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The Battle Of Verdun

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Published: Mon, 24 Apr 2017

To what extent did the Battle of Verdun fail to produce the victory that Erich von Falkenhayn expected? The objective of this internal assessment is to investigate the failure of producing the victory that Erich von Falkenhayn has expected during the Battle of Verdun. In order to assess the failure of Falkenhayn’s proposal of having a casualty rate of 3:1 to the Kaiser, further research about Falkenhayn and the Battle of Verdun is needed. This background research will provide information about the timeline, Falkenhayn’s influence due to the strategies and development of both tactical and operational concepts that he has contributed for the war, and his proposal to the Kaiser. In this internal assessment, two sources will be critically analyzed, The Price of Glory by Alistair Horne and The Road to Verdun by Ian Ousby. An analysis of these evidences will then provide a discernment of the extent of the failure of producing the victory of the Battle of Verdun according to Falkenhayn’s justification of its outcome.

Summary of Evidence (500-600)

Erich von Falkenhayn had a bizarre background as well as his pre-war career. [1] He was chosen as the Chief of the General Staff in 1914 because he has shown great appreciation and acceptance to the changed nature of modern warfare. [2] 

On December 1915, Falkenhayn wrote to his Kaiser depicting his idea of winning the war. In his memorandum he believed that France has been weakened and Russian armies offensive powers has been damaged enough that the Russian armies will never get back its old strength [3] . Defeating the French, Russian and Italian armies will give Germany the chance to destroy Britain, Germany’s arch-enemy. Falkenhayn had organized and eliminated alternatives for decisive offensive in annihilating Britain. His proposals were for unrestricted submarine warfare against Britain and to assail Britain by attacking France. [4] According to Falkenhayn “If we succeeded in opening the eyes of her (France) people to the fact that in a military sense they have nothing more to hope for, that breaking point would be reached and England’s best sword knocked out of her hand.” [5] Furthermore in his memorandum he has mentioned that victory will be obtained with limited resources. For this battle Falkenhayn expects the French General Staff would be compelled to throw in every man they have, [6] which will in turn “bleed the French white”. Falkenhayn has suggested two sites for this battle to occur, Belfort and Verdun, but he has made it clear that his preference is Verdun. [7] Falkenhayn did not give an explanation in choosing Verdun for his main argument was not that Verdun must be attacked but that something must be attacked. [8] This memorandum has exposed Falkenhayn’s expectation for their victory in the Battle of Verdun.

From December 24th to January 27th, Falkenhayn and the Fifth Army discussed about the plans for the battle in Verdun. During these discussions there are two arguments that has been always brought up. Attacking simultaneously on both banks of the Meuse was the plan of the Crown Prince and Knobelsdorf but on the other hand, Falkenhayn wanted to have at least one-third of the total available German reserves stay behind for other attacks of the line. [9] Falkenhayn also had mentioned that they do not have the forces to simultaneously attack the Allies. The second disagreement that Falkenhayn and the Crown Prince had was the objective of the battle in Verdun. Falkenhayn’s objective was to set up offensive in the Meuse area in destruction of the French forces but the Crown Prince’s objective was to capture the fortress of Verdun. [10] 

By the end of the day, Falkenhayn’s original plan for the Battle of Verdun has changed based on his memorandum due to morale. Germany wanted to be seen seizing the city of Verdun to encourage the French to fight there for Verdun has a significant role in the French history. Falkenhayn did not tell the army that the real objective of capturing Verdun, he believed that the army would do everything in their power if they believe that their objective was just to seize the strongest fortress of France. [11] 

Evaluation of Sources (250-400)

Horne, Alistair. The Price of Glory. England: Penguin Group, 1993.

Sir Alistair Horne has spent his life abroad, where he had learnt how to speak French and German fluently. He has written quite a number of books which some received awards, including this book, The Price of Glory. The value of this text was mainly found in the section about Falkenhayn, where it contained his memoir and contribution to the Battle of Verdun, and the results. This text has clearly deciphered the events and influences Falkenhayn prior and after Battle of Verdun with thorough knowledge. Alistair Horne has managed to write a book without having taking any sides and has developed both perspectives as one valuable source of information during the Battle of Verdun.

Ousby, Ian. The Road to Verdun. New York: Doubleday, 2002.

This text has been primarily used in acquiring background vivid information about the plans and inhumane situations of the troops during the Battle of Verdun. The evaluation of this text has been very radical which brought up the intricacies of the battle. In this text, Ian Ousby argues that the French bear a tremendous responsibility for the unmerciful killing during the battle and he manifested that the confrontation signifies the midpoint in Franco-German hostility. Compared to Alistair Horne, Ian Ousby has distinctly portrayed that the roots of the disaster lay in the French national character [12] where he took sides instead of bringing both perspective into one big image.

Analysis (500-650)

The battle of Verdun is described by Paul Valéry as “a complete war in itself, inserted in the Great War”. Many historians has said that the battle of Verdun was one of the bloodiest battles during World War I. The letter of the German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn to the Kaiser was the cause of this battle and he has mentioned all the alternatives for decisive offensive in destroying Britain and his aim, to lure the French in Verdun where they will be assaulted where they will ‘bleed the French white’. Falkenhayn believed that destroying France in an attrition war will weaken Britain, [13] although the result of the battle did not match Falkenhayn’s expectation.

During the discussions between Falkenhayn and the Fifth Army, Falkenhayn’s idea of attacking the French has been altered by the Crown Prince and Knobelsdorf. Falkenhayn followed through the altered plan of the Crown Prince in attacking on both banks simultaneously, without having any reserves to meet the relief counter offensives that the Allies will launch. The plan of assailing in the Verdun has been changed to capturing the fortress of Verdun. Why did Falkenhayn agree to all of these changes? It was all down to the German’s morale. The fact that the army knowing the false truth would give them the motivation to give everything they have to capture the fortress. Falkenhayn did not have a concrete idea of what his intentions were in attacking Verdun after his discussion with the Fifth Army, it is no wonder that the outcome of the battle was not what he expected it to be. Falkenhayn’s indecisiveness is his weakness that can be arguably the result of their unforeseen lost for he did not completely have the full support of his army. Without having that unity within the army would have caused a lot of miscommunications and misunderstanding. Another weakness that Falkenhayn has is his inaccuracy of the situation. Falkenhayn has been embellishing their army in annihilating the French and the Russians.

During the battle of Verdun, their strategy was to send the Austrian to the east and in the west the Germans will destroy the French. Since Falkenhayn overestimated their army, he thought since Russia was impaired that the battle in the east will not take too much people and artillery, but it seems that the Austrian’s in the east has collapse which means that they had to hold out with their own resources. The west cannot send any reinforcement for Falkenhayn believes that the war should be won in France not Russia. Falkenhayn’s strategy quickly unraveled itself.

On August, Falkenhayn’s obscured strategy was shattered into pieces, [14] although they did accomplish to bleed the French white. Even if they had accomplished to kill thousands of the French army, Falkenhayn had overestimated their army’s ability to impose the casualties upon French. The attempt to capture and defeat the Allies reserves was making the German army weak and exhausted especially when the French army are holding on to their fortress at all costs. The lost of the battle of Verdun has showed that Falkenhayn’s new strategic and operational approach had failed.

Conclusion (150-200)

The battle of Verdun was seen as a failure of Falkenhayn’s objective grueling situations in the trenches and the lack of confidence that Falkenhayn has to begin with. Falkenhayn has greatly influenced this battle for he has manipulated the minds of the Kaiser and the Crown Prince to some extent in following his plans. Due to mistrust within the army and Falkenhayn’s overestimation of the German army, their strategies did not go through as planned. Since there was not a solid ground to start with in assailing Verdun, the objective of the battle was just simply to lure the French into a war to cripple Germany’s arch-enemy, Britain. Therefore, the battle of Verdun was just mincing of the bodies in Verdun for no clear objective, just bleed the French white. It is very clear that the battle of Verdun has failed to produce the victory that Falkenhayn had expected due to all the casualties and failure in capturing the fortress. Falkenhayn lost his power rapidly due to the failure of the battle of Verdun, was just as rapid as he gained power without having much experience in his pre-war career.

List of Sources

Horne, Alistair. The Price of Glory. England: Penguin Group, 1993.

Ousby, Ian. The Road to Verdun. New York: Doubleday, 2002.

Foley, Robert. German Strategy and the Path to Verdun. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Martin, William. Verdun 1916: they shall not pass. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004.

Duffy, Michael. First World War. August 22, 2009. http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/verdun_falkenhayn.htm (accessed June 2010).

Word Count: 1868

Section A: 167

Section B: 695

Section C: 252

Section D: 564

Section E: 190


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