning of my detailed reading about Verdun. It was a great place to start.

This dense book is one that you would swear is greater than its 248 pages (plus index). It is a detailed description and analysis of the ten-month Battle of Verdun and the role of the fortress and fortifications in that terrible campaign—plus far more.

The book’s headline title is ‘Verdun 1916’, yet we do not get to the first day of Verdun until page 140. This is not a negative, but a most positive aspect of the book since the first 139 pages are devoted to detailed and essential background, description and analysis of events leading up to 21st February 1916; and plenty about the forts and fortifications.

The first chapter is a summary and overview of final road to war and movements on all fronts from July 1914 to the end of 1915. It provides insights into the strategic situation that lead to Verdun but is also one of the clearest and lucid descriptions of the course to and of the war that I have read (heard or watched).

Each chapter contains sidebars with details of a specific aspect that is relevant to the chapter’s topic. In chapter one these sidebars are casualties during the first fifteen months of the war compared to later (particularly for the French), the challenges to providing the resources for the war matériel and a brief biography of General Petain.

The second chapter on fortresses and fortifications begins with an inventory (location and state) of the fortresses of each European power at the outset of the war in relation to their plans. This is a key chapter of the book, hence it’s 47 pages. The chapter’s sidebars are about artillery and turrets, siege artillery, balloons and modern trench warfare (prior to the First World War). Details about fortifications, designs, dimensions, thickness. design of armour, armament and placement in this chapter are fascinating and edifying but will be super-useful in trying to model such things for the wargame table.

An example of some of the numerous photographs in the book, this a double-page spread showing the turrets of several of the forts around Verdun.

In the third chapter we move to the campaign leading to the attack on Verdun in early 1916. The Kaufmanns describe the creation of the Verdun salient, the St Mihiel salient, the French small attacks orchestrated by Joffre in 1915 in the Argonne/St Mihiel salient. The failure of what had gone before meant a new approach (even though, to our modern eyes and to the men of the time, it did not seem much changed). The options for both sides are discussed and how they came to both plan offensive measures for 1916. Sidebars describe the dismissal of General Sarrail as Joffre’s scapegoat(?)—a bit of a ‘habit’ of his—and the development of air power that would lead to the use of aircraft of various sorts in the Verdun campaign.

Chapter four begins with the planning of the battle, brief biographies of the main generals involved and then describes in detail the “five days in February’’. In the book’s introduction the Kaufmanns state that there is uncertainty as to what Falkenhayn’s objectives were. Several times in this chapter they mention that Falkenhayn is not recorded as having stating his objective to ‘bleed the French white’ until his memoirs years later. The authors seem to suggest that the objective was to bring the French to a battle, engaging men and matériel so as to weaken other sectors of the front. Perhaps, if the Somme offensive had not been initiated by the allies, the Germans would have attacked elsewhere? Falkenhayn realised that, in a long war of attrition, the Germans would come off second best, so he wanted to take the initiative, hence launching the attack in February, on a narrow front and against a position that the French held dear. The summary of the first five days and what could have been demonstrate how it was part of the evolving of warfare in that most terrible conflict. One can almost see it as a ‘training ground’ for the far more successful, targeted and aggressive operation Michael (the Kaiserschlacht) in the autumn of 1918 (though that too ran out of ‘puff’). I wonder how different that might have been had the flower of Germany’s army not been squandered at Verdun? Sidebars discuss evidence regarding Falkenhayn’s aims, the timeline of the five days in February (known and unknown), impressions of the results of the first five days from the generals of both sides and Falkenhayn’s strategy for the initial attack.

The fifth chapter covers the battle from March to December. There is a detailed description of the German attacks of early March and French counter-attacks of early April. The development of each side’s system of rotating divisions (more frequently by the French), defence in depth, machinations and tensions of high command, political influence of President Pointcaire in the need to hold Verdun (to maintain his government) and the determination of the Poilus to defend their motherland all come into play. This chapter focusses on the battles for the forts. In the course of the narrative the Kaufmann’s describe Forts Douaumont, Vaux, Moulainville and Ouvrage Thiaumont, Laufée, Froideterre assisted by diagrams, plans and photographs. The approaches of the two sides to relieving the front-line troops are illustrated by examples of the movements of divisions to different sectors and between Verdun and the Somme. Most of the narrative is at the senior command level, so we read of the movements of divisions and corps, in and out of the front line. This shows the scale of the operation and that the minimum, relevant ‘manoeuvre element’ was the division, adding to the distance of senior command from the frontline. An exception to this is a detailed description of the German capture of Fort Vaux in late May. Firstly outside and then within the confines and corridors of the fort. It is harrowing stuff. Sidebars cover the Somme and the logistics of supply for the French, repairs to road and rail to form la Voie Sacré

The conclusion looks at the battle’s effects on the war and the careers of main generals involved. There are some long quotes from Hindenburg’s reflections on the battle and its lessons. These make for particularly interesting reading, being from a German general who had his forces in the east decreased in order to allow the attack to occur, but who seems to have been supportive of the campaign*. They add further credence to the implied conclusion of the authors that Falkenhayn’s aim to ‘bleed the French army white’ was a later interpretation while to remove the Verdun salient, create a weak-point from which to defeat the entente forces or even to draw in further troops so as to provide opportunities for a strong attack seem to be the more likely aims at the outset.

The book contains many tables, maps, illustrations and photographs. These add detail and understanding for the reader, but, more importantly for me, will help greatly in recreating the battle. The table listing the units of German assault formations and target French formations and units in the initial attacks is but one example.

One of several tables; this provides an order of battle for the first five days.

Maps, in copious quantity are to be found in the pages of the book. These range from the entire western and eastern front to specific areas of Verdun and fortresses. They are excellent to follow locations and details in the text. Several of them are quite small and many are missing a scale, but, as with the book as a whole, they build in information and detail along in line the text making it easier to get an understanding of events over such a large area. These too will be invaluable to me for any wargaming of the battle.
Plenty of maps, which is always great! Some strategic (above) and others relating to Verdun overall (below) or specific parts of the 'battlefield'.

An appendix, providing an overview of weapons of trench warfare (German, French and British) and developments during the war up to and after Verdun, glossary of terms, especially those relating to forts and fortifications, detailed notes on each chapter and a bibliography of chiefly secondary but also some primary (memoir) sources round out the book.

There is much repetition in the text. While you say to yourself that ‘I have read this before’ it is not straight repetition and is part of the way that the authors build the story, so in each case it is more a reference back to a previous point now made in a broader or more specific context or with the addition of more detail or nuance. Therefore, overall, I found this a bonus, rather than a detraction.

Occasional typos (chiefly duplicated or missing words) and grammatical mistakes do detract a little, but these are few in number and, let’s face it, as someone who has written reports, papers (and blog posts) I know that even with the best of intentions, duplicate proof-reading and editing such things slip through.

This is a fine book and, as I mentioned at the outset, I am pleased that it was the one that launched me into learning more about Verdun. I will be referring back to it time and again, especially in the coming weeks and months.

* I have fairly loosely and interchangeably referred to battle and campaign. While the largely stationary actions of the First World War are commonly referred to as battles, I find it more useful (for me) to consider them as campaigns with the sections and phases as battles.

Rating

Reference

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.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Verdun 105 (2): Hair-raising explosions

I have been playing around with ideas for explosion markers to use with Westfront. I have made some from the usual candidate of cotton wool (actually a synthetic stuffing from some cushions that our youngest dog, Xena now three, 'destroyed' when she was a pup!). I hit upon another idea recently, following the dog theme; dog hair.

I was brushing our old dog 'Monty' recently (who turned 12 in December) and thought, as I was pulling the hair from the brush, that the mix of colours could be ideal for explosions. So, I glued a few clumps onto some round latex bases today and was pretty happy with the outcome.

Monty looking well-groomed after his most recent brush
Xena the warrior dog—I might 'harvest' some hair from her too
Dog-hair explosions
The synthetic stuffing, cotton wool-style version

I like the ability to make strands of smoke with this method
Above and below: comparing the two
My dark, trench terrain makes the figures look really dark, especially under artificial light. This is what they look like to my eye.

I might try a mix of the cushion stuffing and hair next time to see if I can generate something a bit more like the images that I have seen in The Times History of the War and other places

Some pictures from The Times History of the War illustrating explosions

Anyway, just a quick update on my Verdun project for now, ahead of something more substantial soon...

On the subject of hair-raising, an unexpected encounter had my wife's hair on end this evening. She went to bring in the chook feeders, which we put away at night to avoid the rodents getting to the pellets, and checked to see if there were any late-laid eggs that we had missed, only to find that we had a visitor in the layer box. Not sure what it was, she decided that I should put the feeders away. Turned out to be a lovely carpet python, that hopefully will help to keep down said rodents.

Look at the beautiful camouflage on this specimen


References

Times, T (1915) The Times History of the War. 5. The Times, London. 516 pp. Available from archive.org (https://archive.org/details/timeshistoryofwa05londuoft)

Times, T (1916) The Times History of the War. 6. The Times, London. 448 pp. Available from archive.org (https://archive.org/details/timeshistoryofwa06londuoft)

Times, T (1916) The Times History of the War. 8. The Times, London. 512 pp. Available from archive.org (https://archive.org/details/timeshistoryofwa08lond)


Monday, February 22, 2021

Verdun 105 (1): Operation Gericht Day 1

One hundred and five years (and two days) ago at 0800 hours, two 750 kg shells fired from two 380 mm Langer Max guns were the signal for what was to become the ten-month Battle of Verdun. These shells unleashed a ten-hour bombardment, involving some 808 guns, after which the guns switched target to the second line of French trenches and the stormtroopers advanced...

Scan from Kaufmann and Kaufmann's excellent book

Blog author's representation of same.

This anniversary signals an increase in my non-Napoleonic wargaming activities for this year, which are focussed around the third year of the First World War; in particular, the battles of Verdun and Somme.

Wargaming has many facets: reading, researching, collecting (figures, books, terrain...), painting, modelling, terrain-building and, of course, the games. For many, the last is the most important. For me, the original interest in wargaming came about because of my interest in history, particularly military history and a love of military miniatures. My 'aim' with wargaming, the 'place' of it in my life— and the enjoyment that I derive from it—has always been to increase my knowledge and understanding history (mostly of specific eras/campaigns). This focus has become clearer to me in recent years, such that I have devised a somewhat structured approach. This has lead to some fairly grand plans!

I have a file that I have called ‘battles for wargamers’. In there I have dates of as many actions as I can find from the late Revolutionary & Napoleonic Wars, various Ottoman/Turkish wars from 1663–1791 (not entirely exclusive), the Great Northern War and First World War. I have then constructed a table of years from 2020–2036 and past years based on a range of 'irregular' anniversaries (105, 110, 220, 225, 235, 315, 325, 340, 350, 360).

Battles for Wargamers

My plan is to focus attention on the particular anniversary year in each calendar year from 2021–2036 (another of those gambles on longevity!). My activities in each year will involve a 'study' of the specific campaigns and battles (and broader aspects) with some kind of wargame or re-fight of as many actions as I can/want to do.

It begins this year, for Napoleonics, with 1796 + 225 and for non-Napoleonics with
1916 + 105.

Like all good plans, it will not survive engagement with the enemy! I am already behind with Verdun-105 as I have only just begun the detailed reading and have more figures (and especially guns and planes) to complete/paint. The good thing, from a recognition/recreation such as this is that the battle ran for ten months! Trouble is, the Somme comes along in July.  Prior to that I have the start of the Italian campaign in April...

My fall-back is that it is my plan, my activities and my desire to learn more. If I begin an anniversary weeks or months late, no matter. If I do not bother with the game aspect, no drama.
To quote one of those many popularisms that I dislike greatly: “it is about the journey”.

A helpful reality that is on my side is that, as each anniversary passes, I will be better ‘equipped' to attend to the next, figure-wise at least. The reading does not generally carry over from one to the next, of course!

The initial books that I have ear-marked to learn more about Verdun, especially which phases and sections that I might represent on the tabletop are listed below. For this campaign, and the First World War in general, I begin from a 'low base', little more than general knowledge, amongst wargamers/history buffs.So, I have been learning at an exponential rate; and enjoying it immensely.

These books are first in line in my quest to learn more about Verdun
Petain's account that I have as a pdf, thanks to the wonderful archive.org

Another older account from archive.org

This one, highly recommended, is on its way. Hopefully to arrive this week.
I have his "Napoleon, Master of Europe 1805-1807", which is a fine book.



My (initial) Reading List 

Buckingham, W. F. (2018). Verdun 1916 : the deadliest battle of the First World War. Merrywalks, Stroud, England, William F. Buckingham (Amberley Publishing).

Desagneaux, H. (2014). A French Soldier's War Diary 1914-1918. Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England, Pen & Sword Military.

Holstein, C. (2012). Fort Vaux Verdun. Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK, Battleground (an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Ltd).

Horne, A. (1993). The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916. London, Penguin Press.

Kaufmann, J. E. and H. W. Kaufmann (2016). Verdun 1916 The Renaissance of the Fortress. Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK, Pen & Sword Military (an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Ltd).

Petain, H. P. (1930). Verdun. New York, Lincoln Mac Veagh, The Dial Press.

Simonds, F. H. (1916). They shall not pass. Garden City, New York Doubleday, Page & Company.

Internet sites 

http://memorial-verdun.fr/en/
https://www.upi.com/Archives/1910-1919/Battle-of-Verdun/