23/8/1916 Verdun: Germany on the defensive

British attentions remain focussed on the Somme, but at Verdun the French and German armies continue to battle. After the failure of the last German attempt to take Verdun itself last month the Germans have been on the back foot, with the French attempting to take back lost ground. The village of Fleury has been recaptured by Moroccan troops, who reportedly sang La Marseillaise as they stormed the village, now a heap of ruins. Shellfire meanwhile continues to extract a grim harvest from the soldiers of both armies.

The demands of the Somme and the struggle against Brusilov in Galicia mean that Falkenhayn has no more men to spare for Verdun. Crown Prince Wilhelm, the local commander, is happy to stay on the defensive, having long ago decided that further offensives were a futile waste of his soldiers’ lives. But Knobelsdorf, the Crown Prince’s chief of staff, continues to hanker after another attempt to seize Verdun. He feels that victory now would be worth any cost, as it would shatter French morale and hand the war to Germany.

The Crown Prince is only the nominal commander at Verdun: Knobelsdorf is the man who really pulls the strings. But the Crown Prince is able to appeal to his father, the Kaiser. The Kaiser is dismayed by the bloody failure at Verdun and for once he listens to his foppish son. Now Knobelsdorf is transferred way to the Eastern Front, though as a sweetener he is awarded the Pour La Mérite with Oak Leaves, Germany’s highest military honour.

German attempts to take Verdun are now over. Henceforth they will merely try to hold onto the ground they have taken in the battle, even though it has little military value and is not easy to defend. But of course, the French are not privy to the thoughts of German commanders. They must remain on their guard, lest the enemy launches another attempt to bring the battle to a victorious end.

image sources:

German soldiers (Mental Floss)

Konstantin Schmidt von Knobelsdorf (Wikipedia)

map (Les Français à Verdun)

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