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Old November 17th, 2017, 09:57 AM   #31
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Old November 20th, 2017, 06:47 AM   #32

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The review continues with chapter twenty two...

Chapter Twenty Two: Danger Signals

While Allied propagandists downplayed the fall of Fort Vaux, that was hardly the case, as the fort had become a crucial part of the defense lines before Verdun as drawn up by Petain in February. The fall of Vaux opened an avenue for the Germans to proceed with their next step, which was the intended capture of Fort Souville, the last major obstacle between the Germans and Verdun itself. And attack the Germans did, despite the return of poor weather to hamper their progress and leading to back and forth battles that inflicted heavy losses on both sides...

Though it is those heavy losses that Horne places a great deal of emphasis on in this chapter as part of his narrative in showing the hardships and difficulties that the French particularly went through at Verdun...

And hardships were great as soldiers endured all that the Germans threw at them, and many did endure. Horne then relates a story known the Tranchee des Baionnettes as a point of emphasis on the sorts of sacrifices the French made. The report is No. 3 Company of the 137th Regiment was holding a trench that was a tactically ill chosen position, as it left them exposed to artillery fire. By the 12th of June, the Regiment had all but disappeared and the French were forced to move up another regiment that included a young de Lattre de Tassigny to take up the position. They however found no survivors of the lost regiment, and it wouldn't be until after the war when battlefield exploration discovered not only the trench line where the 137th had been, and it seemed that the soldiers in their effort to hold the line and had fixed their bayonets and remained in their trench... only to be buried alive by both German and French artillery fire.

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(Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, veteran of the Battle of Verdun and who's regiment replaced the 137th, which had been buried alive as the Tranchee des Baionnettes, the picture is dated to 1946)

Though Horne also presents that could be some question as to the reported tale... with the mention that it was possible that the Germans when they advanced found the corpses of the 137 Regiment and buried them, using the rifles in place of a cross...

Regardless, French sacrifices WERE great and in many cases the stresses of the battle WERE beginning to wear on them. And both Petain and Nivelle were becoming more and more aware of a decline in French morale, likely due to these stresses. Particularly with Joffre's actions to support the planned Somme offensive and undermining Petain's system of rotating units in and out of the fighting at Verdun. And with the failure of the counter attack to retake Douaumont and then the fall of Vaux immediately after, and with the Germans seeming to press forward with more artillery than before, there were raising questions on where it would end...

And these questions even came from those that earlier might well have supported many of the sorts of decisions that lead to the losses the French army had endured in the war in general and at Verdun in particular and Horne provides some quotes to illustrate the drop in morale...

"One begins to ask oneself where is Victory, and whether it might not lie in any kind of a peace which would at least save the race. An Artery of French blood was cut on February 21st, and it flows incessantly in large spurts..."

"I have changed terribly. I did not want to tell you anything of the horrible lassitude which the war has engendered in me, but you force me to it. I feel crushed... I am a flattened man."

- letter excerpts from Marc Boasson to his wife, citing the difficulties and changes brought by the fighting at Verdun.

quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 270
This drop in morale would become an indicator of problems that would be even greater in the following year and to officers like Nivelle, was something that required stern measures to try and counter this. The measures included the execution of two officers that had relayed orders counter to what Nivelle had demanded of units in the field. The official story of one execution had that the men in question claim to have come to support Nivelle's position, a story which Horne questions the honesty of. The entire incident demonstrates the draconian lengths that were imposed against wavering at Verdun...

And by this point, the fighting at Verdun had reached a point where neither party could disengage from it. And even Petain knew it. He may have favored pulling back earlier, but the fighting had reached a point now where it could not be done. But that sense of urgency raises it's own questions. Petain had concerns over his perceived lack of artillery, which had decreased since the battle began, and to a greater extent the lack of action by the British. It was a negativity that he had that would not seem to leave him...

But the questions that came continued to come, and now began to be raised on Joffre's leadership and in the civilian sector. The man chiefly responsible for raising these questions was a army veteran and former Sergeant... Andre Maginot.

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(Andre Maginot in 1916, the future Minister of War raised questions and criticisms of Joffre's leadership in June 1916)

While we may know him more for the Maginot Line built between the wars, Maginot was an imposing figure and was a war veteran. Wounded earlier in the war, he required a cane to walk and had returned to government service. And as morale dropped at the front and questions raised among the generals, Maginot raised questions and criticisms of his own, particularly aimed at Joffre. He cited warnings made in 1915 as to the true weaknesses that the Verdun region had and the lack full improvement as proof of a lack of foresight on the part of Joffre. Maginot's criticisms soon brought in additional voices that forced Joffre into a more difficult position than he would have preferred. And while at the time, Maginot would be convinced withdraw his motion of censure, he did still insist it be put in the achieves.

All of this reflected the drop in morale that had come as part of the reverses at Verdun, and that even Joffre, himself, may have felt some measure of frustration as a June 12 Order of the Day takes a very imploring tone that Horne quotes:

"Soldiers of Verdun! ... I make one more appeal to your courage, your ardour, your spirit of sacrifice, your love of country..."

Joffre's Order of the Day - June 12, 1916

Quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 276
It was a tough period and the French did seam to be wearing thin... though by roughly the same point... the German offensive finally petered out, though Horne ends the chapter with the French having Falkenhayn to thank for that more than anything else.

1) Balancing out an earlier chapter weakness... Earlier in the chapter reviews, I noted that there had been some weakness in that chapter in that the propaganda posters that were mentioned all reflected a very pro-Allied viewpoint and didn't include one that would reflect how the Central Powers viewed things. On page 274 of this chapter, Horne DOES address that earlier weakness with a mention of a propaganda image taken from the Simplizissimus magazine depicting Joffre as hanging from a tree by his britches as German soldiers. Though, here it's used to be indicative of the problems that France and particularly Joffre had in June 1916, it does also show the sort of "image" the Germans had of the battle...

2) Providing better use of information for those we know of more for later events... While we know Maginot more for the Maginot Line, with him, Horne manages to provide information that would make him relevant to the battle in 1916 in that he was raising criticisms and questions on Joffre's leadership.

CHAPTER WEAKNESS: Mentions of "unimportant" people... This time for Jean de Lattre de Tassigny... While Horne does a good job of providing information on what Maginot did to shape the narrative on the Battle of Verdun, he does not do the same for Tassigny and is simply dropping names that we know more for later wars than WWI.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS... The chapter shows and reflects the sacrifices made in the battle and the strains that they went through. As what makes Verdun such a tremendous battle is in its length. While sieges of cities may have lasted for a lengthy period of time... Verdun wasn't quite a true siege as its supply lines were kept open and most of the fighting was a back and forth push that lasted nearly all of 1916... Something that truly sticks out in the mind of those that went through it. Such a contest is bound to wear on the morale of those involved. Horne has touched on this a bit in earlier chapters on both sides, but for the French, at least, this chapter shows the difficulties and stresses of the battle being waged at Verdun.
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Old November 23rd, 2017, 08:57 PM   #33

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The review continues with chapter twenty three...

Chapter Twenty Three: The Secret Enemies

Now, throughout the book, Horne has often made references to rivalries between the various officers over their commands and how they handled them. Be it the Crown Prince Wilhelm being critical of Falkenhayn over the way that Operation Gericht was planned and its weaknesses, or Joffre's irritation with Petain's more defensive style tactics at Verdun. However, it needs to be noted that ALL of the rivalries that Horne makes reference to are all directly related to the fighting at Verdun and that the commanders involved were either commanding the local units or were directing the overall intended plan for the area. In this chapter, however, Horne turns to rivalries that were had between Falkenhayn and the Chief of Staff of Germany's primary ally, Austria Hungary. And as Horne chronicles this rivalry, he uses it to shape how it would serve upset German plans...

And the relations between Germany and Austria during World War I were never particularly easy as that neither ever managed anything more than the most basic connections and coordination between the two sides. In fact in comparing the German/Austrian relations with the Allies in WWI, Horne would states the relations and coordination that the Central Powers had was unfavorable when compared to even what the Western Allies under Joffre had managed... to say nothing of the generation that remembered Eisenhower's leadership in WWII. Ultimately, Horne puts the disastrous personal relations between Falkenhayn and his Austrian counterpart, Conrad von Hotzendorf.

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(Conrad von Hotzendorf, Austrian Chief of Staff in WWI and a major rival of Falkenhayn)

And the rivalry was shaped many ways in how they were different, as Horne sets it as the difference between northern Germans and southern Germans. Horne sets that a lot of these differences came out wars of German unification with Hotzendorf being fourteen during the Battle of Sadowa or Königgrätz and remembered the degradation that Austria had suffered at Prussia's hands. (See: https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Koniggratz, https://www.britannica.com/event/Seven-Weeks-War for reference) Yet, Falkenhayn essentially continued to look down on Austria with a degree of arrogance that Horne ultimately compares to how Wehrmacht officers looked down on their other Axis counterparts.

Horne notes that there was a certain element of truth to many of the undiplomatic comments and actions that Falkenhayn often directed toward his Austrian ally, as unlike the Germans who had had plenty of success throughout the war... Austria's successes had been few and far between, and on its own, the only victory it had had was against the small state of Montenegro... and that many of the victories that Austria had been involved in had required German help. And this was something that Hotzendorf felt infuriated by, who Horne identifies as a "better" general than Falkenhayn...

This is a point that I cannot really agree to, nor do I think many would agree with that assessment in many ways. In fact if one has followed TheGreatWar on YouTube one will notice that Hotzendorf is treated almost as a joke and a failure during the early parts of the war. And in terms of results, that sort of criticism is NOT out of place. And while Hotzendorf may have had great plans imagined, he still would have to commit his army to them, and more often than not, his army failed... And in that a plan really isn't that great if the army can't execute it or doesn't succeed on its own. And while it is possible that Hotzendorf's record as a commander is greatly underrated, a book on the Battle of Verdun is NOT the place to try and make that argument.

And the fact that Hotzendorf and Falkenhayn BOTH engaged in an open rivalry in which they undermined the other at times would also speak negatively for both. This included siting through meetings and saying little and then sending a note or letter that often indicated that Hotzendorf had not changed his mind in the slightest. There was also the refusal by Falkenhayn to allow Austrians to command German troops and then similarly that Hotzendorf would refuse to allow Austrian formations to serve under German command.

There were also competing interests over how the war was to be fought and what front they had their focus on. Falkenhayn primarily had his focus on the Western Front while Hotzendorf was primarily focused on the Eastern Front, and in this the strategic outlooks of both generals were bound to clash...

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.
(The major fronts of WWI, top is the Western Front around 1916, bottom is the Eastern Front showing the Central Powers advance in the Gorlice Tarnow Offensive)

However, Horne notes both generals ultimately turned to secrecy when they didn't get their way, and so as Falkenhayn prepared for Verdun, Hotzendorf prepared for his own campaign in Italy, however, the attack in Italy and because of the units pulled from the Eastern Front to attack in Italy, Russian forces attacked the Austrian lines on June 4, 1916. Their commander, Aleksei Brusilov would achieve great success in attacking the Austrians, and it would be such that his offensive was the ONLY one of the war where the campaign was attached to the name of the man who planned it.

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(Aleksei Brusilov, Commander of Russian forces that attacked the Austrians in June 1916)

And the offensive was a successful one for the Russians. Horne notes that the Russians took over 400,000 prisoners before the offensive petered out and that many were eager to surrender...

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(Map of the area in which the Brusilov Offensive took place... the left map shows the plans for it and the right shows the actual operation)

And this Russian success against the Austrians would have a major effect on the fighting at Verdun. As while Falkenhayn may have been eager to remind Hotzendorf of the failure that had been committed, he STILL had to pull troops away from Verdun in order to rescue the Austrians in the east. And while Falkenhayn remained in favor of offensive operations at Verdun, pulling troops out to rescue the Austrians from Brusilov had given the French time to recover and repair their defenses...

The strength of this chapter is that it serves to show how other actions, such as the Brusilov Offensive had effects on the fighting at Verdun. And in so doing, Horne also shows that the fighting in World War I was more than just the fighting on the Western Front or more specifically at Verdun. Now, granted very little has been said events outside of France in the book and that Horne has kept its focus on the fighting at Verdun and its effects on France... Presenting how actions elsewhere had affects on the Western Front is important and can explain how things happened... (essentially tying into the previous chapter.)

CHAPTER WEAKNESSES: 1) Mentions of "unimportant" people and concepts... This time for Eisenhower and relations between the Axis Powers in World War II. While they can serve for a valid example of how well one managed coalition warfare and how the other failed... that's really something that doesn't relate to Verdun and in a sense carries some foreboding about future wars which I'm sure was NOT Horne's intention.

2) Controversial statement regarding Conrad von Hotzendorf... It's not so much that what Horne says can't be defended in theory, it's that the book really isn't the place for it. His book is on the Battle of Verdun and if one were to use the book as a means to rehabilitate a general from World War I... the general that would be best suited for such a change in tone would actually be Falkenhayn who was ultimately brought down by the battle he started. By contrast, Hotzendorf wasn't directly involved in the Battle of Verdun, and while his rivalry with Falkenhayn would have its effects that reached Verdun, that doesn't mean that the statement that Hotzendorf was a better strategist than Falkenhayn was one to made in the book...

Primarily because of the negative view that has been formed around Hotzendorf for the failures of his plans... Could one theoretically give him some defense? Possibly, but that would be best suited to either a biography of Hotzendorf or a battle that he was directly connected to, NOT the Battle of Verdun.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS... Horne does a good job presenting why the German offensive in June petered out, essentially tying this chapter to the previous chapter and preserving the overall narrative that Horne has told... but the key importance is providing some window to allow that there were events outside of France that had an effect on the fighting in France...

And while some of Horne's commentary on Hotzendorf may be controversial, Horne DOES do an excellent job of highlighting the rivalry between Hotzendorf and Falkenhayn and how that rivalry ultimately helped lead to events that would have an effect at Verdun.

Last edited by Sam-Nary; November 23rd, 2017 at 08:59 PM.
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Old November 25th, 2017, 01:58 PM   #34

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The review continues with chapter twenty four...

Chapter Twenty Four: The Crisis

Horne returns to the direct fighting at Verdun for the start of this chapter, and focuses on the confidence that was had as the Germans prepared and began the attack that would be aimed at Fort Souville.

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(Fort Souville as it exists today... and in 1916 was the one of Verdun's last defenses)

The Fort was placed on what Petain had designated as the "Line of Panic" at which point the city of Verdun would effectively be defenseless. But to reach it, the Germans would HAVE to cross a long ridge before any final assault on Souville could be made, however, for Knobelsdorf, there was great confidence and he had acted in that confidence, regardless of the effects of the Brusilov Offensive in the East. He had managed to organize 30,000 men for the attack and concentrated them on a narrow front and arranged for the use of a new weapon for the artillery... shells with bright green crosses on them.

The confidence from Knobelsdorf was such that arrangements had been made for regimental colors and bands to play in triumph when the Germans entered Verdun and even the Kaiser was invited to come and observe the offensive. Horne notes that Knobelsdorf's opinion was again in contrast to the Crown Prince's opinion... but he also makes the note that the secrecy around the artillery shells with green crosses on them ended up creating some sense of confidence as those shells were treated as something that would secure German victory...

The shells... were gas shells, using a new chemical weapon, Phosgene Gas, and one which Horne identifies as one of the deadliest of the war. (See: First World War.com - Feature Articles - Germany's Use of Chemical Warfare in World War I for reference on chemical warfare in WWI) And as the shells were fired on June 22, 1916, the French were at first puzzled by the lack of explosion when the shells landed with one report to a French general being, "Mon General, there are shells -- thousands of shells -- passing overhead, they don't burst!" And then came the realization that it was a chemical attack...

By this point in the war, the French were aware of the use of chemical weapons and responded in kind by putting on their gas masks. However, the Phosgene Gas seemed to prove deadlier and that even with their gas masks on, Horne describes French troops moving about and coughing as a result of the attack. And the greatest effect of the attack was felt all along the rear areas and along the main lines of French artillery on the Right Bank. Behind the lines, the gas soon saw French logistics and medical stations abandoned and confused and largely silenced the French artillery in the area that had been shelled, and as bad luck would have it, Germany's heavy siege guns would also finally silence the 155 gun at Fort Moulainville. And for the artillerymen as they began to get their crews to get back in order after the gas attack, the German infantry was so close that they could no longer use their cannon.

The main German blow fell between the French 129th and 130th divisions, and as the Germans advanced they found these units greatly weakened, possibly by the gas attack, possibly by poor logistics, or possibly by demoralization by the lack of artillery that they had for their support. For whatever the reason, the Germans and particularly the Alpine units commanded by General Dellmensigen, had great success in the attack.

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(Konrad Krafft von Dellmensingen, commander of the German Alpine units that had broken through the French lines on June 22, 1916)

Among the low level commanders that were leading these forces included in the fighting were Franz Ritter von Epp And Friedrich Paulus. Both saw success and pushed their men forward against the French defenses... and the advance seemed good...

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Click the image to open in full size.
(Top: Franz Ritter von Epp and Bottom: Frederich Paulus, low level and field level commanders that made tremendous advances in the Battle of Verdun)

The attack gained more than a mile of ground and moved the Germans closer to Verdun, and had actually taken the village of Fleury by the evening of June 23, 1916. It was such that within the French command there was some great fear of the German advance carrying the day and would soon lead to Joffre providing units to Petain to reinforce his lines, and these had been units that originally been placed for the fighting on the Somme. This had even come as Petain had pushed for Joffre to urge that the Somme offensive begin, which to Joffre only seemed as though Petain wanted to abandon the Right Bank and had been thwarted by Nivelle's presence. Though this is not true... Petain was concerned about the threat of losing all of their guns on the Right Bank of the Meuse, and to some degree, Nivelle even shared the fear, particularly as neither of them knew how strong the Germans were and how much more of the Phosgene Gas the Germans had available to them...

Horne also quotes Petain during this period that would reflect the French commander's trying to retain some calm and even channeling something that would almost reflect the calmness generally attributed to Joffre...

"We have not been lucky today, but we shall be tomorrow."

General Petain commenting on the German advance of June 22-23, 1916

-quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 288
And the advance of June 22-23 was great and Horne provides a lengthy quote from a German NCO, Hans Forster describing that advance and the achieving of the French redoubt that is referred to as "A Work." It was a great success, but one that soon ebbed, which Horne soon describes. Part of it was that the overall effect of the Phosgene Gas was not as widely successful as initially thought. In fact the French would only report 1,600 gas casualties and that much of much of the fire had been directed at the center of the French lines and had ignored the flanks...

Now, some of this, may have been the result of some things that may have had different issues that Horne doesn't fully mention or relate to. As the linked article makes the commentary that commentary that many of the French infantry units were affected by the gas to a greater degree than the artillery. The infantry did have gas masks, but they had been of lesser quality which allowed the Phosgene Gas to overpower their masks while the artillery behind them had better gas masks and thus allowed them to recover and react, which might have allowed for numbers to be lowered... Now, there IS the potential that some of these numbers could be the result of reports from the French high command altering the numbers due to Phosgene Gas, that DOESN'T mean the German errors regarding attacks on a narrow front and leaving the flanks alone weren't critical to the end failure to take Fort Souville.

As the French artillery on the flanks resumed their fire and without adequate reserves, by late June 23, even von Epp had reported that his forces had worn down. Horne notes the German Fifth Army down by this time and barely able to hold to what they'd already gained. In that... the German offensive at Verdun was beaten and the Germans could go no further...

It is at that point that Nivelle gave the order that has gone into legend revolving around the battle:

"You shall not let them pass!"

-Order of the Day, issued by Robert Nivelle in late June 1916

-Quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 292
The attacks toward Souville had failed... brought on by strategic and tactical mistakes made by the Germans in the attack, and while Nivelle's order had excellent timing, it was not why the French managed to hold on. Regardless of what was responsible for the ebb and defeat of the attack toward Verdun in late June, the German offensive had reached its end and for a week, Mangin, who had returned to the battlefield was determined to give the Germans a taste of what the French went through since February.

Horne essentially ends the chapter with a brief report and rundown of the beginning of the Battle of Somme, which in many ways the French had been pushing for since the Battle of the Somme began. In looking back at previous chapters, Petain had been especially pushing for the British to attack on the Somme. And on July 1, 1916, British and French troops finally went over the top at the Somme, though it would be French troops under Foch that would really see success on that day...

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(Marshal Ferdinand Foch, commander of French units on the Somme in 1916)

Among the men under his command were veterans of the French "Iron Corps" that had stood at Verdun in February 1916 and they managed to put into action the sort of lessons they'd already learned at Verdun... In a sense trying to match German infiltration techniques.

The British, however, became embroiled in what would become the single bloodiest day in British military history with nearly 60,000 casualties and 20,000 dead. Horne adds the note that even France's worst month at Verdun had actually had lighter casualties than Haig had on the first day of the Somme. But honor was satisfied...

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(Sir Douglass Haig, commander of the BEF in 1916... and while British units did not directly fight at Verdun they were part of the efforts to relieve pressure on Verdun by attacking on the Somme)

CHAPTER STRENGTHS: 1) Excellent pacing and flow for the narrative. While on the whole, the book has begun to reach the point where the fighting at Verdun is reaching the point where the end verdict on the battle is rendered... Horne has done a spectacular job of keeping the narrative as such that as you start with the chapter, you're lead to think that the gas attack to start the attack toward Souville was going to carry the day... only to find that the observed success early on was deceptive. In that sense, Horne keeps the narrative engaging.

2) Maintaining some tie ins to the fighting at Verdun. One could argue that a history on Verdun would not need much focus on what happened on the Somme or could even be weakened by including too much on the other major battle on the Western Front in 1916, but Horne manages to provide plenty of additional connections between the Somme and Verdun. This includes the mention on what the French learned at Verdun that helped them on the Somme and a comparison between the casualties suffered in both battles... and even some mention on how Falkenhayn would later try to defend his fighting at Verdun. In this, while Horne does mention the Somme, he manages to do it in a way that keeps the focus on Verdun.

CHAPTER WEAKNESSES: 1)Mentions of "unimportant" people... this time for Friederich Paulus. While the Battle of Stalingrad does carry the same sort of tone to World War II as Verdun does to World War I, Horne's book is still focused on the 1916 battle and dropping names of WWII personalities without much information on their actions at Verdun other than that they were there still comes off as pointing out who was there...

And it isn't as though Horne has been unable to present some information on what people have done... He did so with Andre Maginot in an earlier chapter and to a certain extent he managed to with Franz Ritter von Epp in this chapter. Surely, more could have been mentioned on Paulus' actions at Verdun other than the mention that he was there.

2) Some vagueness with regard to the use of poison gas at Verdun. Horne's narrative is engaging, and in general he DOES present the information as to why the use of Phosgene Gas didn't work as well as was hoped, but that is still a general explanation. He doesn't get into specifics as to the types of gas masks used (as is noted in the linked article in this chapter review) which would have helped provide added information that would help with regards to things like the reported gas casualties reported at Verdun.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS... Horne retains a highly engaging narrative that is sure to keep any reader interested, which can be quite helpful in looking what brought end to the main German offensives at Verdun in the end of June 1916 and the tie ins to the Somme can also show the importance of what France learned at Verdun and providing some comparison to their British allies who in many ways were still learning...
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Old November 27th, 2017, 03:32 PM   #35

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The review continues with chapter twenty five...

Chapter Twenty Five: Falkenhayn Dismissed

The chapter opens in a rather confusing way, essentially making the case that result of the fighting ending on June 23rd marked the "climax" of the war and proved to be a turning point of the war and that there was no military victory that Germany could have gained after that point... In many ways, from a broad perspective that makes sense, as most readers familiar with the war as a whole know that the British blockade TIGHTENED after 1916 and that German losses were greater by the time the German Spring Offensive of 1918 began. However on June 24, 1916 that REALLY couldn't be known. The French might have felt they'd won the Battle of Verdun at that point in preventing the city from falling to the Germans... but they couldn't have known that they'd won the war at that point... And some later events, such as the withdrawal of Russia from the war in late 1917 to early 1918 and the French mutiny in 1917 would both have the potential to give people the impression that the war was FAR from won for the Allies...

We today may ultimately be able to draw from a wider scope of information to be able to support Horne's claim, but that's the result of looking at MUCH more material than just the Battle of Verdun. And while Horne does make mention of later events, such as Russia's withdrawal and the German Spring Offensive in 1918, he doesn't provide the explanation for how and why these developments were irrelevant to his point... and that this really the weakness that this point that he's made to open the chapter has. Yes, he can make a case, but he really doesn't provide the full detail with which to truly support that case. And that is really what he would need to do if that was to be the case, and Horne even acknowledges what would be the difficulty of the statement with another comparison to World War II...

"It was also the turning point in World War I; though this fact may not have been so dramatically apparent as it was in the case of the defensive battles of Alam Halfa and Stalingrad in the autumn of 1942, after which the Axis never ceased to retreat."

-Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 295
Horne admits that his statement is not "dramatically apparent," which would require a real explanation for that point, which he does not make in this chapter. He may not be wrong... but without the explanation, that point may not come off as fully believable. This then creates a separate issue where if he did provide that explanation that it would distract from the coverage of a battle that is technically still ongoing in 1916 and would be poorly placed at the spot in the book that it's in... Now... perhaps that explanation is mentioned fully later in the book, which would be good... but it would do better that the statement that Verdun was the turning point of the war would be better placed toward the end of the book in the aftermath/epilogue sections where it could be with that explanation and NOT be out of place... As it is, however, the mention is poorly explained and out of place...

And from there, Horne returns more into the events of 1916 and covering renewed German attacks toward Fort Souville in early July. The effort was slowed by rain on July 7, and German troops were kept in front-line positions where they were often exposed to French artillery fire and the official history of the Bavarian Leib Regiment under Ritter von Epp that they'd lost one fifth their total strength and retaining order on the eve of the new attack was increasingly difficult. But again the Germans would employ the Phosgene Gas that initially on June 23, 1916 in the hopes that after learning from the mistakes of June 23 that the chemical weapons would break the French lines completely...

But the Germans were not the only ones to learn from the use of Phosgene Gas on June 23. Since late June, the French had given new gas masks that were of improved quality than those used in June and seemed to have been made with either Phosgene Gas in mind or at least with the expectation that a new and deadlier gas would be used by the Germans. This was then combined with orders for the artillery to hold their fire until the German infantry exposed themselves above their trenches and then reigned down artillery fire on the advancing Germans... And while German troops did advance, it was far less dramatic, with the holes in the French lines only being 400 yards deep... This ultimately lead to the closest that any Germans got to the city of Verdun in the whole battle, when a small isolated group ended up making it onto the roof of Souville, though more to escape French shelling than to actually advance. Not knowing this, a French lieutenant by the name of Dupuy rallied his men and secured the roof of Souville and essentially putting an end to Germany's last hopes at Verdun...

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(Kléber Dupuy, French Lieutenant who secured the roof of Fort Souville against the Germans in July 1916)

From there, Horne notes that Mangin managed to push the Germans back slightly, and while French casualties on the whole were still higher than the German casualties, it still came at a moment that fit what the Allies wanted to accomplish and Horne even points out that by August 1916 the Allies were on the offensive on all fronts... on the Somme, in Russia, in Italy, and in the Near East and that at the same time, Verdun was not in danger. He also adds that that there was a decline in German morale and reinforced the position held by Crown Prince Wilhelm that the offensive at Verdun needed to be stopped...

Yet the debate at the heads of the German forces remained. On July 11 Knobelsdorf urged a resumed offensive against the French at Verdun and it soon brought in the new commanders on the Right and Left Banks of the Meuse. Von Francois on the Left Bank supported Knobelsdorf and urged that stopping the offensive would be an "admission of weakness." Von Lochow on the Right Bank, however, sided with the Crown Prince in favor of strengthening the positions held rather than attacking at Souville again, which would only lead to a repeat of the fighting at Vaux, which would only bleed the Germans heavily.

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(Hermann von François, German commander on the Left Bank of the Meuse in July 1916 who favored resuming the offensive and supported Knobelsdorf)

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(Ewald von Lochow, German commander on the Right Bank of the Meuse in July 1916 who favored digging in and supported the Crown Prince)

This division within the German 5th Army made any real plan difficult to attain. While Francois and Knobelsdorf favored resuming the offensive, von Lochow and Crown Prince Wilhelm didn't favor attacking and thus had nothing that could get done. There were attempts to get a ruling from Falkenhayn, who by now had become indecisive to the battle at Verdun and by August 27, 1916 would have the Romanians joining the war on the Allied side as well to worry about. With this, Crown Prince Wilhelm sent word to his father urging that Knobelsdorf be sent elsewhere. And after the failures of June 23, Kaiser Wilhelm II, for once agreed with his son, and Knobelsdorf was sent to command an Army Corps in Russia and was replaced by General von Luttwitz.

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(Walther von Lüttwitz, Knobelsdorf's replacement with the Fifth Army and agreed with Crown Prince Wilhelm)

The shake up within the Fifth Army was soon reflect what would happen at the top of the German high command. As the fortunes of war darkened, Falkenhayn's enemies in Germany began to put added pressure on the Kaiser to remove him and by August 28, 1916, the ball finally dropped. Falkenhayn tendered his resignation as Chief of Staff of the German Army and the Kaiser called in Paul von Hindenburg, who took over as Falkenhayn's replacement and brought with him his chief aide, Erich Ludendorff. The two had been together since Tannenberg in 1914 and would soon add their opinions on the fighting at Verdun...

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(Paul von Hindenburg, Falkenhayn's replacement in August 1916)

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(Erich Ludendorff, Hindenburg's chief aide)

"Battles there exhausted our forces like an open wound. Morever, it was obvious that in any case the enterprise had become hopeless... The battlefield was a regular hell and regarded as such by the troops."

-Paul von Hindenburg's assessment of Verdun

"Verdun was hell. Verdun was a nightmare for both the staffs and the troops who took part. Our losses were too heavy for us."

-Erich Ludendorff's assessment of Verdun

-Quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 304
At once the new German high command put an end to the German offensives at Verdun with total German losses at the time being 281,333 men and French losses being 315,000 men. And at the same time, the French also ceased offensive activity, particularly after a second failed divisional attack at Fleury by Mangin. However, while Petain did put a stop to Mangin's attacks, the French lack of activity was more part of a buildup that Petain had been planning for since taking command... Though... not that the French would avoid any more "trouble..."

The trouble would be one that mirrored the earlier fire at Douaumont prior to Mangin's counter attack earlier in the year. It occurred in the Tavannes Tunnel. The tunnel served many different purposes, including as a hospital, ammunition storage, and moving troops from one point of the battlefield at Verdun to another. Many troops had viewed the problems the French had with the way the tunnel was being used... but this appeared not to have much effect and on September 4th, a fire broke out and set off French ammunition stored in the tunnel. The result of the explosion cost more than 500 men killed.

CHAPTER STRENGTHS: 1) Addressing a weakness from the previous chapter. In the previous chapter when Horne discussed the use of Phosgene Gas he didn't get into detail as to why the use of gas proved to be less than effective. In this chapter, however, he does give some explanation as to why the use of gas in the latest attack didn't do as well...

2) Showing the result of the rivalries and politicking that had gone on in the German army and thus leading to Falkenhayn's downfall. It reflects the issues that the Germans had, both at the local level and at the main command level. And in a sense the removal of Falkenhayn as Chief of Staff and Knobelsdorf at the local 5th Army command would represent the entire folly of what the fighting at Verdun turned into.

CHAPTER WEAKNESSES: 1) A confusing introduction to the chapter. As said earlier in the chapter review, Horne may not be wrong with his statement that the Battle of Verdun was a turning point in the war... but it was a point that actually required more explanation than what Horne actually gives and without that explanation, the statement may not be trusted... And at the same time, if the explanation was given, there would be the potential that the statement would be out of place.

2) 1) Mentions of "unimportant" concepts... this time for the mentions of World War II battles and the drama of the Fuhrer Bunker at the start of the chapter. In many ways this actually relates to "Weakness 1" in that it's used as a comparison to Verdun's placement as a turning point of the war. However, Horne even mentions in his "explanation" that Verdun's status was not as obvious as the World War II battles, and only highlights the need for explanation... which isn't given. And in this... it isn't something that is truly needed and could be better served later in the book rather than before the END of the fighting in 1916 as a whole is mentioned.

3) Confusing detail in relation to the use of poison gas and the previous chapter... While Horne does mention reasons why the use of gas failed in July 1916 that could provide some evidence as to why the June use of Phosgene Gas failed... the mention mostly makes the case that this was done AFTER the June gas attack and even provides some mention that the French made this change in the expectation of the use of Phosgene Gas. Now, this works great for July... but not as much for June 1916...

And this then highlights a point that was made in the previous chapter. In that chapter, Horne made the mention of the gas attack NOT being as effective as expected and citing that only 1,600 gas casualties were reported, while at the same time reporting that the use of Phosgene Gas proved far deadlier and that French gas masks at the time did not work as well as those deployed in July. This only further highlights the potential weakness in the previous chapter as to WHY the Phosgene Gas failed in June. As, if the gas masks were ineffective and Germans saturated two entire units and their supporting artillery in gas... why would only 1,600 casualties be reported?

This chapter essentially addresses the potential of newer masks being issued only came AFTER the June attack, and while the poor tactical use of the gas may have played a part, that couldn't be the sole reason... and could raise some credibility to the arguments made by historians like Mosier who've argued that the French reports lied dramatically about the numbers of casualties that they had... And while I'm not inclined to believe Mosier's numbers, the fact that Horne's own explanations doesn't cover this point well enough... only opens the door for Mosier and historians like him.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS... This chapter essentially addresses the culmination of Falkenhayn's strategy at Verdun and ALL of the flaws and difficulties that came with it. The intent to take the city... the excuses for "bleeding the French white," and ultimately the failure to do either. France had suffered heavier casualties, but not by such a ratio that German losses were sustainable by comparison. And that with these failures, in addition to others, such as the expectation by Falkenhayn that Romania wouldn't be a problem until September, and the political nature by which Falkenhayn had risen to power would only to serve to backlash against him...

And Falkenhayn's removal as chief of staff would mean a profound change in how the war would be fought, with Hindenburg and Ludendorff BOTH favoring defensive tactics at Verdun and would soon apply them to the whole Western Front in 1917. As such, the changing of the guard is important...
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Old December 1st, 2017, 10:39 PM   #36

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The review continues with chapter twenty six...

Chapter Twenty Six: The Counterstrokes

And the now the book begins to move into the final engagements of the 1916 and Horne notes it as one where the main French commanders at Verdun, Petain, Nivelle, and Mangin, actually all worked together rather well. The result set up a massive set piece battle that would fought on a line wider than that used by the Germans on June 23, 1916 with the objective being Fort Douaumont. Unlike the previous attempts to retake Douaumont, though, Petain had the artillery topped off by new Schneider-Creusot 400mm railway guns. This gave them the firepower to pound the German defenses...

To make good use of these guns, Nivelle served to coordinate the creeping barrage and even had telephone wire dug deep to allow for better coordination between the front and the artillery and cut down on the shots falling short, as had hurt the French earlier in the battle. This would then be used to support the 38th Division under Guyot de Salins, which had been put through a rigorous training program on a mockup of the battlefield at Stainville, including a copy of Douaumont, and the training would be done until the men in the attack could do it blindfolded...

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(Arthur Guyot de Salins, Commander of the French 38th Division, which was assigned to retake Douaumont in late 1916... Picture is from later in his life as head of the Boy Scouts in France)

Horne notes building confidence on the French side with their preparation and the determination to learn from the fall of Vaux and that once Douaumont and Vaux were retaken, engineers who had been involved in the work on the Panama Canal would be brought in install pipes that would take water to the forts once they were in French hands again...

On the other side of the lines, things were NOT so optimistic. The shakeup at the high command and the harshness of the fighting in 1916 had taken its toll on German morale. Some had spent the summer fighting on the Somme, while others, like those of von Zwehl's VII Reserve Corps had been at Verdun since the beginning of the battle in February. French artillery bombardment combined with rainy weather had only added to the failings of German morale and leading to the Germans facing major issues with desertion...

On October 19th, the main bombardment began, and while measures at Douaumont had been put in place to combat fires, the new French railway guns were changing the game. And while the new guns didn't totally destroy Douaumont, they did do some damage. On the 21st an artillery observation turret was shattered and the officer inside crushed by concrete. On 22nd, a series of shells penetrated the fort and ignited what the Germans had feared since May 8, 1916... a fire. Under the intensity of the bombardment, the German commandant, Major Rosendahl issued orders that the fort be abandoned and left only a small "suicide squad" to fight the fire. By the night of the 23rd, most of what had remained after Rosendahl ordered the evacuation left. In the end, the only one left in the fort was a Captain Prollius who would struggle to gain reinforcements... but they'd number only around twenty men.

And then came the great ruse... The Germans had sat under bombardment for three days and then October 22 the barrage lifted and cheers were heard from the front French trenches. The Germans bought it and fired, expecting to hammer the advancing French infantry, only to find that the French had not left their trenches at all. When the German artillery fired on what they expected to be advancing French infantry, they betrayed their positions to French artillery which then fired on those guns. The French in turn then fired on the German artillery units and inflicted heavy losses on the German batteries to where 90 out of 158 batteries was functional.

It was not until the morning of October 24th that the French infantry finally moved forward, and as they did so, they advanced into a thick fog... And while the fog did obscure vision and there were some cases where men got lost, the training and practicing until "they could do it blindfolded" paid off. The advance continued and many French soldiers found themselves taking large numbers of German prisoners, with a sergeant's count being at 200 and with one German officer captured in his underwear. This collapse allowed for the French to reach the fort they'd lost early in the battle and while some of Prollius's men put up a fight here and there in Douaumont's interior, it was not enough. Caught deep in the fort, Prollius and the men with him surrendered to a French sapper named Dumont. And once again... Fort Douaumont was French... Though it wouldn't be until the afternoon that word of the fort's liberation could be confirmed as the fog persisted, and even French pilots could not easily observe the fort through it.

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(Artist's rendition of the recapture of Fort Douaumont)

From there, the French effort was to secure Douaumont's safety and that the word of the fort's recapture wasn't immediately published and neither did the French attacks cease. On November 2nd, Fort Vaux was retaken, and on December 15 the French retook Bezonvaux and Louvemont, both of which were lost in February, and pushed the front lines two miles beyond Douaumont. It was a "black day" as Crown Prince Wilhelm described it, but for the French... Douaumont was safe and the battle won.

From there to close out the chapter, Horne moves to demonstrate how that end to the battle in December 1916 was a victory for the French. While Germany tried to play down the loss of Douaumont and Vaux in public, private concerns were different...

"On this occasion the enemy hoisted us with our own petard. We could only hope that in the coming year he would not repeat the experiment on a greater scale and with equal success."

-Paul von Hindenburg on the fall of Fort Douaumont back to the French

-Quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 317
And while much of the fighting earlier in the battle had been fierce, the German resistance in October to December seemed half hearted, but that it didn't detract from the victory the French won. Horne cites that Mangin's troops on October 24th alone covered ground that it took the Germans four and half months to gain and advanced three kilometers in a day... Not an easy feat in World War I. Horne also notes that despite taking their fair share of losses, the French inflicted greater losses on the Germans from October to December 1916 than they themselves took... and that in December alone, the French took some 11,000 prisoners and captured some 115 guns.

It was a result that Horne argued as World War I's version of the Battle of El Alamein... Though it should be noted that while this reverse for the Germans would give the French a victory and that the advance on October 24th was spectacular for World War I... the attacks in October and December did not restore the front lines to where they were in February 1916. Cote 304 and Mort Homme would not be recaptured until 1917... And while the German defenders in October to December did suffer heavier than the French... It must ALSO be remembered that in the battle as a whole, the French DID suffer heavier casualties. In this, while Horne's conclusion is largely correct factually... it is also a bit... dramatic.

CHAPTER STRENGTHS: 1) Maintaining excellent "excitement" regarding the plans for the counter offensive to finish the year and the recapture of Fort Douaumont. It reflects the highly engaging manner in which Horne has written the book, serving not just to inform readers but to keep them interested in the book.

2) Horne's ending explanation on how the battle was a victory for the French. It shows on how the French did manage an impressive daily gain of territory on October 24 and that during this last phase of the 1916 battle that they'd suffered lighter casualties than the Germans. The ground gained may not have been a massive breakthrough, but given how little territory was often gained in WWI battles, the ground the French took on October 24, 1916 IS impressive. It is something that one can look at the French military history in the 20th Century... and see a real victory at Verdun.

CHAPTER WEAKNESSES: 1) The drama in explaining the victory. While what is said is not untrue... it does carry a bit of embellishment that would carry the image that the October-December French attacks returned to the February start lines, which they didn't.

2) A poor management on the flow of time... And this relates to how at times Horne has covered events lasting one day in a chapter and then had other events covering several. This chapter covers the end of October to early December and in this, a lot of the small unit details that are present in other chapters is not present... and in fact much of the chapter focuses solely on the events of October 20 to 24. Everything after that is summarized in about a paragraph or two at the end of the chapter. Surely there was more to the fighting at Verdun after the liberation of Fort Douaumont...

3) Mentions of "unimportant" concepts... this time to the reference to El Alamein in World War II. While Horne is using it to represent Verdun as a tide turning battle... it's still something that would be similar to a weakness earlier in the book where Horne made the statement that the battle was a tide turner... but then doesn't fully explain it. And that's what really happens here. Particularly in the sense is that for comparison...

After the Battle of El Alamein, the British Army endured no reverse that threatened the outcome of the war... Market Garden was a strategic failure, but it didn't change the fact that Germany had lost by that point in the war. By contrast, while Horne tries to equate Verdun to El Alamein... France DID suffer a potential tide turning set back in the 1917 mutinies, which Horne has hinted at periodic times through the course of the book... And in fact even includes mentions of French troops bleating like sheep even in the successful battles of October to December...

And so... since there is no explanation as to why Verdun is on par with El Alamein, the mention of El Alamein really isn't needed or helpful.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS... While the chapter could be stronger, particularly with how Horne dealt with the coverage of time... the way he explains how the fighting was a French victory does become an important part of the chapter and remains so today. Even if one wishes to hold that Horne is missing some specific detail in that explanation, one cannot deny that Horne's explanation allows for the understanding of his reasoning... And to a great extent, that reasoning is still well accepted...
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Old December 7th, 2017, 03:32 PM   #37

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The review continues with chapter twenty seven...

Chapter Twenty Seven: The New Leader

The chapter is a shorter one, and while Horne starts it by stating that the Battle of Verdun was over, Horne uses the chapter present some insight into the events of the war that came after the battle and how the battle... or persons involved in it... shaped those events. And it's a matter that does make sense, as we know that men like Nivelle and Petain both continued serve. The fighting at Verdun surely had a great effect on them and their actions were surely shaped by the battle....

And the opening is to start with changes at the top of France's command. Horne notes that criticism of Joffre's command had been in the course of 1916 with much of that criticism relating to Verdun not being ready for the German attack in February and the fact that the fighting on the Somme ultimately became a "worse" version of the battles fought in 1916. On December 27, 1916 Joffre was promoted to Marshall of France, but soon joined many of those he had fired in the past... And it would seem that Joffre had actually been contemplating his successor and was thus aware that support for his leadership was weakening. In this, Joffre passed over the most logical successors, de Castelnau and Foch, with Foch being in disfavor over the results of the fighting on the Somme. The man that would ultimately get the command would be... Nivelle...

The choice for Nivelle mostly came out of the praise and perception of heroism for the victories in December 1916 and was also able to essentially charm others, and Horne cites this as part of the reason why Nivelle was selected over Petain, who had been his senior at Verdun. Horne also makes the point that Petain's own personal antagonism with France's civil government was also seen as a potential reason for passing over him and promoting Nivelle. Nivelle took this promotion with the same optimism in the offensive that he had taken into the fighting at Verdun and that he was not above citing his success at Verdun as proof for his own offensive.

"We have the formula. The experience is conclusive. Our method has proved itself. Victory is certain, I give you my assurance..."

- Robert Nivelle's announcement on his measures in December 1916

- quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 320-321
The offensive was an attack on the Chemin des Dames ridge and would be intended to carry forward with the tactics and measures that Nivelle had used so successfully at the end of the fighting at Verdun. However, the Germans had seen Nivelle's tactics twice, once in October and again in December and Horne points out that they often learned quickly. The result of this was that the Germans turned to new defensive measures which the Germans felt confident on as being better than what they had endured at the end of the Battle of Verdun...

Had we held to the stiff defense which had hitherto been the rule, I am firmly convinced that we should not have come through the great defensive battles of 1917.

- Crown Prince Wilhelm describing the effectiveness of the new defensive system

- quoted Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 321
And while Petain and a few other commanders had skepticism in Nivelle's plan and promises, Nivelle had won over the politicians and the plan went forward. And that then lead a massive reverse in France's military fortunes. On April 16, 1917 the French attacked and were soon caught in a battle that seemed to reflect the sort of battle that saw losses greatly exceed expectations. In fact Horne cites that in the course of the first day of the Nivelle Offensive, France had suffered a total of 120,000 casualties that they were never prepared for... and in this, the French army broke...

As details of the slaughter at the Chemin des Dames ridge filtered back, many of the macabre actions, such as soldiers bleating like sheep and shouting "down with war" were soon made and matters would continue to escalate. By May 3, 1917 the full mutiny began with entire units, starting with the 21st Division, which had seen hard fighting at Verdun the previous year. The French high command tried to get control by measures to arrest the ringleaders who were then shot or sent to Devil's Island as a means to restore order. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil%27s_Island)

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(Location of Devil's Island, a French Penal Colony were some of the leaders of the 1917 mutiny were sent)

These measures only made things worse. The mutiny spread and mutinous units would soon be threatening to march on the Schneider-Creusot factories and destroy them and that by June 1917 the mutiny had spread as much as half of the entire French army... as according to France's own official history. Actually getting control over the mutiny was difficult and its details are something Horne states is shrouded in mystery and secrecy. In fact he does note that the Germans never knew of the mutiny while it was ongoing. Horne notes that many of the numbers of those officially tried and executed for the mutiny were rather small in number, but the number of executions that were done summarily can only be guessed at.

Though... it probably should be noted that much of what we know on the 1917 mutiny that Horne presents in his book is likely based on dated information. At the time that Horne was writing, many of the records on the 1917 mutiny may been closed... As in many ways the 1917 mutiny probably WASN'T something that France would have wanted remembered. See: France commemorates a dark chapter in World War I history - The New York Times for that point on how the mutiny is remembered.

Solving the problem of the mutiny was ultimately solved by turning to the commander who had been overlooked earlier in the year. With the failure of the Nivelle Offensive and the army in mutiny, Nivelle was dismissed and Petain was called on to take over the French Army. Horne notes that Petain's methods seemed to address many of the underlying causes of the mutiny in improving leave arrangements, organizing canteens on par with the British YMCA, installing proper lavatories, showers and sleeping conditions were improved, and French army cooks would actually be taught to cook. Above all, Petain repeatedly promised that the sort of senseless attacks that had been launched would cease and has become something that has also gone down in history...

"We must wait for the Americans and the tanks."

- Petain's instructions as a means to win back the support of the army in 1917

- quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 324
And in a way, Petain's policies did work, just as they'd "worked" at Verdun. France made it through 1917 and finished the year with some small engagements that were successful in retaking Mort Homme and Cote 304 near Verdun, but as the last German offensive of the war was launched and the need for a final offensive against them was needed, Petain was not "suited" to counter it. Horne cites it as that the horrors of the fighting in Verdun and confronting the 1917 mutinies had been a major part of this and that this image was visible to others...

"Petain had a terrible look. He had the appearance of a Commander who was in a funk and had lost his nerve."

- Sir Douglass Haig on Petain in March 1918

- quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 325
And in the end, the French took a compromise that balanced things... Petain retained his position at the head of the French Army while Foch would be promoted to Allied Supreme Commander... and under Foch, the Allies would eventually hammer the Germans to the point where Ludendorff realized where the war was lost.

CHAPTER STRENGTH: The chapter's primary strength is essentially in tying in the events of 1917-1918 to the 1916 battle at Verdun. The fighting at Verdun was a major part of World War I and it would make sense that it would have some legacy and affect on the French as they went through the war. To those who are looking at France's involvement in WWI could potentially miss that units that fought at Verdun in 1916 would be at the Chemin des Dames Ridge in 1917 and moving to help the British at Amiens in 1918. Showing these connections is a great strength for this chapter and Horne does it beautifully.

CHAPTER WEAKNESS: Dated information on the 1917 mutinies... Now, this isn't a weakness in Horne's writing or his ability to research. In fact with what he had available to him, Horne had done a tremendous job in explaining the mutiny. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that Horne had all the available information available to him. There could many records that could have well been kept confidential at the time that Horne was writing the book. And given what is described in the linked newspaper article where a movie on the mutiny was blocked in France until the 1970s to protect the "honor of the French army," it is entirely possible that many of the records on disciplinary actions taken with the mutiny were also kept confidential when Horne was writing "the Price of Glory" in the 1960s.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS... With the coverage of the 1916 Battle of Verdun completed and with two chapters left... what is important for Horne to accomplish is provide what he covers to have some relevance to the 1916 battle. And in this chapter he does that very well in demonstrating the connections to the end of Joffre's career as the French Army commander, Nivelle's failed offensive, and the 1917 mutiny with the 1916 battle. In this, it reflects the chapter strength... but because Horne has completed the coverage of the battle itself, that strength is what makes the chapter important and perhaps even still relevant...

Last edited by Sam-Nary; December 7th, 2017 at 03:35 PM.
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Old December 10th, 2017, 11:30 PM   #38

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The review continues with chapter twenty eight...

Chapter Twenty Eight: Aftermath

This chapter is a longer one and begins to get into what could be counted as a "legacy" of the Battle of Verdun. Horne opens the chapter with the mentions on how much the battlefield had been devastated by the constant shelling with the city of Verdun having around half of its buildings destroyed or at least damaged to some extent, though Verdun would slowly recover. The villages around Verdun that had been areas where the two armies had fought did not. Fleury, Douaumont, and Cumieres never saw their inhabitants return after the war. Land was blasted to the point where the topsoil was gone and nothing could grow... as if God wanted Verdun to remain a reminder...

And Horne states that it would... particularly as it served as a microcosm of the First World War... The argument is that the entire war could be symbolized in the battle... all it's glory and all its horror in one small space. And it's in this that Horne argues that there is a case for Verdun being the worst battle in history. There were bloodier battles in terms of total losses, but Verdun had noticeably higher ratios for losses sustained to numbers engaged and the losses sustained at Verdun were also in a much more compact space. And above all, there is the issue the fighting at Verdun lasted for so long, 10 months, five months longer than the Battle of Stalingrad would later (from the arrival on the Volga to the surrender of Paulus being the timeframe that Horne uses for that battle).

And in this microcosm of the war... the losses can be hard to measure. France's official war history set France's losses at 377,231 with 162,308 killed or missing. Churchill's calculations put French losses as high as 469,000. The most reliable source for German losses (though Horne doesn't name it) puts German losses at 337,000 and over 100,000 dead and missing. Churchill puts German losses at just under 373,000... Though, regardless of who's numbers you believe, there was the trouble of the fact that battles were fought there before Falkenhayn's planned offensive and fighting in the region would continue into 1917.

And in this assessment on the losses the French and Germans suffered at Verdun, I am quite pleased to see the discussion on the difficulty of calculating casualties. It addresses things that Mosier in his book used to attack Horne and often included attacks that Horne argued the French suffered lighter losses than the Germans. And while Horne DOES say that with regard to the French counter offensives in October and December, he doesn't apply that to the battle as a whole. Now, while there could be the potential that the sources Horne used got their numbers wrong, the assessment can be considered reasonable and on par with most other sources on the battle with regard to casualties... And that Horne's numbers and assessment on the casualties being that Germany suffered fewer losses than the French in the battle as a whole is something that would keep the book relevant...

From there, Horne moves onto a discussion on who won the battle. This includes mentions in the Reichs Archives calling the battle a "tragedy" and Horne notes the criticisms of other German officers favoring different strategic options, many of which favoring a continued offensive in the East. Yet, Falkenhayn chose Verdun where he would justify it in the terms of bleeding the French white, though this possessed its own problems. It would become quite clear that Germany wouldn't be inflicting losses at a rate to offset their own losses and then there is, of course the issues with the Crown Prince's interpretation of the orders...

Horne notes that Germany could have taken the city on three separate occasions, during the early fighting on February 25-26, later in June 8-12, and finally in the fighting from June 23-24. Capturing Verdun would have been a dazzling victory and could have potentially allowed for a roll up of the French lines, particularly early on when more reserves were available. And after Verdun had become such a major part of the fighting of 1916, had the city fell in June there would be the potential for a massive and dramatic collapse and including the acceleration of the French mutinies... However by June, the reserves that would be needed were not available and marked the Crown Prince's correct judgement that by April that capturing Verdun wasn't likely and wasn't worth the cost... Which lead to plenty of criticism on Falkenhayn's strategy over Verdun...

"We lost the war against an unlimited superiority, because we never succeeded in concentrating superiority at the decisive point."

- German military criticism of Falkenhayn's strategy... (Exact critic is unnamed)

- quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 329
On the other side, French writers would refer to it as "La Gloire," and within the context of protecting the city and inflicting casualties on the Germans there is some truth to that... But then, the ultimate decision to force a forward defense by Joffre made sure that France would also suffer heavy losses and while the attack on Verdun wouldn't deter Joffre from his intended strategy, an assault on the River Somme, it had tremendous negative impacts on Petain's efforts to mount a defense at Verdun. And while some of Falkenhayn's defenders have argued that Verdun prevented the French from making a major breakthrough on the Somme, Horne argues a breakthrough was unlikely and given Joffre's tactics... it would have been likely that the French would have taken heavier losses on the Somme without Verdun.

The fact that both France and Germany suffered through these conditions leads to Horne's most critical assessment:

Neither side "won" at Verdun. It was the indecisive battle in an indecisive war; the unnecessary battle in an unnecessary war; the battle that had no victors in a war that had no victors.

- Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 331
Now... there are some points where later in the chapter where Horne will refer French actions as a victory, and this within reference protecting Verdun from falling and not collapsing, that would be true that Verdun was a French victory... But it doesn't really counter the main point that Horne makes... While the French may have inflicted losses on the Germans and they may have protected Verdun, it DIDN'T put them any closer to victory...

Though from there, Horne then moves into assessing what the battle would do for the war as a whole and in that... his argument becomes a bit... sketchy... He states that the fighting at Verdun deeply hurt German morale as the war went forward and came to the point that by 1917 the Germans didn't have the troops to take advantage of "bleeding the French white." And a sense, that could well be reasonable... but then... There are two points made that are far more questionable.

The first is that after Verdun the British took over the lead in the fighting on the Western Front. That's questionable, given that French troops would play a major role in stopping the German attack toward Amiens in 1918 and in the 100 Days Offensive in 1918 the French still held the longest stretches of the Western Front. Even if the British were the principle strike force in that offensive, they would still need the assurance that they would be safe to attack. And see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_Days_Offensive and note the stats posted on the right side and that the French had more troops in the lines and took heavier losses in the offensive. Now, granted Wikipedia can be edited by anyone... but if the British were doing all the work of 1917-1918... wouldn't they have had MORE troops than their allies, at least? This is something that Horne does not explain...

The second is argument that Verdun did more to bring America into the war and that the war could not be won after the French mutinies WITHOUT American troops. This becomes puzzling in a few ways... For one, when Wilson declared war on Germany, the French fighting at Verdun was not a stated reason for it. And while the Lafayette Escadrille may have flown over Verdun, America was just as divided over their involvement in the war as they were over whether or not to officially join the war. Next is that the comment contradicts the earlier statement that Germany by 1917 was in no position to take advantage of "bleeding the French white" and the argument that Britain had taken over the lion's share of the responsibility for the Allied war effort. It also ignores the logistical issues that broke the Spring Offensive in 1918. It's another point that if Horne wished to make that claim, he would need to explain it more than what is done.

Those two statements on Britain and America greatly weaken what was a rather strong chapter...

From there, Horne moves to what could be considered "legacy" issues in what happened to the men who'd served at Verdun and what was learned from Verdun...

Those who served...
The French:

Nivelle: Refused to resign and blamed Mangin for the failure of the offensive on the Chemin des Dames Ridge before being removed from command and sent to North Africa and would never see the Western Front again. Though in 1920 he would be promoted to the Supreme War Council. He died in 1924 leaving no memoir and no attempt to justify the failed offensive that bears his name.

d' Alenson: Died of consumption after the failure of the Nivelle Offensive.

Mangin: Though absolved from the blame for the failure of the Nivelle Offensive, Mangin still lost his command. It would not be until 1918 when he was given a field command again and would take part in the counter attacks against Ludendorff's spent offensive. In this he would have success and would ultimately lead French forces into Metz and would lead the French occupation of the Rhineland where he hoped to become the "new Germanicus." However, he died before any of his schemes could bear fruit in 1925 and rumors persist that he was poisoned by German nationalists.

Joffre: Following the loss of his command, Joffre took a small staff to an office in the Ecole de Guerre, where he spent much the remainder of his life preparing his memoirs with little concern or worry of affairs outside his office. He died in 1931 having outlived most of France's warlords from WWI.

De Castelnau: Denied a Marshal's baton, De Castelnau retired after the war and would eventually join the Chamber of Deputies. He left no memoirs and would live to be ninety seven and see France ruled in adversity by Petain.

Most of the other mid and lower ranking men that had served at Verdun had either died there or on other fronts. Of those that survived... Major Raynal became a pacifist and would eventually go into politics. De Gaulle would remain in military service after his release and would voice his opinions on warfare and the future of the French Army. At the time that Horne's book was written, Officer Cadet Buffet was not alive but taught school in Perpignan.

The Germans:
Brandis: After serving on the Chemin des Dames ridge became a hero to German school children and he would provide lectures on the capture of Douaumont.

Franz Ritter von Epp: Was one of the first to raise a Freikorps unit after the war, financed Adolf Hitler and eventually became chief of the Nazi Party's Department for Colonial Policy.

Schmidt von Knobelsdorf: Little is heard from him after his transfer to the Eastern Front and made no attempt to answer the criticism for his role in the fighting at Verdun.

Falkenhayn: Rejecting an offer to be Ambassador in Constantinople/Istanbul, he turned to take command of the Ninth Army in the highly successful Romanian campaign. From there he would move to try and reorganize the Turkish army in the Middle East, just in time to see the British take Jerusalem. After the war he gave lectures on the Romanian campaign and compiled his memoirs, and while he continued to believe the losses at Verdun were a third that of the French losses it soon became clear he was weighed down by his reflections on the battle. In fact he even wrote that his deterioration was more psychological rather than physical. He died in April 1922.

Crown Prince Wilhelm: While he would outlive Falkenhayn, the fighting at Verdun seemed to follow him for much of his exile. Even the Dutch saw him as the "murderer at Verdun." In 1923 he returned to Germany in the hope of the Hohenzollern's being reinstated, which never came. At times he flirted with open support for the Nazi Party, though this also came to nothing and he spent his time in retirement. In 1945 he was arrested by First Free French Army. He asked of its commander, General de Lattre de Tassigny to be allowed to go home since he had not taken any part in the recent hostilities. However, this request was denied with the reminder that Crown Prince Wilhelm was still "wanted" for war crimes in WWI and was lucky not to have been shot. The Crown Prince considered this an insult that he remembered until July 1951.

The only remaining major player was Petain... who Horne notes had his story entwined with much of the following events after WWI and the lessons learned from the Battle of Verdun.

And that legacy and lessons that came after WWI, Horne then moves to make the argue that the lessons learned for the French helped lead to their defeat in 1940. The Battle of Verdun had seen several "firsts," from the use of flamethrowers to an air force. The Germans favored a use of infiltration tactics with their infantry while the French perfected the creeping barrage, but the casualties in World War I in general, and at Verdun in particular, were such that they couldn't repeat what was done in WWI again.

For the French, the perceived success of the fort's abilities to withstand bombardment in 1916 was something that they attributed to victory in the battle, and as men like Foch died, that soon left Petain as Inspector General of the Army in a position to determine the future of the French military. And in this role, Petain would fall back on an old saying he favored:

"One does not fight with men against material; it is with material served by men that one makes war."

- maxim of Petain's...

-quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 337
And in this, by as early as 1922 Petain was calling for a "Great Wall" along France's eastern borders. It was planned as a continuous chain of guns in retractable turrets similar to those that had held up to German bombardment in 1916 with underground passageways that would be so deep that no shell could penetrate them. The man who would eventually support Petain's cause for this wall was Andre Maginot, who had been critical of Joffre's leadership in the war, and thus lead to the creation of the Maginot Line. (See: Maginot Line - World War II - HISTORY.com for reference) Petain and Maginot got some support from the Army Chief of Staff at the time, who had commanded a Division on Mort Homme in 1916, General Debeney.

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(Marie-Eugène Debeney, a Verdun veteran, he was the Army Chief of Staff at the time of the establishment of the Maginot Line)

In this, Horne argues the "wheel of military thinking" came full circle. In 1870, France had lost the Franco-Prussian War for taking too defensive a posture. In WWI, France had nearly lost by being too aggressive, and thus turned to a more defensive mentality. It is a odd lesson... though it should also be remembered that France did have methods and opinions that were counter to the "Maginot Line mentality" that Horne notes. Men like De Gaulle, for instance... though that debate was probably left out as it would get away from the book's focus on Verdun.

And remaining with that, Horne then moves into the legacy of the battle and the efforts to memorialize it. The legacy in the battle's length and Petain's system of rotating troops in and out of the battleground was enough to have many figures from French history involved. It had a long list of men who served there or were involved in the political actions of 1916 that related to the handling of the battle, and they would come from all points on the compass... They included President Lebrun, President Coty, President De Gaulle, Marshal Petain, Marshal de Lattre, Admiral Darlan, and the list could go on. Verdun was a battle in which most Frenchmen had taken part...

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(Albert Lebrun, President of France 1932-1940, cited as a Major of Artillery by Horne during the Battle of Verdun)

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(René Coty, President of France 1954-1959, cited as a Private First Class by Horne during the Battle of Verdun)

And because of all that these men endured, after the war, many surviving veterans would return to the shrines and memorials at Verdun and the ossuary that was built on Thiaumont Ridge.

Click the image to open in full size.
(Douaumont Ossuary, built along the Thiaumont Ridge and inaugurated in 1932)

It was something that become more sacred in many ways, though Horne argues that it was also with an ever more dangerous world around them. And some had even seen it coming...

"The most horrible thought... Germany and France will emerge from the struggle exhausted for a long time. And France for longer than Germany, her low birth rate insufficient during these last years will strike its blow amid the consequences of the war."

- Sergeant Marc Boasson in a June 13, 1916 letter to his wife...

"This is not heroism. It is ignominy. What kind of nation will they make of us tomorrow, these exhausted creatures, emptied of blood, emptied of thought, crushed by superhuman fatigue?"

- Sergeant Marc Boasson in a letter to his wife written in July 1916

-quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 340
And in some ways, Boasson's letters were prophetic. France was weaker after the war and many of the generation that had fought at Verdun felt that things like Verdun could not... should not be repeated. Though while some were critical on this with regard to France, Horne argues that this sort of mentality affected Germany too and that it contributed to the vacuum that drove many Germans to follow men like Himmler and Goebbels, who did not fight, and men like Hitler, who did not fight at Verdun...

And among the Wehrmacht's leaders, many of its generals had connections to Verdun. Manstein served as a staff officer there. Paulus was a field officer around Fleury. Guderian was an intelligence officer for the 5th Army at Verdun. Von Brauchitsch took part in the see-saw battles on the Right Bank and witnessed the French recapture of Douaumont. Keitel had been a captain on the staff of the X Reserve Corps on the Right Bank in the summer of 1916. And others, like Rommel and Kluge, while they were not part of the 1916 Battle for Verdun, they were present for other actions. Rommel was part of the first attempts to seize Verdun late 1914 and Kluge was wounded on this front late in the war.

Click the image to open in full size.
(Heinz Guderian as a young officer)

Click the image to open in full size.
(Walther von Brauchitsch, served at Verdun and saw the French retake Douaumont, photo is from 1939)

Click the image to open in full size.
(Wilhelm Keitel, a captain during the fighting at Verdun, the photo is from 1942)

The solution that these men turned to was to favor mobile attacks and the use of Panzer formations to avoid any fighting degenerating into the sort of stalemated warfare that had occurred in World War I. On May 14, 1940 broke through French lines at Sedan and by June, German units would reach the same WWI battlefields, and while there had been some heavy fighting at Cote 304 and Mort Homme... again... Douaumont and Vaux both surrendered with barely a shot fired. By June 15, 1940 the Nazi swastika flew over Verdun and at the cost of less than 200 dead.

Shortly after, Petain would be called to take over France and would sign an armistice with the Germans, thinking Hitler would favor an honorable peace... With the support of most of the French people at the time... even if by 1945 most would call him "traitor." Only a few in 1940 turned to follow Petain's former subaltern, Charles de Gaulle.

But... De Gaulle was essentially proven right when an "honorable peace" was the last thing that Hitler would enforce. And while Petain may have wished personally to resist, he had nothing to resist with and let men like Laval manipulated him into allowing things that shocked the world to be done. And in the end, what noble efforts Petain may have made to try and resist or defend what he personally saw as France, were not taken as an excuse for what was done during the German occupation in World War II He returned to France from Germany through Switzerland where he was met and arrested by General Koenig and charged with treason.

Click the image to open in full size.
(Marie-Pierre Kœnig with Marshal's baton posing with Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder in Paris, 1944... in 1945, Koenig was the man to arrest Petain)

On the stand, Petain insisted his actions were in France's defense and protection, which Horne quotes:

"My thought, my only thought, was to remain with them [the French] on the soil of France, according to my promise, so as to protect them and to lessen their sufferings."

- Petain's final statement at his trial

- quoted by Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 page 345
However, this sentiment mattered little. Petain was found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentence, however, was commuted to life imprisonment and he lived out his days on the Ile de Yeu. He died in 1951, two days after Crown Prince Wilhelm and was buried in a small naval cemetery. Horne ends the chapter with the note that at the Ossuary for the fallen of Verdun, Petain had had a place set aside so that he may one day rejoin his soldiers. As of the time of the writing of The Price of Glory that had not happened...

And while Horne says that "perhaps the Marshall may be permitted to return" it should be noted that that has STILL not been allowed. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip...n's_coffin

CHAPTER STRENGTHS: 1) Maintaining some connection to Verdun, be it in lesson or legacy and that the connections between Verdun and the building of the Maginot Line was well told... dated, perhaps, but well told.

2) A powerful explanation on the question of "who won the war?" In many ways we will recognize Verdun as a French victory, but in many ways it was perhaps a battle that did little... Yes, France saved Verdun, but paid a tremendous price to do so.

3) A good explanation on the issue of the casualties of the battle in that they are often hard to count... and that despite what Mosier claimed in his book, Horne cites German total casualties as being lower than France's.

4) Accurately placing the legacy on the battle as well as the placement of people better known for later events. Through the book, Horne has occasionally made reference to persons who we know from WWII or other times in history after WWI... and for the most part, it's come off as name dropping of famous people with little real explanation as to what they did at Verdun if what they did was even important... And earlier on, that was a distraction from the events of the battle. Here, in covering the legacy of the Battle of Verdun it is less distracting and can be impactful on how the battle affected France and Germany.

CHAPTER WEAKNESSES: 1) Controversial points on Britain's and America's role in WWI. While Britain fought big battles in 1917 and 1918, the French still held a much larger section of the line than they did, even in 1918. And while Britain may have played a large role, to say that they played the leading role in the war after the Battle of Verdun is a bit of a stretch and could have used more explanation... which Horne does not provide...

And the same goes for his comment that America after the 1917 mutiny was required to defeat Germany in WWI. It conflicts with the first controversial point and with major issues that weakened Germany in 1918 even after Russia left the war. It's again a point that would need greater explanation... which Horne does not provide.

2) The chapter's length/arrangement... It remains informative, but it seems to flow between an analysis of the battle and the legacy of the battle, which can be very different. And that legacy aspect only adds to the chapter. It probably would have been better to split the analysis and legacy into separate chapters, even if it meant one becoming an extremely short chapter... Though, I would think that doing so could have also allowed for the explanation needed to address Weakness 1.

3) A rather dated look at how Verdun connected to the Maginot Line. Yes, the men who would take charge in the building of the Maginot Line were influenced by the fighting at Verdun... but one needs to remember that Petain was defensive minded even in 1914, well before the Battle of Verdun. In this, a point that Jankowski makes in his book far more relevant that the men who built Maginot were already defensively minded. Verdun was merely the justification they used and not the actual cause of their mindset.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS... The chapter has some ups and downs. Horne's analysis on matter of "who won" is very strong and is something that really sticks with people. In fact if anyone has seen Indy Niedell's YouTube series on the Great War, he quotes Horne directly in one of his episodes that dealt with the end of the Battle of Verdun. That shows how important Horne's narrative is...

However, that strength and importance is almost completely offset by statements that could have and SHOULD have been better explained regarding Britain and America's roles. And much of the rest is then lost in the lengthy legacy that the battle would cast down on later history. In this, it would have been better for Horne to divide this chapter into two chapters... One to provide the analysis on the battle and the other to discuss the battle's legacy.
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Old December 11th, 2017, 12:44 AM   #39

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thanks a lot for your efforts
1916 was the year of the three greatest battles the world had seen
and Verdun was the longest , it give a striking simplification of the war on the Western front

called Judgment by the Germans
most of the French units fought there ,
it created a union of effort so that all of France was involved in this great trial ,
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Old December 11th, 2017, 11:16 AM   #40

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Originally Posted by sparky View Post
thanks a lot for your efforts
1916 was the year of the three greatest battles the world had seen
and Verdun was the longest , it give a striking simplification of the war on the Western front

called Judgment by the Germans
most of the French units fought there ,
it created a union of effort so that all of France was involved in this great trial ,

And, yes, Verdun was one of the three big battles of 1916 and was perhaps the biggest single battle of the entire war by virtue of its length and all that went into it. And that also makes the histories of the battle rather interesting to follow.

And that's part of why I've been doing these review series... The other part comes from a post in a different book review thread in which the poster grumbled at reading Mosier's book on World War I as a whole, and it took me by surprise, as I'd just bought Mosier's book on Verdun. The post was a bit surprising... BUT I've generally had reason to trust the poster, so I started with the review series on the fighting at Verdun with Mosier's book to see what all Mosier got wrong...

And in that series... I found plenty. It's not so much that Mosier lacked information to use, but that he exaggerated things and likely cherry picked his sources to fit his argument. And his constant habit of making insults at other historians really made his book not worth the paper it was printed on...

But from there the question then arises on how well other books would work, thus why I went on to Jankowski's book on Verdun and did a review on that. And while I found Jankowski's book to be far better than Mosier's, the fact that Jankowski was trying to establish a different look at the battle from what has been done before... I'd found that while it is a good book to have, it probably shouldn't be the first book to read on the battle...

Which then turns to the present review in the series of reviews on Alistair Horne's book, as it is the book that Mosier spends much of his time railing against and Jankowski cites as a classic example of "old histories" of the battle. And in the end, THIS review will ultimately have the question as to whether or not Horne's book truly stands the test of time and is still relevant as a history of the battle or if the information that came out AFTER "The Price of Glory" was written renders a lot of what is in the book "obsolete."
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