The French have decided to hold Verdun come what may. General Pétain has been appointed to lead the defence. But now disaster strikes: the 60 year old general is struck down with pneumonia. Rather than change commanders again, Pétain is left to direct the battle from his sickbed. His condition is kept a closely guarded secret.
Despite his sickness, Pétain manages to reinvigorate the defence. He orders the various forts around Verdun to be re-garrisoned: there is to be no repeat of the Fort Douaumont fiasco. He also has a secret last line of defence prepared around the inner fort surrounding Verdun, in case a last stand must be made at the gates of the town itself. Recognising the importance of keeping the defenders of Verdun supplied, he makes arrangements to ensure that the one good road into the town is kept open, despite whatever German artillery tries to throw at it. Regulations are put in place to ensure that traffic keeps moving on the road, as hold-ups could prove fatal to the defence.
Pétain’s organisational energy and the reinforcements that have come with him are putting new life into the defence of Verdun. Its fall seemed imminent a few days ago but now it looks like the battle will go on.
La Voie Sacrée (Les Français à Verdun)