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Old July 9th, 2017, 10:14 AM   #11

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The review continues with chapter six...

Chapter Six: The First Day

In chapter six, Horne finally arrives at the 1916 battle that is held as the book's focus. As the chapter title would suggest, his focus is on the first day's action. In this I have some personal reservations on the fact that it isn't until chapter SIX that we finally arrive at the main focus of the book. Now, in contrast, it took Mosier several chapters to get to the 1916 battle in his book, but we also need to remember that Mosier was trying to change opinions on the battle(s) of Verdun and that there were fights for the city before 1916. While Horne doesn't deny that there were earlier battles in the region, he hasn't labeled them as part of the Battle of Verdun. So in this, Horne has spent five chapters providing background and build up information to the 1916 battle... Though, for the most part what he's provided does do a good job of setting the stage and what issues I would have are more based on the order of presentation, not whether or not they were presented at all...

Anyway...

Horne opens the chapter with describing what would be seen as a fairly standard drill for the German artillery crews as they prepared for the battle and were forced to stand down due to bad weather. This time, however, things were different. A phone rings and the officer in charge of the gun answers and receives the order from his superiors and then transfers that order to the men with the shout of, "FEUER!" (I assume German for fire)... From there, Horne moves into actually describing the barrage and its effects on the French, particularly at the squad levels. This includes the obvious to taking shelter, particularly in the defensive lines that were improved in the weeks before and the running of messengers trying to avoid being hit. Horne even makes mention of a group of officers that had come by car for an inspection of the French lines and to meet with one of the front line commanders just as the bombardment began and that they soon abandoned their inspection and meeting with the front line commander.

On the whole, Horne's description of the bombardment would match some points that Jankowski pointed to in that the firing would often be the most effective on the first line of trenches, but beyond that, the shots would be more inaccurate and thus less effective. In fact, Horne even points to the the first shots of the barrage being aimed at bridges in Verdun... but they missed and hit the Bishop's Palace instead. It's then also reflected in the French artillery response to the barrage. French fliers that had been able to see the German barrage start reported seeing a massed firing of artillery coming out of the woods north of Verdun, and French artillery observers likely noticed this as well, and those guns that did survive the initial bombardment would return fire. For the most part, French counter-battery fire WAS ineffective, but that doesn't mean the situation was without its ironic moments. At Vittarville, General von Knobelsdorf was reporting to Crown Prince Wilhelm on the ineffectiveness of the French response, when heavy artillery shells came down around them and forcing both to move their headquarters further away.

As the bombardment progressed, both sides could then only wait. Though on the German side, the waiting was more with the knowledge of the coming moves. German infantry prepared for the advance, removing the spikes from their helmets to avoid them being caught on or in the wire and officers turning caps in a way to prevent French sharpshooters from identifying the officers along with the first teams of stormtroopers readying to move in support of the advance to come...

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(German infantry... early war, though at the start of the Battle of Verdun many aspects of this uniform hadn't changed much)

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(German stormtroopers... Verdun was where they were first employed and their uniform and kit would be what the overall German uniform was moving toward)

Then at four PM, the order to advance was given and the Germans went over the top to begin the assault on Verdun. With some singing "Preussens Gloria." Though, Horne also makes the case that much of the action on the first day was rather cautious and wasn't a blind rush and that contrary to how the British would advance on the Somme later in 1916, the German advance would be in small teams and making use of the terrain to cover. In this, Horne would counter what Mosier seemed to claim about how historians of Horne's day described German tactics. Mosier seemed to argue that historians like Horne argued that German tactics were identical to Allied tactics... yet this line would make it clear that Horne was aware of the difference and even mentioned it...

Quote:
In sharp contrast to the British infantrymen who in les than five month's time would be advancing in straight, suicidally dense lines on the Somme, the German patrols moved in small packets, making skilful use of the ground.

Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 pg. 76
But not all of the first day's advances were cautious. One German general, Johann von Zwehl, whom Horne only identifies as von Zwehl, did commit his stormtroopers to back the initial patrols in the attack.

Click the image to open in full size.
(General Johann von Zwehl, commander of the German VII Reserve Corps at Verdun who sent in his stormtroopers to capture Bois d'Haumont on the first day)

Zwehl's move allowed for the first "breach" of the French lines in the capture of Bois d'Haumont, though the move move didn't result in a bigger breach of the French defenses and while many French units had been hit hard by the initial bombardment, some French units were able to counter attack and retake some positions that were lost when the German attack began... and setting the stage for the longest battle of WWI.

CHAPTER STRENGTHS:
1) Having some focus units and men below the rank of general. Though in many war histories, and not just those of the First World War, the personal lives and events of the rank and file are often either ignored or overlooked in favor of analyzing the strategy and leadership of the generals and unit commanders... leading to more of the "New Histories" that Jankowski refers to trying to tell more of the private soldier's story than the general's story. Now, Horne really doesn't get into the private lives of the soldiers, but his descriptions of the bombardment and how men like Corporal Stephane responded to it and how they observed the bombardment was a nice touch.

2) Good balancing between French and German "points of view." In earlier chapters there was the occasion that Horne's focus seemed to be on one side or the other. Such as chapter one which focused almost exclusively on the French after the Franco-Prussian War... Or in other cases where one chapter focused on the French side of events and the next on the German side to balance things out in the book. In this chapter, Horne does a good job of providing some balance between the two sides within the chapter giving the image of the first day's events for both the French and the Germans.

CHAPTER WEAKNESS:
The commentary of French aviators observing the German bombardment and the fire coming from the German lines. While the description of their observation is excellent... Horne really doesn't explain how they got there... as most histories of Verdun have tended to point to the Germans massing their fighters there so that the French WOULDN'T be able to have men in the air. And while these French observers might have been among the few aircraft the French had in the area... there seemed to be no mention of any attempt by the Germans to deal with their presence.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS...
The chapter works quite well in the sense that it focuses on the first day of the battle. This provides some "spoilers" of things to come in the battle, but does more to compartmentalize events down to the how things could go in an individual day, which goes in contrast to both Jankowski and Mosier who didn't compartmentalize things down to the events of a single day.

I would stand by my opinion that Horne probably could have gone without using five chapters for background and build up information to get into the 1916, as the battle's length would provide a lot that would need to be worked with... Though for the most part, Horne has put done a good job of trying to tie things together and thus presenting a good narrative...
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Old August 28th, 2017, 10:49 AM   #12

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Old August 30th, 2017, 03:37 PM   #13

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While I've been out and away when I'd gotten the next chapters in this book, the review DOES continue, and to make up for it, I'll have a few chapters to add at once...

The review continues with chapter seven...

Chapter Seven: The Fall of Colonel Driant

Chapter seven picks up with the action on February 22, 1916 as the Germans continue their offensive at Verdun and the French try to put together an impassioned but ad hoc defense. And ad hoc fits just about everything that Horne describes the French trying. They attempted to retake certain positions that they'd lost the previous day, but in the course of trying to transmit orders and communicate... many efforts failed to get through and all too often certain units didn't join in the intended counter attack and the Germans being active as well served to provide the French with plenty of trouble...

Horne describes Von Zwehl continuing his offensive, sometimes without even allowing for a preparatory bombardment, and in many places Von Zwehl DID continue to have success. Though at the moment, it wasn't total and at times it was even cautious. As at times, some of the ad hoc charges and counter-attacks by the French startled the Germans, as though it was not expected that they would manage to do so... Though this would also fall as fairly typical of many descriptions of battles in WWI... That the artillery bombardment would be more than enough to break the ability of either side to resist. Yet, time and again in WWI, and not just at Verdun, that these sorts of events occurred, usually because the initial bombardment HADN'T leveled everything.

And a lot of what Horne credits to ultimately providing the Germans some trouble at Verdun at this time was the actions of one Colonel Emile Driant.

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(Colonel Emile Driant, who had warned Joffre of the weaknesses at Verdun and skillfully worked to improve the defenses, but would be blamed for the failures by those supportive of Joffre...)

Driant was at the time close to the front lines and skillfully worked at organizing localized defenses against the German attack, even as the Germans took Haumont, the first village to fall in the Verdun area. Driant's defense had set up areas where advancing German units would walk into cross fires and find themselves picked off by "invisible Frenchmen." It was skillful and in places it did slow the Germans down... but the German response ultimately proved just as skillful. The bombardment resumed and they brought up their pioneers and other specialized troops, including those armed with flamethrowers... (See: First World War.com - Weapons of War: Flamethrowers)

Using these weapons and tactics, the Germans soon isolated and surrounded Driant's command post. This isolation proved to be Driant's personal doom, but as Horne describes it... it was not in vain. His actions had held the Germans up and would prevent them from achieving their objectives for February 22, 1916. In this Horne describes Driant's last stand as truly heroic... and as he finishes describing the actions on that day, Horne also adds a small note on Driant that could also serve to add to the man's glory... And that would be the actions that would seem to preserve a sort of chivalry that WWI largely destroyed on the whole... In that a German officer, who had found Driant's body, would with the help of his wife return Driant's personal effects to Madame Driant along with a letter of sympathy...

CHAPTER STRENGTHS:
1) Horne continues to write a beautiful narrative in the way he makes use of language to describe the battle and the events as they occur. In a way, you can practically picture the panicked French actions to defend their territory at Verdun, as well as the German efforts to try and take Verdun. He also serves to raise a fair amount of sympathy and respect for Colonel Driant and his efforts to hold the line...

2) Providing good detail the actual fighting at Verdun. In many ways the day to day fighting and specific events can be missed in other histories. Mosier didn't really get into the day to day fights as that would have gotten in the way of his own narrative of trying to claim the Germans won in every single battle at Verdun and by taking a different look at the battle as a whole, Jankowski really didn't have the time or space to get into what happened on a day to day basis. In this, Horne can provide a window into many of the small scale actions of the Battle of Verdun that may be otherwise ignored...

CHAPTER WEAKNESS:
The only real weakness that this chapter poses is in the fact that it goes into specific day to day details. It may be odd that a chapter's strength is ALSO a weakness, but we also have to remember that the Battle of Verdun was a YEAR long battle and Horne has already spent a lot of time proving background and build up information to the battle. In that there really isn't the space to do a detailed day to day telling of the battle, and if Horne tries to do so, his narrative runs the risk of running the risk of being very detailed for a while and then running into being not very detailed... or going through several chapters covering individual days and then running into trouble later with chapters then covering larger amounts of time...

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS... Horne continues to write a beautiful narrative that provides plenty of information on the battle, and for the moment has included day to day information on the battle, which provides plenty of information. However, the issue of covering a year long battle would present the potential problems is that in covering the battle... is that Horne will have to try and balance detail with time. He gives too much detail for covering individual days he may lose the space to cover the entire battle... and if there is a lot of effort given to cover the length of the battle he may lose details...

On some issue, Horne ran into this a bit with the first chapter in that he was covering a lot of things that went from the Franco-Prussian War to the time just before WWI. There, he didn't use a day by day approach and simply covered a lot of the major events and covered detail as necessary. In general, Horne did a good job, though his analysis did remain rather French focused, but it shows a different take from how he has handled the initial days of the actual battle. This could mean that there could be either a lull in the battle that would lead to a shift in how Horne covers it... or certain aspects of the fighting will become such that detailed day to day analysis would be repetitive...

Thus far, Horne HAS done a good job of trying to provide balance, but with the way he has covered the opening phases of the battle, he may eventually approach a point where he needs to transition again and that could present some problems for his narrative...
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Old August 30th, 2017, 11:56 PM   #14

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While I've been out and away when I'd gotten the next chapters in this book, the review DOES continue, and to make up for it, I'll have a few chapters to add at once...

The review continues with chapter eight...

Chapter Eight: Breakthrough

Horne starts the chapter with very much the same theme that seemed to carry through the French defensive efforts in the previous chapter, one of confusion and alarm. A lot of this focuses on the French XXX Corps and in particular the 72nd Division. This unit had sat under the initial bombardment had been plagued by strong German attacks and practically every other possible malady a unit could face as the German attack began. Horne even states that the 72nd Division had at times been without its commanders or orders for hours at a time as a result of this chaos... and then came the news of the fall of Haumont, mentioned in the previous chapter, to add a danger to the 72nd Division's flank. The position was hopeless if they stayed and that withdrawal was a good idea... Yet, the request that was ultimately made was denied. But the 72nd Division's problems didn't stop there... or at least potentially didn't.

Men of adjacent French units were forced to surrender at a village identified as Brabant and the 72nd Division was almost immediately ordered to counter attack to retake the territory lost. Reports ultimately reached the 72nd Division's commander on the lack of men available to retake the position and in the end he countermanded orders, letting Von Zwehl's German units take the position. And here, Horne then turns to provide some judgement on these issues that the 72nd Division was involved in. He states that according to French histories, the commander was made a scapegoat for the fall of the position and lost his command... and was very nearly court martialed. However, it is Horne's opinion that the commander had acted correctly and that a suicidal defense of Brabant would have only cost the French lives they couldn't afford to lose and thus would have allowed Von Zwehl's advance to progress even faster...

In many ways, Horne's call would seem to be the correct one, and it does reflect much of the judgement that Jankowski would put into his book on the idea that the fight at Verdun was not strategically important on the whole... But I would think that in many ways, one would need to remember much of the mentality of the French army's leaders after the Franco-Prussian War (something Horne has mentioned earlier and will mention again later in the book) that had many of its leaders looking to avoid the massed surrenders that had occurred in the Franco Prussian War...

And while many French attempts at counter-attacking early on at Verdun were seen as suicidal...it should also be noted that the ferocity of the French troops did manage to force the Germans into a slower approach. The bombardment was resumed before the third day's advance, but still, the French defenses had so far prevented a complete breakthrough of their lines. In fact, as had been the case with Driant's defensive actions noted in the previous chapter, the defense of the strongpoint at Beaumont that Driant had tried to reach before he was killed had held off several attacks. In fact, Horne even points out that by the time the Beaumont fell on the 24th, a German Lieutenant had to actually intervene to save the life captured French commander out of anger over the losses the Germans had sustained...

And here, I'd say that Horne has made a rather respectful commentary on France's fighting ability in this chapter... and that this tone is very much welcomed by me. It provides a counter to the opinion held in various internet memes that treat the French as abject cowards who will only "fight" when there are Americans or British to fight for them. That myth isn't true, and despite the fact that the chapter is focusing on the main breakthrough the Germans achieved at the start of the Battle of Verdun, Horne has tried hard to provide enough information that would demonstrate that the French were quite capable fighters...

Yet, even with this, Horne can not get away from the chaotic position the French were in. While the 72nd Division was supported for a time, they were still pushed back to another French village, Samogneux. This time, the 72nd's problem came not from the Germans but from their own command. Misinformed on a German advance, the commander in the general area called on artillery support on Samogneux before the inevitable counter attack the position... but the French HADN'T lost the town. The 72nd Division was still in Samogneux, and they ultimately took the brunt of the French artillery and Horne lists the division as essentially destroyed by the bombardment... However, I will comment that some other sources have the 72nd Division surviving the battle, but they don't say as to whether or not the division was reconstituted... See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/72nd_I...vision_(France) and note that the article provides no source for the division's fate. In this... I'd tend to trust Horne in his assessment that the 72nd Division was destroyed by its own artillery...

By February 24th, 1916 the situation had reached a breaking point. With the destruction of the lines held by the 72nd division by French artillery and other French units in the area worn down by the fighting in the earlier days of fighting, the French lines between Beaumont and Samogneux broke and essentially opened a hole in the French lines... A hole that Horne says that a French historian said after the war had left the route to Verdun wide open...

To close this hole, the French had to pull in reinforcements from other sectors of the line. Some were from units that had saved Nancy in 1914 while others were French colonial units, and primarily from Africa.

Click the image to open in full size.
(French colonial troops, pictured troops are identified as Tirailleurs Senegalais)

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(French colonial troops, pictured troops are identified as Moroccan Zouaves)

However, more troubling for the French was that many of these colonials broke and broke quickly and the other main reinforcing units were too far away and in the middle of a force march. It was in this that it was believed that the door was open to take Verdun. But to close the chapter, Horne states that something distracted the Germans on the night of February 24... but doesn't mention exactly what it was.

CHAPTER STRENGTHS:
1) Demonstrating that the French could fight and fight hard, even in a fight that doesn't go their way. Many of these early fights at Verdun may not have gone well for the French, but Horne's reference to German troops being enraged over losses taken assaulting French positions and needing to be restrained by their own officers is something to remind the people that, particularly in WWI, the French were quite capable fighters.

2) Maintaining a decent balance between detail and "time covered" in the chapter. While the chapter doesn't cover a large amount of time, it does cover more than one day and Horne does provide enough detail to see the chaos and the confusion, particularly on the French side, as the Germans achieved their initial breakthrough at Verdun.

CHAPTER WEAKNESSES:
1) Vague references... It isn't unheard of to have a historian reference another in a book. Often it's actually done to either reinforce a point or state another opinion on a certain topic, and it can be helpful. In fact Paul Jankowski made frequent references to how the Battle of Verdun was looked at in other histories... Alistair Horne, however, when he makes references in this chapter to other historians... is actually rather vague. The comment is limited to "a historian" and we don't know the historian's name or the work that was used for the quote... In that, while what he has written doesn't take away from his narrative... there is also no way to double check it.

2) While the chapter's focus is on the German breakthrough... it actually seems to be rather heavily focused on the French. Horne does describe the German breakthrough, and beautifully... but he does so from the French point of view and when he ends the chapter he makes the commentary that the Germans were distracted by problems of their own... but those problems are not mentioned. Where they short of men? Ammunition? Had their commanders been so frustrated by the earlier delays that the breakthrough caught them off guard? Some perspective on things from the German side of the line would have been very helpful here.

3) Band and forth jumps in time... There are a couple of points in the chapter where Horne seems to jump a day ahead in time or a day back in time, depending on the specific commentary, and while the jump is explained well... it'd still be something that would have been better avoided...

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS... The most important thing in this chapter is Horne's effort to treat the French and their military reputation. There are far to many sorts of internet memes that treat the French as a joke. The fact that they fought hard, and even in a losing effort managed to fight as well as they did should be taken as a means to demonstrate that they aren't what internet memes claim... They are anything but that...

However, the vague references and the almost single focus on the French side of the lines could well be a potential problem... and Horne will need to address at least the issues that he states in this chapter slowed the Germans down in the next chapter...
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Old August 31st, 2017, 04:44 PM   #15

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While I've been out and away when I'd gotten the next chapters in this book, the review DOES continue, and to make up for it, I'll have a few chapters to add at once...

The review continues with chapter nine...

Chapter Nine: Fort Douamont

Chapter Nine moves onto the German capture of the strongest fortress in Verdun area and what would become noted by historians like Jankowski as their greatest single prestige victory in the entire year long campaign... the capture of Fort Douamont. And Horne even seems to put in points that would make these things seem even more on par with the later points made by Jankowski. Horne's effort is largely put in with the quote he puts at the start of the chapter...

Quote:
"The word DOUAMONT blazes forth like a beacon of German heroism."

-Field Marshall von Hindenburg Out of My Life

-quoted by Alistair Horne, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 105
Horne opens the chapter with providing some background information for the unit that would gain the most fame in capturing Douamont, which included successful fights at Mons in 1914 and helping push the Serbs out of Serbia in 1915, the 24th Brandenburgers. They had had success elsewhere, and now they were poised to win their greatest laurels at one of the strongest single forts in Europe, Douamont.

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(Aerial photograph of Fort Douamont)

And to the French, Douamont was considered a strong position. It was begun in 1885 and would be periodically upgraded with the last upgrades made in 1913, just a year before WWI began. Built like a pentagon (though not quite...) it was supposed to be impressively armed with various positions for heavy and light guns, with the best of which being retractable. Though, much of these weapons would be removed in 1915 and moved elsewhere as part of Joffre's "purge" of the forts. In addition much of the fort well protected by earth and concrete, in this when the Germans opened up on the fort, there was the expectation and hope that Douamont would be broken, just as the Belgian forts at Liege had been. But this did not occur, though the Germans at the time didn't actually know this. Even as early as 1915 the Germans bombarded the fort. By 1916, the bombardment was felt to have broken the fort completely. But this was not true. At best, all the German bombardment had done was do minor exterior damage to the fort's main gate and that the only reason the Germans too no return fire was the fact that the heavy fortress guns only had a range of 6,000 yards, which the German guns were farther away than that...

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(Germany's siege howitzer, Big Bertha, which failed to do real damage to Douamont)

And in this on February 25, 1916, Douamont was STILL structurally an impressive fort...

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(Floor plan for Douamont... listed as prior to 1914)

Though, by an odd twist of fate resulting from the actions of the previous day... the fort was practically undefended...

From the background information to the fort and the overall unit involved in its capture, Horne moves on to cover the individuals and their moves most noted in the capture the fort and the credit taken for capturing the fort, starting with a Sergeant Kunze.

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(Pioneer Sergeant Kunze, one of the men who captured Douamont)

Kunze lead a section of Pioneers in the 24th Brandenburger's 2nd Battalion and Horne describes men like him as the backbone of the German Army in World War I. He lead his men toward the fort, capturing a machine gun nest and found the shots from the fort not aimed at him. In fact Horne lists a lot of the fire in the area being remarkably quiet. Eventually, his men followed him into the fort's "moat" and through forming something of a human pyramid and helping Kunze climb into the fort through an opening near an emplacement where a cannon was supposed to be mounted. He made his way through the underground halls and eventually managed to capture some 20 men who seemed to be as surprised to find Kunze capturing them as Kunze was to have only found them and was startled when one of the French men seemed to call Kunze, "my captain." Kunze would eventually stop to liberate some food from the French barracks as other German officers, Lieutenant Radtke, Captain Haupt, and von Brandis (Horne identifies him as an Oberleutnant on page 117, and lists it as the equal of a Captain in the British army) made their own way into the fort...

Radtke followed much the same route that Kunze did, though as he reached the fort, he found himself fired on by French units in the village of Douamont, which was near the fort.

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(A map of the Battle of Verdun area... notice that the village of Douamont is just to the west of Fort Douamont)

When Radtke reached the fort, however, he had entered through a now larger hole in the fort and earned the credit as the first German officer to enter Douamont, and was soon surprised to learn that there were only some 60 men stationed in the fort. Haupt followed shortly after through the upper floors in much the same way Radtke had and took a French gunner prisoner, who had proved to have released the prisoners that Kunze had taken earlier. By 4:30 PM, Douamont, the powerful for near Verdun was captured by the Germans... and would cost the French around 100,000 men to recapture.

The last German officer connected with the capture of Douamont was Brandis, who at 4:30 was still well away from the fort. However, Horne lists that he claims to have been seized by the urge to storm the fort to capture it, though Horne also notes that by this time the German flag was already flying from the fort. Still, Brandis's men moved on it... or at least Brandis claimed they did. Brandis would meet with Haupt and would issue a report on the capture of the fort, which Horne ultimately identifies as something that would serve to win Brandis a LOT of attention...

Click the image to open in full size.
(The officers in charge of the capture of Douamont, with Haupt on the far left as the senior officer to actually capture it, and Brandis on the right who claimed much of the credit for the operation despite arriving after the fort's capture, and Lt. Colonel Oven in the middle, who Horne does not mention)

Going into the years after the war, and even during it, Brandis took a LOT of the credit for the fort's capture, ultimately with Radtke and Haupt laying claims against him... though it was not until the eve of World War II that Brandis's claims were proven false...

CHAPTER STRENGTH:
As Horne has done so far he has done excellent job of actually describing the capture of the fort and providing balanced information on how it fell and why. This includes the information on why it fell, almost without a shot fired even though structurally the German bombardment had actually done very little to Fort Douamont. This ultimately includes the debate over WHO deserved the credit. The fact that Horne devotes a decent section of the boot to explain that Brandis did not actually capture the fort and merely arrived at it serves to help provide some honesty regarding the capture of the fort and provides readers with information on who actually deserves credit...

CHAPTER WEAKNESS:
The real weakness in the chapter is more on where the section describing the battle over credit for the capture of Douamont should be placed. Much of that begins on page 119 shortly after answering why the French defenders barely, if at all fired a shot, and just before another section describing the surprise and "despair" in the city of Verdun at the capture of Douamont. In this, Horne goes through events that largely fall after the battle and go as late as 1939 before returning to events in 1916. The result is hoping through time. While the argument Horne makes is excellent, it probably would have been better placed at the end of the chapter with a post-script in which Horne describes meeting Radtke in 1963, as it would provide better placement within the chapter and wouldn't have the bouncing back and forth through time...

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS... The fall of Douamont was probably Germany's greatest prestige victory of WWI on the Western Front, which Horne hints at with the inclusion of the Hindenburg quote to start Chapter Nine and what Jankowski directly talks to in his book. However, whit Horne writing directly on the battle's flow... and with his own excellent description of events, Horne provides an excellent step by step flow of events in the capture of the French fort... and by going into great detail he DOES allow for an honest understanding on who actually captured it and in far greater detail than Jankowski did.

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Old August 31st, 2017, 05:43 PM   #16

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam-Nary View Post
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(Germany's Big Bertha).
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam-Nary View Post
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(Marshall Joffre, commander of the French armies through 1916).
Man... the web-page carrying the Big Bertha picture and Joffre's image seems to have failed on me... I'll put a new one with the next chapter... (and the previous one, post Review of Alistair Horne's "The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916" for the artillery piece...)

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Old August 31st, 2017, 06:46 PM   #17

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While I've been out and away when I'd gotten the next chapters in this book, the review DOES continue, and to make up for it, I'll have a few chapters to add at once...

The review continues with chapter ten...

Chapter Ten: De Castelnau Decides

Chapter ten is sort of a short "biography chapter" that would also deal with response to the German offensive at Verdun. Horne again describes the sort of "non-committal" sort of answer that would be made at Chantilly by Joffre often described as saying, "it is up to you" in response to many of the requests made to him in response to the German offensive. The response was described to be given to almost any response, be it a request to retreat or a request to attack, which could make the response potentially ominous. Especially when the French army's commander had a lot of power when it came to dealing with both dealing out blame and punishment...

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(French Marshall Joffre, commander of the French Army in 1916 and delegated the decision to fight at Verdun to his subordinate, De Castelnau)

This then brought about biggest single decision of the Battle of Verdun, and particularly in its early stages. Was France to withdraw as General de Langle de Cary urged for the entire Woevre plain? Or was France to fight at Verdun? The decision was a momentous one. As Horne would describe in the chapter that deciding to fight doing so would essentially have the French fall into Falkenhayn's trap of "bleeding France white" while withdrawing would have the potential of delivering the blow to morale that was a part of the actual German plan... This part does continue to play to dated information that seemed to accept the existence of the Christmas Memo... BUT regardless of that, that wouldn't exactly change the importance of the decision itself. Even with Falkenhayn not actually planning to "bleed the French white" in 1915... the decision to fight in 1916 was STILL a big one to make...

And through delegation that fell to General Noel Marie Joseph Edouard, Vicomte de Currieres de Castelnau, Joffre's second in command.

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(Noël Édouard, vicomte de Curières de Castelnau, Joffre's second in command and the actual decision maker as whether or not to fight at Verdun in 1916...)

Horne gives a brief biography of De Castelnau and lists him as a nobleman from the Pyrenees with a lengthy family history in the French army and in service of France's leaders. A De Castelnau served under Napoleon I, another under Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III), and now a Noel served the French Third Republic in WWI. Described as a champion of the school of French military thought that lead its belief in "Attaque a outrance," (see:Attaque à outrance | Military Wiki | FANDOM powered by Wikia for reference) orchestrated a rather defensive maneuver that Horne credits with saving the city of Nancy 1914. Horne also credits De Castelnau with the improvised line that earlier in the battle had slowed the Germans down...

But the present decision related on whether or not to fight and in the end, De Castelnau made his decision in a way that would be described later as being inspired by sentiment. And in this, the decision was made... France would fight at Verdun. Horne generally ends the chapter with some discussion on the judgement of the decision, which he holds as a mistake and that France should have withdrawn behind Verdun and the Left Bank of the Meuse and use the terrain to their advantage and let the Germans wear themselves out. In theory it would seem like a good judgement... but it should also be remembered that Horne has already pointed to a tremendous importance of Verdun to the French that went beyond simple manpower. If that is to be believed... it'd also then mean that fighting a delaying action, which would likely mean permanently giving up Verdun until some later date... could well have broken French morale. In fact in the previous chapter, Horne even describes a dramatic drop in morale with the fall of Douamont...

In that, while withdrawing and letting the Germans wear themselves out might be the smarter decision for manpower reasons... De Castelnau may not have had any real option to take it for other reasons that were equally important.

CHAPTER STRENGTH:
The chapter provides an interesting look at the decision to fight at Verdun in 1916 and an interesting look into the man who made that decision.

CHAPTER WEAKNESSES:
1) Horne is ultimately inconsistent with earlier commentary on the cultural importance of Verdun and the effect of withdrawing would have potentially had on morale. In the previous chapter, he notes the French having a great deal of surprise and on some levels despair at the loss of Douamont, yet he ends this chapter with the judgement that France should have essentially abandoned Verdun and fought a fighting retreat. In regards to French manpower issues... Horne makes a good case, but he fails to provide any explanation on how the potential loss in morale would be handled. He offers that such an action would have left the Germans too tired to defend on the Somme...

But the Somme was only chosen as a grounds for an offensive by the Allies because it was where the French and British met and served no other strategic purpose. It's also noted in Jankowski's book that Falkenhayn had strong troops and formations in places where they could respond to nearly any sector of the Western Front and weren't truly committed to Verdun when it began. In this, I think that Horne is actually a looking a bit too heavily into the sort of manpower losses that the French took in the war on the whole and is simply judging that the idea that would save France losses would be automatically better without providing an explanation on how that could be handled...

And given how he's handled other issues in the book... I'd generally hold that Horne COULD have done so.

2) The book is still heavily reliant on the Christmas Memo line of "bleeding France white" despite the fact that Horne in his chapter on the German plans even provides evidence that the Christmas Memo might NOT be real...

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS... While Horne does continue to provide a very well written narrative... this chapter is really held down by the fact that hasn't fully explained what could have... or should have been done with regard his judgement on the decision to fight at Verdun. In terms of manpower, the French would have been better served to pull back and fight a delaying action... but he really needed some explanation on what could have been done to deal with the potential morale issue... particularly when it's also a point raised in earlier chapters...
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Old September 10th, 2017, 10:58 PM   #18

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The review continues with chapter eleven...

Chapter Eleven: Petain

The chapter is another biography chapter, this time focusing on the man we most commonly associate with the Battle of Verdun... General Philippe Petain.

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(Henri Philippe Petain, the General who lead the defensive effort at Verdun)

Horne opens the chapter with a sort of tension builder... essentially making the implication that Petain had some sense that something was on, particularly with the line, "it was really almost too quiet." From there, Horne moves into a series of observations on Petain, including the story of his summoning to Joffre's headquarters before being assigned to Verdun involving an aid driving to Paris to essentially pick him from a hotel in which he had spent the night with his latest mistress and some commentary on how noble Petain looked. This included one comment the comparison between Petain and de Castelnau that of the two, Petain looked like what one would assume to be a French noble... as Horne even quotes...

Quote:
"... a majestic carriage, naturally noble... his blue eyes contained a certain mystery. One would think they were made of ice... from his whole personality emanated an air of sovereignty... Wherever he appears, he imposes... Whoever once saw this figure, will never forget it."

-Francois-Poncet

quoted by Alistair Horne The Prince of Glory: Verdun 1916 pages 133-134
Which after this quote, Horne again makes a few brief comments on Petain's relationships with women and an intercept from 1917 from the German ambassador to Spain with ideas on Petain's next mistress... Though this quickly turns more in to many of Petain's personal beliefs, which included shying away from attention and the spotlight as well as an intense resentment for the Third Republic and the threw a fair bit of blame on France's politicians for the mutinies of 1917. In this, Petain didn't show fear, but in many ways it was also a personal quality that wasn't that great and did help create rivalries...

As again Horne quotes:

Quote:
Petain is a #$%^&*@. He has command, but he is closed to everything which is not exclusively pertaining to military order. He sees only the defects of parliamentary collaboration.

-Diary entry of Abel Ferry

quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 135
Horne provides some speculation as to the cause of that mentality as a result of some sense of timidity with regard to potential criticism, in a way that was very different from his contemporaries, and in more ways than one. Unlike Joffre, Foch, and de Castelnau who were from the Pyrenees, Petain cam from a peasant family from the Pas du Calais. And unlike Joffre and de Castelnau, Petain was too young to have served in the Franco Prussian War. But in this, it may have been a great help to Petain, as while others continued to look over the failures of the Franco Prussian War, Petain looked more at the Russo-Japanese War and the Boer Wars and eventually become more of a defensive general while most of his contemporaries in WWI were all offensive generals.

And in this, Petain, while he was more defensive in mentality, that did not make him incapable of assuming the offensive role or that he wasn't a "disciple" of attrition as a commander. But again, his mentality was truly different from those he served with and one that truly reflected the nature of World War I. Horne quotes him as saying, "cannon conquers, infantry occupies" and "one does not fight men against material." In many ways this reflects what we often attribute to Falkenhayn, but Horne comments that Petain had reached his conclusions before Falkenhayn did, and that when he did assume the offensive, as he did during French attacks on Vimy Ridge in 1915 he had some success. Horne even mentions that by his preparations it was thought that the whole German front might collapse... In that, being "different" works at times.

From there, Horne moves to conclude the chapter with some discussion on Petain's relations with the rank and file, and at first is even compared with how Petain treated other officers, even those he had been "friends" with. In the case of the later he came off as cold and imperious, but to the French soldiers, he DID seem to care for them. He seemed to make every effort to make the sacrifices his men made seem "worth it" to them. Much of this, Horne credits to his lengthy service as a junior officer which then lead to his becoming such a "humane" general, despite leading his men into a very inhumane conflict.

CHAPTER STRENGTH:
Horne provides a brilliant picture of the man that is so often associated with the Battle of Verdun. We learn on what drove him and why he behaved in certain ways. Perhaps we even get some understanding of the man that would perhaps explain what would happen after the war. Of the biography chapters that Horne has put in the book, this chapter tells us the most about the man in a way makes us understand his positions without getting too distracted by other factors or judgements.

CHAPTER WEAKNESS:
While it isn't much of a weakness, at times, Horne does get into aspects of Petain's life that occurred AFTER WWI. He mentions Petain turning down the urge to run for President and in how he dressed when he was tried in 1945 for his role in the Vichy government. In some ways this does help provide examples regarding Petain's character, but I don't really think that bringing in post WWI events really helps, particularly when there is probably plenty of information from before the war that would be able to provide the same information as what Horne used.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS... Understanding battles often takes some understanding of the leaders who fought them. And creating a personal image and understanding of these things is probably why Horne has devoted chapters to various officers that had played a role in the battle. The story of the Battle of Verdun does go beyond that, of course, but understanding the leaders is still important. In this, Horne's coverage on Petain's life building up to his taking command at Verdun IS still important.
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Old September 17th, 2017, 07:49 PM   #19

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The review continues with chapter twelve...

Chapter Twelve: The Take-Over

Horne opens the chapter with Petain's arrival at Chantilly to receive the assignment to take over the command of the forces at Verdun from Joffre and with the notation that by this time Joffre had learned that Petain was coming from Paris. Horne doesn't say exactly on how Joffre heard of this beyond rumors of people talking and adds the implication that it was thought that Petain had been in Paris to speak with the Minister of War, Gallieni. While he states that Joffre remained calm, he includes the mention of Joffre also telling Petain that the situation at Verdun "really isn't that bad at all." This could be reflective on the sort of intrigues that went on behind the lines between Joffre and Gallieni and a continued testament to Joffre's "coolness" under pressure, but I actually think that Horne included the mention to be somewhat ironic...

The irony is then presented as Petain journeys to take his command. By this point there was only one major road leading into Verdun running from the village of Bar-le-Duc, and as Petain reached that point. The region was already in the rear of the army and was a source of chaos with roads blocked with vehicles trying to navigate icy roads, reinforcements trying to move along the same narrow road, and the resulting chaos as men and vehicles slid off the road into the ditch. That isn't the sort of situation that would be considered "really isn't that bad." For if the rear was so clogged up... the situation at the front would surely be worse...

And that also proved to be the case with Petain arriving at General Herr's headquarters at the village of Dugny, it was found to be chaos with nothing to indicate that Herr or his staff had any knowledge of how things were progressing in the battle or where their units even were. Some of it might have been the surprise at the loss of Fort Douaumont, but it was still a chaotic picture that wasn't something that could be described as "isn't that bad." It was in a way a bad situation, as while Horne would note that only one major defense point had fallen (Douaumont), the chaos and disorganization behind the lines could only lead to further French troubles, and THAT was the irony that I actually think Horne was trying to set up when he included the line that Joffre gave to Petain, as while "political intrigue" could play a role... Horne really didn't talk a lot about that in the chapter's opening.

That situation that Petain moved into then sets what would obviously have to be done to get the army back in shape for the continued battle, and Horne moves quickly into that role to provide organization for supply and logistics and for organization of command. And in this, the effect seemed to be immediate, as after informing General Balfourier of his taking command, the answer Petain received was, "C'est vous, mon general? C'est bien! Now everything is going to be all right." This reflects much of the opinions that were favorable to Petain that Horne would later note would have a magical effect on reviving French morale. In that, Petain's mere presence essentially fixed one of the problems that was had, that of morale.

From there, Petain moved on to dealing with the other major issues, that of how the troops were defending the French lines and the issue of supply. The first was handled with putting greater coordination of France's artillery units at Verdun and putting a stop to the counter-attacks toward Douaumont until there would be sufficient artillery could be gathered. In this Petain's efforts would begin to pay off as Petain's artillery tactics began to provide as Horne notes the German archives noting, "the flanking fire on the ravines and roads north of Douaumont that was to cause us such severe casualties."

The supply issue, however, was a tougher one and Horne notes that no army of the size fighting at Verdun had ever been supplied by one road. The road running from Bar-le-Duc to Verdun is described as best suited to supplying the peacetime garrison and thus wasn't big enough support the armies fighting there in 1916. Horne then describes Petain relying heavily on the skills of a "Major Richard" in order to help organize a way keep that artery open and flowing. Major Richard would ensure that the organizational plans would progress and work, with the road reserved for motor transport and troops marching in the fields along side... and territorial units would work to build a larger railway network up to the village of Revigny. The efforts would serve to succeed with keeping things moving, through many of the difficulties that were present, which would lead to this road eventually becoming known as "Voie Sacree."

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(The Sacred Way Monument, commemorating the supply route to Verdun in 1916)

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(Carving on the Sacred Way Monument, showing marching troops and trucks, likely moving toward the battle)

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(Carving on the Sacred Way Monument, showing trucks carrying troops, likely moving toward the battle)

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(Carving on the Sacred Way Monument, showing one of the trains on the rail route built along side and some workmen)

Click the image to open in full size.
(Carving on the Sacred Way Monument, showing the workmen who helped build and maintain it)

See: https://travelfranceonline.com/sacre...-verdun-meuse/ for more information on the Sacred Way.

Click the image to open in full size.
(A map of the Voie Sacree, showing its route from Bar-le-Duc to Verdun)

With the coverage of the Sacred Way covered, Horne then moves on to the last engagements in February 1916. By this time General Balfourier's XX Corps had arrived in force and entrenched on the right bank and the wholes that had opened after the fall of Fort Douaumont fell were closed. It was at this point the Germans began their attack on the village of Douaumont. In this, while the French were ultimately forced to give up the village, the Germans paid a heavy price for it, with on battalion suffering 413 under French artillery bombardment... But on the 27th of February, the Germans did take the village, decimating a French regiment that Petain had once commanded, the 33rd, and taking a young Captain Charles de Gaulle prisoner.

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(Charles De Gaulle, during WWI, who captured by the Germans on February 27, 1916)

With the fall of the village of Douaumont, Horne notes that the first phase of the battle had ended

CHAPTER STRENGTH:
Horne provides a vivid and descriptive image of the situation that Petain took on and the measures that would be taken to ensure that he could hold his positions at Verdun, particularly with regard to the Sacred Way and the troubles and tribulations that would go with it.

CHAPTER WEAKNESSES:
1) Mixed French and English quoting. At times, Horne does put in direct quotes from various officers, and in this parts of the sentence are in French and the other parts are in English. He does this with the Petain quote on page 143 and the Balfourier quote on page 144. At first it might be mistaken for a translation, but it's all in the same quote and specifically with the Petain quote, there are more sentences in English than there are in French. There isn't anything wrong with providing answers entirely in French (or German when dealing with German officers) and putting in a translation... or translating the quote entirely into English for the English language reader. But having things mixed between French and English in this chapter would make it seem like two French officers suddenly switched to English while communicating with each other.

2) Mentions of "unimportant" people... While Charles De Gaulle is a major figure in French history, this is mostly for his theorizing on armored warfare between WWI and WWII, his role in the leader of the Free French in WWII, and as President of Fifth Republic in the 1960s. His service in WWI was nowhere near as notable. He'd been a low level officer with little to show for it in the trenches... In fact, De Gaulle's WWI service wouldn't see real "excitement" until AFTER he'd been taken prisoner and made several failed escape attempts. In this, while De Gaulle DID serve at Verdun... his mention is more than likely the result of his position in French politics when the book was written and his service to France in WWII, NOT what he did in WWI. In fact De Gaulle's mention in the chapter is only passing. In that... it's unnecessary.

3) Lack of a full name. While Horne does provide the name of the officer he had with regard to organizing the Sacred Way, he only names him as "Major Richard." At first I'd thought it was only used because the name might have been mentioned fully earlier. That was not the case as I checked the index, and Horne only mentions Major Richard on pages 146-147. In this, if there ever proves to be confusion over who engineered the Sacred Wary, checking on the name will be difficult. I did try with a web-search, just to see if there was any reference... most of the results came back for Major Richard Winters.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS... Horne continues to make excellent use of the English language to describe the flow of events and the situation that Petain came into in late February 1916. The irony that he presents regarding the statement Joffre made regarding the situation at Verdun. It does a lot show what went into the battle and what had to be overcome. World War I was a very modern war that often saw logistical issues stifle the attacks made, and by putting such attention to these sorts of things provides some understanding of what it took for the French to fight at Verdun.

Last edited by Sam-Nary; September 17th, 2017 at 08:52 PM.
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