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Battle of Verdun


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Remembering those who fought and died in the Battle of Verdun 93 years ago.

My poor Robin, our orders are to stay where we are...

Col. Driant

Amen,

Remembering those who fought and died on both sides.

Paul

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Yes, the story of Col. Driant and his men is quite poignant. (Was he buried where he fell?) But, in fact, he had to fall back several times, finally moving possibly 2 km., before he finally fell. (I am going to mention this from memory, but I believe that I will have it right. I am interested in the "infantry gun" concept, which was more fully developed later in the war.)

One component of the attacking German forces was a pair of 77 mm field-guns, who had a company of pioneers attached to them to help move them forward. In the course of the day in which Driant died I believe that one of those field-guns was advanced about 2 km, and in the accounts I have read seemed to be in an advanced position perhaps at times quite detached from the infantry. At some point one of the 77 mm guns was left behind. Driant at one point had fallen back to a strong point and had rallied his defence when they started to receive some light shells from their right rear, which they first assumed were French 75 shorts. But then they noticed this 77 mm gun which had been rolled past them down a road to their right (east of them) and was shelling them from the rear from a few hundred yards away. Driant told a MG crew that they could set up and quickly cut down the gun crew, according to the account I have for this moment the MG crew hesitated, so one of Driant's officers grabbed their MG and ran out of the position to the rear and put it down, the crew scrambled after him and started setting the MG up to fire, but just before they did the 77 mm gun, firing over open sights, directly hit the gun and knocking it and its crew out. In a while Driant and his men had to fall back from that position, I am sure that the direct fire had a role, and finally he set up in a concrete dugout on the edge of the woods. They defended this position for a while, but then started to receive shells from this same gun, which had been rolled yet further, and Driant's men also noticed a flamethrower crew circling about the blockhouse, and they realized that they would have to abandon that position as well. Driant and his staff scrambled out and headed across some more or less open ground toward a fortified village about 1/2 km away to the south, but they were largely in the open and the troops attacking were Jaegers, I believe, generally very good shots, and Driant and other members of his remaining staff were quickly hit, Driant I believe receiving a head wound.

Driant and his two battalions certainly defended stubbornly for a couple of days, were shelled heavily, and suffered very heavy losses, and generally behaved very bravely under difficult conditions. But the story of this 77 mm field gun, being rolled possibly 2 km thru the French lines, is also remarkable. I believe at one point the entire enlisted crew of the gun were casualties and the gun was being served by a couple of officers. One might even say that the gun hounded Driant to his death.

My father fought at Verdun, being wounded twice. I still have a piece of his left arm bone knocked off by a French 75 mm splinter, the surgeons gave him the fragment as well, but that night as he slept a nurse tidied up his night-table and threw the splinter away. That wound kept him out of the fighting for about a year and a half, he spent 1917 in and out of hospitals, so it probably saved his life, since he was wounded an average of about once a month when he was actually fighting at the front as a flamethrower operator. The wound spit bone fragments for over 10 years, even after he moved to the US, and the wound was officially categorized as a "light wound", which angered him even 50 years later. In 1917 he had a light surgical procedure on the arm about once a week, putting in or taking out drains, all without anesthesia, as his letters explained.

Bob Lembke

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What lessons did that great battle offer its participants, and which side put those lessons to better use?

Phil.

To generalize horribly, and briefly, I think at the start of the battle the Germans were quite ahead in technique, execution, and that, over the next 1 1/2 years, the French improved their act more than the Germans. I think that that was generally true, in 1917 the western Allies began to get their act together rather well, largely closing the German qualitative advantage.

Bob

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post-8221-1235755410.jpg

To the memory of my great-uncle Capitaine Marcel Verzieux, Génie. Wounded at Fleury-devant-Douaumont, and awarded the Croix de Guerre, étoile en vermeil, while commanding compagnie 2/13.

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What lessons did that great battle offer its participants, and which side put those lessons to better use?

Phil.

If we accept that the German intent was to wage an attritional battle where the intention was to kill soldiers, not capture territory, we have to say that that was not achieved. The German losses at the end of the year were very nearly equal to the French. A lesson that might have been learned was how men could survive incredibly intense bombardment. When we look at the 1st July on the Somme, it seems that that lesson was not learned by the British at any rate. Whether the Germans learned lessons which were later applied in 1918, seems quite possible. The French learned that it was not a good idea to denude a fortress region of heavy artillery but personally, I question whether it should have required a Verdun to teach that lesson.

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To generalize horribly, and briefly, I think at the start of the battle the Germans were quite ahead in technique, execution, and that, over the next 1 1/2 years, the French improved their act more than the Germans. I think that that was generally true, in 1917 the western Allies began to get their act together rather well, largely closing the German qualitative advantage.

Bob

Brilliantly put.....the French, especially, were displaying significant improvements as early as the opening of the Somme offensive in July 1916. This must, surely, have been due in large degree to lessons from the experience of Verdun.

Phil.

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To generalize horribly, and briefly, I think at the start of the battle the Germans were quite ahead in technique, execution, and that, over the next 1 1/2 years, the French improved their act more than the Germans. I think that that was generally true, in 1917 the western Allies began to get their act together rather well, largely closing the German qualitative advantage.

Bob

You're not wrong Bob - that is a horrible generalisation. In particular I'd query the idea that "in 1917 the Western Allies began to get their act together rather well, largely closing the German qualitative advantage." Well, that may be true of the British and Empire forces - who I'd argue had surpassed the German Army in qualitative advantage by the end of 1917. But the French? In 1917? They were bled white and exhausted by the actions of 1914/15/16. Then 1917 kicked off with the disastrous Nivelle offensive in the spring followed by mutinies through the summer, leaving them innervated and pretty much incapable of large scale offense through the autumn with strong doubts over whether they could hold a German offensive should the British shut down Passchendaele.

ciao,

GAC

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July 4th 1918, that superb Australian attack at Hamel, is sometimes cited as the debut of the British "All Arms" battle. Perhaps Cambrai has been overlooked here. Two years prior to that, the French achieved a success on the Somme, under Fayolle's command, that might also be described as an exemplary all arms battle. At least, that is what I heard at Canterbury in 2006, when a lecture was delivered on the French army and the Somme. If this is a valid suggestion, then it must testify to the importance of the lessons the French had learned at Verdun.

Phil.

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Hello Seadog,

thank you, great collection of pics. Very impressive.

Fritz

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Yes Norman, with really great interest. My great-uncle had survived Douaumont in 1916.

Fritz

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Yes Norman, with really great interest. My great-uncle had survived Douaumont in 1916.

Fritz

Fritz;

Do you mean the great explosion, was it May 9th.?

Bob

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Fritz;

Do you mean the great explosion, was it May 9th.?

Bob

No, Bob, short time later in June and July 1916 with Alpenkorps. Their section was Fleury.

Fritz

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No, Bob, short time later in June and July 1916 with Alpenkorps. Their section was Fleury.

Fritz

My father was at Verdun a bit later, and was in Douaumont several times, and saw the dead from the explosion several times, lined up in a corridor, piled up about 2 meters high, mummified with quick-lime. Evidentally more dead were added to them, and they were eventually all walled into a passage, where there is a little chapel. To take them outside and bury them would cause the death of many men itself.

If you are interested I could look through my materials and see if his Flammenwerfer company supported the Alpenkorps in that time period. Even from memory I can tell you that they did at the final large assault at Fort Souville, in which the Alpenkorps had a major role. I know that there were FW attacks at Fleury, but can't recall the details from memory. Do you have details of his unit within the Alpenkorps? I might have some information.

Bob Lembke

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Hi Bob,

thanks for your interest.

My grand-uncle Karl Krentel belonged to Jägerbataillon 10. Its garrison was Goslar in Hannover today Niedersachsen.

Verdun was the the hell. I read the batallions history about their actions at Verdun - an only horror trip! The soldiers (of both sides) had no chance to survive but to make into minced meat.

Not so my great-uncle Karl. He was a medicial corporal and I guess he must have been inside of the fortress with his medicinal station. Well protected by the walls of this fortification. But the conditions in it must have been indescribable bad.

I had not investigated Karl´s way through WW1 exactly, but I am collecting all material I can get about his time. So your assistence would be welcome.

And I will attach a map showing the engagement of Jägerbataillon 10.

Kind regards

Fritz

post-12337-1236277318.jpg

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Fritz;

Yes, Fleury is near Fort Souville. The Highest Army Command told the Crown Prince to take it in early July or shut down the Battle of Verdun. The Alpenkorps attacked, came close to taking the fort (I think a platoon/Zug actually got onto the roof), but didn't, and the high command mostly shut down the battle and the excess forces were sent to the Somme, which had just started.

Yes, Fort Douaumont was on the evacuation route, and had a good hospital. Unfortunately, in the great explosion, almost all of the patients and doctors were killed, but I am sure that it was fixed up to some degree.

Conditions were not too bad. If you read the French accounts, when they took over French forts that the Germans had captured at Verdun, they were very impressed at the German improvements. They generally put in electrical generators, and then electric lighting and electrically-powered ventilators and ventilation ducts. The French usually used kerosene lights for lighting, and of course that made the air worse.

If you want to read about Hell on earth underground, instead look at nearby Fort Vaux while the Germans were on the roof and in some of the Fort and the French were defending the rest of the underground. The Germans plugged up every ventilation duct and route they could, and periodically pulled some sand-sacks away and fired flame-throwers and threw gas grenades into the French part of the fort, and then plugged it up tightly again. The oxygen was so low that the French kerosene lamps would not burn, and of course the air fouling from the flamethrower smoke, the gas, and the primitive open latrines made the air Hell. And then the French found that they had no water, the previous strikes of German 420 mm shells had cracked the water tanks. When the French surrendered the Germans gave them the military honor of presenting arms, but the French prisoners astonished the Germans by breaking ranks and running and throwing themselves down to lick at the surface of some mud.

The Crown Prince invited the French commander to a private dinner, feted him as a hero, and then allowed him to enter captivity armed with a sword, a revolver, and an engineer's spade, and a servant and his dog, and so much cake that the French officer fed his dog with it. The French commander then was allowed to spend his captivity in Switzerland, and he bitterly complained about his treatment. Some people are never satisfied.

I am very busy with some work-like things, but I will be happy to correspond and feed you some material and suggestions on where to look.

Bob Lembke

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What lessons did that great battle offer its participants, and which side put those lessons to better use?

The answer to that lies in the Battle of France 1940. You could not read a better work than Alistair Horne's masterpiece "To lose a battle" to understand the direct linkages between the lessons of Verdun and the humiliation of France 24 years later.

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The Militärpass of a German flamethrower pioneer who fought at Verdun.

Pionier Wilhelm Schübert was born on May 24, 1895, in Berlin. Listed in his military passport as a Sekundarner, a sixth- or seventh-year student of secondary school, he was 20 years old and 5' 8" (1.72m) tall when he began his service.

He was trained in the use of the Mauser 98 rifle, the Kar 98AZ carbine, and the flamethrower. His conduct was always rated "good," and he was given no punishments during his time in the army.

1915

May 26 - Entered service in the 3. Rekrut-Depot, Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon.

August 1 - Transferred to the 3. Ersatz-Kompagnie, Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon.

September 4 - Transferred to the 1. Ersatz-Kompagnie, Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon.

October 10 - Transferred to the Ersatz-Kompagnie, III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon, the flamethrower battalion.

December 14 - Transferred to the Rekrut-Depot, III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon.

December 19 - Transferred to the 11. Kompagnie, III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon, in the field.

December 21, 1915, to January 1, 1916 - Fought in the mountains of the Hartmannsweilerkopf on the French-German border. Spent Christmas in combat.

1916

January 2 - Sent to hospital due to burns on the head caused by flaming oil.

February 22 - Took part in an assault on Bois de Ville in Verdun.

March 2 - Fought in Chauffour and Albain Wood.

March 2 - Fought at the village of Douaumont.

March 8 - Fought at the viillage of Douaumont.

March 18-19 - Fought at Fort Douaumont.

March 29 - Fought at Fort Douaumont.

March 29 - Wounded and sent to hospital.

April 15 - Transferred to the Garnison-Kompagnie (Garrison Company), II. Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon, the replacement battalion of the two flamethrower battalions.

May 11 - Transferred to the 3. Ersatz-Kompagnie, II. Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon.

July 26 - Transferred to the 3. Kompagnie, Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment, formerly his previous unit of the 11. Kompagnie, III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon.

July 26 - Attached as part of a flamethrower platoon to Reserve-Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 6, 12th Reserve Division, in the field.

August 2 to September 26 - Stationed in Flanders, near Armentières. Fought many times.

September 28 to November 3 - Fought at the Somme.

November 4 - Took part in an attack in the woods of St. Pierre Vaast, with Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 116.

November 25 - In accordance with regimental orders he was assigned noncombat work in Bezirkskommando (District Command) Berlin-Schöneberg.

November 27 - Given leave to visit his parents in Wilmersdorf.

November 29 - Transferred to the Garnison-Kompagnie, II. Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon.

December 1 - By order of the stellvertretenden Generalkommando des Gardekorps (Acting General Command of the Guard Corps), Abteilung II F Nr. 414354, he was assigned to the Paul Mareus Company on Monumentstrasse in Schöneberg.

December 13 - Returned from leave, reported to the Paul Mareus Company.

1917

March 31 - Ordered back to armed service with the Garnison-Kompagnie, II. Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon.

June 1 - Transferred to the 1. Ersatz-Kompagnie, Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon Nr. 2.

June 21 - Transferred to the 1. Kompagnie, Württembergisches-Pionier-Feld-Rekruit Depot 10, Armee Abteilung C.

October 15 - Transferred to Pionier-Kompagnie 252, 208th Infantry Division.

October 16 to November 26 - Fought in the heights of Lamorville, Spada, and St. Mihiel.

November 29 - Took part in antitank warfare in Cambrai.

November 30 to December 7 - Took part in offensive battles in Cambrai.

December 8-31 - Fought at the Siegfried Line.

1918

January 1-31 - Fought at the Seigfried Line.

February 23-26 - Fought at the Siegfried Line.

February 26 to March 1 - In Field Hospital 78 due to ear infection.

March 1-9 - Fought at the Siegfried Line.

March 10 - By Order 208. J. D. II 2053, he was transferred into the Luftstreitkräfte (Air Service), joining Riesenflugzeug-Ersatz-Abteilung Köln (Giant Aircraft Replacement Detachment Cologne), which supplied parts, weapons, inspection, and personnel for R-class or "giant" bombers.

March 11 - Reported to Riesenflugzeug-Ersatz-Abteilung Köln as a Flieger of the Reisenflugzeug-Truppe (Giant Bomber Troops).

March 12 to November 22 - Stationed at Liegnitz, in Selisia. [His passport includes an insert with a typewritten notation identifying him as a private of Reisenflugzeug-Ersatz-Abteilung-Liegnitz, a unit about which no information has yet been discovered.]

November 23 - Demobilized in Bezirkskommando 5, Berlin.

post-7020-1236341710.jpg

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The answer to that lies in the Battle of France 1940. You could not read a better work than Alistair Horne's masterpiece "To lose a battle" to understand the direct linkages between the lessons of Verdun and the humiliation of France 24 years later.

Exactly. I was not "thinking out of the box", i. e., as far afield as WW II. But the concepts developed in WW I in what I term the stormtrooper movement, and also by the allies at times, were the foundation of the Blitzkrieg. The principal difference was that, comparing a good tank of 1940 to those of 1917-18, a 1940's tank could travel about 8 times as fast and was about 50-80 times as reliable, measured by "mean miles between failure". This difference converted the tank from a somewhat successful tactical weapon into a strategic weapon. The French had more tanks than the Germans in 1940, and heavier tanks, but employed them just like in 1918, as a local tactical weapon.

Bob

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Alistair Horne makes a compelling case for the effect of Verdun on French military thinking. He argues that there is a recurring phenomenon in the story of Franco- Teutonic warfare : in 1870, France lost because she was insufficiently aggressive; in August 1914 she nearly lost again on account of excessive zeal for the attack; in 1916 she held the Germans at bay by the defense of Verdun, and, in 1940, France turned full circle by relying excessively on defensive forification.

Phil.

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