18/12/1916 Verdun finally grinds to a halt

The Battle of Verdun has raged since the Germans launched their first assaults in February. Now the French have pushed the Germans back, recovering much of their lost ground. The battlefield is increasingly in the grip of winter. After 302 days the struggle splutters to a halt.

The battle is a defeat for the Germans. They have not managed to break French morale by seizing Verdun. Nor have they succeeded in Falkenhayn’s goal of bleeding France to death by inflicting an unsustainable level of casualties. True, French casualties are enormous, estimated at 377,231 in total, of whom some 162,440 were killed. But the French wells of manpower have not run dry and they have always been able to find more men to feed the guns at Verdun. And the Germans have suffered almost as many losses as the French, taking some 337,000 casualties, of whom around 143,000 were killed.

The Germans have much greater reserves of manpower than the French, so they can better afford these losses. However the Germans have also lost great numbers of men at the Somme and are heavily engaged against Russia and in the Balkans. Attritional warfare is a dangerous game for them. Small wonder then that Hindenburg and Ludendorff are determined not to repeat Verdun.

The French also do not want a repeat of the battle. Nivelle, their new Western Front commander, made his name at Verdun, where he commanded the counter-attacks that recovered the ground lost to the Germans. He is planning to replicate these successes in a major offensive in the spring, one he hopes will smash through the German lines and bring the war to an end.

image sources:

Mountain of bones (Mental Floss)

Verdun: the World’s Blood Pump (Wikipedia; medal originally from British Museum exhibition “The other side of the medal: how Germany saw the First World War”)

map (Les Françcais à Verdun)

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