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The Battle of Verdun

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This article is about article about the Battle of Verdun. You may be looking for the battle itself.


The Battle of Verdun is a four page article about real world history, as it connected to the adventures of Indiana Jones. Written by Kurt Busiek, it was published at the end of the issue #6 (the second half of "Verdun, September 1916") of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles comic series in July 1992, accompanying the events of the comic.

SummaryEdit

This article examines the history and significance of the Battle of Verdun in World War I.

By 1916, the front between France and Germany had stagnated - the French had halted the German advance, but could not drive the Germans from their defensive positions. Verdun, a town on the Meuse River in northeastern France, was the strongest point in the French defenses, dating back to the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. German forces were led by the cautious General Erich von Falkenhayn, while the French military was headed by the imperturbable but inexperienced Marshal Joseph Joffre.

Falkenhayn chose Verdun because it was well-defended, and taking it would be a major morale and casualty loss for the French. Massing a huge concentration of armaments and supply networks, the German leader also introduced flamethrowers and air units to support ground units. The French, with their "attack to the utmost" strategy, had stripped the defensive-only forts at Verdun of artillery and men. By the time Falkenhayn attacked, the French got two lucky breaks that prevented their complete routing: before the attack, they realized what was coming, and started to reinforce Verdun, and then on February 12, a blizzard hit the area, postponing the attack, and allowing the French to gain more time for reinforcement. When the battle started, German troops made slow advances and in five days, took the nearly empty Fort Douaumont.

The French commander at Verdun was replaced by Henri Philippe Pétain, who disagreed with the "attack to the utmost" doctrine, and had been politically sidelined in the past, despite his previous victories. Pétain believed in the superiority of artillery in taking down the enemy defenses, and had inspired loyalty among the soldiers, who trusted that his orders would not simply throw away their lives. Pétain organized a system of defenses at Verdun, well-supported by artillery and supply networks. Through March and April, the French and German forces, now equal in strength, fought for two strategic hills, which the Germans captured in May. Joffre, unhappy with Pétain, promoted him in order to remove him from the day-to-day activity of managing the battle, and put Robert Nivelle in his place. Nivelle resumed the "attack to the utmost" strategy, and his first attempt to retake Fort Douaumont was a complete failure, and resulted in the loss of neighboring Fort Vaux. Under Nivelle, the battle went back and worth, resulting in major French losses, and breakdown of morale.

In June, Falkenhayn started a new assault, but was hampered by being forced to send his Verdun reinforcements to the eastern front against the Russians. Despite initial successes (and the use of phosgene gas), the Germans were pushed back by Nivelle's forces. Meanwhile, the assault on the Somme occurred, draining German ability to reinforce at Verdun. Without sufficient men, the Germans were put on the defensive, and the French began pushing back, eventually causing greater German casualties than French. By late August, Falkenhayn was replaced by Paul von Hindenburg, who closed down the Verdun offensive. In October, Pétain and Nivelle mounted a counteroffensive, recapturing the two forts and driving the Germans back two miles.

By the end of the war, nearly 70% of the French army had fought at Verdun, and French and German losses came to 1.25 million - 420,000 dead, and 800,000 gassed or wounded. The impact of the Battle of Verdun was that while France won the battle, they no longer had the strength to win the war, leaving the work of victory to the British and Americans. The German loss at Verdun was caused by Falkenhayn's timidity and the result was a prolonged battle that drained both countries. The French reaction to Verdun led to the development of the Maginot Line of defenses along French-German border and the German strategy that trench warfare doesn't work as an offense, leading to their tank corps and blitzkrieg tactics of World War II that simply went around the Maginot Line.

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