5/4/1916 Verdun: Joffre yearns for the French to strike back

Fighting at Verdun continues. On the west bank of the Meuse the Germans make some minor gains. On the east however they suffer a reverse. French forces stage a counter-attack, recapturing a wood that had recently fallen to the enemy. The fight is of no great consequence in and of itself, but it pleases Joffre, France’s commander in chief. He has been frustrated by the primarily defensive posture of Pétain, the Verdun commander. Now he looks favourably on Robert Nivelle, the corps commander whose men staged the counter-attack; this is a man far more to Joffre’s liking.

Both sides are suffering horrendous casualties at Verdun but both Joffre and Germany’s Falkenhayn are convinced that the other is having the worse time of it. Each has fixated on the idea that the other has taken around 200,000 casualties (the actual figures at this stage are roughly 89,000 French and 82,000 German). For Falkenhayn this fantasy is comforting, as it suggest the French are on the brink of collapse. For Joffre, though, it is frustrating. If the Germans shattering themselves on the French anvil, why is Pétain not exploiting this opportunity with determined counter-attacks?

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