Yesterday German assaults appeared to have brought the French at Verdun to the brink of collapse. Knobelsdorf is directing the battle for the Germans. He had hoped that today his men would capitalise on their successes and press on to Verdun itself, winning a victory that would shatter French resolve to continue the war.
But if there is a tide in the affairs of men then today it goes out for the Germans. The French defenders recover their poise, reinvigorated by reinforcements; they fight desperately to hold back Knobelsdorf’s men. The Germans have been advancing on a narrow sector of the front; now French artillery shells rain down, disrupting the assault troops’ supply lines. Knobelsdorf’s men are hungry, thirsty and exhausted. Short of ammunition and their ranks depleted in the brutal fighting, they are in no state to press the French further.
The German assaults on Verdun may be coming to an end. The French are running out of men to commit to the battle but the Germans too are finding that they do not have an inexhaustible supply of men to feed into the mincing machine. Falkenhayn is having to send men east to prevent Brusilov’s offensive knocking Austria-Hungary out of the war. Now with the guns firing on the Somme he knows that the British are preparing something big there. He must keep men in reserve to meet whatever the British are planning and cannot afford to keep sending more men to be killed at Verdun.
French troops (Verdun 2016: official site of the centenary of the battle of Verdun)