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Old April 3rd, 2017, 11:00 PM   #1

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Review of Alistair Horne's "The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916"


I've reviewed John Mosier's book on the Battle of Verdun (see: Review of John Mosier's "Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of WWI) and I've reviewed Paul Jankowski's book on the Battle of Verdun (see: Review of Paul Jankowski's "Verdun: the Longest Battle of the Great War") and found them to be very different. I personally liked Jankowki's book and despised Mosier's...

Yet, I'd never had the chance to review the book that Jankowski cited as one of the classic examples of the "old" histories of the battle and the book that Mosier spent most of his railing against... The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 by Alistair Horne. However, after some debates in another thread focusing on French military history, a person I'd been debating with brought up all the books written to demonstrate French failure which included titles by Alistair Horne. Yet in that debate there was one book he didn't mention... The Price of Glory. That provided some inspiration and I ordered the book on Amazon and now... here it is.

As with the reviews for Mosier's and Jankowski's books, the review will be chapter by chapter. There will be some comparison to the other two books and of course other information should there be something in Horne's book that seem's odd and will end with an end judgement as to whether or not Horne's book is still worth reading.

Chapter One: La Debacle
Chapter one mostly serves to set the legacy of the Battle of Verdun and set the history of mostly France from the Franco-Prussian War up until the start of World War I in 1914.

And in this there is some commentary that are rather confusing. The first comes in the very beginning in which he makes the commentary that outside the opening moves of the war in 1914 and the Spring Offensive in 1918, Germany launched only one offensive, the operation at Verdun and that outside this operation, the Germans were content to sit behind impenetrable lines and play defense. In this, Horne does ignore some things, namely the pressures that Germany ultimately faced trying to coordinate a two front war, but that can be excusable given that this is only the first chapter. The thing that is most troubling with the statement is that the Germans DID launch at least one offensive outside of the Battle of Verdun, the attack on Ypres in 1915. See: First World War.com - Battles - The Second Battle of Ypres, 1915

The next conflicting point is that the battle saw Britain beginning to take over the burden of the war. This is again a statement that would stand to be made at the END of the book and with some clarification... Because throughout World War I, the French controlled the longest sections of the Western Front, and this would be one of the few places I would agree with Mosier on. There is also the fact that in the 100 Days Offensive, the French had the largest number of troops committed (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_Days_Offensive and specifically in the strength section in the upper right side). So, if Britain was doing most of the work after the Battle of Verdun, why were the French holding more of the line? And why in the last campaign of the war did the French have more men committed? This would be better served to the END of the book and not its start.

The rest of the chapter then follows the time period between the Franco-Prussian War and he eve of war in 1914. Horne describes the Franco-Prussian War as a degradation that the French Army never forgot and included commentary and warning from Bismarck that countries that have been embarrassed so generally get even in the return match. Horne also includes the demand that France pay Germany 200,000,000 pounds in reparations. In this Horne does give France's causes for fighting Germany again in World War I... revenge for the Franco Prussian War.

On the whole, with regard to the start of World War I, this does make sense, though Horne could have done better to provide what France's reparations were in Francs, the unit of French currency at the time (and still France's currency when Horne wrote the book) or in Prussia/Germany's currency at the time or make the case that France's reparations were "equal to" the number provided. Otherwise, Horne would make it seem as though France was made to pay in British money.

The chapter does continue with the case that under the leadership of of men like General Boulanger, the French Army did recover from the Franco-Prussian War, as did France.

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(General Boulanger, who helped rebuild the French Army after the Franco-Prussian War)

Though, this recovery was soon marred and weakened by the Dreyfus Affair, which Horne states did lead to changes in the French government and how the French military was viewed, leading to military service ultimately decreasing to as little as two years and its size dropping. It was only the rise of Wilhelm II in Germany and his policies that challenged France's position in Africa and the colonial race, Horne argues, that allowed the French army to recover from the embarrassment of the Dreyfus Affair and allowed it to recover.

This recovery was soon paired with the alliance with Russia and put Germany in a strategic position of facing a war on two fronts and leading to the development of the Schlieffen Plan intending to win a "blitzkrieg" campaign in the west before turning east. Now, Horne's argument that the Schlieffen Plan intended to win the war in the west quickly is believable, the use of the word "blitzkrieg" is potentially troubling as the word is so heavily associated with World War II and closer studies of WWII in recent years would give some indication that the Germans themselves did not use the word for World War II... For France, Horne also describes this period is also used to describe the rise of the ideas Colonel de Grandmaison of "l'attaque a outrance." This idea became a hallmark of Plan XVII and the attitude of many French commanders of World War I.

The chapter ends with the promotion of Moltke the Younger in the German army and the German army and how his actions weakened the Schlieffen Plan while the French would begin the war pitting the 75mm field gun against Germany's "Big Bertha."

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(The French 75mm field gun)

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(Germany's Big Bertha)

CHAPTER'S STRENGTH
Horne tells a good story and presents an excellent narrative of France's recovery from the Franco-Prussian war and telling its stance and perceptions between 1871 and 1914.

CHAPTER'S WEAKNESSES...
1) It's story actually focuses very little on the Battle of Verdun and what lead to it. Now, one could make the case that Horne is laying background information for the battle, but the bast case for that would play more to the fact that Verdun was the last of the French fortresses to fall in the Franco-Prussian War. In this, Horne may do more to lay the case for France's position and motivation for joining World War I in general and not for France's fighting the Battle of Verdun in 1916. The start of the war can be considered a starting point for Verdun in 1916... but there was a lot of fighting between 1914 and 1916 that could be considered far more relevant to to the start of Verdun than the recovery of the French Army from the Franco Prussian War. For example, Horne makes some commentary on the French wearing their bright Napoleonic style uniforms... yet the French were beginning to wear Horizon Blue by 1916. And while the Dreyfus Affair did hurt the honor of the French army in the eyes of the Republic... it also has little direct influence on the Battle of Verdun.

2) There is also the fact that very little attention is played to Germany. If one is going to play France's defeat and humiliation in the Franco-Prussian War and then its recovery as relevant to the 1916 battle, it would only be fair to include more than the passing mentions that Germany received during the same time-frame. After all, it isn't like the German army vanished between 1871 and 1914.

3) The inaccurate statements regarding German actions in WWI and the potentially confusing statements regarding Britain taking over the lead in WWI after the Battle of Verdun. One statement is flawed because it IS wrong and clearly so. The other because it really requires explanation to be understandable, which Horne does not provide.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS...
It would appear that Horne's narrative focuses at its start by providing a lot of background information to lead into the battle and he does provide a good tale for this He could have done better to provide equal time for Germany's history in the same time-frame or keep his narrative closer to the Battle of Verdun itself, but if Horne can tie things together through the course of the book, it isn't off to a terrible start given that The Price of Glory was originally published in 1962.
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Old April 9th, 2017, 03:36 PM   #2

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The review continues with Chapter Two...

Chapter Two: Joffre of the Marne

Chapter two is rather short chapter that focuses mostly on the character of one man, Joseph Joffre.

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(Marshall Joffre, commander of the French armies through 1916)

Horne includes some mention of the events and battles of 1915 and 1915 in the West, but much of these are really only passing mentions. He asserts that France entered WWI in much the same way that it did the Franco-Prussian War, but with a better rail network. He describes that the armies of both Germany and France singing and moving with an eagerness that would be shocked and mired by the war in the trenches.

However, the most telling thing in the chapter is what Horne mentions and what he does not mention. He does make mention of the Race to the Sea, the Second Battle of Ypres, and the Allied offensives at Artois and Champagne, but despite the chapter's greater focus on Allied and particularly French issues early in WWI, it does NOT make any mention of the conferences in 1915 where the Allies met to discuss grand strategy. Horne makes the mention that the battles of 1915 generally did not go well for the Allies, but these failures also set up conferences at Chantilly to discuss Allied strategy for 1916. These conferences were chaired by Joffre and included representatives by nearly every member of the Allies at the time. The most important of these conferences was the second conference held in December 1915, which then set the idea for all the Allies to attack the Central Powers at once. See: First World War.com - Encyclopedia - The 2nd Inter-Allied Conference at Chantilly, 6 December 1915

This omission on Horne's part is problematic because these conferences determined the Allied perspective of what they wanted to do in 1916 and would, in a sense, affect French actions at Verdun and responses to German actions there. It is also odd in the sense that Horne spends much of the chapter describing Joffre as a commander and a person, that the conferences aren't mentioned when Joffre was one of the men who attended them... and even lead the conferences...

And while Horne does mention the battles and how badly they went for the Allies. And contrary to Mosier's ranting in his book, Horne does NOT argue that the French and British suffered light casualties in comparison to the Germans. Horne makes some passing mention that the French high command's measure of counting casualties was faulty and in some cases propaganda driven, but I found nothing that would indicate that Horne tried to confirm those reports. In describing the first 5 months of the war, Horne states that the Germans suffered 750,000 casualties in total while France suffered 300,000 dead and a further 600,000 wounded, putting total French casualties in the first five months at 900,000, far higher than what he stated the German total casualties were. So that is a plus in the sense that it would demonstrate that Mosier was either deliberately skewing facts and/or failed to describe what he was referring to when referring to Horne's numbers... That aside, though, Horne doesn't make any real mention of actions Joffre took in the course of 1915 to respond to many of the difficulties of 1915 that would ultimately shape events at Verdun in 1916. Namely, Horne doesn't say much about the transfer of the heavy guns from the forts at Verdun to support the French offensives elsewhere.

A lot of what Horne does mention through the chapter is relatively standard information that many WWI historians have mentioned with regard to Joffre. That Joffre came from rather modest beginnings, that he was a large man who could not be bothered to have his meals interrupted, and that he was a man of great calm. In fact, Horne even comments that Joffre's eating habits helped shape the unnatural calm that in a sense saved France in 1914 and allowed for the "Miracle on the Marne."

However, Horne also makes an extensive argument to say that militarily that Joffre was an idiot... essentially agreeing with Mosier... and often bringing in comparisons to Sir Douglas Haig in the process. However, the comparison, while Horne says that Haig and Joffre had a lot in common, is not one that would be highly favorable for Joffre. Haig had mistakes and men died in his offensives, but Horne would generally make the case that those losses were more due to Haig having trouble being clear in his orders and coming to grips with the complexities of modern warfare. With Joffre, Horne state's clearly that he had no clue about how to win a war... that there was as Horne states, " simply nothing in his mind" (The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916Page 21). Much of this comes off as French bashing and might be the real reason that things like the Chantilly Conferences and the movement of artillery weren't mentioned, as they would get in the way of a narrative of a commander who had no business being the man directing the actual fighting.

CHAPTER STRENGTHS:
1) Horne does continue to write well with the way he describes things. In that, the chapter flows very well.

2) Horne does begin to move into events that relate more to the Battle of Verdun in 1916 describing the opening battles of the war and thus shaping the overall picture of the war, particularly for the French, in its early stages that in many ways the Battle of Verdun will come to represent.

CHAPTER WEAKNESSES:
1) The French bashing with regard to Joffre's abilities is unnecessary and in a way... insulting. Joffre was by no means the best general of the war, but if he was really a man who knew absolutely nothing about command or strategy, as Horne implies, he wouldn't have remained where he was. It's also inaccurate with regard to what Horne omits in the chapter. Which would be the Allied actions of 1914-1915 that would have direct relation to the Battle of Verdun are omitted. The moving of the fortress guns and the conferences at Chantilly are part of the actions that would lead into Battle of Verdun and in many ways would have much of their origins with Joffre. Yet, they aren't mentioned... which would only lead into the impression that Horne's commentary of Joffre is not simply being critical of where Joffre did in fact have failings, but is simply looking for an excuse to bash the French.

2) Much of what is mentioned doesn't directly relate to the Battle of Verdun. It does paint a picture of the slaughter and losses of WWI, but that will still require some references that would state that the losses and destruction suffered in 1914 to 1915 were something that would be a "hallmark" of Verdun in 1916, but this isn't done. Thus chapter two really doesn't tie events in chapter one into the book's topic.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS...
While Horne would appear to be trying to shape a narrative around the horrors and difficulties of World War I, which the Battle of Verdun was a part of... Despite it's beautiful language, the attempt is otherwise poor. Battles of 1915 are mentioned as are difficulties that helped shape those battles, but the responses to them are not and it would seem as though the narrative is that the French overall commander through 1916 knew nothing of command or strategy. Which creates a massive problem in that the efforts to make Joffre look bad ultimately means that Horne made little real effort to tie events in Chapter One into a path that would lead to the Battle of Verdun.
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Old April 13th, 2017, 01:05 PM   #3

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The review continues with chapter three...

Chapter Three: Falkenhayn

Chapter three is a rather odd and confusing chapter, not so much by the information that is presented, which can be considered accurate based on the information available when The Price of Glory was written, but on how that information is organized in relation to the book and the title of the chapter. Based on the chapter title, one would think that its focus is on one man... Erich von Falkenhayn... and would be used to balance things out with the sort of biographical chapter written for Joffre in the previous chapter. However, Horne also includes elements on Allied planning for 1916 and German planning for 1916 and doesn't write as extensively on Falkenhayn as person as he did on Joffre in the previous chapter.

Horne opens the chapter with a rundown of how bad the war had been for the Allies in 1915 with the failures of the offensives on the Western Front, the sinking of the Lusitania and its failure to bring America into the war, the fact that Britain's navy had failed to get the big naval victory they wanted while the Germans bombarded the English coast, the Serbs had been overrun, Gallipoli had been fought and lost, and the Russians had been badly beaten. Yet in December 1915, Joffre called for a conference at Chantilly to discuss Allied strategy for 1916. And this is the first time that it is mentioned in the book. This mention would have been BETTER placed in the previous chapter where Horne's chapter focus is ON Joffre, not put at the start of the chapter that is supposed to be focusing on Falkenhayn. As it would keep the grouping of information better organized... though perhaps doing so would have gotten in the way of the general narrative that Joffre didn't know anything about command or strategy. By placing the Chantilly conference in the chapter on Falkenhayn, people might not draw any connection between it and Joffre... but still, that would be bad editing on Horne's part.

It is after the discussion on Allied strategy for 1916 that Horne comes to the subject of the chapter, Erich von Falkenhayn...

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(Erich von Falkenhayn, German Chief of the General Staff from September 1914 to August 1916)

As with his biographical notes on Joffre, Horne doesn't present anything too new or surprising on Falkenhayn's life. He came from a family of Prussian Junkers that could trace their roots to service under Frederick the Great and that Falkenhayn joined the military as a means of advancement. He includes many of the issues that accompanied his rise to power within the German army including issues while as an instructor at Hankow Military School where he complained that he couldn't achieve much with his students because of their older age. After some service in China as part of the efforts to break the Boxer Rebellion, Falkenhayn began to attract the Kaiser's attention and would then see a meteoric rise through serving as chief of staff for the 16th Army corps at Metz where his actions made outsider's view that the Chief of Staff of the corps was more important to it than its actual commander. This lead to further promotions which followed until September 1914 when he was named Chief of Staff to replace Moltke the Younger.

As chief of staff, Horne argues that Falkenhayn would have and use greater levels of authority over Germany's war than Haig and Joffre by contrast had over theirs. Horne also makes some comparison between Falkenhayn and his opponents on the Western Front in Joffre and Haig in that much of Falkenhayn's style of command seemed to lack a real human element. He makes some commentary in the previous chapter that both Joffre and Haig were at times taken aback by the casualties that the Allies took in WWI, and Horne reinforces this in this chapter. By contrast, he argues that Falkenhayn really didn't have this sort of human element and pushed many elements of his command that would appear to be uncaring for the lives of his men. It's an argument that would tend to reinforce much of the opinions over Falkenhayn's strategy for 1916 that Verdun was to be a battle of attrition from the beginning... Horne even reinforces this with the point that even Falkenhayn's memoirs are written in third person, which would come off as impersonal when most memoirs are written in first person.

And from here, Horne begins to move the discussion from Falkenhayn specifically and into the planning for 1916 on Germany's side. Falkenhayn and his character play some role in what Horne presents, but the effort would be more on what Germany's intentions for 1916 were.

Horne describes Falkenhayn as being rather concerned over the safety of his position and the "safety" of the German lines on the whole. He points to deliberately holding Ludendorff back to prevent him from winning a bigger victory and that this would set up rivalry within Germany's military commands over what to do. Eastern Front commanders like Hindenburg and Ludendorff focused on matters on the Eastern Front and wanted troops brought there to gain a direct advantage to then push into the Ukraine and perhaps to Moscow and potentially win the war in the East. By contrast, Falkenhayn and other officers focused on a more Western oriented strategy. This would set up a sort of battle of opinion and battle of strategy over what to do, though with Falkenhayn's position... it would be obvious that the main German effort would be on the Western Front in 1916.

In this, Falkenhayn was probably right, at least with his differences with the Eastern Front advocates. The victories there in 1915 had failed to knock Russia out of the war, and while an advance there in 1916 might still push them back, it would not be invulnerable to Joffre's strategy for a combined offensive on all fronts anymore than Falkenhayn's chosen focus on the west and Verdun would. A focus in the East would have left the Somme... or some other point the Western Front vulnerable, just as in history the fighting at Verdun left the Austrians open to the Brusilov Offensive... Though what Horne points out in this, is that Falkenhayn seemed to be looking more for ways to avoid defeats on all fronts and not actually looking for a decisive victory... or at least not making the move for a decisive victory. Which then raises the questions over how Verdun and Operation Gericht are to be viewed...

Horne makes the commentary that much of Falkenhayn's strategy was viewed on seeing Britain's chief enemy but that they were using France and Russia to fight for them. Essentially, Horne argues that Falkenhayn saw Britain's allies as Britain's proxies, and with Russia beaten back in 1915, defeating France in 1916 would make Britain realize that it couldn't win and that resuming unrestricted submarine warfare would drive the point home. As such, Falkenhayn sent a lengthy memo on Christmas 1915 to Kaiser Wilhelm II to explain his plan, which Horne puts a part of it into the chapter.

Quote:
There remains only France... If we succeeded in openig the eyes of her people to the fact that in a military sense they have nothing more to hope fore, that breaking point would be reached and England's best sword knocked out of her hand. To achieve that object the uncertain method of a mass break-through, in any case beyond our means, is unnecessary. We can probably do enough for our purposes with limited resources. Within our reach behind the French sector of the Western front there are objectives for the retention of which the French General Staff would be complelled to throw every man they have. If they do so the forces of France will blead themselves to death* --- as there can be no question of a voluntary withdrawal --- whether we reach our goal or not. If they do not do so, and we reach our objectives, the moral effect on France will be enormous. For an operation limited to a narrow front, Germany will not be compelled to spend herself so completely...

The objectives of which I am speaking now are Belfort and Verdun. The consideration urged above apply to both, yet the preferance must be given to Verdun.

- Falkenhayn's Christmas Memorandum (1915) as quoted by Alistair Horne, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 pg 36
From here, Horne does get into the fact that the Christmas Memo is contested by historians and persons relating to the look at the Battle of Verdun. This can be seen in the fact that not all quotations of the Christmas Memo are the same, see: GHDI - Document for reference and compare to what Horne has directly quoted. Both versions of the memo are similar and convey the same general message, but there are specific differences in their exact wording. To add to the controversy over the memo, Horne also adds that in his own memoirs, Wilhelm II makes no reference to ever getting the memo. For historians like Jankowski, this would be proof that the memo was a post war fabrication by Falkenhayn and that his objectives were probably closer to taking Verdun and that forcing France to bleed itself to death was a post war excuse... but ultimately, Horne's end judgement is that even if the memo didn't exist, the objectives stated were Falkenhayn's objectives.

Horne then continues to discuss many of the difficulties and differences over the planning and objectives regarding Verdun around Falkenhayn regarding Crown Prince Wilhelm, the commander of the German units committed and his chief of staff, General Konstantin Heinrich Schmidt von Knobelsdorf (the full name taken from Konstantin Schmidt von Knobelsdorf, Horne shortens the name to Schmidt von Knobelsdorf)...

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(Crown Prince Wilhelm and Schmidt von Knobelsdorf)

In this Horne argues that the Crown Prince, at least initially, favored the objective of taking the city of Verdun which then contrasted with Falkenhayn's view of "bleeding the French to death." Knobelsdorf, Horne argues supported Falkenhayn, and through conversations in meetings with Falkenhayn, Horne argues, could even be the originator of the idea to attack in the Verdun sector specifically and even in the idea to "bleed France to death." In this, Horne concludes the chapter that in the end the Crown Prince was effectively tricked by both is his immediate subordinate and the German Chief of Staff...

CHAPTER STRENGTHS:
1) Horne finally begins to get into information that will directly lead into the Battle of Verdun. The references to the Chantilly conferences and Operation Gericht might be better placed with regard to the book's layout, editorially speaking, but they do refer the Battle of Verdun and are events that lead to it.

2) Horne does a good job of explaining Falkenhayn's rise to command and the style of command that he followed, which would mirror many of the conclusions that in many respects he was more of a politician than a general.

CHAPTER WEAKNESSES:
1) Poor editing placement is this chapter's biggest single issue. If the chapter on Joffre is to set the stage for the French High Command, than the chapter on Falkenhayn should do the same for the French. In that, the information on the Chantilly conferences should have been in the previous chapter on Joffre or made their own chapter between the chapter on Joffre and the chapter on Falkenhayn. And by the same reasoning, the planning on the German side for 1916 should have been saved for the next chapter, which is titled, "Operation Gericht." It might mean a shorter chapter... but it would make for better placement of information and in a sense tie the book together better.

2) Too much dehumanizing of Falkenhayn. While his military command may have been mechanical, that doesn't necessarily mean he was that was as a person. Horne admits that details on his personal life weren't readily available when he was writing, but much of the chapter seems to blur the line between his personal life and his military command. And given that he did have a spouse, there had to be more than that.

3) Dependence on dated information/reasoning. While this may not have been a flaw in the 60s when The Price of Glory was written, much of the understanding and reasoning regarding the German plan in 1916 found in more recent years would give some indication that taking Verdun was a major part of Falkenhayn's plan and that "bleeding the French to death" was NOT the sole objective.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS: Two of the weakness in this chapter are not something that are the result of poor scholarship. Horne has generally done a pretty good job with the facts based on what was likely available to him when he wrote the book. Understanding that since the book was written new information has come out is about that is really needed. The issues with this chapter that would still be there regardless are more with the editing placement of information... as the information on the Chantilly Conference would have been better placed with the chapter on Joffre or placed in its own chapter... Shoot, Horne could have possibly put in a chapter that focused exclusively on the planning for 1916... but again, based on what likely available to him in 1962, what he's presented can be considered accurate and informative.
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Old April 25th, 2017, 02:35 PM   #4

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The review continues with chapter four...

Chapter Four: Operation Gericht

Chapter four is an odd one in much the same way that chapter three is. Horne is rapidly beginning to get more and more into information that will directly relate to the 1916 battle at Verdun, but what is presented really doesn't relate to the chapter title and organizationally speaking probably would have been better suited to being part of the first chapter to provide background information to introduce the book and issues that relate to the book's subject. With the chapter title being "Operation Gericht," one would think that the chapter would be dealing with the German planning for Verdun, but that was discussed in the previous chapter on Falkenhayn... However, that ISN'T what the chapter focuses on.

Horne opens the chapter in dealing with the German preparations for Operation Gericht. This includes looking at all the equipment that would be needed for the attack and the efforts to try and supply the German army for the coming battle. This includes individual supplies for infantry equipment for the soldiers going in and the specific cannon that would be used in the offensive. He then goes into specific mention in how the Germans intended to use their various cannon and even their aircraft for the battle, with their heavy mortars to shell the French forts at Verdun, the naval guns brought in to shell the city, and other cannon of varying calibers to take on the roles of obliterating the French trenches, silencing counter battery fire, and preventing French reinforcements from making any approach to Verdun. Horne also includes what the Germans intended to do in the air to deny the French the ability to spot the German build up and attack their forces in the air and thus take warfare a step closer to the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Horne is quite informative here... but I really don't think that what he says here works with the chapter title. With what the chapter's title, it would work more with at least planning for the battle and not just the material build up to it. But, the planning for the battle was covered in the previous chapter. In this, "Build Up To Operation Gericht" might be a more appropriate chapter title. However, this isn't really a big concern and shouldn't take away from the information that is presented.

After presenting the German build up, Horne then moves on to covering the history of Verdun as a city under siege and the French efforts to defend it before the 1916 battle began. He includes the mention that the city was a well fortified camp going back as far as the Ancient Romans, it's importance in the treaty that divided up Charlemagne's kingdom to his heirs in 843 CE, to its coming under French control in 1552 and then being periodically besieged in almost every century up. This includes mention of the siege of Verdun in the Franco-Prussian War where Verdun was the last French fortress city to surrender...

And here, I would say that Horne has had more of an error in placement. What Horne has presented is informative and would be better for background information that would set the importance of Verdun to the battle coming at the beginning of the book rather the extensive history of the French army between the Franco-Prussian War and the eve of World War I that was presented. The information presented is good and provides background information for the region and the fortifying of Verdun... but it's placement in the book would be better served at the beginning.

Horne then gets into the fighting in WWI that predated the 1916 and how the forts in Belgium affected French thinking on how they would respond to the maintaining the forts at Verdun. This would include sieges at Liege that many figured would slow the Germans down for a lengthy period of time, but yet in 1914 when the Germans brought up their great "Big Bertha" mortars, the the Belgian forts were broken. See: Siege of Liege, 5-16 August 1914 (Belgium) After the advance through Belgium, the Germans would advance and very nearly surrounded Verdun and took the city. Panicked over memories of the units isolated and abandoned at Metz and Sedan in 1870, Joffre ordered the Verdun area abandoned in 1914, but General Sarrail commanding the French Third Army disobeyed orders and refused to surrender to the Germans. In this, Sarrail's efforts ultimately saved Verdun and in Horne's argument even made the "Miracle on the Marne" possible.

Click the image to open in full size.
(General Maurice-Paul-Emmanuel Sarrail the commander of the French Third Army around Verdun in 1914, who's decision to hold fast protected Verdun and potentially the entire Allied line.)

From there, as Horne moves to get into setting up the French efforts to defend Verdun, he makes some commentary that clashes with things said earlier in the book. In Chapter One, Horne opens the book with saying that the attack at Verdun was the only attack the Germans made on the Western Front between the the 1914 invasion of France and Belgium and the Spring Offensive in 1918. Later in the book he admits that there was a German offensive at Ypres in 1915 as a German offensive... though again, Horne makes the case that outside of the Second Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Verdun was the only German offensive in the west... Yet...

Quote:
Through 1915 new attempts had been made to cut off Verdun by thrusting into the salient on both flanks, at Vauquois in the Argonne and Les Eparges, culminating in some particularly savage mine warfare.

-Alistair Horne The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 pg 48
This would give some implication that the Germans DID launch attacks on the Western Front outside of the Battle of Verdun outside of 1914 and 1918. Now, perhaps this could be explained as a differentiation between major and minor attacks but Horne doesn't explain that.

From there, Horne moves into the French efforts to defend Verdun, which he points out as being lacking. Remembering the siege of Liege in 1914, Joffre and others felt that the forts at Verdun wouldn't survive German bombardment and thus found them useless and thus with the lack of artillery that could truly effect the German trenches many of those guns were removed from the forts to back future Allied offensives and Horne argues that this made the French positions at Verdun deceptive. The forts themselves might make the positions appear strong, but the region was actually quite weak and local commanders were sensing the German attack in 1916 and even went as far as to get notes to France's defense secretary, Marshall Gallieni, to try and get resources and men brought to Verdun to strengthen the positions.

Click the image to open in full size.
(Marshal Joseph Gallieni, French Secretary of Defense in 1916 and rival to Joffre)

Through these efforts, some attempts to strengthen the defenses were made, but come late enough that if the Germans could have attacked on their schedule, the French efforts would have been too late. However, Horne ends the chapter with the mention of a rare miracle saving Verdun and potentially France as well.

CHAPTER STRENGTH:
Building up images that relate to the build up to Verdun and setting the background to the battle. While there may be issues with where information is placed and the naming of the chapter, that doesn't remove the information provided which does a very good job of presenting what both Germany and France were going through as they prepared for what would become the Battle of Verdun in 1916. And to those interested in the movement of equipment and the logistical side of warfare, Horne's opening on the German requirements is excellent and detailed.

CHAPTER WEAKNESSES:
1) Poor editorial placement. While what Horne has written is beautifully written and is factually good and helpful for setting up background information to the Battle of Verdun, much of what he's put, particularly relating to the French defenses at Verdun and their attempt to defend the region before 1916 would be better placed in Chapter One, and I'd personally argue in place of what Horne actually put in Chapter One, than in Chapter Four.

2) Confused references that would conflict with the overall narrative. Much of Horne's narrative in the book has been to play the Germans as playing on the defensive outside of the Battle of Verdun. However, the reference to the Germans attempting to cut off Verdun on both sides actually conflicts with that narrative.

3) Poor chapter title... While Operation Gericht was the German operation name, using it as the title would give some implication that the chapter was about the planning of the German offensive, which was made in the last chapter. In this, Horne probably would have been better served to title the chapter, "Build Up To Operation Gericht" as it would more directly relate to what he covers in the chapter.

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS...
As with the last chapter, Horne's scholarship really isn't in question and the weaknesses in this chapter do not really offset its strengths. Most of the issues with this chapter are more with placement and explanation rather than the facts that Horne is presenting. In that, Horne is largely managing to maintain a good presentation that generally comes together well...
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Old May 1st, 2017, 11:29 AM   #5

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Great review. I really enjoy it.
Maybe just one more chapter four weakness.


Herwig in „The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the world“ (2009 p. 297.) allign whole episode with general Sarrail as myth.


„Joffre, concerned that the enmy would now break through the Revigny Gap, late on the night of 8 September ordered a chastened Sarrail to withdraw his right wing and break off contact with la region fortifee de Verdun. Sarrail churlishly refused. He would later claim that he had heroically refused the „order to abandon Verdun“ and assume the title of „Savior of Verdun.“ In fact, Verdun with its mighty ring of forts, 350 heavy and 442 light guns, and 65,774 soldiers had little to fear from the German crown prince. With his stubborn refusal to obey Joffre's order, Sarrail had momentarily imperiled the entire French attack by failing to maintain contact with right wing of Langle de Cary's Fourth Army.“
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Old May 1st, 2017, 04:00 PM   #6

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Great review. I really enjoy it.
Maybe just one more chapter four weakness.


Herwig in „The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the world“ (2009 p. 297.) allign whole episode with general Sarrail as myth.


„Joffre, concerned that the enmy would now break through the Revigny Gap, late on the night of 8 September ordered a chastened Sarrail to withdraw his right wing and break off contact with la region fortifee de Verdun. Sarrail churlishly refused. He would later claim that he had heroically refused the „order to abandon Verdun“ and assume the title of „Savior of Verdun.“ In fact, Verdun with its mighty ring of forts, 350 heavy and 442 light guns, and 65,774 soldiers had little to fear from the German crown prince. With his stubborn refusal to obey Joffre's order, Sarrail had momentarily imperiled the entire French attack by failing to maintain contact with right wing of Langle de Cary's Fourth Army.“
Interesting... though and if accurate would tarnish some of the issues with Sarrail's legacy... but some of that could be more of a difference of opinion and interpretation.

As Horne would clearly argue that Verdun was a clear German target and has argued that Joffre wasn't a good general... which is something of a hallmark of many of the histories of the 60s... that the Allied high command... be it Joffre or Haig... was without even half a brain and that their only idea was to attack and hope they had more men than the Germans had bullets, while the German generals were all brilliant, but suffered because they in fact didn't have enough bullets. Thus men that opposed Joffre were to be held as knowing better than Joffre...

Herwig's case could be more the case of not applying the same bias that was present and popular in Horne's time.

I'm glad you've been enjoying the review and I will continue to post new chapter reviews as I get through each chapter.
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Old May 1st, 2017, 10:41 PM   #7

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I look forward to ...
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Old May 21st, 2017, 10:55 AM   #8

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The review continues with chapter five... (Warning, some graphic content, reader discretion advised)

Chapter Five: The Waiting Machine

Chapter five reads sort of like a filler chapter, like it is too early to actually talk about the actual beginning of the battle but the necessary background information is covered, and but there is still space required to fill. That said, with what Horne has provided... he does a good job of making it an interesting chapter.

Horne opens with describing the poor weather conditions that served to stall the German offensive. He makes mention of the Crown Prince having an order prepared to urge the German army to attack, however, because of heavy snowfall on the morning of February 11, 1916, he was unable to issue that order. This miserable weather would persist and left both armies waiting for things to clear. On the German side it created some issues in that the front line trenches were not prepared for the deluge that came down, forcing the Germans to bail out their own trenches.

From there, Horne moves to list the orders of battle in February 1916 before moving onto what he spends the bulk of the chapter discussing... the French Army as it was in 1916. By this, Horne is discussing the rank and file, not its overall leaders. He mentions on how the French army had progressed from 1914. The bright uniforms of 1914 were largely gone and replaced by horizon blue, which while Horne describes it as still being less effective than German field gray (Feldgrau) and British khaki, he does make some mention of British units having their morale boosted just by seeing the color. He also notes the French adoption of a steel helmet, something they did BEFORE the Germans did...

Click the image to open in full size. Click the image to open in full size.
(Comparative images of the French Army. On the left is a soldier from 1914 in bright colors and soft kepis. On the right is a soldier from 1916 in horizon blue and with his Adrian helmet)

From there, Horne moves to describe conditions in the French trenches and in relations between French officers, NCOs, and so on... all of which are generally described poor. Troops had march to and from anywhere they had to go, and often carrying 85 pounds worth of gear. While the French army claimed to feed its soldiers well, Horne describes that many of these conditions were often misleading, as while attempts at canteens and providing food was attempted, but often these mobile kitchens were practically useless by the time they arrived. Horne also describes the French army as the least "democratic" of any of the armies of 1916 with its officers and generals forcing disciplinary measures that would execute soldiers for infractions of the rules that by today's standards would be trifling.

There were also issues with poor leave arrangements and dealing with wounds. The issues with leave often left soldiers in difficult straights and if not for schemes for women to "adopt" random soldiers and serve as a sort of "godmother" to help encourage soldiers to fight and provide them with comfort when they could get leave. Horne though also relates that at times this worked a bit too well when a sergeant had collected so many that his leave wasn't long enough... and deserted as a result. The medical issue, Horne ultimately compares to WWII in many ways. Unlike WWII, where most of the casualties were killed by gunfire, most of the casualties of WWI were from artillery fire, which Horne also describes as being different in WWI from WWII. The metal used in WWI was described as larger and often inflicted much more ghastly wounds on soldiers who suffered through World War I.

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(A wounded soldier, likely wounded by artillery fragments... and what medical personnel had to deal with in WWI, and what "artists" covered up after the war)

The medical response to this wasn't easy, as Horne also describes France being behind both Britain and Germany in its preparedness for the war in that regard and often forced a system that didn't necessarily make the suffering easier for those wounded.

Yet, despite all of these things, the French army on the eve of the Battle of Verdun had endured all these things. They may not have been as eager as in 1914, but they had endured, which is something...

CHAPTER STRENGTHS:
1) Highly informative and highly descriptive in the sense of describing how the French army changed from 1914 to 1916 and just what it had endured.

2) Very readable. Horne's use of language remains one of the book's greatest strengths.

CHAPTER WEAKNESSES:
1) Very little real focus on what either army did while waiting for the weather conditions to improve. Some things are mentioned with regard to boredom on both sides and the Germans bailing out water filled front line trenches, but the previous chapter mentioned this sort of "intervention" saving France... but little is said on what was done in that time.

2) As with chapter one, it's really a chapter that focuses heavily on one side... the French. Now, if this was pared with an earlier chapter, where Horne described the development of the German army from 1914 to 1916 that would be something well done... but that wasn't really done, and would mean that it would need to be done in a later chapter to balance out the developments for the French army described in this chapter... and that could ultimately mean a later chapter has information poorly placed. Otherwise, this chapter has too much emphasis on the French and not enough on the Germans. In theory there is some comparison, which may point to the Germans better in certain areas... but there really isn't anything as comprehensive as what is done for the

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS...
Again, this chapter sort of reads as filler... but it does do a good job of describing the developments in the French Army from 1914 to 1916 with all the issues that were endured. In a way it shows just how tough the French Army in the 20th Century and WWI in particular really was, which is a major factor given that by the 1960s when the book was written, common references to the French were more likely to paint the French as cowards for 1940 than anything else. In that, the information does a lot to show that that images shown on the French Army is not accurate, particularly for WWI.
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Old May 21st, 2017, 11:42 AM   #9
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The review continues with chapter five... (Warning, some graphic content, reader discretion advised)

Chapter Five: The Waiting Machine

IMPORTANCE/CHAPTER THOUGHTS...
Again, this chapter sort of reads as filler... but it does do a good job of describing the developments in the French Army from 1914 to 1916 with all the issues that were endured. In a way it shows just how tough the French Army in the 20th Century and WWI in particular really was, which is a major factor given that by the 1960s when the book was written, common references to the French were more likely to paint the French as cowards for 1940 than anything else. In that, the information does a lot to show that that images shown on the French Army is not accurate, particularly for WWI.
You write very well yourself Sam. I don't know how old you are but I assume you were not an adult in the 1960's.

So, may I correct you on the last point. The typical view in the 1960's was acknowledgement (possibly admiration) of the remarkable resilience of the French Army in 1914 despite enormous losses and how easily it buckled in 1940.

BTW I have now ordered the Horne book and look forward t reading it.
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Old May 21st, 2017, 02:11 PM   #10

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You write very well yourself Sam. I don't know how old you are but I assume you were not an adult in the 1960's.

So, may I correct you on the last point. The typical view in the 1960's was acknowledgement (possibly admiration) of the remarkable resilience of the French Army in 1914 despite enormous losses and how easily it buckled in 1940.

BTW I have now ordered the Horne book and look forward t reading it.
I wasn't even born in the 1960s... Though I'd think that can differ between who is looking at the French performance. Britain vs. America and so on. And I doubt many Americans saw much reason to give the French any credit when De Gaulle took France out of NATO's command during that general time period with the protest that there weren't enough Frenchmen IN the NATO high command.

Though, Horne as an Englishman may have had a different view... though even he really isn't immune to some French bashing here and there. As in his chapter giving the biographical piece on Joffre sorta gives the impression that Joffre had no clue how to lead an army, which as I said in the review for that chapter isn't accurate. He did understand staying calm and the call for the conferences among all the Allies (including Russia, Serbia, and Italy) to discuss Allied strategy for 1916 as a coalition would give some indication that something was going on... maybe not the best strategy, but still something, and I'd personally argue that Joffre was right that Germany couldn't take all the Allies attacking at once...

Though for the most part, at present I would be leaning toward being fairly favorable with regard to Horne's book. There are some flaws, but they are no where near as big as what I felt were in Mosier's book, and most of them are probably more likely due to a lot of the information we have today on Verdun, particularly with the planning, wasn't available when Horne was writing. In that sense, it'd be worth it as a classic history of the battle, but one that would probably need to be pared with a newer history, like Jankowski's book, to understand where things changed...
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