The latest phase of the fighting at Verdun sees the Germans attacking on the west bank of the Meuse. After an unusually heavy artillery bombardment the German infantry pushed forward against the stunned French. Now after several days of brutal fighting the Germans have secured the Côte 304 position. This has has long proved a thorn in their side. With it secured the Germans hope to press on and secure the Mort Homme, the grimly named piece of high ground that dominates the west bank landscape.
The German troops occupying Côte 304 now demand an extra tobacco ration from their officers. This is not to celebrate their victory, but to mask the smell of decomposing corpses that permeates the position.
Yet in his headquarters at Chantilly General Joffre, France’s supreme commander, decides that the crisis at Verdun has passed. Up to now French units have been rotated through the battle, spending only a few days in the maelstrom before being withdrawn to recuperate. This been good for morale as French soldiers know that a posting to Verdun is not a death sentence. It does however mean that a great many units have been through the battle, perhaps as much as 40% of the army. Joffre wants to preserve units intact for the Anglo-French offensive being planned for the summer along the Somme. Accordingly he decides now to suspend the rotation system. Nivelle, the new commander at Verdun, will have to fight the battle with the units he has to hand.
Côte 304 (Le 125ème Régiment d’Infanterie)
General Joseph Joffre (Great War Literature)