Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Battle of Verdun

For John, BLUFWar involves killing and sometimes it gets totally out of control.  Nothing to see here; just move along.

This is one hundred (100) years ago today.  The Battle of Verdun started on 21 February 1916 and last until 18 December 1916.  A terribly costly battle.  The ossuary at Verdun contains the remains of over 130,000 men who just could not be identified.  The equivalent of the legal and illegal population of Lowell, Massachusetts, who fought and died in a ten square mile area.  By comparison, Lowell is 13.8 square miles of land (plus 0.8 square miles of water).  Gone, never to be identified again.

My wife and I did a "Volksmarch" at Verdun and went through Fort Douaumont, which is today one of the many memorials in the battlefield area.  This link shows the front of the Fort.

To commemorate this anniversary The New York Times published "World War I’s Iconic, Ironic Battle", by Professor Paul Jankowski, of Brandeis University.  The professor is the author of Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War.

Here is the lede plus one:

One hundred years ago, on Feb. 21, 1916, 1,200 German artillery pieces began firing on French positions around Verdun, the ancient fortress town on the Meuse River in eastern France.

It was the middle of World War I , and the fighting all along the Western Front that ran between the Channel and the Alps had settled into a static confrontation of men, planes and guns — guns, above all. That day the Germans dropped a million shells onto the forts, forests and ravines around Verdun, and in the 10 months that followed, 60 million more would fall in the area. By then the French had stopped the German advance and even recovered most of the terrain they had lost, reduced by then to a lunar landscape bereft of vegetable or animal life. And 300,000 men had died.

Not all of Professor Jankowski's insights are good, as a ten EMail thread amongst some of my friends demonstrates.  But, there are lessons to be learned here.  Here is the final paragraph:
To a historian 100 years later, Verdun does yield a meaning, in a way a darkly ironic one. Neither Erich von Falkenhayn, the chief of the German General Staff, nor his French counterpart, Joseph Joffre, had ever envisaged a climactic, decisive battle at Verdun. They had attacked and defended with their eyes elsewhere on the front, and had thought of the fight initially as secondary, as ancillary to their wider strategic goals. And then it became a primary affair, self-sustaining and endless. They had aspired to control it. Instead it had controlled them. In that sense Verdun truly was iconic, the symbolic battle of the Great War of 1914-18.
The person who seemed to learn the least was French General Robert Nivelle.  While he was successful in defending Verdun, his approach ultimately led to revolt in the trenches, chronicled in the book Dare Call it Treason, by Mr Richard M. Watt.

Regards  —  Cliff

No comments: