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John Mosier's new book on Verdun


phil andrade

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VERDUN

The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I 1914-1918, by John Mosier.

Still reeling after the shock of his last book on the Great War, I succumbed to masochistic tendencies and downloaded this onto my kindle.

Watch this space.

Phil (PJA)

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The mere name sends a shudder down my spine. Was it American volunteers serving with the French Army who held back the German hordes?

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Already, after the first few pages, I've encountered examples of what psychiatrists call " transference" ...the phenomenon of someone imbuing another person with those flaws which are extant in himself.

The errors thus far are so egregious as to beggar belief.

There are some good aspects, which I'll acknowledge later.

Phil (PJA)

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You really must have masochistic tendencies! I think his last book was one of the worst i have ever read, and at the time, i knew zilch about the war!

hazel

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The other new book on Verdun that we've just discussed, by Paul Jankowski, had a good message spoilt by dreadful prose.

This one has the most preposterous contentions uplifted by the craft of the wordsmith.

Let's hope that we get something with the two qualities conjoined.

Phil (PJA)

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Just reading Jankowski for review. He certainly has a way with sentence construction that makes reading the book something of a challenge. Far from sure about the book so far.

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Just reading Jankowski for review. He certainly has a way with sentence construction that makes reading the book something of a challenge. Far from sure about the book so far.

So the publishers finally coughed up, then?

Cheers Martin B

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Ah.yes I forgot to update. On my third or fourth call/email asking for the courtesy of a reply they sent me a copy for which I sent email thanks. On Saturday a second copy arrived! After some really rather unreasonable consideration I have re-packed the spare copy and send it back tomorrow

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Already half way through the Mosier book.

I am dumbfounded at the utter disdain he shows when it comes to the proper marshalling of facts. Indeed, I wonder how far he resorts to facts. You have to read it to believe it.

But this I must declare........he has a very engaging style, and though I hate what he says, I love the way he says it.

Phil (PJA)

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I was sent a copy of this and managed, much against my will, to read about 70 pages. That was quite enough. He seems to work on the assumption that he alone knows the truth and that everyone who has ever written anything about Verdun up to the publication of his work has got it entirely wrong. What's more, the French public was deliberately misled and the true fact were hidden until revealed by him. It's mind boggling. It would be funny if it weren't for the fact that some people will believe him.

Christina

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Having just finished the book, I feel bound to say that it became increasingly excruciating.

You will note that I always tend to look for the redeeming features : I'm in awe of anyone who has the guts and the gumption to write a book, especially one about Verdun, which I find one of the hardest subjects to understand. They're all endowed with their controversies - the Somme, Passchendaele, Gallipoli.....but Verdun is the great enigma, at least it is for me.

Even Mosier's prose, which rather enchanted me at first, began to unravel and irritate.

He predicates his argument on what he claims to be his correct appreciation of the realities of the casualty exchange rate ; and yet he presents us with statistical errors and distortions that are so outrageous that I begin to doubt his good faith.

Now I feel rather ashamed that I endeavoured to emphasise any quality within it whatsoever.

Phil (PJA)

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Thanks to all for the 'heads up' as the management consultants would say. I am always in the market for any information on Verdun but I will give the Mosier book the widest of wide berths. I'm also grateful for the comparisons with the Jankowski offering; I'm not sure that I like the idea of a book where I have to read each sentence twice to make sure I've got it. My attention span issues are bad enough as it is.

Pete.

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Well, Pete, I've just started Jankowski and I'm not impressed. Quite apart from the style, which I don't like although that's a question of taste, and the repetition, and the apparent belief that Falkenhayn didn't really have a plan, there are loads of factual inaccuracies. I may get through to the end but I'm not sure if I will.

Christina

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Oh dear, it doesn't look too good for either of these offerings. I think I'll read 'The Price of Glory' again.

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Trusting Christiana as the oracle of Verdun, and my own gut, and in view of the bewildering use, or misuse, of the English language, the peculiarity of sentence construction, and the 'insubordinate' clauses, I am really struggling with this book. Having paid to send the second unbidden review copy back (at my own cost) I am seriously considering sending the other copy back to the publisher. I bow to Christina, knowledge, and I am relieved to know that that Falkenhayn did have a plan - I was beginning to wonder.

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Should have made it clear I was talking about the Jankowski book. It seems that there are two clunkers relighting the battleL

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It's my birthday soon and I was going to get the Jankowski tome but I think I might revert to my original plan and buy a Lambourghini Huracan. Or Ajaxer's Wisden on the Great War, one of the two. I think Paul's plan is a good one; I think I'm onto my third or fourth copy of the Price of Glory, the previous ones I either gave away or they fell apart due to regular consultation.

Pete.

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Pete- I'd stick to the Lamborghini and The Price of Glory. I bet it would have a glove box in just the right size (the car, that is).

Christina

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Pete- I'd stick to the Lamborghini and The Price of Glory. I bet it would have a glove box in just the right size (the car, that is).

Christina

Christina, bad news; I've just realised that the ground clearance of the new Lambo is too low for the neigbourhood traffic bumps. Still, it saves me £200,000, but it would be cool driving up to Douaumont in one. I'm intrigued by Jankowski's belief that Falkenhayn didn't have a plan; is this related to the failure to find the now imfamous memo to the Kaiser I wonder?

Pete.

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Jankowski wins my respect for trying honourably, even if he fails.

Mosier has been guilty - in my reckoning - of mendacious spin.

If - in the 1915 battles - the French lost twice as many men killed as the Germans, he will insist that they lost four times as many.

He cites a figure of 115,000 British dead or missing in 1914 : actually trebling the true number.

He states that in the 1916 battle the Germans did not extend their offensive onto the left bank until late March. What happened to the attack of March 6th ?

Honestly, he shouldn't be allowed to get away with this, he really shouldn't !

Phil (PJA))

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Pete -

I suppose it’s not so much that Falkenhayn didn’t have a plan but that his plan was, in Jankowski’s view, vague and open-ended, which implies that Falkenhayn had no definite aim.

He also argues that if Falkenhayn said after the war that he hadn’t intended to break through or take Verdun, but had merely wished bring the French to battle and inflict such casualties on them that the French government would seek terms, it couldn’t be true as no one was aware of it at the time. Well, I think that if you want to know what the man intended, you have to ask him and that’s what Falkenhayn says and there’s plenty of evidence to back it up, even if you have to look for it here and there. Holger Afflerbach, who made a study of Falkenhayn for a biography published some years ago came to the conclusion that the Christmas memorandum didn’t exist but that it represented Falkenhayn’s thinking at the time. I’d agree with that.

As for the phrase ‘bleeding white’ Jankowski himself points out that the phrase was used by Falkenhayn at a meeting with the Kaiser at Pless on 3 December 1915. In fact I think Falkenhayn got the phrase from the Russian commander of 3rd Army, General Radko-Dimitriev, who said that his army had been bled white by Mackensen's 11th Army on the Eastern Front in the Gorlice offensive, which had caused him over 200,000 casualties in about 10 days. I believe that’s what Falkenhayn hoped to achieve at Verdun and it seems logical to me. After all, by the end of 1915 German manpower had peaked, so had France’s , but British manpower hadn’t and Germany was looking at huge numbers of fresh men coming into line by the summer of 1916. If Germany had any chance of success, Falkenhayn had to act quickly. Breakthrough was impossible, so the only way out was to force/encourage one of the Allies to apply for terms. As he believed that after 1915 Russia wouldn’t pose a problem any more, and he believed Britain would never come to terms unless defeated in the field, aided by submarine warfare, he had to go for France. So how to do it? Breakthrough wasn’t going to work but if you know that the enemy’s manpower has peaked, that he’s suffered massive losses in 1915, that intelligence is telling you that French morale is bad and you believe the country to be in decline anyway, you may consider that forcing him into a situation where you can inflict huge losses on him is a way forward. What’s the problem with that?

But the plan involved huge losses inflicted in a very short time, not huge losses over a long period. Verdun wasn’t intended to be attritional. Falkenhayn is recorded as believing that a result could be reached in two weeks and the Kaiser was expecting to attend a victory parade at the end of February. Does that sound like attrition? This was no bite and hold operation but a sudden, massive attack on a narrow front by a relatively small number of first class troops and the greatest array of artillery yet seen with highly developed supply lines and easy access to all the iron and steel you need against a weakly defended area backed by terrible supply lines. Something similar had worked in Gorlice the year before, so why wouldn’t it work here? The fact that Falkenhayn was keeping his reserves back in order to 'finish off' on the Western Front, once the losses he hoped the French would suffer at Verdun had brought them to the table, doesn’t mean he didn’t have a plan. And it’s quite true that in the planning stage Falkenhayn expressed the view that he didn’t regard it as a major operation. It wasn’t intended to be.

I could go on and on but I’ll stop there...

Christina

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Forgive me my confusion, Christina : I just can't get my head round it.

Something reaches out and grabs the attention in Falkenhayn's memoirs...he frequently alludes to the astonishing resistance put up by outnumbered and outgunned German troops in Champagne and Artois in autumn 1915.

He seems to imply that, if his men could hold things together under that sort of pressure, with all that material and manpower preponderance arrayed against them, then what might they accomplish if they were afforded a massive artillery superiority on a carefully chosen sector ?

Reading Mosier's account, one might think that First Ypres had never taken place. It was here that German soldiers were exposed to the very ordeal that Mosier insists that the Entente commanders imposed on their troops : imprudent and desperate deployment and attacks pressed home with inadequate means etc. Jack Sheldon's book says it all.

Phil (PJA)

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I could go on and on but I’ll stop there...

Christina

That's a shame, from what I've read it seems like a lot better explanation than the two books being discussed !

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I could go on and on but I’ll stop there...

Thanks for this Christina, there is so much food for thought that I keep going to post something and suddenly think of another implication; there is so much that I'd not thought of.

That's a shame, from what I've read it seems like a lot better explanation than the two books being discussed !

I was just about to say that Steve; wise words mate.

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That's a shame, from what I've read it seems like a lot better explanation than the two books being discussed !

Fascinating thread! Thanks for the explanation Christina.

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