3/5/1916 Verdun: the Crown Prince loses faith but cannot stop the carnage

At Verdun the mincing machine grinds on. Wet weather in April had led to a lull in German assaults. Now they prepare to attack again. Their main focus will be on the west bank of the Meuse. Today German heavy artillery begins to rain down shells on the French. The bombardment is so intense that to some French soldiers it seems as though a German cannon is targeting each of them individually. The Germans hope that their guns will prepare the way for an assault on the key positions of the Mort Homme and Côte 304.

The battle is taking a heavy toll of the two armies fighting it. The French have taken some 133,000 casualties since the start of the battle, 44,000 in the last month alone. German casualties are lower but also ruinous, with the Kaiser’s army suffering some 120,000 casualties since the first attacks in February. The French system of rotating units through the battle means that individual units can escape decimation in the fighting. For the Germans the situation is different. Their units are kept in the battle and replenished with new recruits. For a German infantryman, a posting to Verdun is a statistical death sentence.

Falkenhayn still hopes that the battle will inflict such casualties on the French that they will have to make peace. But the local commander at Verdun has been shaken by the losses his men have suffered. Crown Prince Wilhelm has lost faith in the battle’s aims, believing that his men’s lives are being thrown away for nothing.

But the Crown Prince cannot stop the slaughter. He is only the nominal commander of the German army at Verdun, with real power exercised by Knobelsdorf, his chief of staff. Like Falkenhayn, Knobelsdorf remains committed to the battle. Verdun will continue.

image source:

explosion (Prisoners of Eternity)

Crown Prince Wilhelm (The Mad Monarchist)

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