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  • There’s only one thing I can say about this week; this week the greatest battle that had

  • ever been fought in history, begins. So many hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of men

  • would fight and die for such a tiny piece of land; it had never been conceived before.

  • This was Verdun.

  • I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War.

  • Last week Russia took the major fortress city of Erzurum from the Ottomans. Austria-Hungary

  • and Bulgaria were still overrunning Albania, Germany and the US were having diplomatic

  • problems, and Belgian armored cars were fighting in Galicia. Here’s what came next.

  • I think I’ll just jump right in at Verdun, which youll hear an awful lot about this whole year.

  • The very first shot of the Battle of Verdun came February 21st, 1916 from one of the German

  • long-distance naval guns; the shell exploded in the Bishop’s Palace in Verdun and knocked

  • a corner off the cathedral. Unternehmen Gericht had begun. The battle began with a 9 hour

  • German artillery barrage using 1,220 guns on a 20-kilometer front on both sides of the

  • Meuse (Strachan). In the Bois de Ville, at the apex of the French lines, 40 heavy shells

  • fell every minute. German Army Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn had wanted of this barrage,

  • no line is to remain unbombarded, no possibilities of supply unmolested, nowhere should the enemy

  • feel himself safe.” (Keegan) The Germans fired roughly one million shells during the

  • barrage- you heard that right- and you could hear the explosions 100 miles away in the

  • Vosges. Already by 0800 nearly all French telephone communication to the front was cut

  • off. French reinforcements could not arrive and effective command no longer existed. The

  • Germans had even deployed 168 aircraft in the largest aerial net ever in order to prevent

  • French planes from observation and artillery spotting.

  • When the barrage ended, at 4pm, the German infantry advanced on the French. The French

  • front line defenses had been wrecked or just plain buried by the barrage. One French corporal

  • remarked, that of every five men, “two have been buried alive under their shelter, two

  • are wounded to some extent or the other, and the fifth is waiting.” But Falkenhayn didn’t

  • want his men to make a huge advance; not that day, they were to feel out any remaining defenses,

  • which they did until night fell and the artillery resumed its work.

  • On day two the Germans surprised the French by using 96 flamethrowers, and by day three

  • had advanced two miles and taken 3,000 French prisoners. Here’s a story from day three:

  • (Gilbert) there was a rumor that the village of Samoneaux had fallen to the Germans. When

  • the rumor was believed, the French bombarded their own troops who were there, and when

  • the bombardment was over, the Germans just came in and took it. One of the prisoners,

  • Lieutenant-Colonel Bernard was brought before a visitor to the battleground, the Kaiser

  • himself, who was watching the battle through a periscope. Bernard told him, “you will

  • never enter Verdun.” But by February 25th, the French 51st and 72nd Divisions, holding

  • the line from Herbebois west to the Meuse had suffered 60 percent casualties.

  • February 24th was actually the day the dam burst. The Germans broke through between Beaumont

  • and Samogneaux, and the French positions fell in just three hours. The Germans took 10,000

  • more French prisoners and their territorial gains that day were equal to the first three

  • days in total and by the evening, for the first time on the Western Front since the

  • Battle of the Marne, the war was a war of motion. No more trenches, no barbed wire,

  • no machine gun posts. French morale was crumbling and the French artillery was ominously silent.

  • Two main fortresses, Douaumont and Vaux, defended the city of Verdun. Fort Douaumont dominated

  • the northern approach. It had only been completed in 1913 and had 155mm and 75mm guns as well

  • as machine guns, all of which were housed in steel turrets. Thing is, the French company

  • that manned the fort had been reassigned to the front lines and the fort was basically

  • empty and on the 25th, it fell without a shot being fired. This had a huge psychological

  • effect for both sides. The German advance finally stopped that day only 2 miles from

  • Verdun itself.

  • At this point the Germans were in a position to abandon Falkenhayn’s plans and advance

  • to the city itself, while the French could have given up Verdun, the whole salient, and

  • made a more defensible line, but that night, at midnight, the defense of Verdun was given

  • to General Phillippe Petain.

  • The French army leader General Joseph Joffre’s chief of staff, Noel de Castelnau, knew what

  • effect the loss of Verdun would have on national morale and persuaded Joffre it must be held,

  • hencetain. But this was falling right into Falkenhayn’s plans! Whentain ordered

  • his men tobeat off at all costs the attacks of the enemy, and retake immediately any piece

  • of land taken by him”, he was reading a script written by Falkenhayn! Falkenhayn’s

  • plan was to attack the national treasure Verdun that the French would have no choice but to

  • defend, and bleed the French army to death by attrition.

  • Well, whentain took over, he saw his two main tasks as co-ordinating the artillery

  • and opening a supply line. And from this point on it was the Germans who were constantly

  • deluged by shells when they made their way forward or stuck to the front lines. And the

  • road from Verdun to Bar-le-Duc became a supply route for truck and trucks alone. Three and

  • a half thousand of them. The men marched in the fields on the sides of the road. If a

  • truck broke down, it was pushed off the road so that the 24 hour traffic never came to

  • a halt. Eventually, 12,000 trucks would be driving what became known as the sacred road.

  • tain was commander of the French Second Army, and in 1914 had been actually about

  • to retire. He had seen the evolution of trench warfare, not from the rear, but as a front

  • line commander and his conclusion was that it was not possible in one big jump to take

  • all of the successive lines of the enemy, right? He recommended, just a few months before

  • Verdun, limited offensives that didn’t go further than artillery could reach and only

  • once the enemy was exhausted would breakthrough tactics be adopted. This would become the

  • basis of his defense at Verdun. In 1914, enormous forts of reinforced concrete had proven vulnerable

  • in Belgium, buttain would make the inner ring of forts at Verdun the backbone of his

  • tactical plans. He would use it as a barrage position.

  • And turning out attention to another part of Europe, we see another barrage in progress.

  • In Albania on the 25th, Austro-Hungarian artillery began to fire upon Durazzo, the capital. It

  • had been evacuated the day before and the closest thing Albania had to a ruler at the

  • moment, Essad Pasha, had fled to Italy.

  • And further to the east, another flight was in progress.

  • A huge Turkish army was retreating from Erzurum, now in Russian hands. The country west of

  • Erzurum was very difficult terrain for the retreat, but it was also hell for the advancing

  • Russians who were unable to follow up the capture of Erzurum by capturing the Ottoman

  • army so they turned their attention toward Trabzon, the Turkish supply base on the Black

  • Sea, but the Turks were reinforcing it, so it was a race against the clock for both sides.

  • And here’s something from the Russian home front.

  • On February 20th, Tsar Nicholas learned of a plot within the Interior Ministry to murder

  • the influential mystic Rasputin. Interior Minister Alexei Khvostov, who apparently believed

  • the rumor that Rasputin and the Tsarina were German spies, had offered a man named Komissarov

  • 200,000 rubles, about 15,000 pounds, to do the job, but he failed. The plot was revealed

  • when Khvostov appointed police chief Stepan Beletsky Governor of Irkutsk, but the appointment

  • was quickly withdrawn and Beletsky, in revenge, gave Rasputin details of the plot. Rasputin

  • told the Tsarina. Khvostov was forced to resign and was banished to his estate.

  • And we come to the end of another week or war. Albania nearly overrun, Russian intrigue

  • at home, and Russians still advancing in the field.

  • And the greatest artillery barrage in the history of the world so far. That also happened

  • this week. At Verdun. To begin the Battle of Verdun. And 100 years later, what is Verdun?

  • Alistair Horne wrote, “Verdun was the First World War in microcosm; an intensification

  • of all its horrors and glories, courage and futility.” And here’s a last something

  • to remember today; though there was a battle with more dead during the war, the proportion

  • of casualties suffered to the number of men who fought was markedly higher at Verdun than

  • any other World War One battle, as was the number of the dead in relation to the size

  • of the battlefield. I cannot even begin to picture the carnage and destruction that fell

  • exactly 100 years ago. Neither can you. Thank God for that.

  • And even though artillery played such an important role in Verdun, close combat in the trenches

  • was also common. We started a small series about the tactics for trench assaults and

  • you can check that out right here:

  • Our Patreon supporter of the week is Mr splashypants - thanks to your support on Patreon we are

  • making this show more independent from often fluctuating add revenue. Help us out on Patreon,

  • so we can make the show even better. For more insights into the Battle of Verdun,

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There’s only one thing I can say about this week; this week the greatest battle that had

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The Battle of Verdun - They Shall Not Pass I THE GREAT WAR - Week 83

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    tyui posted on 2017/07/18
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