Battle of Verdun was the largest and second deadliest battle in World War I, it was fought by France-icon.png France and the German Empire-icon.png German Empire during February 21 to December 19, 1916 in France-icon.png Northeast France leaving 300,000+ people dead and about 500,000 people wounded on both sides.

Background

During 1914, Verdun was a symbolic place, since it was heavily fortified and it had artillery support.

After the German Empire-icon.png germans failed on getting a quick victory over France-icon.png France , the fight over the western front became a trench war.

On 1915, Chief of the German General Staff Erich von Falkenhayn planned an attack to France-icon.png France, ignoring Hindenburg's tips, which he said that he prefered to end with the Russian Front and wait until Serbia was completely destroyed.

The plan consisted of a war of attrition against the French troops to obtain the greatest number of casualties of soldiers and material.

The situation of the Allies was quite worrisome because although they had braked on several occasions to the central empires, they were in a position to launch a massive attack in France if they could end the eastern front, and probably that attack would be final. While the Allies planned a joint attack by France, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Russian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy on both sides of the Somme River, the German General Staff presented its plans to Kaiser Wilhelm II. The German plan was based on the fact that the greatest enemy was the United Kingdom and its "best sword", the French army: therefore, they were forced to bleed it.

In 1914, during the German invasion of France, a ledge was created around Verdun following the first battle of the Marne (September 5 to 12) and the capture of Saint-Mihiel (on September 24). Although some forts were subjected to fire from the Dicke Bertha artillery, the fortifications were not threatened, before a possible German conquest.

The heart of the city of Verdun was a citadel built by Vauban in the seventeenth century. At the end of the 19th century, a large underground complex had also been built, which served as a barracks for troops from within the city. About eight kilometers from the walls of the city, there was an outer circular ring of 18 large fortresses (12 smaller forts had not been completed), many of them with rotation of towers equipped with 75 mm short artillery and 155 mm guns. That ring of 18 great fortresses was to protect Verdun; in addition, they had been built at great cost, during the 1880s and according to the specifications of the Séré de Rivières. The forts of Verdún were variable in quality and size and, therefore, they always had unequal potential to resist heavy artillery bombardments.

The forts to the north and east of Verdun (for example, Fort Douaumont, Fort Vaux, Moulainville) had been reinforced during 1900 with thick steel, in addition to concrete tops resting on a "cushion" of sand. The improved forts had also been equipped with regular 75mm assault guns, installed in refuges also reinforced, thus providing accompanying fire through the intervals between the forts. However, several large fortresses built during the 1880s, in the West and South Verdun defense ring (for example, La Chaume and Belrupt-en-Verdunois), had never been improved. The predictions intuited that the German assault would come from the east and the north, which turned out to be correct.

After the German invasion of the Kaiser, it had stopped in the first battle of the Marne, in September 1914. The war of movement gave way to trench warfare and none of the combatants had the possibility of achieving a successful advance. In 1915, all German attempts at an advance on Ypres, the British attempts to take Neuve Chapelle and the French attempts at the Battle of Champagne and the Battle of Artois had failed, and had only caused a high number of casualties. According to his "memoirs of war", the German Chief of Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, believed that, while a breakthrough was not possible, the French army could still be defeated in the event of suffering a "huge" number of victims. He explained that his motivation for the battle was that he would attack a position from which the French army not only could not retreat, both for strategic reasons and for reasons of national pride, but also would throw all its units to defense for the courage strategic and symbolic of the square. This was his main asset.

Erdun, surrounded by a ring of fortifications, apart from being a very important fortress, was a projecting projection on the German lines and blocked an important railway line that led directly to Paris. However, by early 1916, much of Verdun's strengths had been greatly weakened. Joffre then recalled the easy fall of the Belgian strongholds of Liege and Namur, noting that this type of defensive system was obsolete and could not withstand the shelling of the German heavy artillery. Consequently, during the year 1915, the sector of Verdun was stripped of more than 50 complete batteries and 128,000 rounds of ammunition of artillery. This extraction process was still ongoing at the end of January 1916. At that time, the 18 main fortresses and other batteries surrounding Verdun were left with less than 300 weapons and limited ammunition. In addition, their garrisons had been reduced to small maintenance crews. Falkenhayn chose Verdun for being a place where the material circumstances in favor of a German offensive gave great possibilities of success: Verdun was isolated on three sides and railway communications in the French rear were restricted. On the contrary, a railroad controlled by the Germans was only 20 km north of their positions. Falkenhayn expected a favorable relationship between the German and French casualties (indeed, the Germans estimated that the battle would have a ratio of 1 German low for every 2.5 French). Falkenhayn states in his memoirs that, rather than a traditional military victory, Verdun was planned as an instrument for the destruction of the French army. He cites in his book a note that says he wrote for the Kaiser:

"The chain in France has reached the limit. A great advance in mass, which in any case is beyond our means, is not necessary. Within our reach, fulfilling our objectives for the retention of the French army, before which the General Staff of France would be forced to throw all the men they have. If they do, the forces of France would bleed to death of France"

However, the German studies carried out by Holger Afflerbach and others are questioning the veracity of the so-called "Christmas note", in which the German generalissimo had foreseen a war of attrition, with an easy German victory at the same time as a hard blow to France.

Current analyzes follow the same trend and exclude the traditional explanation. The offensive was probably intended to overwhelm Verdun's weakened defenses, thus achieving a potentially deadly blow to the French Army. Verdun railway communications had been cut in 1915 and the city depended on a narrow single road (la Voie sacrée) and a small narrow-gauge railway station (the Chemin de fer Meusien) to be re-supplied. This logistical bottleneck had raised hopes that an effective defense of France could not be maintained beyond a few weeks.

As noted above, the sector of Verdun was very poorly defended in 1916, because half of the artillery in the forts had retreated in 1915, leaving only heavy weapons in the retractable turrets. The 75 mm guns, very effective in the "Casemates of Bourges", had been distributed. Also, there were no barbed wire belts around the forts and most of the forts' weapons were still in the underground store. By a chance of bureaucratic incoherence, the forts had been placed under the control of a general who had not informed the local commander of the Verdun military sector. Instead, he received his orders directly from Headquarters in Paris. As a result, when the acting commander of the Verdun military sector appeared to inspect Douaumont, one month before the battle, he was denied access to the fortress because he did not carry the necessary authorizations. In February 1916, French intelligence discovered preparations for Germany, but a delay in the attack due to bad weather gave the French high command time to send two divisions to the defense of the area. The French force in Verdun consisted at that time of 34 battalions, in front of the 72 battalions of Germany; therefore, he had approximately half of that of his attacker. The French artillery was even more disadvantaged: about 300 firearms, mostly 75mm field guns, compared to 1,400 guns by the German side, most of them heavy and superheavy, including 16 mortars.


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