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The German artillery could fire into the Verdun salient from three directions, yet remain dispersed. The preliminary artillery bombardment was to begin in the morning of 12 February. At p. Great emphasis was placed on limiting German infantry casualties, by sending them to follow up destructive bombardments by the artillery, which was to carry the burden of the offensive in a series of large "attacks with limited objectives", to maintain a relentless pressure on the French. The initial objectives were the Meuse Heights, on a line from Froide Terre to Fort Souville and Fort Tavannes, which would provide a secure defensive position from which to repel French counter-attacks.
Relentless pressure was a term added by the 5th Army staff and created ambiguity about the purpose of the offensive. Falkenhayn wanted land to be captured, from which artillery could dominate the battlefield and the 5th Army wanted a quick capture of Verdun. The confusion caused by the ambiguity was left to the corps headquarters to sort out. Control of the artillery was centralised by an Order for the Activities of the Artillery and Mortars , which stipulated that the corps Generals of Foot Artillery were responsible for local target selection, while co-ordination of flanking fire by neighbouring corps and the fire of certain batteries, was determined by the 5th Army headquarters.
French fortifications were to be engaged by the heaviest howitzers and enfilade fire. The heavy artillery was to maintain long-range bombardment of French supply routes and assembly areas; counter-battery fire was reserved for specialist batteries firing gas shells. Co-operation between the artillery and infantry was stressed, with accuracy of the artillery being given priority over rate of fire. The opening bombardment was to build up slowly and Trommelfeuer a rate of fire so rapid that the sound of shell-explosions merged into a rumble would not begin until the last hour.
As the infantry advanced, the artillery would increase the range of the bombardment to destroy the French second position. Artillery observers were to advance with the infantry and communicate with the guns by field telephones, flares and coloured balloons. When the offensive began, the French were to be bombarded continuously, harassing fire being maintained at night. The conversion of the RFV to a conventional linear defence, with trenches and barbed wire began but proceeded slowly, after resources were sent west from Verdun for the Second Battle of Champagne 25 September — 6 November Douaumont was the largest fort in the RFV and by February , the only artillery left in the fort were the 75 mm and mm turret guns and light guns covering the ditch.
The fort was used as a barracks by 68 technicians under the command of Warrant-Officer Chenot, the Gardien de Batterie.
The drawbridge had been jammed in the down position by a German shell and had not been repaired. In late January , French intelligence had obtained an accurate assessment of German military capacity and intentions at Verdun but Joffre considered that an attack would be a diversion, because of the lack of an obvious strategic objective. Eight specialist flame-thrower companies were also sent to the 5th Army. Castelnau met De Langle de Cary on 25 February, who doubted the east bank could be held. A "line of panic" was planned in secret as a final line of defence north of Verdun, through forts Belleville, St.
Michel and Moulainville. Unternehmen Gericht Operation Judgement was due to begin on 12 February but fog, heavy rain and high winds delayed the offensive until a. The German artillery fired c. The bombardment was paused at midday, as a ruse to prompt French survivors to reveal themselves and German artillery-observation aircraft were able to fly over the battlefield unmolested by French aircraft.
Poor communications meant that only then did the French High Command realise the seriousness of the attack. The Germans managed to take the village of Haumont but French forces repulsed a German attack on the village of Bois de l'Herbebois. On 23 February, a French counter-attack at Bois des Caures was repulsed. The German attackers had many casualties during their attack on Bois de Fosses and the French held on to Samogneux.
A delay in the arrival of orders to the regiments on the flanks, led to the III Battalion advancing without support on that flank. The German infantry had reached their objectives in fewer than twenty minutes and pursued the French, until fired on by a machine-gun in Douaumont church. Some German troops took cover in woods and a ravine which led to the fort, when German artillery began to bombard the area, the gunners having refused to believe claims sent by field telephone that the German infantry were within a few hundred metres of the fort.
Several German parties were forced to advance to find cover from the German shelling and two parties independently made for the fort. The German party of c. Some of the party began to cut through the wire around the fort, while French machine-gun fire from Douaumont village ceased.
The Germans were able to reach the north-east end of the fort before the French resumed firing. The German party found a way through the railings on top of the ditch and climbed down without being fired on, since the machine-gun bunkers coffres de contrescarpe at each corner of the ditch had been left unmanned.
The German parties continued and found a way inside the fort through one of the unoccupied ditch bunkers and then reached the central Rue de Rempart. After quietly moving inside, the Germans heard voices and persuaded a French prisoner, captured in an observation post, to lead them to the lower floor, where they found Warrant Officer Chenot and about 25 French troops, most of the skeleton garrison of the fort, and took them prisoner.
The German advance gained little ground on 27 February, after a thaw turned the ground into a swamp and the arrival of French reinforcements increased the effectiveness of the defence. Some German artillery became unserviceable and other batteries became stranded in the mud. German infantry began to suffer from exhaustion and unexpectedly high losses, casualties being suffered in the fighting around Douaumont village. The swift German advance had gone beyond the range of artillery covering fire and the muddy conditions made it very difficult to move the artillery forward as planned.
The German advance southwards brought it into range of French artillery west of the Meuse, whose fire caused more German infantry casualties than in the earlier fighting, when French infantry on the east bank had fewer guns in support. Before the offensive, Falkenhayn had expected that French artillery on the west bank would be suppressed by counter-battery fire but this had failed. The Germans set up a specialist artillery force to counter French artillery-fire from the west bank but this also failed to reduce German infantry casualties.
The 5th Army asked for more troops in late February but Falkenhayn refused, due to the rapid advance already achieved on the east bank and because he needed the rest of the OHL reserve for an offensive elsewhere, once the attack at Verdun had attracted and consumed French reserves. The pause in the German advance on 27 February led Falkenhayn to have second thoughts to decide between terminating the offensive or reinforcing it. On 29 February, Knobelsdorf, the 5th Army Chief of Staff, prised two divisions from the OHL reserve, with the assurance that once the heights on the west bank had been occupied, the offensive on the east bank could be completed.
The artillery of the two-corps assault group on the west bank was reinforced by 25 heavy artillery batteries, artillery command was centralised under one officer and arrangements were made for the artillery on the east bank to fire in support. German attacks changed from large operations on broad fronts, to narrow-front attacks with limited objectives. Gossler ordered a pause in the attack, to consolidate the captured ground and to prepare another big bombardment for the next day. The limited German success had been costly and French artillery inflicted more casualties as the German infantry tried to dig in.
An attack was made on a wider front along both banks by the Germans at noon on 9 April, with five divisions on the left bank but this was repulsed except at Mort-Homme, where the French 42nd Division was forced back from the north-east face.asersucelow.ml/map22.php
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In March the German attacks had no advantage of surprise and faced a determined and well-supplied adversary in superior defensive positions. German artillery could still devastate French defensive positions but could not prevent French artillery-fire from inflicting many casualties on German infantry and isolating them from their supplies. Massed artillery fire could enable German infantry to make small advances but massed French artillery-fire could do the same for French infantry when they counter-attacked, which often repulsed the German infantry and subjected them to constant losses, even when captured ground was held.
The German effort on the west bank also showed that capturing a vital point was not sufficient, because it would be found to be overlooked by another terrain feature, which had to be captured to ensure the defence of the original point, which made it impossible for the Germans to terminate their attacks, unless they were willing to retire to the original front line of February By the end of March the offensive had cost the Germans 81, casualties and Falkenhayn began to think of ending the offensive, lest it become another costly and indecisive engagement similar to the First Battle of Ypres in late The 5th Army staff requested more reinforcements from Falkenhayn on 31 March with an optimistic report claiming that the French were close to exhaustion and incapable of a big offensive.
The 5th Army command wanted to continue the east bank offensive until a line from Ouvrage de Thiaumont, to Fleury, Fort Souville and Fort de Tavannes had been reached, while on the west bank the French would be destroyed by their own counter-attacks. On 4 April, Falkenhayn replied that the French had retained a considerable reserve and that German resources were limited and not sufficient to replace continuously men and munitions. If the resumed offensive on the east bank failed to reach the Meuse Heights, Falkenhayn was willing to accept that the offensive had failed and end it.
The failure of German attacks in early April by Angriffsgruppe Ost , led Knobelsdorf to take soundings from the 5th Army corps commanders, who unanimously wanted to continue. The German infantry were exposed to continuous artillery fire from the flanks and rear; communications from the rear and reserve positions were equally vulnerable, which caused a constant drain of casualties. Defensive positions were difficult to build, because existing positions were on ground which had been swept clear by German bombardments early in the offensive, leaving German infantry with very little cover.
The XV Corps commander, General Berthold von Deimling also wrote that French heavy artillery and gas bombardments were undermining the morale of the German infantry, which made it necessary to keep going to reach safer defensive positions. Knobelsdorf reported these findings to Falkenhayn on 20 April, adding that if the Germans did not go forward, they must go back to the start line of 21 February. Knobelsdorf rejected the policy of limited piecemeal attacks tried by Mudra as commander of Angriffsgruppe Ost and advocated a return to wide-front attacks with unlimited objectives, swiftly to reach the line from Ouvrage de Thiaumont to Fleury, Fort Souville and Fort de Tavannes.
Falkenhayn was persuaded to agree to the change and by the end of April, 21 divisions, most of the OHL reserve, had been sent to Verdun and troops had also been transferred from the Eastern Front. The resort to large, unlimited attacks was costly for both sides but the German advance proceeded only slowly. Rather than causing devastating French casualties by heavy artillery with the infantry in secure defensive positions, which the French were compelled to attack, the Germans inflicted casualties by attacks which provoked French counter-attacks and assumed that the process inflicted five French casualties for two German losses.
In mid-March, Falkenhayn had reminded the 5th Army to use tactics intended to conserve infantry, after the corps commanders had been allowed discretion to choose between the cautious, "step by step" tactics desired by Falkenhayn and maximum efforts, intended to obtain quick results. On the third day of the offensive, the 6th Division of the III Corps General Ewald von Lochow , had ordered that Herbebois be taken regardless of loss and the 5th Division had attacked Wavrille to the accompaniment of its band.
Strongpoints which could not be taken were to be by-passed and captured by follow-up troops. Falkenhayn ordered that the command of field and heavy artillery units was to be combined, with a commander at each corps headquarters. Common observers and communication systems would ensure that batteries in different places could bring targets under converging fire, which would be allotted systematically to support divisions. In mid-April, Falkenhayn ordered that infantry should advance close to the barrage, to exploit the neutralising effect of the shellfire on surviving defenders, because fresh troops at Verdun had not been trained in these methods.
Knobelsdorf persisted with attempts to maintain momentum, which was incompatible with the methods of casualty conservation, which could be implemented only with limited attacks, with pauses to consolidate and prepare.
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Mudra and other commanders who disagreed were sacked. Falkenhayn also intervened to change German defensive tactics, advocating a dispersed defence with the second line to be held as a main line of resistance and jumping-off point for counter-attacks. Machine-guns were to be set up with overlapping fields of fire and infantry given specific areas to defend. When French infantry attacked, they were to be isolated by Sperrfeuer barrage-fire on their former front line, to increase French infantry casualties. The changes desired by Falkenhayn had little effect, because the main cause of German casualties was artillery-fire, just as it was for the French.
From 10 May German operations were limited to local attacks, either in reply to French counter-attacks on 11 April between Douaumont and Vaux and on 17 April between the Meuse and Douaumont, or local attempts to take points of tactical value. A further attack took the ridge south of the ravin de Couleuvre , which gave the Germans better routes for counter-attacks and observation over the French lines to the south and south-west.
Mangin proposed a preliminary attack to retake the area of the ravines, to obstruct the routes by which a German counter-attack on the fort could be made. More divisions were necessary but these were refused, to preserve the troops needed for the forthcoming offensive on the Somme; Mangin was limited to one division for the attack with one in reserve. III Corps was to command the attack by the 5th Division and the 71st Brigade, with support from three balloon companies for artillery-observation and a fighter group.
The main effort was to be conducted by two battalions of the th Infantry Regiment, each with a pioneer company and a machine-gun company attached. The 2nd Battalion was to attack from the south and the 1st Battalion was to move along the west side of the fort to the north end, taking Fontaine Trench and linking with the 6th Company. Two battalions of the 74th Infantry Regiment were to advance along the east and south-east sides of the fort and take a machine-gun turret on a ridge to the east. Flank support was arranged with neighbouring regiments and diversions were planned near Fort Vaux and the ravin de Dame.
French troops captured on 13 May, disclosed the plan to the Germans, who responded by subjecting the area to more artillery harassing fire, which also slowed French preparations. The French preliminary bombardment by four mm mortars and heavy guns, began on 17 May and by 21 May, the French artillery commander claimed that the fort had been severely damaged. During the bombardment the German garrison in the fort experienced great strain, as French heavy shells smashed holes in the walls and concrete dust, exhaust fumes from an electricity generator and gas from disinterred corpses polluted the air.
Water ran short but until 20 May, the fort remained operational, reports being passed back and reinforcements moving forward until the afternoon, when the Bourges Casemate was isolated and the wireless station in the north-western machine-gun turret burnt down. Conditions for the German infantry in the vicinity were far worse and by 18 May, the French destructive bombardment had obliterated many defensive positions, the survivors taking post in shell-holes and dips on the ground.
Communication with the rear was severed and food and water ran out by the time of the French attack on 22 May. The troops of Infantry Regiment 52 in front of Fort Douaumont had been reduced to 37 men near Thiaumont Farm and German counter-barrages inflicted similar losses on French troops. On 22 May, French Nieuport fighters attacked eight observation balloons and shot down six for the loss of one Nieuport 16 ; other French aircraft attacked the 5th Army headquarters at Stenay. The assault began at a.
The flank guard on the right was pinned down, except for one company which disappeared and in Bois Caillette , a battalion of the 74th Infantry Regiment was unable to leave its trenches; the other battalion managed to reach its objectives at an ammunition depot, shelter DV1 at the edge of Bois Caillette and the machine-gun turret east of the fort, where the battalion found its flanks unsupported. Despite German small-arms fire, the th Infantry Regiment reached the fort in a few minutes and managed to get in through the west and south sides.
By nightfall, about half of the fort had been recaptured and next day, the 34th Division was sent to reinforce the fort. The reinforcements were repulsed and German reserves managed to cut off the French troops in the fort and force them to surrender, 1, French prisoners being taken. After three days, the French had lost 5, casualties from the 12, men in the attack and German casualties in Infantry Regiment 52, Grenadier Regiment 12 and Leib-Grenadier Regiment 8 were 4, men.
A German attack to reach Fleury Ridge, the last French defensive line began. The attack was intended to capture Ouvrage de Thiaumont , Fleury, Fort Souville and Fort Vaux at the north-east extremity of the French line, which had been bombarded by c. After a final assault on 1 June by about 10, German troops, the top of Fort Vaux was occupied on 2 June. Fighting went on underground until the garrison ran out of water, the survivors surrendering on 7 June. Heavy rains slowed the German advance towards Fort Souville, where both sides attacked and counter-attacked for the next two months.
French counter-attacks on 8 and 9 June were costly failures.
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On 22 June, German artillery fired over , Diphosgene Green Cross gas shells at French artillery positions, which caused over 1, casualties and silenced much of the French artillery. The advance was unopposed until a. The Ouvrage de Thiaumont and the Ouvrage de Froidterre at the south end of the plateau were captured and the villages of Fleury and Chapelle Sainte-Fine were overrun.
The attack came close to Fort Souville which had been hit by c. Chapelle Sainte-Fine was quickly recaptured by the French and the German advance was halted. The supply of water to the German infantry broke down, the salient was vulnerable to fire from three sides and the attack could not continue without more Diphosgene ammunition.
Chapelle Sainte-Fine became the furthest point reached by the Germans during the Verdun offensive. On 24 June the preliminary Anglo-French bombardment began on the Somme. Four French divisions were diverted to Verdun from the Somme and the French artillery recovered sufficiently on 24 June to cut off the German front line from the rear. By 25 June, both sides were exhausted and Knobelsdorf suspended the attack. By the end of May French casualties at Verdun had risen to c.
The capture of the fort would give the Germans control of the heights overlooking Verdun and allow the infantry to dig in on commanding ground. An attack by three German divisions began on 11 July but German infantry bunched on the path leading to Fort Souville and came under bombardment from French artillery.
The surviving troops were fired on by sixty French machine-gunners, who emerged from the fort and took positions on the superstructure. Thirty soldiers of Infantry Regiment managed to reach the top of the fort on 12 July, from where the Germans could see the roofs of Verdun and the spire of the cathedral. After a small French counter-attack, the survivors retreated to their start lines or surrendered. The French attacked again on 9, 13 and from 15—17 September. Losses were light except at the Tavannes railway tunnel, where French troops died in a fire which began on 4 September.
Seven of the 22 divisions at Verdun were replaced by mid-October and French infantry platoons were reorganised to contain sections of riflemen, grenadiers and machine-gunners. In a six-day preliminary bombardment, the French artillery fired , shells, including more than half a million 75 mm field-gun shells, a hundred thousand mm medium artillery shells and three hundred and seventy-three mm and mm super-heavy shells, from more than guns and howitzers. Passaga and 74th Division General Charles de Lardemelle attacked at a. French eavesdroppers overheard a German wireless message announcing the departure and a French infantry company entered the fort without firing a shot; on 5 November, the French reached the front line of 24 February and offensive operations ceased until December.
Passaga , with four more in reserve and heavy guns in support. The final French bombardment was directed from artillery-observation aircraft, falling on trenches, dugout entrances and observation posts. Two of the German divisions were understrength with only c. The German defence collapsed and 13, men of the 21, in the five front divisions were lost, most having been trapped while under cover and taken prisoner when the French infantry arrived.
The mm turret at Douaumont had been repaired and fired in support of the French attack. The French took 11, prisoners and guns. Falkenhayn wrote in his memoir that he sent an appreciation of the strategic situation to the Kaiser in December ,. The string in France has reached breaking point.
A mass breakthrough—which in any case is beyond our means—is unnecessary.
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Within our reach there are objectives for the retention of which the French General Staff would be compelled to throw in every man they have. If they do so the forces of France will bleed to death. The German strategy in was to inflict mass casualties on the French, a goal achieved against the Russians from to , to weaken the French Army to the point of collapse. The French Army had to be drawn into circumstances from which it could not escape, for reasons of strategy and prestige.
The Germans planned to use a large number of heavy and super-heavy guns to inflict a greater number of casualties than French artillery, which relied mostly upon the 75 mm field gun. Krumeich wrote that the Christmas Memorandum had been fabricated to justify a failed strategy and that attrition had been substituted for the capture of Verdun, only after the city was not taken quickly. German strategy should aim to divide the Allies, by forcing at least one of the Entente powers into a negotiated peace. An attempt at attrition lay behind the offensive against Russia in but the Russians had refused to accept German peace feelers , despite the huge defeats inflicted by the Austro-Germans that summer.
With insufficient forces to break through the Western Front and to overcome the Entente reserves behind it, Falkenhayn attempted to force the French to attack instead, by threatening a sensitive point close to the front line. Falkenhayn chose Verdun as the place to force the French to begin a counter-offensive, which would be defeated with huge losses to the French, inflicted by German artillery on the dominating heights around the city.
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